New Year’s Eve Memories

Raoul was my dentist, but also instantly become my friend at my first appointment when he said, “I love your writing.” As a local columnist known to be a feminist activist, it was not something I heard a lot from men in Charleston, South Carolina in the late 90s. What a surprise to find a dentist who took the role of arts patron to the next level and had fun doing it. Raoul supported the arts by attending art events, but also by constantly promoting the arts as part of his daily routine. He never spent money on advertising for his dental practice. Instead he invested in a killer sound system and an incredible collection of independent music and jazz. His office’s walls were a revolving art gallery for local artists. While playing fabulous music he relayed the details of the artists’ bios and ticket info for upcoming shows of musicians and actors while pulling teeth and filling cavities.

I always think of him on New Year’s Eve and rowdy nights he would have loved – the whole city partying and fun people joining and leaving our party. It’s been years since he died in a car wreck. And, even though I knew him in another city, I miss him in the odd way that, in other years, would lead me to forget for a buzzed moment he’s gone, and I would expect him to burst in to join the party.

“Raoul is cool,” was the recommendation from my intern at the film production company where I worked. But cool had no value to me when talking about dentists. I was looking for gentle and generous with N2O to get me through some dental challenges. Raoul was that, too. He’d crank up the gas, take my music request and close the door, leaving me alone to chill. The patient rooms were cozy and private in a gorgeous 1800s house in downtown Charleston. He’d come back a few minutes later and say in a goofy, announcer-like voice, “You know that Dean. The only kind of pain she likes is champagne.” If I laughed, I was “under” enough for him to work. He always gave me champagne for my birthday.

In spite of how cool Raoul was, I still wasn’t the best patient. Between my having no tolerance for pain, being really claustrophobic, and going through an angst-ridden-writer phase, I was amazed our friendship survived our patient/dentist experiences. At one particularly grumpy appointment he told me his plans for a fun afternoon. I rolled my eyes at his schedule – he didn’t work on Wednesday afternoons and took off Fridays. I said with obvious jealousy, “Nice life.” He said quietly and kindly, “Yep, I made it that way. That’s the cool thing about your life.  You get to do whatever you want to with it.”

His statement was a gentle nudge, just when I needed it. And I appreciated that he knew me well enough to tell me in a way I could truly hear it. Another kind act he did was to always leave me a voice mail rambling about what he loved about my new column every month. I admired his marvelous attention to the joyful details of life: beautiful art, great music, wonderful conversation, and always looking for a way to make a party just a little better.

On New Year’s Eve 1999 in Charleston, a group of friends gathered at his office for champagne before walking with flasks in our pockets and purses to the harbor to see the fireworks. The pineapple drop (the S.C. symbol of friendship) was beside a parking lot, almost a block from the water with police tape keeping the crowd a safe distance from the water’s edge. Our group stood against the tape, wanting to be closer to the water, the harbor – the beautiful, magical point where the locals like to say the East Cooper and West Ashley Rivers meet to form the Atlantic Ocean. I remember this moment so clearly years later: Raoul looking around at the cops who were distracted by the descending pineapple, then simply lifting the yellow tape and smiling. And with no need for words, just a simple gesture from our fearless leader, our party ran across the dark lot towards the water’s edge. The fireworks exploded in the sky and fell towards the water where the gorgeous bursts of color doubled in the reflection, and the crowd followed us.

Every New Year’s Eve I’m farther away from that magical night, and I raised my glass with my usual champagne toast, “May all your pain be champagne!” And I thankfully toasted this memory – the firework’s pink, white and yellow glow lighting Raoul’s smiling face after he’s just led another crowd to more fun. Not just a toast, but a loud crowd’s cheers rolling over the harbor as we welcomed a new year, a new century, a new millennium bound to be marvelous –  because we would make it that way.

Dean’s List: Random Notes in Surreal Times

“Being a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”

Anne Lamott

“… What if everyone simply wrote? What if there were no ‘being a real writer’ to aspire to? What if writing were simply about the act of writing?  If we didn’t have to worry about being published and being judged, how many more of us might write a novel just for the joy of making one? Why should we think of writing a novel as something we couldn’t try – the way an amateur carpenter might build a simple bookcase or even a picnic table? What if we didn’t have to be good at writing? What if we got to do it for sheer fun?”

Julia Cameron in The Right to Write

A word.
Selective sharing: Mantras, notes of ideas to return to and expand on later, ramblings, stream-of-conscious, from morning pages and writing classes

After moving back to SC in 2017 to be with family through a health crisis, I then stepped into the role of elder care for my mother who died in January 2020. It was the same month I quit my job with an interfaith environmental nonprofit and stepped back into public relations. I’d already been through a lot of loss, and I told friends I needed to go to an Ashram for a year. I needed solitude and quiet and to step out of the everyday hustle. Not possible, but still that’s what I needed. 

A few weeks later, shelter-in-place began in response to the pandemic. And, Friends, I have written, and I have healed. Nothing in life prepared me for the intensity of lots of time alone sorting through my mother’s belongings and what she kept of my sister’s things after her death in 2012. Like experiential, DIY, interactive therapy.

Unexpectedly, a friend retrieved my furniture and boxes stored in Austin. I’m really grateful. And, so, … let’s see … major cross-country move, health issues, elder care, death, global pandemic, relaunching a business, back in the rural area I grew up in, and pretty much fled and avoided since I left for college. 

There’s a lovely combo of prodigal daughter juju, big-city back to small town/rural area shock, more mother/daughter stuff, sister stuff, not even going into high school trauma or other family. Plus the regular mid-life crisis and pandemic. Buy my southern memoir already and give me a Netflix series deal. Trust me, I’ve got the content. 

So, as I’m emptying boxes from Austin I haven’t seen in over two years I realize I’m unpacking my own interfaith journey. Lots of candle holders, little Buddha’s, gemstones, minerals and crystals. Chimes and wind chimes. And the books – Tibetan Book of the Dead, Melody’s Earth Magic, Seat of the Soul, Animal Medicine Cards, And Bibles. So many Bibles. Mine from childhood, my mom’s, my sister’s, New International Version, King James Version, from baptism, from high school graduation. 

From Baptist to atheist back to agnostic, then dabbling with a little pagan, and a lot of spiritual stuff, and a few attempts at joining Unitarian and Unity. Love the message of A Course In Miracles. (But I am no longer a Marianne Williamson fan.) Some Abraham works for me. The content is good; I’m not sure what the source is. I could write for days about the many, many psychic readings in Los Angeles, Boulder, Austin, Columbia and Charleston. Maybe more of a dabbler than a seeker? While in the past I critiqued what I didn’t like, now I take what works for me and leave the rest behind. 

Another part of my journey in the late 90s and early 00s included interviewing people, doing research and covering events for a Body / Mind / Spirit column that I convinced both the Post and Courier (Charleston) and the Free Times (Columbia) to run monthly. And I wrote Soul Food meditations for Skirt! Magazine. I even edited a book channeled by angels when I lived in Boulder. (Now, that’s a story.) 

For the first time in decades I live where I grew up and I take country drives to clear my mind. Around almost every curve a steeple reaches high into the sky offering some hope. Add a few trips into nearby towns and the beginning of my faith journey is a driving tour: the church where I was baptized at age seven; the Christian school I attended second through sixth grade; the church where I rededicated my life at age 12; the one that needed me on their youth basketball team; the one where I was repeatedly the “sword drill” champion in Sunday evening training union; the one where people were so kind to me in high school; the ones that have been so good to my family. 

Now, my time with emergency services in Texas resurfaces as I drive by the churches. Though I was an editor and conference planner, during hurricanes I was part of the team deploying ambulances. I find myself wondering about staging locations, and the size of their kitchens. How many can they feed? How big is the gym? With spacing for covid – how many cots can it hold? Are they holding services virtually? Wearing masks? Could churches be part of the solution? (Ever hopeful. I know, I know.)

I needed faith more than ever. So on the summer solstice I restarted my own interfaith journey. I chose a theme, or intention, or mantra for summer reading, writing and spiritual practices – sacred summer.  A word. My word. For the summer. Sacred. 

My plan was to keep it simple. Like returning to the breath in meditating, I returned to the word sacred throughout the day. To notice and honor the sacred in all aspects of life through mindfulness, writing, acts of service and meditating. Am I overlooking the sacred in this moment? Am I bringing anything sacred to the moment? 

Right after choosing the mantra I got an email inviting me to the first online Nia White Belt training. Led by Nia founder Debbie Rosas. She shares the same birthday as my mother. Both Aquarians, like me. (Hey Aquarians! It is our time – the Age of Aquarius!)

I’ve danced and briefly taught Nia since the early 2000s so I’ve been thrilled to have classes on demand on NiaTV.fit and online training. But still, It had been a while, so I popped open the app on my TV. And the featured video, the first routine I saw, was SACRED. A new 20-minute version – perfect for my energy and fitness level at that moment. Okay, I’ll take that kind of synchronicity as encouragement. 

I read The Joy of Movement: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage by Kelly McGonigal, PhD, and loved learning that scientists believe exercising, and especially group exercising, increases “molecules of hope” in the brain. The dance troupe energy of live Nia classes is really awesome. I’ve definitely felt the molecules of hope in class and after when everyone is high vibe and social in the studio lobby. 

So I wondered, how will I get the molecules of hope through zoom? In the first session, we did the 7-minute workout … and as we began the one minute of laughter – on the belly, then the back, then sitting up, then standing – at the moment we started laughing, the tech producer un-muted everyone. And the laughter of my global dance community filled my little apartment. Almost 200 dancers from all over the US and several continents. It was the most connected I’d felt in so long – laughing and crying and dancing. 

My mother and I are both known for having loud, cackling laughs and one laugh leads to another and another sacred moment. She frequently gave the advice, “Don’t let anyone steal your joy.” 

So much loss leads to valuing what remains and seeing the sacred in everything. Humbling. I cry in the Hamilton soundtrack “I thought I was so smart’ – for knowing how they felt for their children, and it’s also how I felt about my mother. Many times, I thought I had grief under control and had felt the most love I could. And a memory comes up – and, yeah, I thought I was so smart. 

Summer became Fall. I have friends who choose a word for the new year, but I was drawn to shift with the seasons. and I chose Focus as a mantra for Fall. Say it. Sing it. Write it. Doodle it. Refocus. Focus. And it paid off with great projects and a relaunch of my online writing classes. The Nia experience let me know I could really recreate the connection online that I had with in person classes. 

And now it is Winter. And my Winter word is Wellness. For me it is all the usual healthy stuff like better food, more water and more movement, and also writing, creating, connecting and sharing more. So, thanks for reading. 

If you’re alumni of my Write Your Life as a Woman workshops, please join our Facebook group for current and previous participants. If you’re interested in Smart Ideas for Body, Mind and Soul – please join the Dean’s List group. I’ve just reactivated both groups.

I’m wishing you Wellness and Wonder. Seems like this winter needs all the words. 

Peace, love, blessing and wonder, 

Dean

Hello

Dean headshot 9-22Thanks for visiting. I’ve recently returned to focusing on writing and teaching and sharing publicly again. I’ve also included a few old favorites here. Please sign up for email about writing workshops, and please say hello on your favorite social media – @tdeanadams.   

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Clues, Advice and Thanks

This year as I celebrate 20 years of teaching Write Your Life as a Woman, I’m sharing some older articles and columns inspired by the class. “Clues, Advice and Thanks” originally appeared in skirt magazine in 1997, the first year I led a memoir writing class, which led me to create Write Your Life as a Woman. 

Clues, Advice and Thanks
by T. Dean Adams

“So,” Betty looks around the cafeteria to confirm no one is listening, “How do you like working with the old people?” I nod and smile politely. It is my first day, and I am thankful my mouth is full of food and I cannot answer. “It’s a wonderful time of life,” she continues, “except for the overwhelming sense of finality.” She will not drop her direct gaze into my eyes and I am speechless. Finally, I say, “Tell me what it feels like.” And she did, and then she wrote about it, too.

Betty was one of my first students in a class I led called “Collecting Your Memories” for three weeks at an Elderhostel program in Charleston, South Carolina. Each week a different group of students came in from all over the country, and the ages ranged from the late 50’s to mid-80’s. The purpose of the class was to write about life stories and memories. The focus as not so much on “the price of bread in 1948” as it was on taking a reflective look at their lives. When I was asked to lead the class I hesitated because I had never taught in a formal setting. But I was stumbling into my 30’s praying for clues of what to do with my life, while I was doing the same things I’d been doing for years. When you pray for clues, you don’t second-guess them.

Though my students were from all over the country, their stories were often similar. In each class people wrote of how surprisingly different their children were. The fathers wrote of the births of their children and mentioned that “back then” they were not allowed in the delivery rooms and how they wished they had been. The men described homes in terms of numbers, measurements, and sizes of a room; the women described homes in terms of the children’s ages when they lived there. A woman wrote of her mother’s memory of Armistice Day in New York City when Caruso stepped out onto a balcony and sang the Star Spangled Banner and the crowds on the street blow stopped to listen.

Jack and Norma, from New York City, cannot understand why their friends are retiring to Florida. Jack told me relatively clean “dirty” jokes all week, all prefaced with, “if I stop suddenly it’s because Norma is walking in the room and she would kill me if she knew I talked like this.” And Norma wrote “The three great disappointments of my life are that, one, I was deprived of piano lessons as a child. Two, that I can no longer eat green peppers…” And three, I cannot remember. It haunts me. Makes me wish I’d written down every word they said. I try to remember the third thing, but instead I hear Norma’s strong New York accent as she read about getting her daughter out of jail for protesting the Vietnam War… how much she loves her daughter, how scared she was for her safety. Jack listens, nodding solemnly, as she reads.

In their stories and conversations, my students taught me about aging. How surprised they are to be old enough to retire. How shocking it is for the body to start to fail you, sometimes slowly, other times abruptly. They told me that everyone condescends to them, talking loudly and slowly, making jokes about their memory being bad. Everyone is sweet to them, but stereotypes them as slow, sickly and tired, and how insulting that feels.

They gave me lots of advice and doted on me. Somehow they knew I needed it. They gave me pats on the back and hugs. And advice like, “Pull your hair back you’re hiding your pretty face.” “Never date a boy who doesn’t love his mother.” “You’re saving, aren’t you?” “Did you have breakfast?”

I miss my students and wish I had the space to write about each of them. One of them, Bob, refused to write. During the first assignment he alternately stared at the floor and the ceiling. Before the next assignment I reminded the class they were writing for themselves first, and they could always pass when it was their turn to read.

Still Bob did not write. I spoke to him gently. “Just start with ‘I remember’ and see where it takes you.” He smiled politely and folded his arms. “This is writing practice, the only rule is to keep your pen moving for the entire ten minutes no matter what you write. You can write ‘I hate this,’ but you have to write. That’s all I’m asking of you.” He shifted in his chair and stared at the floor again.

When you are 30-years-old and have never taught before and an 84-year-old student refuses to write, you try everything – every writing mantra, every trick you know, even a little guilt – and when nothing works you ignore him and pray. Dear God/Goddess/whoever, please let this man write. I know he has stories to tell. I know he was a chemist and a father and a husband and apparently his wife is forcing him to come to this class.

On the third day, Bob started writing and on the fourth day, he even read out loud. On the last day, he shook my hand and then held it between both of his and said, “Thank you. I didn’t know I could write.” He held up his notebook as he said, “My kids have never heard some of these stories.”

And I felt the space around us, the light in the room, the sound of his words in my ears and the sparks in my brain making sense of the sounds. It was so big, such a big, big moment that words can’t hold it down, even now, months later as I write them. It felt like there was an exact reason to be alive in this body on this planet for this lifetime.

And I gave thanks.

Write Your Life – class contract

To set the structure for the class, I created this contract. Most items apply well to life also!

Write Your Life
with T. Dean Adams
Class Contract ©

I, _____________________________________________, on this ______ day of _____________, 20__, do bravely enter into this agreement, with myself, to treat myself to the soul-filling creative experience of a writing workshop.

1. While in class I will honor my intentions of writing by turning off my cell phone. I will not check email, or social media or text messages or voice mail. Nothing is more important than writing during the workshop.

2. I agree to keep my pen moving during all timed exercises, even if I completely run out of things to say, because if I stop writing I might start judging and editing.

  • I will feel free to write absolute drivel, or “I have nothing to say.” Over and over. I will write whatever I am thinking even if it’s “I don’t know what to write…”or I don’t want to be here…”
  • If feeling stuck, I will boldly attempt to jump start my writing by beginning sentences with: “I remember… I don’t remember… I want to write about… I don’t want to write about…”

3. Without hesitation I will write my first thoughts even if they’re not neat and tidy. These ideas are uncensored, sincere and usually things I really need to write out of my head and onto paper.

4. At no point will I bother with such trivial matters as grammar, punctuation or spelling. I will let go of such ridiculous worries as likes and views, sell-ability, or old traumas such as grades, red pens, permanent records and concerned phone calls to my parents. I will write 100% for myself, not at all concerned for anyone else’s opinion or to entertain or impress anyone else.

5. Should I ever decide to, I’ll “pass” on reading out loud without scorn from my classmates or shame from myself.

6. I absolutely, positively, swear I will not apologize before reading my writing out loud.

  • This includes masked apologies such as “It’s really not very good,” or “I’m not a good writer, but I’ll read anyway.”
  • I will honor the class motto of “Never say you’re sorry.”

7. Upon receiving a compliment I will graciously accept it without one iota of deferral, and I will take at least one entire moment to bask in the pleasure of receiving praise.

8. No matter what topic is suggested I will always be true to my heart and mind and follow my pen where it leads me.

9. I will help create and honor this class as a “safe psychic space” which means it is free of emotional and mental abuse.

10. Simply by being present I commit to honoring other’s privacy. What happens in class stays in class.

11. My mind will remain open to experiences and beliefs different than mine.

12. In all ways I will be kind, encouraging and supportive to others and to myself. This includes giving or receiving applause after writing and/or reading aloud.

By signing below, I agree to the above, so I, and those gathered with me, might find great joy in writing, creating, exploring and playing.

___________________________________________________
Name and Date