Mar 012010

Welcome back, friends.

I’ve receive many messages recently from readers confessing their feelings of anger and jealousy, and their guilt that these feelings are “un-Monkee like.” I’d like to talk about that today.

If these relentless feelings of anger, jealousy, and fear are Un-Monkee like, then I’m no Monkee. Because I experience those feelings every single day. I have tried to avoid them for years with absolutely no effect, and based on your emails it seems that many of you are in the same boat. My guess is that we will always have these yucky feelings …because Monkees are human, which is a funny thing to say.

Here’s the hopeful news. I don’t think a Monkee is a Monkee because she doesn’t have jerky, self righteous feelings. I think a Monkee is a Monkee because she examines those feelings and herself before acting on them. A Monkee is a Monkee because she takes some time to think and breathe before adding more messiness to the world.

The difference between jerkiness and unjerkiness for me is time. When I feel self righteous and I react immediately, I always, always, hurt others or myself. But when I wait, when I give God some time to work on my heart before responding, something magical happens in that space. I become a better version of myself. And then I can respond confidently and kindly. Better, more neatly, truer. With less mess to clean up later.

I learned two of my favorite prayers, “help” and “thank you,” from Anne Lamotte. My third favorite prayer is the one I pull out of my pocket when I’m stuck in an angry, resentful, self righteous place. It’s the one I pray when I feel my heart tighten and my eyes narrow and my mind close…the one I pray when I catch myself villianizing another human being…or plotting to make like Scooby Doo and publicly expose someone for the dirty scoundrel I’ve decided she is. That prayer is this: Fine. Come in.” I usually say this to God through clenched teeth while making fists, furrowing my eyebrows and stomping. But He accepts the half-hearted invitation into my icky- clenchy place. He comes in and rearranges things and unclenches me a little and eventually I am able to breathe again and see other people and myself more clearly.

I started learning about this time and space phenomena from my wise friend Amy, the co-author of my teaching book. She and I worked together, closely and tiredly, for years on that book. We survived marathon writing sessions and deadlines and differences in visions and opinions and never once had a conflict that wasn’t resolved swiftly, maturely and completely. Here’s why. Every time I did or said something annoying or offensive or aggressive, Amy would cock her head and say gently, “You know, I’m going to take some time to process through that, and I’ll get back to you.” And then the conversation would be over. Amy would NOT fight with me. This confused me greatly. I used to think…GOOD LORD Just say what you think, say what you feel! What the heck is there to process? Eventually, of course, I realized that Amy was a genius.

Jesus used Amy’s strategy, too, you know. He was human, so he experienced all of the same yucky emotions we do. When I read the gospels I notice how many times Jesus leaves his friends and goes off by himself to pray. I imagine that before walking away, Jesus said to some annoying disciple, “You know…I’m going to take some time to process through that, and I’ll get back to you.” Then he walked into the forest with his fists clenched muttering Fine. Come in. Jesus didn’t have a problem with righteous anger. But he certainly didn’t have a lot of patience for the self- righteous kind. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. (Not really, but that’s what I tell myself when I’m feeling self righteous.) The good news is that time helps me distinguish between the two. My self righteous anger tends to fade with time and prayer and perspective, but the righteous kind strengthens. For example, when I’m mad at my friend for a perceived slight and I wait, it usually fades. But when I’m mad at the world for allowing children to die of malnutrition, there’s no fading. Sometimes it’s important not to be bothered about the wrong things so we have the time and energy to be bothered about the right things.

Monkees have the same feelings, the same internal responses, as everyone else…Monkees just know that the time it takes to slide on a pair of Perspectacles is usually time well spent. Monkees know that sometimes we have to sacrifice what we want now, which is war, to get what we ultimately want, which is peace. We Monkees give ourselves the time and space we need to create a wise response. Because our knee jerk reactions are not the real Us. The real Us is a bit wiser. And wisdom is slow. Which is why the only advice I ever, ever give a friend when she’s in conflict with another human being is: “Do what you need to do, and I’ll support you. Just consider waiting 24 hours before doing it.” Because everybody’s got God in ‘em, which means people generally know what to do. They just need time to know.

There is always a right way to say what we need to say and a wrong way to say it. There is a way that will invite more light and reconciliation and a way that will invite more darkness and polarization.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “A hero is no braver than the average person, but he is brave five minutes longer.” I would suggest that a Monkee is no kinder or wiser than the average person, but she is quiet five minutes longer.

Have a great day Sweet Monkees.

Love, G

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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Feb 262010
Gettin’ Her Ozella Up

I’ve decided to continue writing about my mother’s side of the family. Their eccentric ways have given me so much material, it would be criminal not to share more with you.

My grandmother’s name was Ozella Maud Spencer Cox. Family members and close friends called her Zell. If you think that just might be the most awful, countrified name you’ve ever heard, check out her sisters’ names: Mattie Lou, Annie Mae, Edna Dora, and Fanny Leona. Ozella married my grandfather, Willie Mack (Mack to friends and family), when she was 13 because it was a way for her to get out of the cotton fields. Can a girl get more country than that?

My grandmother Zell was a tiger! She was bossy, aggressive, and loud, especially when she was drunk. And she was drunk a lot of the time. They lived in a tiny Texas town where everyone knew everybody else’s business, and my mother was constantly embarrassed by her parents’ alcoholism. Ozella and Mack always fought while drinking, and Ozella often won. They had their fair share of vicious verbal arguments, but they also had knock-down, drag-out fist fights. Zell was a strong, large-framed woman, and poor old Mack weighed about a buck thirty dripping wet, so the fights were pretty fair. One time, she stabbed him. According to my mother’s account of the story, Ozella “gutted Daddy pretty good,” but Mattie Lou managed to “tie his stomach up” until the doctor arrived. I’m not entirely sure what that stomach tying procedure entailed, but it sounds gruesome. Another time, Ozella shot him in the leg. Don’t feel too sorry for old Willie Mack, though. He got his licks in. On weekend mornings, Ozella could sometimes be found sitting at the kitchen table holding a raw fleshy steak to a fresh shiner.

One of my favorite Ozella stories is one in which she loses her temper. Truth be told, the vast majority of Ozella stories involve her losing her temper, but this is a goodun.

My mother was the child of drunkards, but she was a well-dressed child of drunkards. Zell like to drink, and she also liked to shop. (My kind of gal.) So my mother wore stylish clothing while attending the podunk town’s little elementary school. One day, she went to school decked out in a brand new skirt that was flared and fancy. There was a large sitting rock on the schoolhouse play yard, and she and her friends used to sit on it during recess. That particular day, my mother sat on the rock and spread out her new skirt. She was proud of it and wanted to show it off to her classmates. She was holding her baton, one of her favorite toys, which she used to bring to school and play with during recess. Her friend Joanna came over to sit on the rock with her and accidentally sat on the edge of the skirt. When the bell rang to tell the children it was time to line up and go back inside, my mom jumped up off the rock before Joanna, and her new skirt ripped all the way to the top. My mother was devastated that her new skirt was ripped, and she was also embarrassed. The rip was so large that her undies were showing. My mom didn’t line up with the other kids. The teacher on playground duty, Mrs. Smith, walked over and told her through clenched teeth to GET IN LINE. My mom was carrying her baton while trying to holding her skirt together, and she refused. As punishment for not following directions, Mrs. Smith grabbed the baton out of my mother’s hand and wacked her on the back of the legs with it several times. Hard. My mom was crying and left school right then and there. Her legs were already black and blue by the time she walked home.

Oh, Lord, Ozella hit the ceiling when my mother came home in tears and told her what happened. She flew into a rage. She grabbed the baton out of my mother’s hand and they both got in the car immediately. Together, they drove to the school and marched into the principal’s office. Ozella stormed in with baton in hand and loudly explained to the principal, Mr. Jones, how Mrs. Smith hit her daughter with a baton and left marks, so she was on her way down the hall to show that teacher what it felt like to be beaten black and blue with a baton.

Now, here is the sad part of the story. The principal was able to talk Ozella out of beating the crap out of the teacher that left bruises on her daughter. It took some smooth talking, but Mr. Jones managed to do it. The abusive teacher didn’t return the following year, so she probably got what she deserved in the end. But still…I sorta wish old Zell had left a few bruises on the back of that teacher’s legs.

I think the reason I love this story so much is because it shows my grandmother fiercely defending her child, my mother. Most of my mom’s childhood memories are ones in which her own mother is the one doing harm. In this story, Ozella comes to my mother’s defense. In spite of her outrageous flaws, Ozella loved my mother and wanted to protect her.

Now, those Monkees who know me in real life are probably busy listing all the similarities between me and my grandmother. There are a lot of them, I know. When I get my Ozella up, bad things usually happen. But I haven’t stabbed or shot anyone. Yet.


Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

Feb 252010
Monkees…Ask and you shall receive. A guest post from Our Krystal….

Following Jake

I know that many Monkees are parents. A lot of you have beautiful young children and a few of us have teenagers and young adults. Being a mom has been the best lesson I’ve ever had in “I can do hard things.” It’s not all episodes of Barney around here, folks, now is it? I want to share the story of just one of my five masterpieces. I could share the story of Kendall who is just plain perfect, but instead I want to share the one about Jake. Nobody really believes all that perfection crap anyway.

My first son, Jacob Aaron Courtney, was the most beautiful baby ever born. He had a golden beautiful glow around him and he was perfect. That is how I felt about him for a long, long time. Jake was good and kind and smart and funny. He stayed that way until around his twelfth birthday. By twelve, he was still all of those things but he was also learning that when I said “you may not turn your hair blue” that came with the post script “until I leave this house to go to work, then knock yourself out.”

By age thirteen, Jake was suspended from school for three days for um…inciting riot (starting a food fight). He was also suspended for cursing. The principal said that the teacher said Jake told another student to “shut the hell up.” Jake said that was not, in fact, the truth. He’d actually told the entire class to shut the hell up. They were keeping him from hearing the teacher. He burned a table with a light bulb in shop class, got picked up by the cops for skateboarding in an apartment complex. Etc.

I was a single mom at this point in his life and up to this point I have to admit that I secretly laughed inside when he did things like this because I was such a goody-two-shoes that I never ever got sent to the principal’s office in school. I liked the rebel in my son. I still punished him for his crimes, but probably half-heartedly.

By high school, I was re-thinking my admiration. Jake became such a liar and a sneak that I had to quickly reel him in. In ninth grade he met his girlfriend, Megan. He loved that girl so much that he’d do anything to be with her. He also had found the nicest group of criminal minded friends to hang around with. They weren’t bad, they just dressed that way (riiiight). Well, as fast as he was learning ways to get around my rules, I was finding new ways to thwart his evil plans. I sat him down with a written list of rules. I explained that I really wanted nothing more in life than to be good to him and treat him nicely, but there were things he had to do if he wanted to continue to live in my house. The rules were simple. Get good grades, don’t lie, no porn, no sex, no drugs, no alcohol. That list might as well have said “please tear me up and ignore me.” The next step was to invade every area of his life. I had his locker searched at school (and the lockers of every one of his friends), my husband and I recorded his phone calls, logged his internet conversations, tracked his browser history and checked up on him when he went somewhere with friends by actually following him. I drug tested him regularly and randomly (he always passed, amazingly enough). This might seem extreme. It was extreme. But, you see, I had to. I love that boy. I love him with all of my heart and what he was doing could potentially get him killed. For example, if his girlfriend got pregnant…I’d kill him. This tracking and stalking did not come easy for us. Jake was sucking so much energy from our family. I was determined to not allow him to destroy us and he was determined to self-destruct.

By the summer before his senior year in high school, Jake was barely in the position to graduate the next year. He was still with the girlfriend and the chips on our shoulders were craters. I caught him lying once again and I reminded him that he could live by my rules or get out.

He said “ok, I’m going to live with dad.” I died. How could the baby I raised choose to live with his dad rather than live by my reasonable rules?

So I said “pack your stuff.”And off he went to his dad’s house. The second he left I cried and cried. And then our family became quieter and happier and we missed him but we were able to breathe.

He was there for almost 3 months before asking to come back home. I allowed it, but with the understanding that this is not a revolving door…this is his last trip back home. I reminded him that the rules hadn’t changed and he said that was ok. He missed our big noisy family and he wanted to be at home. It was a wonderful homecoming, for about two months. Things were back to normal quickly though. Only this time my husband and I were not ready to return to a life of following Jake. Instead, what we did was the complete opposite.

Jake’s new non-rules were these : You’re free. You come and go as you please but the house doors are locked at 10pm. You’re an adult. You pay for whatever you want. You want the internet? Buy yourself a computer and you can pay us to use our internet. You want money? Get a job. You need to go somewhere? Here’s the name and number of a local cab company. You may watch our TV as long as you don’t mind watching what we’re watching. Your drug tests will be regular and random, just as before. We still love you, but we don’t believe a word you say and now you have no reason to lie…try speaking the truth or not speaking at all.

He was FURIOUS with this new set of non-rules. But we weren’t. We stopped following, listening and prying. He stopped sneaking out, lying to us, hiding things. He started working, bought a car, paid his way in life, got fabulous grades in his senior year and he graduated. Jake’s now in college and he works and he’s good and kind and funny and handsome oh and he is still with that same girlfriend, Megan, whom we have all grown to love now that she’s not hidden away from us. He also became the son I knew he would be, that first day when he was born.

Raising Jake was the hardest thing I’ve done in life so far. The rewards for raising him the way we did have been so wide-spread. His younger siblings watched and learned through him and if they forget, Jake quickly reminds them that while it might not seem fair, they should just man-up and behave because the alternate route is no way to go.

I really believe that raising our kids is something we have to do our own way. I hope my younger kids decide to teach me gentler lessons in life. Whatever they bring, I’m ready!

Jake and Megan

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest