The Catalyst

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

Golden March 25, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 4:53 am

This prompt is in three parts. First, writers divide their page in half, and they generate two lists. At the top of one list they write, “Things that are golden,” and at the top of the other they write, “Things that are not.” I encourage everyone to generate as many words, images, or phrases as they can for each list in about five minutes: a quick free write.

Then I ask everyone to choose three from each list they feel comfortable reading out loud. We read them around, one at a time, until we’ve gone around the room six times, leaving a pause between each person, so we can let the images or words of the other writers sink in, and we may also want to jot down a few that stay with us. Then we choose at least one phrase or image and write for 20 minutes.

I think list exercises are particularly effective, because the free association gets us right into the dream space, the place where we allow images or ideas to float through our minds. And you can do just about anything with the list titles, although I find opposites generate the most interesting writing. Another one I’ve done is, “Things that are buried,” and “Things that float or fly.”

For the golden exercise, I chose these three phrases: seeping puss, hospital rooms, and memorials.

Here’s what I wrote:

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It was a right of passage, watching you die. An honor, really, after so many other people I had loved were taken so early in life. When you were in your late eighties, I said to myself, “I will get to know him through the end of his life.” And I understood the gift in that.

I didn’t account for all of the hospital visits though, the surgeries, the broken bones, the blood clots. My sister and I looked at you—then at one another—across hospital bed after hospital bed, and we knew we were in it now: the final stretch, the September of your years—choose the cliché that fits. It was a slow process, that narrowing of your life, that portal you slipped through that last day, the day you waved good-bye.

You’re a box of black and white photographs now. Curly hair slicked back with pomade, or flopping forward in the heat of a late Chicago afternoon. The El roaring behind your apartment, Mom still trying to get pregnant—eight years you tried and tried—her tiny waist in a 50’s cotton dress.

I like you best when you are young, before you had to worry about mortgages, or retirement funds, or car payments. You both worked, taking the train together in the morning, meeting at the supper club on Fridays, live music, high heels, scotch on the rocks with a water back. I like you slim, but not skinny, before the big belly from years of sitting at a desk, lounging at home all weekend, cheese and wine and ice cream sandwiches, the closest parking spot you could find.

I like you best before there was me, or four siblings, or an old dog to put to sleep, medication, a cane, walkers or wheelchairs. Before you became a cook or wore lavender ties with matching handkerchiefs, before you appeared at my graduation, before you taught me to make risotto, or asked me if I wanted to marry a man, or came to me those many months after you died letting me know you were okay, that you were safe on the other side.

I like you best before all that love, when there was only the two of you, still figuring each other out, still making love on humid nights, still young with your whole long life ahead of you.

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Electronic Lives March 16, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 6:21 pm

The prompt this time was “This electronic life I lead.” Here’s what I wrote in response:

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A friend once lost her cell phone down a storm drain, and after the first few teary moments were over, she said she felt liberated. For three weeks she put off the inevitable visit to the wireless store, because, as she put it. she could think again. When people wanted to communicate with her, they had to leave a message on her home phone, or send it to her in an email, or drop by and ring her doorbell. But most of all, they had to wait. And so did she.

When she had the urge to make a call, she had to wait until she was near a phone. If she wanted to check her email, she had to wait until she was back home or back in her chair at the office. What could have felt like a disconnection from everyone in her life instead felt like a return to the self.  She found she now took long, contemplative walks, or long drives, in silence. She read a book while she waited for the train. She made time to wander aimlessly, window shopping when she had a spare hour; she had more lunch dates. She even wrote letters. Something about the loss of the immediacy we have all come to expect from this push-button culture vanished, and she found herself connecting  more authentically with others—and herself—off the grid.

Recently, however, she bought an iPhone, the queen of smart phones, and admitted to me that she is now addicted to it. She replied to one of my emails recently, and a message automatically generated at the bottom of her email read: “Sent from my iPhone, at the top of the Empire State Building.” In her email reply to me, she wrote, “You’ll never guess where I am right now!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I knew exactly where she was, actually. I didn’t want to ruin her surprise. But she suddenly felt very far away.