The Catalyst

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

A High Like No Other (My Love Affair with Dynamo Donuts) December 29, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:42 am

The prompts this time were:

No, Really, I’m happy for you.

Maybe the Hippies were right.


Coffee and donuts.

Read my piece below and guess which one I wrote in response to.


If you haven’t been to Dynamo Donuts yet, be warned: once you have your first Dynamo experience, it may become a delicious habit.

Located in San Francisco, on the eastern end of 24th St, between Bryant and Potrero (2760 24th Street ), Dynamo is the home of the $3.00 gourmet doughnut: lemon pistachio, chocolate rose germanium hazelnut, cornmeal rosemary cherry, and the famous (or infamous, depending on your waistline), bacon maple apple.

You place your order under a green awning, from a counter that opens to the sidewalk. The staff is friendly, groovy, mostly pierced and tattooed, wearing the occasional funky hat—very twenty-something, and sexy in that easy, casually polite way. Inside, a few banquette tables face an open kitchen, spotlessly clean and painted in all variations of donut brown: caramel, sunny gold, bittersweet and cocoa. The flagstone back patio, with shaded tables and flowering potted plants, is the real jewel of that space: a quiet oasis, rare on this busy neighborhood thoroughfare.

The donuts are fresh and cake-like, made from scratch with organic ingredients. They have delicate flavors and rough-hewn, not-so-perfect edges; they are about as healthy and natural as a donut can possibly be. On my first visit to Dynamo, we met a man who was sitting down with THREE donuts, but I want to encourage you to be more prudent. A donut should be an occasional treat (we all know this, don’t we?), and the carbo counters among us can split one with a friend.

My warning is not really about the ingredients or the caloric content of the donuts. The real danger here is the seemingly innocuous Blue Bottle Coffee they serve: a wonderful, rich, smoky blend brewed strong, but never bitter. It’s not the coffee itself I want to warn you about (although I recommend ordering a small cup), it’s the combination of the coffee and the donuts that’s so lethal and lovely: sugar flour and caffeine alone could take you on a nice flight, but the Dynamo experience is unlike anything I have ever experienced at any other donut shop anywhere else in the world.

It’s euphoric. (But somewhat frightening.) Like the surge of Ecstasy, or that moment when you realize you are in love with someone for the first time, or suddenly quite drunk, or racing downhill on skis without falling, jumping off the high dive. You immediately want to repeat the experience at the peak of it, the crescendo, that perfect, blissful, buzzing moment.

You’re hitting that high note, scatting along with Ella Fitzgerald, driving at great speed along the highway. You’ve just finished eight loads of laundry or scrubbed the kitchen floor to a shiny brightness. You’ve finally finished painting the living room a creamy white, and—Oh God!—are you elated! Endorphins are surging through your veins; you’ve passed the forty-five minute mark on the treadmill; you’ve been dancing non-stop for three hours.

It’s an out-of-body experience, the Dynamo/Blue Bottle high, and hours later, after a sensible lunch of chicken breast and roasted vegetables, a whole liter of sparkling water, you will still feel the whoosh of the air as the roller coaster turns into that final 360 degree loop, those interconnected corkscrews, that roar down the last passage.

I’m telling you, it’s quite a ride. But when it’s over, you’ll want to do it all over again.


Publish or Perish? December 18, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 6:42 pm

The prompts this time were these phrases:

The words to say it

Why write?

Write it all down and rest for awhile

Here’s what I wrote in response:


“Why do you write?” The question comes at me, champagne in hand, or fork suspended before lips. Interruptive. Direct. But what the virtual stranger at the party or the wedding table really wants to know is what have you published? I know this, because when I answer “Long fiction, and some poetry,” questions about publication are always the next out of their mouths.

This, I tell my students, my workshop participants, my friends and colleagues, is not a question to run from. Indeed, what have I published? Because those of us who read a lot know some of what gets published is unappealing: that’s subjectivity. Any judgements we have about the writing itself—in which we use words like “good” or “lousy” or that awful insult, “amateur” (which really means new and raw, and even has its roots in Amare: to love)—those judgements do not really matter when it comes to publication: work gets published all the time; some of it we love, some of it we hate. So what?

Being published simply means someone said, “Yes. I like this. I will.” It’s rather like having a marriage proposal accepted—nothing to minimize, that’s for sure—but being published doesn’t make us writers. Many talented people, some who are far better writers than I (there’s that subjective judgement again) many of these writers are not published. Does that negate that they are driven to write (sometimes on any scrap of paper they can find, or their own hand), or that they are in love with words? Punctuation? Rhythm and alliteration? I think not.

Still, there’s something important about sending your work out into the world. Sharing it. Claiming what you have to say and offering it up to others: to cajole, to provoke, to teach, to connect. It’s important to share your work. What is the overused axiom? Creativity abhors a vacuum? Something like that. Although Emily Dickenson wrote amazing work without much of an audience, so did Van Gogh, actually, and they weren’t focused on publishing. Yet their words on the printed page are now their gift to us. They have value.

Still, the question, “What have you published?” can be a meal intrusion, a conversation stopper, a drag. I could perhaps, present the inquirer with a publication list: some obscure literary journals, a spice blog, the back cover of a book about San Francisco, five years of on-line articles about dating, politics, and romance. Maybe I could get that clever iPhone app, and just bump a document over to them and get on with relaxing, eating, socializing, and flirting. I could go paperless and relax my vocal chords. But it wouldn’t deflate the enormity of the question or the issue at hand.

It makes me think—and it should— why haven’t I focused more on publishing? What am I avoiding? And in doing so, what gifts, ideas, dreams, lessons, hopes, am I denying those who might read my published work? Don’t I owe those potential readers something? Isn’t it my duty to them and to myself?

I invite you to ask yourself the same questions.


Everyday Heroes December 10, 2011

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:27 am

This piece was written in response to the prompt I’m tired of crying over people.

I don’t know what happened, but like the piece generated from a good therapist, I suddenly felt a wave of gratitude.

Here’s what I wrote:


“Don’t you get tired of watching people cry?” That’s what someone asked me recently at a dinner party.

“Not everyone cries during a session,” I said, “and the ones who do are doing what they need to do.”

“Spoken like a true therapist,” she said into her Cabernet. So I thanked her.

I’m bound by confidentiality, so I prefer not to talk about my work, but what I wanted to say was this: It’s sacred, this job of listening, of witnessing sorrow and loss. In one day I can travel through the end of a forty-six year relationship, the death of a child, impotence after prostate removal, or cancer that has metastasized. Lost jobs, lost limbs, sex addiction, child abuse. The days sometimes weigh heavily on me, and I drive home in silence, not able to bear the news or listen to another sad song.

But there are also moments of elation: the birth of a child, struggled for for so long; two men marrying after fifty-five years of believing in never; new jobs, new homes, new bodies; drastic changes after years of abuse and neglect. I’m a scribe, keeping close records of their prose poetry—their songs—on big yellow legal pads. I’m their confidant, their parent, a bridge between the hopeless past and an undiscovered tomorrow, or next year, or adulthood, or old age.

On certain days I feel nothing but hopeful; a gold light shimmers around each leaf on the trees when I walk outside. On other days, I don’t think I can drive home without taking some time to center myself first. So I go to the cafe on the corner and order a Chai tea, add honey and soymilk, and sit in the corner seat where I can stare out the window.

Hundreds of people pass by while I cradle the hot cup in my hand. Some of them I know are doing terrible things to little children; some of them are walking wounded.