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

Crocheting and Crying

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.

Crocheting and Crying
by T. Dean Adams
This article originally appeared in skirt! magazine in 1998.

For the past year I have had the urge to crochet. Though I rarely have maternal urges, the desire to crochet feels similar. My great-aunt Myrt learned to crochet when she retired from fifty years of working at a textile mill. She taught my mother, who has crocheted for as long as I can remember.

In most memories of my mother, she is crocheting; her fingers move a needle in and around yarn in a steady comforting rhythm while she talks. Her fingertips count stitches and she seldom even looks down at what she’s doing. Yarn and a needle are always with her like a pocket book. She can make pretty much anything you can think of: scarves, hats, afghans, little Christmas wreaths and Easter bunnies to wear as pins, frilly collars, shawls and bedroom shoes.

My mother crocheted while she waited for me after dance classes, while she sat through football games to watch me perform with the band at half-time. When I moved to Los Angeles she rode with me and crocheted her way across all the oddly-shaped states slammed up against each other, making delicate cross-shaped Bible markers.

She was crocheting during our last big fight. The one we still gingerly step around. The one that made me feel I’d left the tribe for good and the person I’ve become would never be let back in.

I left my family, my tribe, on my own. I went to college, moved and moved and moved and moved and never even thought of moving back to my hometown. I left the church, left the beliefs I grew up on and became activist. I even left the kitchen – the womb of all comfort and care, where love cannot be denied in a green bean casserole and salmon patties, and became a vegetarian. I write the truth, as best I can, as bravely as I can, about me, my life, my story – which is also their story, for total strangers to read.

Aunt Myrt died last month and I suppose I have known for the last year it would be soon. I knew the day she died, knew when I saw the light blinking on the answering machine with the message from my mom. I loved Aunt Myrt because she loved my mother. She loved me too, but she never knew me the way she knew my mother, who she loved like her own daughter. Having no children of her own, she cared for everyone else’s children. Now grown and spanning the ages of twenty to sixty, the children she’s loved each think they were her favorite.

I finally bought yarn and needles and started a scarf. Never stopping to think, “I don’t know how to do this.” Some odd mother-line osmosis gave me the innate ability to crochet with only a quick glance at instructions. Every time I pick up the needle I have to concentrate at first: around, down, around, pull through, around, pull through two, around, pull through two more. After a few rows my fingers fly and stitch-by-stitch a scarf flows from my hands.

It makes so much sense for me to crochet, I told myself. I can make all my holiday gifts. But when I started the scarf, when I tied my first loop knot to begin, I felt nothing logical. The first stitches, the first rows were like a big sigh after holding my breath. I crocheted and cried. This first purple scarf will be full of wanting. Wanting to be part of my family I feel so far from though geographically they are close.

One row is an apology because I did not go to Aunt Myrt’s funeral. It is a weakness I hope to outgrow, but I cannot go to funerals. I fear the sorrow may consume me and I will never stop crying. There are rows and rows of love. Maternal love, not just from biological mothers, but also the kind my aunt gave my mom, and she gave my sister and me, and we all give to each other.

There is a row of forgiveness for the times my big spirit scared them and they tried to hold me back. And a row of sorrow for the years apart. A row of the things I never told them that I wish I could. Another row of apology for the mean things I said and did and wish I hadn’t.

Around, down, around, pull though, around, pull through two, around, pull through two more. I crochet now to relax, to think, and when I don’t know what else to do. The very act conjures up the spirit of my aunt and my mother and I feel the gift of their love and strength, the hope that forgiveness brings, and the grounded feeling of being true to myself, honoring both what I’ve been given and what I’ve become on my own.

Soon it will be winter, and I know this scarf and the peace it brings will keep me warm.