The Catalyst

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

You Have Been Chosen July 25, 2012

Filed under: Poems,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 9:50 pm

For this exercise, I chose the following poem by John Brehm as a prompt, and I read it out loud to my participants:


In all the woods that day I was
the only living thing
fretful, exhausted, or unsure.
Giant fir and spruce and cedar trees
that had stood their ground
three hundred years
stretched in sunlight calmly
unimpressed by whatever
it was that held me
hunched and tense above the stream,
biting my nails, calculating all
my impossibilities.
Nor did the water pause
to reflect or enter into
my considerations.
It found its way
over and around a crowd
of rocks in easy flourishes,
in laughing evasions and
shifts in direction.
Nothing could slow it down for long.
It even made a little song
out of all the things
that got in its way,
a music against the hard edges
of whatever might interrupt its going.


What I wrote is below.


I often say that writers do not have a choice. They may sit down regularly (or intermittently) with their writing, or they may quit for a while and then begin again, but they do not have a choice, because writers are driven to write the way singers are driven to sing, and dancers are driven to dance.

Brenda Ueland once wrote, “Try not writing for a few days. . . you will simply want to burst!” It’s true. It may only be an email or a little note, but writers not only enjoy the process of writing, they feel they must write, at some point, every few days. They travel with journals and books, they scribble lines or phrases on the blank side of receipts or used envelopes.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life claiming other people as writers, and now I find I have to do this for myself, over and over again. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a writing teacher, and sometimes I tack on that I’m a writer. But I very seldom claim my drive to write—the art form that has chosen me.

This only seems to get harder as I grow older, as the stack of unpublished manuscripts I’ve written grows larger, even when an agent says she would like to read one of them, or an editor says one of them moved her to tears.

I don’t think publishing changes this, nor does finishing a project you have been working on for a long time. No. Writers have to constantly claim themselves and reclaim themselves, and then begin again the process of submitting to it. I am a writer; I have no choice.

Having said all that, it’s important to recognize that artists must practice their art—whether it is painting or photography or dance—just as a yogi practices yoga, or a monk meditation, a gymnast tumbling and triple flips: practice. Not only because it is the best way to improve, but because it is the best way to claim ourselves, again and again.


The Dead (Again) July 13, 2012

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 4:54 pm

In the second half of nearly every writing workshop, I offer three or four phrases as prompts. On this particular night, I offered four:

What is the point of all this chaos?

Chocolate is the answer.

That’s the way love goes.

The dead are not dead (from the poem by Birago Diop)

 I was inspired by the last one, and wrote the following in response.


The poem insists the dead are not dead: they are in the trees, in the wind, in the house, and some higher part of me knows on a cellular level that this is true. That my mother exists in the face of my nephew, that my father hovers in the steam from the shower.

That said, I can’t help but whine a little and tell you that I think dying sucks. Oh, you can psychoanalyze me or break it down into a Buddhist teaching, my fear of mortality, but the truth is I don’t like losing people. You can tell me it’s a part of life, that everything changes form, and I thank you very much Marianne Williamson, but I tell you I don’t like it at all. It sucks.

And stop telling me that I can talk to them anytime I want to, that they’re looking out for me in Heaven, that they’re out of pain, because the truth is I miss them, everyday in every way, I will miss them and miss them.

Can you just witness this longing, this anger, this pain, and stop trying to make me accept it? Can I just have a shitty little moment and say FUCK THIS? And please don’t ask me to deal with my anger: let me feel it. This emptiness, this hollowness, this where did you go? phenomenon that everybody says is a normal part of grief. Survivor. One of the living. Descendants.

I can complain if I want to, can’t I? I can. I will. Don’t try and stop me. Please. Don’t try. Let me wail and bitch, let me desire what I can never recover, let me beg the ghosts from the dream world to come more often, because I am hungry for them, lonely for them, angry at this molecular, physical world that begins to die at twenty-one years-old and ends up as ashes in a plastic bag. Nobody knows what to do with that. Nobody.


Another Name for Fate July 6, 2012

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 6:32 pm

The prompt this time was a definition of the word “synchronicity,” in the Jungian sense.  I read a short passage fromThe New Diary, by Tristine Rainer, which is too long to copy here, but you can check out the book by clicking here (did you know that those cocoa-colored rectangular boxes on my blog are all active links?).

For now, this definition from Merriam-Webster online will have to do:

the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung

Here’s what I wrote in response:


Ah, Fate. We’ve met many times before. I, the aging cynic, and you, so full of optimism. 

“Look!” you exclaim. “A wonderful day spreads out before you: blue and white and pink. Just two blocks away there’s a blonde Labrador who is helping a disabled woman, and not far away from him, identical twin babies with cherubic faces. There’s a brand new Mini-Cooper the color of spring, and those sweet peas that visit every year, tall and skinny and strong.”

I’m sitting on the couch with my third cup of green tea, feeling fat, cursing the weird dream I awakened to this morning. I’m listening to NPR, afraid the Middle East is going to explode.

But you’re patient (and perhaps not at all realistic). You like imagining me in love again, this time in the garden, sitting at the table with a book, hummingbirds hovering, a sexy someone in sandals sitting across from me, vying for my attention.

You like encouraging thoughts of a puppy to share with a friend: something black and curly that doesn’t shed, lying in a brown and purple dog bed in the corner, while we write.

You like children’s books, and fairy tales. The Little Engine that Could—you think I can, you think I can, you think I can. And I can. So I shave, and apply a clay face mask, shower, dry my hair. I only venture out because I would feel guilty otherwise.

You’re sure my friend in Mexico mentioned Pema Chodron and the Dynasty DVD collection in the same email, because you’re certain we’re meant to be together someday.

You place inexpensive, well-made garden furniture directly in my path just before I have a patio installed, and introduce me to men who are not my type on days when I do not feel beautiful, only to show me again and again how many possibilities there are. You even put my favorite politico-tweeter in the middle of a dance floor and have a mutual friend introduce us.

You are a romantic sap, an enabler, a nauseating, effervescent matchmaker, a gluttonous restaurant snob, a memory eraser and an all around pain in the ass.

Still, there’s no getting rid of you. And as I descend the stairs in a friend’s cool, hand-me-down sweat jacket, and catch a glimpse of myself in the tacky gold mirror in the foyer, I can’t help but think, I’m not so chubby after all. And just outside the door, a ribbon of cherry blossom petals floats by, twisting in mid-air like a murmuration of starlings, and I can’t help it: for a moment, I feel hopeful.

I don’t think or dream, I know that the Trumpet Flower tree will grow larger and smell sweeter. The jasmine will climb up the wall. And there is a man, somewhere—maybe just next door—waiting to meet me. Enthusiastic as you are, perhaps, and lovable as any dog, or any pair of beautiful babies.