The Catalyst

A Writing Teacher Writes (plus some writing prompts and recipes)

Reminders October 26, 2016

Filed under: Aging,Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 9:23 am
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The prompt this time was the five-word free write. For an explanation of this prompt, click here. The words this time were:

Jellyfish   Blackberries    Green    Tributaries    Returning        13451001_10208840704070200_6833925630858366482_n

What I wrote is below.

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Remember this, I tell myself, standing naked in the mirror. I’ve been picking apart my body piece by piece: flabby inner thighs, saggy chest, wrinkly neck, round belly. Remember this. The way you sometimes want a different body, a new body, a better shell.

Remember this in the times the fear rises up inside you like an electrical current: the near head-on collision at Grove and Webster, the rush of adrenaline that made the fist of your heart swell in an instant, the brakes scrape and lock. That moment of I want to live. Remember this as you walk along the edge of the memorial for Orlando, L-shaped, wrapped around the corner of 18th and Castro, a boomerang of beautiful faces—49 of them, all dead—no future now, no way to become parents, artists, nurses, no more bodies to feed or loathe or bring pleasure to on the dance floor with their lovers: no more life to live. Their names written on the sidewalk so they wouldn’t be forgotten. You must remember this.

Remember this body of yours, I tell my future self. The one unmarked by surgical scars, the one that lifts heavy potted plants, carries luggage up frozen escalators, stirs thick cake batter with a sturdy wooden spoon, holds babies who become men and women. When I am pumping my arms and legs on long, winding walks down to 24th Street, or climbing five flights of stairs at the Forestville train station, doing a headstand, a backbend, lifting a barbell to my chest: remember this.

When you awaken from a bad dream in a good bed to sunlit blinds, when you sit cross-legged on the floor with old colleagues who know you and love you, when a dog kisses you and climbs into your lap. Remember those dark times when you wanted it all to end—just say it—when you wanted to die, when you wished the suffering was over. Remember this when you come blinking  back to life after anesthesia, when you have a drainage tube under your ribs and a catheter in your dick, that you didn’t always know, really, how badly you wanted to live. Not just publish a book or buy a home or climb Machu Picchu, but simply live, share another meal with loved ones, or a birthday cake, grow another flowering plant, or fall in love again.

All the shallow shit just falls away: wrinkles, cellulite, callouses. You’re beautiful as a newborn. You’re whole and present and full of healthy blood. You have to remember this, right here in the mirror. Right here. In the mirror. You have to. Remember this.

 

Beginnings and Endings August 27, 2016

Filed under: Grief,Uncategorized,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 11:26 am
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The prompts this time were:        FullSizeRender

I never can say goodbye.

Where do I begin?

There’s no love like the future love.

What I wrote is below.

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My youngest nephew recently graduated from high school; in three months he’ll head to Oregon for college, and I will have to send him the care packages I promised my older nephew, but never delivered.

Does it matter, really, how good I am or how much I bake? Because I know that his love for me comes from feeling safe and heard, from receiving advice he can’t ask for from his mother, his father, or his sibling.

“No offense,” he said when he was fourteen, while we were shopping for new school clothes in a practically empty suburban Sears, “but sometimes I wish I were gay. Women can be so confusing.”

“No offense taken,” I said, and we sat together in that quiet, ridiculous, navy blue waiting area outside of the dressing rooms, the table between us holding a vase of silk flowers, the dim light buzzing above us. That day his gay uncle gave him advice about loving women and learning more about them. That day he asked about my dead mother—his grandma, a woman he never met—and my oldest brother, a man he doesn’t quite remember. That day we really became friends.

But he was always familiar. At six weeks, colicky and cranky, we passed him around the church before his baptism, while the priest droned on and on. The baby boy was wailing. Exhausted when he finally got to me, he fell asleep in my arms. I looked down at his tiny face and knew I already loved him.

At two-and-a-half, while playing in my new car, he suddenly turned to me and asked with great seriousness, “Where’s Pop-Pop?” It was what he called his grandfather, an Italian-American, who was, of course, in the kitchen, cooking. “C’mon!” he said, and we ran inside. “Pop-Pop,” he said, reaching out to take my father’s hand, “are you okay?” Pop laughed.

“Why yes, Tiger,” he said. “I’m fine.”

He has my mother’s pale skin, my grandfather’s big brows, his mother’s sarcasm, and a beautiful head of dark, shiny hair that is all his own. And I wonder who he might have been already, in another lifetime, determined this time to come back as a tall, sensitive, strong young man. And now of course, I wonder who he’ll become.

Am I allowed to feel this proud? He’s not my child after all; I didn’t choose an outfit for his kindergarten portrait; I didn’t drive him to the DMV to get his driver’s permit. But some part of me knows, beyond this projection of a childless man who wanted so much to be a parent, that we are somehow linked beyond DNA or history. We belong to a tribe of truth-seekers and sensitive men, of deep feelers and get-down-on-the-sidewalk dog lovers. We know one another; we will never be strangers.

At my father’s memorial, my nephew was barely twelve years old. Shy at the time, and quiet, he surprised me when he voluntarily spoke to the whole room—twenty or more of us, and many strangers to him—about a memory he had. My father witnessed him hitting a homerun one day, and he said it was “the best homerun” he had ever made. My father’s presence there that day on the baseball field had stayed in his young mind as a moment of being, a bright memory of being seen.

Pop-Pop had been a witness to the perfect crack of wood meeting leather, the little white ball arcing up into a pale blue afternoon sky. He still heard him clapping and cheering from the green bleachers, and my father’s voice, filled with praise, was still ringing in his ears.

And while I was surprised that he spoke, I was not surprised at the beautiful way he brought our beloved back to life again, because he has always done that for me. He reminds me of so many people in my family I have loved and lost. He reminds me to keep loving, to never stop, no matter the distance. And for that, I’m so very thankful.

 

At Sea August 14, 2016

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 9:32 am
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The prompt this time is this one photo. It’s what inspired what I wrote below.

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It’s a hot clear day in Corsica. Our ship is docked in the large port, well out of sight, and we’ve taken a fifteen-minute bus ride down the white hot coastline to spend the day at the beach. The Tyrrhenian Sea is so clear, you can see the sand beneath your feet a hundred yards from shore.

Everything is blue.

The beach is filled with beautiful, dark-skinned families with thick black hair and large brown eyes. But in line for the restroom, I share a tiny patch of shade with a man who looks more like me: fair-skinned with blue eyes. We have a conversation in broken English and French, and I notice he has a similar stocky frame, threads of silver in his dark blonde hair, a few lines on his forehead and around his eyes. He’s muscular, but has the softer stomach and chest that often come with middle age. I find him beautiful, and even more so later, as he lies on the chaise next to me, and I wonder for a moment if that’s how some people see me as well. For a moment, I stop self-denigrating and feel a strong appreciation for my own body, still vital and healthy after all these years of living.

When the sun becomes too hot, I lie on my back in the water, and I realize it’s been 26 years since I escaped this way: a long, lazy day at the beach, floating in the sea, looking up at the sky.

I can only see the sky above me and feel my body, weightless. With my ears in the water the only sound I can hear is my own breath, my lungs filling and emptying, filling and emptying, and I wonder how my breathing will feel different after surgery.

Everything is blue.

After we return to the ship, I can’t pull myself out of this lovely, languid laziness. We’ve pulled away from shore and are once again at sea. There’s a pool party going on on the Lido Deck; house music is pumping from the speakers and young men are dancing in their skimpy bathing suits. But I don’t feel like dancing, so I’ve found a shady chaise on the Observation Deck, starboard side, away from the views of land and three floors above the poolside disco. My friend has gone to get us drinks, and for a moment, I am alone on the deck with only the sea rushing by. Tall glass wind guards frame the view.

I have a sudden rush of gratitude for this life I’m living. A voice inside me hollers, “I want to live!” like Susan Hayward (which really means, “I’m afraid to die!”), and though I laugh at my own melodrama, I am also acutely aware of the short time left before my upcoming surgery—just thirteen days now—and that old fear rises up again like ice in my chest. Focusing on my breath takes on a whole new meaning when I feel anxious about losing a part of my lung, but I do it right then and there, and stare at all that beautiful blue moving swiftly by on the other side of the glass.

What if death is like this? I think, replacing my fear of nothingness. What if death is just a blue sky and a blue ocean rolling by endlessly? It could be true. What if the afterlife is simply an endless sunlit blue day at sea until we bloom again into something else: a grasshopper, a wild iris, a volcano, or a newborn baby? But the problem I have with the concept of reincarnation is that it still seems like just another way of dealing with our fear of death. Who knows what happens after you die? No one.

Anyway, I tell myself, nobody’s dying right now. We’re out at sea; we’re having cocktails; I’m reading a hardcover of beautiful prose, signed by the author, a gift from a friend who shook that author’s hand, who looked into his eyes. We’re heading to Rome tomorrow, then to Mallorca. We’re on a luxury cruise ship. There are no catastrophes here. None at all.

 

 

Aging (Not So) Gracefully July 22, 2016

Filed under: Aging,Grief,Humor,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 11:09 am
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PAUL-HOLLYWOOD_2731978bThe prompts this time were:

Having an awakening

Well, the only word for it is passé.

I’m terribly sorry, but you’re not going to make love to me tonight.

What I wrote is below.

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At the optometrist, I discover my weakening eyes require a stronger prescription; now it’s harder to read small print in low light. “That’s okay,” I tell myself, “there are some great looking glasses out there now.” But that little part of me that clicks off insults in the mirror is busy with his checklist. “The skin on your belly is soft and flabby, and your neck is lined and red from sun damage.” So begins the nagging voice inside that reminds me I am aging. Daily. Rapidly.

“Try these new lenses,” my optometrist says, taking out a yellow and white box I already hate. “They’re corrective for astigmatism, and yours seems to have gotten slightly worse.” Great, I think. Even my eyeballs are growing more misshapen. “And your feet are dry and cracking,” the shitty little guy inside says. “Better be more consistent about putting lotion on your feet before bed.” Add that to the list of activities I never had to do when I was young. It seems life’s all about maintenance now, all the time.

“Everything dries up as you age,” a friend told me once. “Your eyes, your hair, your skin. There’s less oil production everywhere. Even your body fluids shrink in volume.” Um, TMI? I thought. But thanks for that uplifting information.

After my depressing eye appointment, I stop at Peet’s to get a cup of coffee, too fatigued to make it past four o’clock without a caffeine jolt (or a nap). Everything feels harder now that I’m in my fifties. What is this struggle? I ask myself that over and over and over again. Why can’t I just accept growing older and be happy I’m alive and healthy? These two strong legs, this full head of hair (albeit, with strands of grey, and thinning). Why can’t I love my body as it is right now? It’s only going to grow older.

Some people seem more attracted to me as I age. People call me Sir in a way that sometimes makes me think they want me to take charge in the bedroom. They hold the door open for me and then watch my ass as I walk in front of them. Just yesterday, a young bank teller was giving me the big eyes, flirtatiously chatting me up. The guys on DudesNude and Scruff often refer to me as “Stud,” even after they see my shirtless picture. It seems some younger men would like an older Daddy boyfriend who occasionally enjoys a beer. Maybe there’s a new hotness quotient here I’m missing? Maybe. But why do I still feel like a chubby, middle-aged guy who drives a boring car and is no longer marriage material if so many men keep telling me I’m fuckable and fabulous? How do I learn to see this aging body and this new desirability with grace and affection?

Everyone else seems to understand that this is the most natural thing in the world. Growing older. Becoming more comfortable in your own skin. No one else is comparing me to the younger version of me, 25 pounds lighter with a flat stomach. Nobody is asking me to be younger than I am right now, except me. “Older men are hot,” my close friend Renaldo says. He and I are the same age, and he seems to embrace his older, sexier self. “When are you going to get that through your head?” he asks. Then he adds, “Honey, you’re beautiful. Somewhere out there, there’s a barista lusting over you right now.” When he says this, I believe him. We bubble up with laughter, and I can see the lines around our eyes crinkling up like tissue paper.

 

Going Higher July 16, 2016

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 9:37 am
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The prompt this time was a guided visualization. I ask everyone to get in a patrick-smith-a-view-from-briones-park-of-a-light-snow-on-mt-diablo-in-the-last-light-of-the-day-californiacomfortable, seated position, feet on the floor, and close their eyes. Then I guide them through a breathing exercise and ask them to relax their limbs, starting with their toes and ending with their neck, head, and fingertips. Once they are in a relaxed state, I place them (or a character they are working with) in a specific place: the top of a flight of stairs, in front of a gate, on the shore of a large body of water, or in this case, somewhere high. 

What I wrote is below.

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Don’t write about the dying plant, or the essay assignment you have to revise, the exercise schedule you need to keep. The prompt asks you to go somewhere high, but you first have to get grounded.

Two feet on the ground and you’ll lower your blood pressure, the nurse said: two feet on the ground. The hospital, the blood lab, the new phlebotomist. “I’m in training,” he said, his hands shaking slightly. “I’m being observed. Are you comfortable with that?” Everybody’s gotta learn sometime, right? And I’m always looking for another chance to practice compassion, so sure, stab me here, where the big blue vein is. Take two vials of the purple dark blood. I’m always amazed that’s inside of me.

Don’t write about the wasted morning, the $100 grocery bill, the man/boy who says he just wants to cuddle, write about somewhere high. Can you go back there again? Mount Diablo, the green and yellow spring, the winding roads, the clear rushing creeks below. You and Mama, and Baron in the back seat, his big tongue, his pink panting excitement, the summit still thirty minutes away. Eleven a.m. and the mountaintop was yours, no one else around as you took her hands and guided her, walked backwards up the short flight of steps. “One more. Step up. That’s right.” Baron flying up and down the steps ahead of you, behind you, beside you.

At the top, the locked tower, a wraparound deck. The Sierras on the horizon, snow-capped. “Look how beautiful,” Mama said, even when words were hard for her to come by. The cumulous clouds casting shadows over the valley below, light traveling in great patches. The San Francisco skyline with the familiar white triangle of the Transamerica building. That spring before the awful drug that left her in a wheelchair, that spring before you began college, the tearing away that individualism requires, the adult day care, the guilt of becoming your own person.

Before all that or this little life of dying plants and overgrown yards, of new cars and new debt, of text-message flirtations and the battle of the bulge. Just a mountaintop, a loyal dog, a woman with dementia (too young, all of them, too young) and the view. Hawks sailing overhead. The whole world green.

 

 

 

Strange Empathy July 8, 2016

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 5:55 pm
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The prompts this time were:                                     16381196-Modern-surgical-lamps-in-operation-room-Blue-cast-light-represent-purity-and-clinical-mood-Useful-fi-Stock-Photo

Did we fear being too close?

He/She was never really good at living

Tiny and temporary

What I wrote is below.

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She wants to tell him that she feels his fear—even though a surgeon may never express fear—she knows he feels it. It’s her body he’s entering, after all, her side that he’ll cut into: three small incisions. The blood, the fluid, the air in her lungs. It’s his hands that will maneuver the tiny scopes, the miniature machines, the stapler with the little metal sutures. He’s going to be inside her body. They are strangers, but they are about to get very intimate.

 

It’s her organ, her growth, benign hopefully, malignant possibly. He has to go inside to find out. Go through the narrow spaces between the ribs, near her heart. “Be careful with my heart,” she wants to say, but she doesn’t. Instead, they shake hands. He asks her about her teaching job, about which dates work best for surgery; he gives her his card with his cell phone number on it. “You can call me anytime,” he says. They talk about millimeters versus centimeters, smooth edges or ominous spiculated edges, lobes and membranes and drainage tubes. Taken out; left in. They talk about cancer: liver, bone, brain. They talk about cancer.

 

In the elevator, finally alone, she weeps. She allows herself to weep. She realizes she’s about to enter into another intimate relationship. How many hundreds has he had in this lifetime? How many vulnerable, naked bodies have lain under his hands? How many people has he hurt and healed before he met her? How many has he lost right there on the table? She weeps, but she isn’t sure who she’s weeping for. Is it for him and the great responsibility he has chosen? How many can he do in one day? What happens when he is tired or depressed or hungry? He isn’t allowed to be imperfect; he can’t have a bad day at work. She feels for him. How hard it is to tell someone that they might die soon, that he can’t save her—or himself. The reminder of mortality, he is, and the remover of ugly tumors, hideous growths.

 

“We got it all,” she longs to hear him say, as they begin this new journey together, as they enter this new place, as they hope for a happy ending.

 

 

Dinner with Dad April 29, 2016

The prompt this time is called 5 X 5. It’s a list exercise that asks you to create five short lists with five items on each list. The topics for each list are as follows:

  1. Five cities you are familiar with (they do not have to be cities you love)
  2. Five colors
  3. Five people you have loved
  4. Five favorite foods
  5. Five regrets

After you’ve generated the lists, take one from each list and generate a new list of five. Do this several times (five times would be a good number to aim for!)

Here’s the list I ended up with:       red wine

  1. Pop
  2. NYC
  3. Filet Mignon
  4. Silver
  5. Not marrying him

What I wrote is below.

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We meet at the Monkey Bar, at a table in the back. It’s not the same Monkey Bar that he and Mom sat in on their honeymoon; it’s moved. It has a corporate owner now, and it’s trendy and loud. The bar is packed with the after-five crowd: overpaid Millennials and Generation Xers who are still dressed all in black, still trying to be relevant. The walls are a deep red; thin lights hang by long silver chords over a black bar top, and the hostess stands at the black stick of a podium with an unhappy blonde queen next to her.

“I’m here to meet Dan DeLorenzo,” I say, and he picks up a bronze, leather-bound menu and walks me back to a small, cool dining room, where the noise from the bar becomes muffled.

Pop doesn’t look up when I arrive. He’s halfway through a filet mignon and a half-bottle of Cab; the pink center of the steak is glowing under the soft light of the sconce on the red wall behind him. “You’re thirty minutes late,” he says, taking a bite, chewing slowly. He looks up at the blonde, using his fork to motion toward his wine glass, then toward me. “I’ll bring another glass right away,” he says, and disappears.

“I was pretty hungry,” Pop says, “so I ordered.”

“Okay,” I say, opening the menu. “Sorry I’m late. I decided to walk. It’s such a beautiful, warm evening.”

“Yeah, well.” He looks up; his eyes look brown in the dim light, though I know they are blue, like mine. “You could have taken a cab. I don’t have a lot of time.”

I’m thrown off by his demeanor. I’ve never known this man: he’s typical, gruff, unaffectionate. An imposter of sorts. The host returns with my wine glass. “May I have the salmon, please?” I ask. He nods, and takes my menu.

“Still polite as ever,” Pop says, giving me a half smile. “Just like your mother.” It’s a compliment, but he still sounds mad.

“You seem angry,” I say. “Are you?”

“Maybe a little bit. I don’t know.” Now this sounds familiar. The man who didn’t quite know what he was feeling.

“I mean, I haven’t heard from you in months,” I say. “Not even last night, on the Day of the Dead.” He puts down his knife and fork, pours me some wine.

“We’ve been busy,” he says.

“Really? Doing what? Answering prayers?” He laughs.

“Something like that.” It’s the first warm moment between us; there’s my Dad. A crack appears and some light shines through. “I’m disappointed, if you want to know the truth.”

“Now you sound like Mom,” I say. We both laugh.

“I mean, why didn’t you marry that nice guy? All those years he’s loved you—”

“Dad—”

“And the other day at the gym—”

“You were there?”

“Couldn’t you see that he still felt the same way as always?”

“Dad—”

“The guy’s got some money, Tiger. He could take good care of you.”

“He wants a mommy,” I say, taking a sip of the wine. It’s full of tannin. It will be terrible with the fish.

“You want to live alone, is that it? You don’t want to give up your independence?”

“No,” I say, “that’s not it.” I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t want to marry someone just like him. I love the guy, but I don’t want to marry my father. It took eight years to figure that out, but I finally did. I can’t say that out loud, but he looks up, and in that moment I know that he knows. He already knows.

My fish arrives and we eat in silence.