I’m Still Here

I won the Internet on February 24, 2015. My tweet beat out thousands of other funny tweets on Comedy Central’s @Midnight to win their daily “Hashtag War.” The topic was #DogTVShows. Among my dozen or so entries was “Grrrrrrrls.” It was a crowning moment after a year of frequently making it into their top ten. During that time, I’d become known as quite the hashtag game player to my 30,000 followers. Never mind that I had been entertaining folks with my own hashtag games for about four years before @Midnight had even come along. At long last, I had indeed won the Internet.

I remember the first time I posted on Facebook in 2008. I was terrified. What do I say? How do I show up here? I’d spent most of my adult life hiding in my house with my thoughts, yearning to express them, but not sharing them for fear of the inevitable “comparison failure” that came with being the daughter of a famous person. My creative urges painfully roiled inside of me because I couldn’t face the very audience I craved.

At age four, I certainly couldn’t face my public. I was so shy that at my parents’ cocktail parties I would expertly clutch my dad’s leg. He’d be talking to someone, I’d adhere to his left leg, and no matter what, I’d hang on for dear life. Separation was not for me. My best friend/transitional object was an egg-shaped pillow with arms, legs, a face and trousers that I called Humpy Dumpy. I clung to him for years. At night I’d lay on my back, hold him above me with his arms out and spin him with my feet. Once he was wound up, I’d pull his arms to spin him back the other way. After a year of this, my parents realized that his arms were starting to come apart at the seams. They scrambled to find an identical Humpy Dumpy, knowing I’d come apart at the seams without him. A replacement was found, but I almost came apart anyway.

I began pre-school, where Humpy Dumpies were not invited. Luckily, I had mastered the leg clutch. Every day for the first two weeks of pre-school, as my mother would try to leave, I’d transfer my leg clutch from her leg to the teacher’s leg. I was more comfortable at a cocktail party than with other kids, and well, you already know how comfortable cocktail parties were for me.

By the time I joined Facebook in 2008, I was in my mid-forties, and more than ready to mill about in this new fangled cyber cocktail party. I encountered that little box that asked, “What’s on your mind?” With my dad’s very recent death in June 2008, there was a lot on my mind. And so I began.

One’s life on Facebook starts so innocently. You “friend” your friends, and then you friend your friend’s friends, and then you friend friends of your friend’s friends. And since I was the daughter of a newly dead, beloved comedian, I had lots of strangers asking to be my friends. It was a friending frenzy.

“I now have 1252 friends!” I would announce excitedly to my husband, Bob, like I’d just discovered the cure for cancer or something. I guess I really needed these friends.

Dad was gone in a flash. He was no longer here. Actually, because of his career, he had rarely been here — if by here one means “by me, his daughter.” If he wasn’t on the road working over 200 days a year, he was in his office writing and sorting, and if he wasn’t doing that, he was in his head, busy fighting his own demons and carrying the burdens he took on.

I missed my dad my whole life.

And then he died, and suddenly he occupied my every waking moment. There were interviews about his legacy. There were his posthumous honors and product releases. And, most importantly, there were the fans. Their beautiful net of love and light carried me through the first two years of grief. Fans from every corner of the earth found me on Facebook and Twitter and liked me and loved me and worshipped my DNA. They called me comedy royalty. (I am uncomfortable with the title, because I did nothing but shoot out of my mother’s vagina to deserve it.)

These fans came from all over the world — North Carolina, Pakistan, Australia, Alabama, and beyond. We shared our lives, our grief, our love for him. We became a community. People who had cried like me when he died. People who’d named their kid “Carlin” after him. People who’d even gotten tattoos of his face on their arms. They needed a conduit for their love. I became that conduit. I received their love and passed it on. And I knew that I needed them as much as they needed me. They kept my head above the water of grief those first few years. They were my new Humpy Dumpy.

One day I got the comment, “Thank you for sharing your dad with us.” It took my breath away, and I burst into tears. I’d never thought of it that way. I shared him with you?

Yeah, I guess I did.

And the tears? They weren’t about the sharing. They were about the seeing. This random person on Facebook saw that small child who’d clutched her father’s leg for fear of the intense glare of his fame. They saw the human that had been invisible in the dark forever.

About ten years earlier while I was onstage in an acting class, the substitute teacher, Lindsay Crouse, stopped the class to talk to me. I’d been doing some kind of exercise in my usual “I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing up here” flailing kind of way. I was being “too big.” Lindsay asked me, “Why do you think you can’t trust doing less?”

Then it hit me.

“I’m not sure anyone can see me,” I told her. “I mean that literally. I’m pretty sure that I’m invisible up here, or anywhere.”

I’d felt invisible for most of my life. I believed that once I’d walked out of someone’s sight or life, I was gone from their mind forever. When we talk about a little kid who thinks a ball is gone when they can no longer see it, we use the termobject permanence.” But, in my case, I was the ball. I had no permanence as an object. Even for myself.

Lindsay took in my words. She turned around to the other students, and sincerely asked them, “Can you see Kelly?” It was a loving question, not mocking or mean.

They all nodded.

I began to cry.

She turned back to me and gently said, “We can see you, Kelly.”

For the next four weeks in that class, Lindsay would stop teaching at random times and ask people if they could see me. She asked when I was onstage and she asked when I wasn’t. I slowly began to understand that I could be seen and heard.

When I hit 5000 friends on Facebook, I felt so alone. I had come to depend on the attention, love, and mirroring, but was beginning to hate the interaction. Do you know how many birthday notifications a day that is? Do you know how many results of “What Beatle are you?” game that is? Do you know how many videos or memes or pictures of my dad landing on my page that is? And being the good conduit of love, I felt obligated to honor them all. It had been four years since my dad’s death, and he was actually in my life more now than ever. There was no way to change this. I was now doing a solo show about my life with my family. Who was I to say, “Enough is enough”?

I did what I could. I converted my Facebook account into a public page. I shut down the George Carlin fan group I’d begun, but I felt guilty. I was abandoning my post. I took time off from social media twice a year — ten days during June and ten days during the winter holidays — just to get some peace. To refocus the conversation, I stopped posting anything about my dad. I was ready for the reinvention of Kelly.

Then at the end of 2013 I got a book deal. It was a 15-year-old dream come true at last. The book would be published two years later, in September 2015. The publisher was thrilled at how engaged I was with my nearly 20,000 Twitter followers and those 8,000 likes on my public Facebook page. I was thrilled a publisher was thrilled.

I put reinvention on hold for a few more years.

Then, in May 2016, I was in a yoga class in corpse pose. On the way to class, I’d listened to Louis CK talk about how he limits his exposure to the Internet. He’s not on social media, doesn’t have a smart phone, and only goes online from his desktop computer for certain things. He said, “I don’t trust my mind with the Internet.” He saw clearly how easily his brain gets triggered by it, and how he loses focus on what is real and good and life-enhancing.

His words echoed in my mind as I lay there in open stillness with tears running down the side of my face.

My god, that is it.

Suddenly, I saw so clearly how even five minutes spent looking at my feed on Facebook generated perhaps 100 micro-emotional reactions. A cat video: delight! A Trump picture: DISGUST! A birthday: guilt. A mother dying: grief. Someone got a new job: happiness; jealousy; self-hate. Every time I logged onto Facebook, I put my mind/body through a gauntlet.

Can this be good for me? I wondered as I lay there. I considered the echo chamber of opinions, those same five opinions about any subject being recycled over and over and over again all day long on Twitter and Facebook. Nothing new. Nothing fresh. Nothing helpful.

And then there was that other thing.

That other thing was the daily barrage of images, videos, memes, quotes, and comments expressing adoration of my father. 2016 marked eight years since his death, and I’d still never truly been without him. There is no missing someone when they aren’t gone. There is no way for the grieving process to organically unfold when the person is still here, even if it’s in the virtual sense only.

On June 15th of this year I removed my Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone and let people know I was taking a summer sabbatical. I gained so much in those few summer months. I gained back the life I used to have before social media. I didn’t need to form an opinion about every national or international event within 15 seconds of it happening. And I lived in a world that my father no longer occupied, unless I invited him in. It’s funny, but most people leave social media because of the hate. I had to leave it because of the love.

Ironically, I came back in mid-September to promote “Life is Worth Losing,” my dad’s first posthumous album. There I was weaned off of him completely, and I had to jump right back into the fire. Thankfully, I survived. Things are different for me now. Yes, I’m back on Twitter and Facebook, but I’m different. I am no longer invisible to myself. Not only am I still here, but I’ve truly just arrived.

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