The Catalyst

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

Love in the Aisles August 31, 2012

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 5:58 pm

This prompt asks everyone to take ten minutes and free write a list of things you see while waiting in the checkout line at a grocery store. I offer some obvious suggestions (The Star magazine’s “Cellulite” Report, screaming babies in those little toddler seats on the shopping carts, Starburst candies), but I also encourage everyone to think beyond the obvious or the familiar, such as the slightly furry toes on the sexy feet of the guy in front of you, the glass case filled with cartons of cigarettes, and of course, the items on the conveyor in front of or behind yours.

Once everyone has generated a list, I ask that we each choose three from the list and read them around out loud. Sometimes these are single words, or phrases, or longer sentences that paint an image for the listener. No matter how they come out, I encourage everyone to write down whatever resonates or stands out. Then, we choose three, write them at the top of a blank page, and write in response to them for 20 minutes.

Here are the three I wrote down:

Sexy Daddies       Cellulite Photos     Couples arguing

What I wrote follows.


I got picked up once in a grocery store. Actually, the guy—let’s call him George—followed me out to my car and asked me out to coffee. He was handsome, in a sexy Frankenstein kind of way, with a big booty and gorgeous teeth. I said yes, but we only got to date #2 before I realized that George was a misanthrope with an intimidatingly huge dick.

But hope springs eternal, so I always follow Este Lauder’s advice when I grocery shop: never leave the house looking less than your best; you never know who you’re going to meet.

Even so, I’m not a total romantic. I know most people don’t even talk to one another in a grocery store checkout line. We pretend to be offended or surprised by The Star‘s latest humiliating bikini photos of famous people (Guess who? Look inside!), or People Magazine‘s annual announcement of the sexiest man alive (Tom Cruise again? Really?), but we’re really just checking out what everybody else is buying. Huge jars of mayo and raw steak trapped under plastic wrap always concern me as a combo. I’m surprised by the amount of Coke Zero that towers over everything else on the conveyor belt, and I can’t for the life of me understand canned salmon, but maybe there’s a very happy Calico waiting at home for that.

The single guys with their big bottles of whiskey and their boxes of frozen pizzas make me sad, and the college dudes who buy cases of Bud and jugs of bleach make me nervous. I have yet to stand next to a man who has a similar selection to mine, and even as I write this, I know I’m being judgmental. Me and my hormone-free meat and dairy, my cage-free eggs and non-GMO produce. Am I the only single man who buys bread with fiber in it and doesn’t eat frozen food or processed cheese?

I know what you’re thinking: that’s who shops at Safeway. And maybe you’re right, but it doesn’t make it any less depressing.

Mostly, I’ve let go of meeting Mr. Right over a rubber conveyor belt separator. Even when I see a pair of sexy feet with slightly furry toes, my eyes go right to the hand next. Wedding bands abound. The single guys are usually grey and lonely, or talking on their cell phones, ignoring the cashier. Rude. Not many men make a good impression in the Express Lane, especially when they have seventeen items.

But every now and then, the flame flickers for a moment. Someone handsome puts down that rubber separator for me, smiles, says hello. Sometimes I can feel someone’s eyes on my ass, and that’s a start. I think about the art opening we’ll attend someday as a couple.

“How did you two meet?” an inquisitive thirty-something will ask over a plastic cup of red wine.

“Stephen picked me up in line at Trader Joe’s,” I’ll say, and he’ll argue.

“That’s not how it happened at all.” Then he’ll tell his version.

But so far, that hasn’t happened. I usually leave the store without talking to anyone except the cashier. But I don’t feel sorry for myself. I know that shopping in the safe, wide aisles of a clean grocery store is a privilege that many people do not have, even in the city I live in.

I get in my little car, turn on Madonna, loud, and sing along:

I’m gonna be okay/I don’t care what the people say

We both still believe in love. 


Ruminations on Murmurations August 24, 2012

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 5:29 pm

For this prompt, I showed the following video to my writing group, and we wrote in response. The video sometimes loads slowly, so it’s best to start it, pause it, and let it load all the way before watching it. It’s of a great Starling murmuration, which is a flying formation that you may have seen before: great clouds of birds flying together in swirling movements across the sky. Watch the video and see what you write in response.

What I wrote is below.

The birds seem to know how to do this: flying in flocks, sometimes in V formations, or great black clouds of murmurations. They create space for one another. I’ve seen flocks of geese migrating with one bird missing, the empty space held there in honor of their loss.

Maybe we’re not so different, though we sometimes stampede, riot, trample, rush toward an opening. Still, in great masses, we also yield, converge, merge into one another. And like birds, some of us mate for life, some of us come home to roost.

I always think of birds as part of an ecosystem, keeping insect populations in check, spreading seeds. But somehow humans have become removed from Earth. Our houses have windows that snap shut, our doors lock tight. We flush our waste down metal drains, or we bury it in landfills, where it may never decompose.

It would be a beautiful planet without us, wouldn’t it?

“You need to get outside and walk,” my chiropractor says. “Swings your arms more every day,” he says when I question him about what to do with these aching shoulders. And it occurs to me how seldom I walk, how infrequently I am actually outside. I go from chair to car to exercise machine—INSIDE—always inside, so on those rare days when I am outside all day, I come home surprised by how good I feel. How my joints feel loose, how I can smell the sun in my hair, how deeply I sleep.

Only last week, I walked out onto the edge of Tomales Bay, Point Reyes stretching out before me, the reedy shoreline filled with cattails. In the distance, the hot sun on the dry, gold hills was a paler peach, so they looked painted, and I thought, This doesn’t look real.

But of course it was. More real than the dark mazes of a dance club, the little tweakers zig-zagging their way from bar to bathroom. More real than the steel tube of the jet I climb into, baggage overhead, and then blast off into the sky. There could be over a hundred people on that plane, none of us speaking to one another. Ironic, that flock of us, flying higher than the birds, looking down on the foreign landscape below. The colors and shapes like a video of another familiar planet, simulated for our enjoyment, but totally unreal.


What’s in a Name? August 18, 2012

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 3:22 pm

This prompt was inspired by two stories I heard on NPR about men who had changed their names. The first was about a man who legally changed his name to Tyrannosaurus Rex; The second man changed his name to Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop.

Click on the cocoa links above to read the two articles yourself (or listen to the Podcast options) and see what you write in response. The writing we did that night was humorous and playful.

Here’s what I wrote:


In my family, we invent strange names. It was my father who started this; he would make up stories with characters named Charlie Pafuffnick, Petie Pistolazzie, and Joe Cobisfraden. If you got sick, he said you had “the gurnz,” and when he told us stories from his childhood, they included baseball teams with names like, “The Little Potatoes Hard to Peel,” and boys named, “Ticky Ticky Rimbo Rimbo Alamatikka Binuska Shutz” (who, unfortunately, fell in a well and drowned).

I guess this goofiness of his had an effect on his five offspring, because we invented nicknames for each other, which were sometimes interchangeable. For instance, anyone could be called Merle, or Merlene, Joe, Joeline, or Little Joe. Marty, my oldest brother, was called Mitty or Mitten, Danny’s nickname is Anz, Jerry and Mary became Jyrock and Myrock (or Jy and My, for short), and I am constantly referred to as Christ, which understandably shocks most people the first time they hear it.

(Even Dad had his nicknames, including Pop, Pop Pop, or The Little King.)

In addition to this madness, we all have our own words for anything that is diminutive and precious (as in a cute little dog or a chubby baby). My sister calls these Chinny Chons (or if exceptionally cute, Chinny Chon Chons), Jerry calls them “Witto Tinies,” Danny calls them Little Mookies, and I call them Choochies, or Little Chooch. (I should note here that Choochie can also be used as an adjective, such as, “That choochie demitasse I bought in Italy last year,” or a “choochie snack,” which is perhaps, a small cookie.)

We referred to Mom as Connie, which she thought was stupid (her name was Catherine, but her Confirmation name was Constance, and we enjoyed teasing her about that). Her friends called her Cass.

Mom had a few nicknames for body parts; boobs were referred to as “things”—as in, “Why does Barbara Eden always have to walk around with her things hanging out?” And the butt was referred to by just about any other name: Kulo, Tuchis, or Tush. Mom liked butts, and often gave mine an affectionate little pat, exclaiming, “Cute little tuchis,” which was pretty much a reflexive compliment, since my sister and I inherited her butt (thanks, Mom).

It’s all second nature to us, but it continues to surprise newcomers. Once, a  friend of my brother’s—who had been to several holiday meals at our home—learned that a mutual friend was joining us for a meal for the first time. “You’ve never been to the DeLorenzos for dinner before?” he asked. The friend shook his head. “Oh it’s great,” he continued, “but you should be warned: nobody there speaks English.”


Playing with Point of View (POV) August 10, 2012

Filed under: Craft,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 4:40 pm

This prompt asks everyone to begin with a list of inanimate objects found in a home.  After a few minutes of generating a list, I ask everyone to choose one object and write from the point of view (POV) of that object. When we enter the POV of an object, we are able to see details that humans might not notice. And what’s often surprising about this exercise is what we learn about the humans in that same space.

My list is below. What I wrote (from the POV of a land line phone) follows.

The bed on the floor

The armoire in the living room                           

The bedside table, covered with dust

The stove downstairs

The desk in the window

The couch downstairs

The highboy

The huge old hutch

The blue chair

The TV

The old console stereo

The ivory couch in the window

The blue dish rack

The little, flat, cheap phone from Walgreen’s


I’m not worried, really. I mean, nobody in this little house can do what I do. And certainly there’s no reason to worry about being replaced: I only cost $10.99 at Walgreen’s, and as far as the old man’s concerned, I work just fine.

“Pop,” his daughter says, holding me open, my dial tone humming right in her beautiful face, “why don’t you let me buy you a cordless phone? They’re so much more convenient.”

The old man is washing dishes at the sink, staring out the window at the fat, pink roses.

“Honey, that phone is just fine.”

“But Dad!” she exclaims, “all these cords!”

He rinses the dishes gently, rolling a pale blue plate under the running water, placing it carefully in the wire rack.

“I like the cords,” he says, turning off the water, drying his hands on a yellow towel. “They keep me in one place. When I was young, there was only one phone in the house,  and it was in a nook in the hallway.”

I start beeping at her—she’s left me off the hook too long— so she presses a lavender acrylic nail into my belly and shuts me up.

“There’s a nook here,” she says thoughtfully. “The house was probably built in the ’40’s, right?”

He nods.

“Back then, the phone didn’t move around. Call me nostalgic, but I like sitting there, at that nook, talking.”

After she leaves, he scoops two large balls of strawberry ice cream into a bowl, sits down at the table next to me, and reads the sports section of the newspaper. He often spends his weekend afternoons this way, and leaves me later for that obnoxious TV in the other room.

But tonight I can tell by the way he carefully rinses that bowl that he’s going to make a call. He’s lonely. And when he pulls the worn black vinyl book from our shelf, I feel a joint anticipation. He will turn the pages, squint behind his glasses, then pick me up gently and dial slowly. On the other end, a familiar ring. His closest friend. An old man, also lonely, on an old phone, with a cord, like me.

“Hello, Jack,” he’ll say. “Got some time to bat the breeze?”

His breath smells like milk and strawberries, and all four of us feel warm.