The Catalyst

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

I’m thankful February 24, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 7:09 pm

Sometimes there’s only time for a short write at the end of my workshops (maybe 15 minutes total, for writing and reading aloud). For these “shorty-shorts” as I call them, I sometimes offer only a single word as the prompt. In this case, it was the word gratitude. Here’s what I wrote in response.


There’s something to be said for it: rain. Sinking down into the roots of the dark, already wet backyard, feeding the shiny white bulbs of the wild onions, so they continue to spread their thin green stalks out, out, out.

Tell me this: how long will it last? A week? A month? How long until a string of sunny days will beckon me to get on my knees and begin clearing the way for spring? How long before the white camellias drop and the trumpet flower demands fertilizer? Before the clover turns yellow and shrinks away?

Because I want the rain this year. I want to see the waterline at Lake Shasta rise, and I don’t care if there are mudslides that bury cars or water damage from leaky roofs. I want the rain. I’m still that melodramatic teenager who prefers to cry in the rain, asking nature to mimic my tears—I want the cliché—rain, rain, rain. Grey days and beautiful, thick storm clouds. I want lightening to flash and thunder to shake the house and wake me up. I want the sky to open up.

I am so sure I know the saddest truth that no one else believes—that I will be alone the rest of my life—and if I can inhabit it, purge it of its power to weigh me down, then I can live with it. I can live past it.

It could be so much worse, I tell my sad little heart. You could be hungry or living on the street; you could be that Safeway delivery man who slammed down the door of his truck, saying, “I hate this fucking job!” because I asked him to unblock the driveway.

“I’m sorry, man,” I said, “but I need to be somewhere.” The grocery store, actually (Safeway, ironically). Just two minutes up the hill, all those clean aisles of organized fruits and canned foods—corn, lima beans, mango chutney in a glass jar—anything you want. And you pay without worry, with a gold card you slip through a narrow slot. Anything you want.

Meanwhile, your sister is cashing in her IRA to pay property taxes, the heart you broke is sitting at home wondering why, and people in Haiti are buried under rubble, waiting for death or rescue. And you want to cry over an empty bed and sore knees?

Go ahead. Cry. Get it out of you system, little red heart. Because like it or not, spring does eventually come bursting forth, and empty bed or no, you’ll be caught up in the blossoming beauty of it, dreaming of climbing roses, making plans for ground cover.

Against all odds, you will plant flowers. They will grow.


The Flower, Again February 12, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:56 am

My favorite exercise happens in the early spring, when San Francisco comes alive with flowers. Spring weather in February and March is normal here. Even the trees—plum, magnolia, acacia—come alive with color.

For this exercise, I simply walk through my neighborhood and pick flowers—daffodils, camellias, forget-me-nots, little daisies growing up through cracks in the sidewalk—and place them in a vase on the coffee table. During the workshop, I give everyone a flower (along with the quotes below), and ask them to really see, smell, and touch the flower. After a moment, they pass this flower to the person on their right, and take another flower. We do this until all the flowers have gone around the room. We don’t talk while we do this, so we can get into what I call the dream space (where we begin to imagine and make associations).

Since I am such a flower fanatic, and I love spring, it brings me great joy to look around the room and see each person spending a few moments with a flower. (This can be done with herbs, too, which generates interesting writing.)

Last Tuesday, everyone in the room read their flower piece;  I did not (because I couldn’t write one). I was stuck, blocked.

I’ve learned from past experience that we don’t get blocked as writers because we don’t have anything to say, but because we have too much to say. By Thursday, I found my words again.


“Nobody sees a flower –really — it is so small it takes time –we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like having a friend takes time.”   -Georgia O’Keeffe

“A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy looking at it.”  -Oscar Wilde


My muse arrives again.

I wish she were a handsome Latin man with a bottle of champagne, but I’m happy to see her nonetheless. I lost her earlier in the week. On Tuesday night I sat dumb, pen in hand, while flowers inspired everyone in the room but me. It was torture, seeing a flower but not really seeing it. I couldn’t face the flowers. Couldn’t appreciate the ghoulish magnolia, the tiny rosemary blossoms, the forget-me- not. I was stuck.

Now I know why my favorite writing exercise didn’t work for me: I was telling myself don’t. Don’t write about him again, or love, or your mother, or the other men who brought you flowers. Don’t write about desire, or sex, or the pale green hydrangea at his memorial. Don’t write about the surprise of spring that first year when you were only fourteen, still dreaming of becoming a singer, a boy on Broadway, a beautiful dancer. Don’t tell them again how the plum blossoms surprised you the first week in February; don’t mention pink petals against dark branches, or the rusty gold dog at your side, companion all throughout the mess that became your adolescence, the loss, the illness, the fear of what you witnessed. How before that you were nothing but hope and dreams, and the world was safe and warm and exciting.

I told myself, don’t write about any of that. They’ve heard it all before. Your opera. Your arias. And yet, here I am again, the pen filling the page with ink. Liberated.

Now I can write that I’m proud of the way I loved him, I’m thankful I had her as a mother, I’m satisfied with the way he slipped out of his body. I can circle back around to the dreams. I will learn to use the voice I still have, take lessons, sit down with my new friend and his new guitar and harmonize.  I will let spring lift me, blossom by perfect fleeting blossom, out of this fear, this funk, these fantasies of the end, and see again—oh! am I boring you yet?—really see once again how limitless it all is. How much more there is, how many more people there are to love.

That’s my muse, returning. Reminding me.