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

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.

Sweet Melissa

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.

Many years ago in my skirt magazine column I wrote about losing my friend Melissa, who committed suicide. skirt was then a tiny magazine in Charleston, SC, and I had fled the south, a burned out activist, for a liberal reprieve in Boulder, Colorado. After the piece was published in Charleston, people wrote and called to comfort me. Strangers picked up the phone and dialed 411 and asked for me by name. (Yes, it was that long ago. I did not even have an email address.) People left messages and sent cards and letters to me telling me of their losses, their struggles, and of finding some comfort in simply connecting and acknowledging the pain. I’ve lost other friends since then to suicide and wrangled my own depression and anxiety.  It’s easy to forget, when you’re in pain, that help is just a phone call or even a click away by reaching out to friends or family. Also, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers help by 1-800-273-TALK (8255)or online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Sweet Melissa
by T. Dean Adams

My friend Melissa ended her life on New Year’s Eve. I cannot believe it, don’t want to believe it. I don’t have words for this feeling of loss. We met in 1988 while we were in school at the University of South Carolina. I remember the exact day she walked into my living room and into my life. The kind of friendship that immediately feels like, “Hey where have you been? Now I feel a little more complete.”

We haven’t lived in the same city in years, but our friendship never faded. We never went more than a month or so without speaking, and I never felt distant from her even though we were often thousands of miles apart. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1992, my mother rode cross-country with me and took the train back to South Carolina. The train stopped overnight in New Orleans on New Year’s Eve, and every hotel room in the city was booked. Melissa was at Tulane getting her MBA. She picked up my mom, who she’d never met before, at the train station by holding up a sign reading “Dean’s mom” and took her in for the night.

I could call Melissa anytime about anything. Phone calls always started with simply, “hey.” No need to say who was calling, no need for formalities. When I lived alone for the first time, she bought me a set of pots and pans and said, “You’re 25-years-old, learn to cook.” She would tell me bluntly when I was overreacting, when I was being slack. She was a great cook and had a great sense of style. She was brilliant and beautiful. We could sit on my couch for hours and talk about everything and nothing. To me, she was a given in life.

Now I cry and scream, “How?’ And “Why?” And nobody answers because nobody knows the answers. And I want to gather everyone I know into one room and keep them safe and close by. But I can’t. So I call or write everyone I know and tell them I love them and why, and that I’m sorry for any/everything and I forgive them for any/everything. Marcy quotes Marianne Williamson, “We’re just here to tend to human hearts.” “Including our own,” Michael reminds me. Nikki says, “Be careful and take good care of yourself.” Mom says, “Find one joy in every day.” Robbie says, “Write, just write.” Lisa, Angie and Phillis cry with me on the phone. Here in Colorado, Christi says, “Tell me everything about your friend.” Stephen says, “Get in the car, you can’t just sit home and cry.” Maura hugs me. My boss Ed says, “Call me at home if you need to talk.” And I want to write down everything I know to be true, to be fact. I want words. I want life to be neatly typed and double-spaced, and I want it to make sense. But this doesn’t.

I know most of what made Melissa sad. I cannot tell you the details because I respect her privacy. There are so many sad things in life and we do not honor our sadness. We try to cheer up, pop anti-depressants, buy stuff – hell, even move to other cities – to be happier. And maybe we should learn to face the sadness. We should know that it passes, and we will not shatter and break. And we have to be better – to our friends and families and to ourselves.

Here in Boulder it is sunny and 70 degrees in mid-January. Snow sits in piles, but we are blessed with a surprise touch of spring. Still I want the comfort of facts. Spring always follows winter, and dawn always follows night. I will always miss Melissa, and I have no words – but paper could not hold the pain of losing her anyway.