The Catalyst

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

Listening: A Report from Mexico January 20, 2013

Filed under: Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 9:13 pm


In response to Juanes’ song “Volverte a ver” (To see you again).


Just listen, I have to tell myself, over and over again. It’s really the only action you have to keep practicing. Everything else—exercise, eating habits, paying your bills—you can sometimes let slip, but you must always practice listening.

Try to focus on being present when someone is talking to you, try not to slip away into thoughts about what you would like to say in response, preparing your speech. Whatever is being said isn’t about you, it isn’t a reflection of who you are, that’s your ego preparing for defense.  Quiet the thoughts, gently, and simply listen to the person in front of you. It’s respect in action. It’s the ultimate act of kindness, and all you need to do is sit and pay attention.

With so many lessons about mindfulness coming at us daily, you think I’d have learned this lesson by now. Be present. Slow down. Think. Wait. Observe. “Honey,” my friend Carlos says, when we are talking about mindfulness,” you’re asking yourself to be a fucking monk. You’re only human.”

“But even that,” I say, “is mindfulness in action. Reminding myself that I’m only human. I’m imperfect. I have limitations. I can’t control anything, you know?”

He nods.

“We’re getting really deep,” he says, taking a sip of his Zinfandel. “I think it might be time to watch another Dynasty episode and smoke some pot.

“Okay,” I say. I haven’t exactly mastered this yet, and escape is still a tool.

What I want to say is this: it’s my life’s work to let go of all this longing and to somehow find my tribe. To raise questions and present them to others, to engage in dialogue that helps us move beyond the tortured little places we drag ourselves when we tell ourselves we are not good enough, or beautiful enough, or talented enough. When we feel we have no good ideas and nothing worthwhile to offer. That’s the place I want to zero in on, to come back to. I want to listen to the voice in my head that’s ready to jump in and respond, to choose the concept of scarcity over plentitude, to compare myself.

Even now, as I’m writing this, the Bay of Banderas in the distance, shining flat and slate blue, I slip away from here. I’m home already in a classroom of bored teenagers who are still acquiring language skills. I’m scrubbing floors or paying bills, or trying to make a date with Julio who still lives in the tenderloin and still looks like a skinny Diego Rivera. I’m still not here, right now, at this computer, trying to find my way into the present moment.

In this very moment, I am not yet 50, or dying of cancer, or sitting with a man who doesn’t think I’m tall enough or butch enough, or young enough to be his lover. I am not struggling to lose the weight from all the beer I’ve drunk under the stars on the rooftop of La Noche. I am not downtown trying to decide if I should spend the money on ceramics I don’t need, but want. I am here, overlooking the bay, anticipating the beautiful words that will come from the mouths of my fellow writers.

So I will sit. I will listen.


Mexico, Otra Vez (Once Again) January 11, 2013

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

In honor of my first day back in Puerto Vallarta (for my FOURTH annual writing retreat), I am posting this short piece. Thanks to Juan Carlos for the inspiration.

The prompts this time were: IMG_0208

The sun, the clouds, the air

Away from home

Somebody else’s boyfriend

What I wrote is below.


“I need to practice my Spanish,” I tell Juan Carlos.

“Okay,” he says in English, then switching to Spanish he says, “Today we will speak only in Spanish. I’ll help you.”

His chocolate colored chihuahua, Dario, is off leash, walking in front of us on the jagged sidewalk. As we approach the open market, Juan Carlos scoops him up effortlessly and holds him with one hand. Juan Carlos’ hair is a glossy black in the warm sun.

Mangoes are spilling out of a wooden crate, and Dario’s nose is actively sniffing the air. We discuss dinner that night, and though we don’t have a plan for the mangoes, we decide we can’t pass them up.

“Where are the tortillas?” I ask.

“Down the street,” Juan Carlos says, pressing the mangoes gently with his strong hand. “At the tortillería.”


“We don’t have those at home.”

“Mangoes?” he asks, incredulous.

“Tortillerías,” I clarify.

“Oh, really?” he says, slipping into English. It’s his expression. Whenever he says it, I feel the urge to kiss him, but of course I don’t.

“How do you say that in Spanish?” I ask.  He thinks about it.

“En serio? It doesn’t exactly translate,” he says in English.IMG_0314

“Español!” I remind him.

“Lo siento,” he laughs. “Olvidé.” (I’m sorry. I forgot.)

I’m not totally lost in a fantasy. I know Juan Carlos is someone else’s boyfriend, I know I don’t live here, and I know I’m not bilingual. But for a moment I allow myself to imagine what it would be like to live here for awhile, and shop for dinner every night with my handsome boyfriend at the corner of Naránjo and Lázaro Cardénas. As if Dario can read my thoughts, we make eye contact, and his little whip of a tail starts fluttering with happiness. I lean in for a tiny pink-tongued kiss. Dario’s breath is terrible, but I accept his kisses, grateful for the affection.

Juan Carlos is gentle with me. Easy. After we pay for the groceries, he takes the heavier bag, hands the lighter one to me. I can smell the fresh tortillas as we walk languidly across the cobblestone street. The air is warm. My joints are loose and relaxed. The sing-song of Spanish floats around me like a sinsemilla haze. Juan Carlos’ eyes are so dark I can’t see his pupils, but when he looks at me and smiles, they flash a silvery light. I smile back at him. Beautiful, I think in English, and then catch myself. Muy Bonito.

I’m in a foreign place, but it somehow feels like home.