Dean’s List of Synchronicity

  • Earlier in the week, I’d had a break-through realization (that’s a rebranded breakdown) that working on my memoir was causing more anxiety than pleasure. Not in the way that all writing is brutal and intense, but still a creative flow. This was more panic inducing and stirring up PTSD. After working really intensely on it during the pandemic and this year, I trusted my intuition to put it aside.
    It’s The New Times. I’d like to shift my creative writing to the present. Especially since I’m in a new place having just moved to southeast Wisconsin. I had a creative direction meeting with myself and wrote by hand for pages and pages, changed locations, wrote more, went for a walk, wrote more and went deeper.  Did some Nia – and sat with the Move to Heal mantra-like question of self-care: What would feel better? 
  • Short form. Stream-of-consciousness. Lists for Dean’s List. Lyrics. Poems. Creative nonfiction. Maybe some articles. Stepping stones to step away from the big project with the self-imposed urgency stirred up by the losses in recent years – from personal to community to global. 
  • A day after I reached this decision, my great-nephew, who is eight, was visiting and asked me to tell him all my careers in order. Oh, my.
    “Well, in my twenties, I moved around a lot, so …,” I began.
    After a few moves, he asks for clarification: “So, you worked there three times? You left for different cities and went back twice?”
    “So, you went back to the same job in the same city two times?”
    Um, yes.
    “Why do you keep repeating your life, Aunt Dean?”
    Well, now. Not sure I can answer that, but thanks for saving me six months of therapy. I’m open to messages from the Universe, but dang. So, on to my new writing direction. 
  • A few days later I saw an Instagram post about Out of the Box – Reading the Landscape / Writing the Walk presented by Black Box Fund – a Milwaukee arts organization doing super creative events all summer. The free event was led by poet Chuck Stebelton (An Apostle Island, Oxeye Press, 2021) who is also a Wisconsin Master Naturalist volunteer. The event was being held at Lakeshore Park, the only urban state park in Wisconsin, located by Lake Michigan, in downtown Milwaukee. Since I moved to southeast Wisconsin in April, I’ve been mesmerized by the farmland, trails, lakes – especially Lake Geneva, along with enjoying family and the nearby small towns. So, I chose this as my first trip into Milwaukee.
  • My parking angels were on it, and I got a free spot near the Summerfest Amphitheater. Yes, the world’s largest music festival happens here. Music has always been, is, and always will be a big part of my life. 
  • I opened my truck door and was surprised to hear a sax solo in what I immediately knew was a jazz-funk band. 
  • As I headed towards the park, and the planned spot to meet, I took in the cityscape of Milwaukee – like a kid’s drawing – tall and short buildings, chopping up the horizon. A bridge led over the water of the park’s lagoon and marina, and from the top I could see Lake Michigan, the REbirth: Cracking Art flock of giant bird art sculptures and the funk band playing on a dock. People were walking, biking, roller-blading, pushing babies in strollers, climbing art, dancing and picnicking. All kinds of diversity in age, race and speed. Not one to hide my freak flag, I stopped at the top of the bridge and threw my hands up (think Mary Tyler Moore in NYC) and spun around from water to cityscape, to more iconic sites I’d been researching online for months like Discovery World and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
  • The poetry event was lovely. Reading, listening, writing, walking. (I’ll definitely do some walk-n-write events for Write Your Life.) I met nice people, heard and read good poems, got some great insight into the plants and birds of the prairie in the park. I split off from the group to go a bit farther and see the Hoan Bridge and visit the Milwaukee Pierhead Light
  • I wandered back to the REbirth: Cracking Art exhibit to check it out and enjoy the music. Of the hundreds of people in the park, the one I asked if she knew the band was the saxophonist’s girlfriend! The band was Funk Club Wagon – a funk band that started during the pandemic, on a trailer, pulled behind a van, bringing socially-distanced music to neighborhoods where people were stuck at home. The band also does FunkToon shows on a pontoon boat, and even has a MKE River Round-up featuring other local bands. That involves a starting bar, people on kayaks following the live music on a pontoon through downtown Milwaukee with a stop at one riverside bar, then returning to another.
  • My new friend introduced herself as Tami, and spelled it out T-A-M-I. Same name and spelling as my first name! She’s a writer and in film, and we’re meeting soon for coffee. 
  • My first new friend when I moved to Greenville, SC in 2017 was Tamara Dwyer – who was a T-A-M-I in childhood! (She’s a realtor and if you move to Greenville – and a lot of you will! – call her!) 
  • So, new-friend-Tami passed my name to another musician, who wanted to talk shop, and whose girlfriend just moved to Austin. 
  • On the way back to my truck, I noticed a small percussion park – xylophone, marimba, pipes, drums – in great shape and no one around. My first school band experience was as a percussionist, and marimba, xylophone, etc., are my favorites. I bought a new keyboard just a few weeks ago. So I played a few tunes as people passed by on the Hank Aaron Trail. Might have started writing a song about trusting intuition, following passions, new adventures, moving forward and not repeating the past.

TA-DA Lists

I’m leading a couple of my Write Your Life As A Woman online groups thru The Artist Way by Julia Cameron (room in Sun. 6-8pm ET staring Jan 31. DM for info). In one of her books she talks about having a TA-DA list at the end of the day of what you accomplished. Instead of a to-do list at the beginning of the day.

Seems perfect for right now. I’m sure all the experts agree that we need to have reasonable expectations of ourselves and what we accomplish … and, of course, I love that it’s similar to my initials and my blog name


… so….

Weekend TA-DA List:

  • Have been resting more
  • Watching less news *But still not missing anything
  • Writing more
  • Pausing from sunset to last light for misc. spiritual stuff
  • Lighting candles each night for me, you, everyone here, gone, struggling, evolving
  • Having great artist dates… Pressing flowers, trying new painting methods, singing along to musicals
  • And I salvaged all the produce in my fridge before it went bad and made lentil stew.
  • And I started distilling my own water for growing my own sprouts.


If you feel inspired to share your TA-DA list please do!


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