The Catalyst

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

Dear Cinderella: September 27, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 11:21 pm

For this prompt, I asked everyone to generate a list titled, “These are some of the things I’ve learned in this lifetime.” I let people free write for about five minutes—words, phrases, complete sentences—anything that came to mind. Some of it was poignant; some of it was hilarious. Next, we chose three from our lists and read them around out loud. I wrote, “Cinderella fucked us up more than Bambi’s Mother did,” and wrote the following letter to the princess herself, in response.


Dear Cindy,

Hi. It’s me, the desperate-to-be-hip aging urban homo, writing to ask you to come correct. Because even though I spent ten years in therapy, deconstructed Grimm’s Fairytales in literature courses, read about your happily-ever-after life through a feminist vs. a patriarchal lens, and often blame you for many of the reasons I can’t deal with the annoyances that come with cohabitation, you still evoke a sense of delight when I watch you on the silver screen.

Even though I know your fat-footed ugly step-sisters won’t fit into that ridiculous glass slipper, I still find myself singing along with the little mice and cursing Lucifer the cat, and laughing at your absent-minded fairy godmother. I like how the birds help you dress and how your reflection in the water puddle keeps you company while you scrub the floor. But even so, I’m not completely buying happily-ever-after. So tell the truth.

I want to know a few things, like if the Prince is good in the sack, if he delivers the goods. You need to tell it, to bring it, to drop the knowledge, girl. Admit to us that it ain’t that simple. That you argue sometimes, that he’s getting a paunch, that he falls asleep some nights when you want to make hot, sweaty, love.

Admit that you still call your step-mother on Mother’s Day. Even though she abused you for years, you’re still enmeshed. In fact, please give it up and admit that there is no such thing as a fairy godmother, that there never was a Grand Ball at a castle, that he wasn’t a prince at all,  but the son of a wealthy real estate investor. Tell us about how you’ve had trouble conceiving. Tell us that you drink too much at night watching Dancing with the Stars on Hulu, occasionally crying for that couple who dances the Quick Step or the Fox Trot without one mistake, because beyond that one waltz that brought you two together, you always wished you had learned the Lindy Hop, and you haven’t been out dancing in ages.

You still love him, but it’s hard work. Admit it: some days, you dream of the single life, and a hot Latin lover half your age.


Not So Bad Afterall September 20, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 9:34 pm

In this prompt, I gave everyone an Andes mint, and then read the following excerpt from John Kinsella’s  
Motels: City to Country:

the smell of heavily perfumed soap
& crisp linen — the towels are [stiff as] cowhide
A salesman who is sick to death
of room service & suitcases
thinks that maybe he’s not so bad off —
a couple fighting in the next room.
sunsets passion-pink

Tourist-info booklets on tables next to phones
the breakfast hole-in-the-wall , which

fascinates the children who think they’re

further from home than they actually are,
someone is having noisy sex — &
somebody switches on a television — LOUD.


Here’s what I wrote in response:

Is my neck stiff? Is my checking account flat-lining? Am I a single man in a double bed? Yes. But still, I’m not so bad off. And this is not a story comparing the less fortunate to those who live in expensive cities and wear Italian shoes. I will not compare myself to street children in Malawi or a beggar without legs in Mumbai, simply because it would be disrespectful to their suffering and would not acknowledge their dignity. But I won’t minimize my own suffering either; my story has tragedy in it too, and illness, and heartache. I’m the prince of broken dreams, and still, I have to say, it’s not so bad.

Had you asked me yesterday, I wouldn’t have been able to answer this way. I was stomach down on the bed bleeding out my sorrow into a big, soft, pillow (poor me and my 300 thread count pillow cases). This morning I left the house without eating—not because I didn’t have food—I have a freezer filled with food—but because I didn’t have time.

Later, I bought an $11 sandwich and visited a friend who sat in a wheelchair waiting for a medical miracle, and still, she shared a City Slicker with me (almond shortbread covered with caramel, marshmallow and chocolate). She enjoyed a cup of tea. She’s making plans for a new apartment that’s wheelchair accessible, and I’m kvetching about an emotional adolescence?

Don’t minimize it, the nurturing parent inside my head pipes up (Finally, I think. Where the hell were you yesterday?) And, okay, I won’t. But if I can place these two feet on the floor, right here, right now, I can tell you honestly, it’s not so bad. There are handsome go-go boys waiting for me in Mexico; there’s a garden designer sending me estimates over email. I have siblings coming to town for a sleepover, and a budding Psychoanalyst in Oakland who calls me her muse.

I have memories of safety, of road trips with loving parents, clean motel rooms in Chicago with mints on the pillows, and an air-conditioner humming through the night. I have dogs on this earth right now who love me; I have purple roses and pink hydrangea and the promise of violets. I have new babies scheduled for breakfast meetings; I even have a semi-blind date with a man whose name means compassion.

Am I frightened by the anniversary of September 11th? Do I think we’re in an economic depression? Do I consider Michele Bachmann the litmus test for idiocy and bigotry in the US? Yes. But even so, I have brunch on Sunday with a kindred spirit, an old friend in Hawaii asking, “When are you coming to visit?” I have a little green car hugging the tight curve and zipping ahead of traffic, Kylie Minogue singing, “Got rainbow colors and no more rain.” Okay, it’s not quite that simple, Kylie. But her high voice on six speakers, that blue, blue summer sky above me, the handsome man in the crosswalk with a soul patch and a sexy smile.

Right here. Right now.


When Stars Collide September 5, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 7:29 pm

For this prompt, I had my participants view a slide show of photos from the Hubble telescope site while I read them the following from the web site

Scorpius, the scorpion, skitters low across the southwest this evening. Its brightest stars form a pattern that really does look like a scorpion, with the bright orange star Antares right in the middle.

A few years back, astronomers made an astonishing discovery in Scorpius. For the first time ever, they saw two stars merge to form a single star.

In 2008, astronomers saw a strange explosion in Scorpius that was about 10,000 light-years from Earth. The explosion was a nova. Most novae are blue, but this one was red. Not only do red novae differ in color from normal novae, but they’re also much brighter. Their cause had been a mystery.

By good luck, though, the nova in Scorpius happened to lie in a part of the sky that Polish astronomers were monitoring for planets and dark matter. As a result, the astronomers had observed the brightness of the object more than 1300 times before it became a nova.

The observations revealed that the star was a contact binary — two stars that orbited each other so closely that they actually touched. Over time, the stars moved closer together, orbiting each other faster and faster. Then, in 2008, the stars merged, creating an explosion — a red nova. It didn’t destroy the stars, though — it left behind a single star as a remnant.

Never before had astronomers seen such a remarkable metamorphosis. The discovery means that many red novae — and perhaps all of them — are born from the mergers of double stars.


Here’s what I wrote in response:


I don’t want to write about love. There are so many more interesting topics. I’d like to write about those brave men who climb trees with saws dangling from their belts: arborists and laborers who save huge Eucalyptus from falling over from the weight of their own great branches; I’d like to write about lumberjacks who know how to fell a tree without hurting the trees around it. I’d like to write about sitting at my kitchen table watching the fog roll in over the full moon, silver blue light, then shadow, then silver blue light. That glowing orb in the sky, circling our earth.

But instead, I’m going to write about the absurdity of love, of romantic love. Even though I know it’s an invention, a product of the days of the courtesan, and poetry, the split between the whore who gets paid for sex and the beloved who is courted with sensual but sexless romance.

Candied cherries and big, fat, pink roses and all that stuff. It’s familiar territory, because Hollywood picked it up as soon as there was celluloid. And look where we are now: people getting up at 3:00 a.m. to watch the fairytale royal wedding (a real prince and a real princess!). People making themselves crazy on Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. Level-headed women becoming bridezillas on “the big day” (The most important day of your life? What about your birth? Or the day you die? Or the five-year remission mark for cancer?).

We’re all in love with love.

Even my favorite Katherine Hepburn film, Summertime (1955), gives me a warm tingle just thinking about Venice and gardenias. Sure, Rossano Brazzi is gorgeous, and thankfully, there’s some indication of sex in the film, but really, it’s all about romance, and even I—cynic with a pen in his hand—eat it up every single time.

Of course, there’s the opposite of romantic love: gay, hedonistic sex. I know that one really well too. But even if I did drop 20 pounds and take off for Puerto Rico on a White Party Cruise  with no more that three skimpy outfits, a bag of condoms, and a pocket full of Ecstasy, I know that once I climbed out of that pile of undulating, Techno-throbbing flesh, I’d still check my email to see if “he” had replied to my invitation to brunch (once I returned to the mainland wearing a cashmere sweater and expensive boots).

It’s lost on most of us—but I’ll speak for myself here—it’s lost on me—how really liking someone and having “good” sex with someone is supposed to be enough of a foundation for a loving, long-term relationship, if you never feel that soaring into the clouds kind of high. If the jasmine isn’t growing just for you, and the mustard flowers don’t look like a Van Gogh painting, if Madonna hasn’t written that latest, crazy love song for just me and Mr. Amazingly-Perfect Oh my God, I just want to rip his shirt off-well, I just don’t know if it will satisfy me.

So much for the grounded, well-educated, well-groomed, responsible, mature, good-looking guy who asks me out to see a great foreign film and cooks a kick-ass lamb and couscous. He’s probably the best damn husband in the world, but stupid, stupid gullible me, I want a passionate lover. Weekends in the wine country, and Paris, and holding hands in Rome, and all that bullshit. I want exploding stars and butterfly kisses. I want a fucking ring and a series of sexts and flowers at the door and french kisses in public. I even want hand holding on the plane as it soars into the sky. That’s just how messed up I am.