The Catalyst

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

Something Deliciously Different December 25, 2012

Filed under: Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 4:31 am

A few quick holiday prompts:


traveling without chocolate

dessert as good as sex

and now for something completely different. . .


To read my Pop’s recipe for Chocolate Cheesecake (a holiday hit), just click on the link below.

The recipe is in its original form, clipped from an old Gourmet Magazine.

Eat, write, and enjoy!





Confessions December 23, 2012

Filed under: Short Stories/Short Shorts,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 9:58 am

For this prompt, I asked everyone to generate a list under the heading, “What Love Endures.” We generated some amazing lists, and each of us read phrases and words out loud, going around the room three times (which is what I usually do for list exercises). Some of my favorites are below.








surprise parties

phone calls at two a.m.

the terrible secret

a talk you need to have


Since I am revising a novel draft, I’ve been at a bit of a loss about what to write during the workshops, other than memoir pieces, which of course, are valid. But I miss writing fiction, so I occasionally play with writing a short story. What I wrote follows, and is the beginning of a piece I’d like to return to.


It’s hard to remember when I started stealing things.

Dr. Michaels has asked me to go back as far as I can remember. And the truth is, it goes back to some of my earliest memories. There are Super 8 films of me in my high chair next to my cousin, Alex, stealing bow tie pasta right off his tray. In Kindergarten, I stole mittens from Joe Malone in the coat closet at Loveland Elementary. And when I was eleven, I stole white strappy sandals from Mama’s closet, snipped the backs off, then cut large strips of medical tape to transform them into mules. I wore them for my private lip-synching sessions in my room: Olivia Newton-John’s part of “You’re the One that I Want,” over and over again. In high school, it was candy bars and cigarettes from 7-11, then it was clothes from JC Penny and Macy’s. I had tiny thread scissors that slipped right between the big white sensors clamped onto the clothes. I popped them right off.

I’ve never stolen a purse or a wallet, though I once grabbed someone’s suitcase from the airport carousel by mistake. I knew it wasn’t mine before I rolled it out to the curb, but I kept going anyway, the excitement of seeing what was inside rising in my chest like the promise of sex: lustful and secretive. The guy who the suitcase belonged to was about my size, so I really wanted to keep most of his clothes, but in the end I turned it in, sans one pair of red briefs.

Well, there was the car too. But just that once, and only for a joyride. The driver had run into the liquor store with the engine  still running—a cherry red Barracuda with a diamond back window, AC/DC playing loud—and I wanted to know what a V-8 engine felt like on the freeway at 100 mph. I left it in the BART parking lot in Daly City; it wasn’t like I kept it or anything.

Dr. Michaels thinks it’s some repressed anger that’s driven me to steal all my life, some part of me that’s still an angry teen. But what excuse did I have in kindergarten that ultimately led Joey Malone to cry like a little baby?

“Where’d you get those mittens?” I remember my dad asking.

“I found them,” I lied. “Under a rock.”

And he believed me.


The World Goes On December 14, 2012

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 4:18 pm

For this prompt, I played with the recent news about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world (scheduled for 12/21/2012, as you might already know). I began by saying, “Well, I have bad news. The world is coming to an end soon.” Then I asked everyone to write down these phrases:   136802640_20121120202008_640_480

It’s the end of the world as we know it.    

Everything ends eventually.

We’re all going to heaven, so get ready.

Then I read them excerpts from an ABC News article and the Huffington Post. (Those cocoa colored bars are links, so you can read them too.) What I wrote in response is below.


The Rapture, it seems, has been delayed again. Believing is so challenging, isn’t it? And all of these false starts make a mockery of the Apocalypse. I’m being cheeky, but the truth is, I know this fear all too well. The Apocalypse has felt like a real possibility for most of my life.

As far as God is concerned, when I was a child, I wondered at the illustrations on the last pages of our family bible. There I found that great horned creature with three heads (or was it six?), the blackening sky, the sinners burning up while the believers ascended into heaven. It was something to aspire to: not dying, but ascending. I loved the idea, and the Apocalypse promised that. I feared it too, but didn’t necessarily believe it would happen in my lifetime. Still, it was lurking around in my psyche for years.

By the time I was in high school, the Cold War was in full swing, nuclear arms were being stockpiled, and we used to have air raid drills, in which we were instructed to take cover beneath thin, formica-topped, pressed-wood desks—clearly thorough protection from nuclear bombs and radiation.

Let’s just say I didn’t feel safe. My life at home was unraveling too; if you’ve read my writing you know that sad story: Mama’s early-onset dementia, adult diapers, and a family enmeshed because of an ever-changing disease. In my limited life away from the cognitive tangle, I sought to escape hopelessness. But my generation (“X” we are called, not even worthy of a name, it seems) was prone to dress in black, listen to hard rock, smoke too much, and watch too much TV. We felt doomed, so we often just said, “Fuck it.”

HBO was brand new back then, and I remember being engrossed in a special about Nostradamus, that 16th Century doctor-turned-prophet whose encoded visions of the future were being interpreted at that time. His “black and white birds” flying toward one another were interpreted as missiles, and the “great evil rising” in the Middle East provoked many to believe he had predicted WWIII. Prophecies of the end; I have lived with this fear all my life. Y2K brought it up again, and so did 9/11, but neither delivered. And now I’m listening to the news, hearing about Syria and Israel and chemical weapons and the possibility of WWIII. Here comes the Apocalypse again.

But here’s a new thought: it isn’t going to happen. How’s that for a possibility? It isn’t going to happen. Which means, of course, not only is peace still possible, but that I might be able to stop worrying about it and get on with living, living this life that includes fear and safety, joy and suffering, never-ending (until I kick the bucket, and even then, who knows?). It also means that there’s no getting out of repaying my enormous student loan.

Survival, it turns out, is bittersweet.


Ciccia* December 7, 2012

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

For this prompt, we responded to three phrases, choosing any (or all) as a place to begin our writing. Sometimes this type of prompt simply opens up a window to an image or an idea. I always tell my participants to write toward whatever that image is.

The phrases were:              michelangelo-eve-detail

A skinny cook

Chunky and delicious

Not getting any younger

Here’s what I wrote:

I never understood how well-known chefs could be skinny. People who love to prepare food, love to eat: that’s just a fact. I never trust a skinny cook or a dermatologist with wrinkles.

I love food. I love sautéing onions until they’re golden and caramelized, stirring risotto with a long wooden spoon until it begins to thicken, and that moment when I have just finished frosting a cake.

For me, food is a vehicle for creativity, a way to nourish my body and enjoy pleasure, or to connect with the seasons and Mama Earth. It is also a way to nurture others. In this way, I’m typically Italian. If you tell me you haven’t eaten all day, I am so distracted by what to feed you that I can’t concentrate on anything else you might say after that. And I prefer men and women who have meat on their bones (I’ve been wanting to fatten up Madonna for years now). I like the way Rubens and Michelangelo painted both men and women as strong, ripe, and creamy. I find skinny jeans uncomfortable to look at, and I don’t understand why some men want to bury their beautiful, muscular bodies under XXXL sweatshirts, or wear jeans that sag down to their knees; I think jeans should frame a nice, round culo. And I’m not interested in snuggling up to six-pack abs either. Who wants to cuddle with a washboard? Too hard.

Even so, I have my own body issues. A friend recently made me a birthday card. On the cover was a black and white nude self-portrait I took twenty-five years ago, and all I could think was, God, was I ever skinny. Too skinny. But I didn’t feel skinny then, and being in that body didn’t make me happier than I am today. I didn’t know how to cook back then, either. I had neither perfected my brownie recipe nor reinvented Indian meatloaf.  I wasn’t even sure how to hard-boil an egg.

Today, I suppose I could benefit from portion control. I love the complex flavors arranged at a party buffet, but I have a difficult time filling my plate just once. Come to think of it, I refill my wine glass at parties a few times as well, and I rarely skip dessert at a restaurant. I am still working on becoming someone who savors less food, but not at the expense of letting go of the wonderful lifelong lesson I’m learning about this kind of love: spices, fresh herbs, slow roasting, braising, brining, basting, rolling, folding, and baking.

This thicker Italian frame isn’t what it used to be twenty-five years ago, but that skinny kid couldn’t create a meal that made others feel cared for. He couldn’t arrive with a cake, or make dinner and lemon mousse in a tiny efficiency kitchen for nine people and a baby. He couldn’t love the way I do now, with an oven, a sharp knife, and a few good pans.

He didn’t know how.

*ciccia is Italian for “chunky,” or more commonly, “baby fat.”