The Catalyst

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

Four Little Words November 20, 2010

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:03 am

This prompt is a variation on my “Five Word Free Write,” and uses four words that have a lot of emotional weight. It’s a great exercise to get writers into deep emotional writing.

Here’s how it works: I read four words out loud, one at a time, and allow 90 seconds to free write any associations, ideas, images, words or sentences that come to mind when you hear each word. After 90 seconds, I read the next word, until we’ve free written on all four. Then I say, “Lift your pen from the page for a moment, and when you put it back down, write anything that comes to mind.” Then we write for 20 minutes.

Here are the four words:

Joy     Contempt    Surprise     Fear         

(thanks to the women of BREW for this prompt!)

Here’s what I wrote in response:


Here’s the empty space between us, wide as ever, and deep. A yawning chasm, a dead phone line, an empty house.

How did you used to look at me? I’m remembering now: like a lover, like a child, like a friend. You looked into me. Didn’t you? Didn’t you see inside me?

I can’t trust anything now, or anyone. The gas station attendant who rolls his eyes and stomps out to help me with the broken pump: he  thinks I’m just another helpless gringo waiting to be served. The guy in the bar leaning against the wall wants to rob me. My landlord won’t return my calls; he wants to find a way to evict me. Nowhere is safe. Everything is about to implode.

Early mornings I’m on the yoga mat, facing the mirror. I’m on portion control, putting small amounts of good food into my body: I’m clear that my life is better without you in so many ways. But it’s the trust I can’t rebuild, the trust that I can make good decisions, that my intuition is strong. Because I still believe in fate; somewhere inside of me a tiny sliver of hope remains, and that’s what’s killing me. The belief that love like I felt for you is trustworthy, alive, valid–because how can it be in all this emptiness? How can that love equal this silence?

Everything feels like a lie, and everyone is some kind of double agent, some sort of spy. They want something from me, and once they get it, they want me to disappear. I thought you were different, but the truth is, I’m living in some reoccurring dream, only I thought I was awake. I thought I could see clearly. I was blind and deaf and stupid. Duped. The joke’s on me, because when I poured over all those pages today—five years of my life recorded intermittently between two black covers—I kept reading the same damaged narrative, the same sad piece, and the same cast of broken characters.

The melodramatic, unsophisticated, fucked up teenager; he writes well, but you can’t write your way out of hopelessness. You just have to sit in it for a while. It’s the same naive, green, dumb little boy in those pages, over and over. It’s a big dangerous world out there, and you were supposed to protect me from it. But you didn’t.


Breaking Free November 10, 2010

Filed under: Poems,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 7:17 pm

This prompt was used to help the writers in the room get deep into the emotional depth of writing. I often give prompts that do this, and reading a powerful poem is one great way to make this happen. I read the following poem out loud to my group. What I wrote in response is below.

Gil’s Story

Gil tells you his story in the company truck
on your first job under his wing.
He cuts the engine and pulls

to the shoulder, which is alarming.
He’s a big man who talks rough all day
to drillers, but you know he’s kind—

everybody in the office says so. Gil’s
a sweetheart, they say without elaboration.
He rolls to a stop and waits,

which prepares you, I think; it wipes
the fake smile off your face. He clears
his throat, then it streams like a steady well—

that lazy drive home from vacation,
his wife napping in the camper
before she and their daughter switch,

his careful introduction of the boy
who has drifted an entire lifetime
into their oncoming lane. It’s beautiful

really, the way they crash into the boy’s
car, how it parts the boy’s curtain
of long blond hair and death anoints him

with a dot of blood on his forehead.
A single hubcap bounds like a tin deer
across the highway. Gil’s frantic wife
pries the camper open to find their dead girl
whose eyes are closed as though
she’s dozing through a horror movie.

Then silence. Gil turns expectantly to you.
As you sit speechless, he’ll nod
at whatever sound or breath escapes you.

He starts the truck with a roar
and you’re driving again to the field.
All afternoon he babies you with the pipes,

the pump, and the rig. And when you return,
the whole office comes out to greet you,
touching your shoulder, saying your name.

-by Kathleen Flenniken, from Famous


What I wrote in response:

All these little deaths seem irrelevant, don’t they? The aging face, the new wrinkle, sun spot, gray pubic hair. You’re aging; you’re dying. You’re losing shape, strength, flexibility. But it’s not hopeless, it’s never too late to exercise, to take a long walk, to carry your yoga mat with you to the airport.

And you can color your hair and buy expensive wrinkle cream, you can block out the sun with SPF 50, you can exfoliate. There’s always light therapy and laser therapy. What you can’t do is stop the process, as natural as being born.

Still. What to do but gracefully accept it, to care for yourself, to continue to plan, to dream, to ask for forgiveness, to forgive. To work hard at the disciplines of kindness, compassion, patience, self-love. It’s really hard work, living; dying is easy. It’s built in.

You’re dying.

So it’s probably not worth the time it takes to complain about the rude flight attendant, the overcast day, the flaccid pasta, the lukewarm tea, the dog hair on your cashmere sweater. Really. It’s more important—and probably hardest of all—just to sit with a loved one and appreciate that little brown mole on his cheek, the key lime of her eyes, that silly way she laughs, or his warmth when you are close.

Even that little bird trapped inside the house yesterday, terrified, flapping wildly, banging against the window pane– how beautiful, that moment, when it finally broke free.