The Catalyst

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

Flower Fanatic March 29, 2013

Filed under: Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:58 am
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This piece of writing came from the flower prompt some of you have read about in earlier posts. For a complete description of the prompt, click here.


In the cab, on the way to the restaurant, the driver asks me what I do for a living. “I teach writing,” I say, and he praises me. But I don’t want to talk about writing. So when he tells me about his two gardens—one in Berkeley and one in Sacramento—I press him for details, less interested in poems and line breaks than sweet peas that climb like chameleons: pink, purple, cranberry red. I want to know if he has citrus trees in Sacramento with fragrant white blossoms. I tell him that maintaining a garden is a metaphor for love, how to care for others, how to help them grow.

“What’s a metaphor?” he asks. And so we talk about writing anyway, when all I want to talk about is flowers.

When we arrive at the restaurant on the Embarcadero, the light show on the Bay Bridge is climbing and descending the great cables. The bridge has become a makeshift screen; shadows of huge fish swim across it. It’s fantastic, like a Christo installation, something ordinary has suddenly become a huge canvas. As I pay the fare, we both agree it’s impressive.

But once out of the cab, I’m more interested in the sidewalk littered with tiny pink petals, nearly translucent reminders of the blossoming plum and cherry trees that line the wide city streets. These trees seem to appear everywhere at once, the result of someone who planned for the end of winter, a thoughtful reminder of spring’s arrival. It’s the flowers I want to talk about.  IMG_2769The flowers.

It was my mother who taught me about flowers. Not the Latin names, and not many, but she was the first. She planted hollyhocks along the driveway; they exploded like fireworks of color: yellow, orange, tomato red. Geraniums hung from hooks on the front porch; zinnias stood tall in pots just outside the sliding glass door, so bright and perky they almost looked fake.

In early May, she and I would sit in the backyard near the blossoming apple tree, a whole carpet of violets growing in its shadow. “Can you smell those violets?” she’d always ask. “Can you?”

Now, as an adult, I rarely sit in my own garden. I do, however, spend plenty of time working in it. And there is nothing so delicious as the fatigue I feel after repotting a rootbound hydrangea, or pruning back the jasmine, that wild, fragrant wig of green and white. Nothing compares to the wonderful sense of expectation when the tulip and daffodil bulbs come rising up out of the soil: pointed green leaves that promise blossoms.

It’s the flowers I want to write about, not subject/verb agreement, or metaphors, or catchy introductions and clever conclusions. The flowers. I worry about them, and I wait for their return every year. They fill me with longing, just like any other great love.


Naked Inspiration March 22, 2013

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 6:35 pm
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This prompt is called, “Word Tumble.” Everyone writes down ten words they like; these can be slang or latinate, it doesn’t matter. Once everyone has ten words, I ask them to write five sentences, using two of the words in each sentence. But here’s the trick: the sentences have to be nonsensical. They can’t really make sense.

This is a challenge for most of us, but it really takes us out of our literal, logical mind, and offers us a chance to be zany and playful. Then we read three of them out loud (and laugh, although some of the sentences are eerie or even beautiful).                                                                                              IMG_2333

I wrote down a few phrases that caught my attention:

You pretentious oxymoron.

Dumb-fuck ways.

Grace is gone.

Fresh shit from your consciousness.

What I wrote is below.


“Don’t,” she says. “Just don’t!

“But I’m almost there!” I plead. “Just one more–”

“Give it up!” she says, pushing me aside, getting up from the bed. “I am so tired of this shit.”

Here she goes.

“I mean, what more do I have to do? Cherry trees are blooming on 26th Street, daffodils are playing their yellow trumpets in the backyard, and men in jockstraps and boots are looking you up and down like they want to eat every inch of you. What more do you want from me?”

I hate it when she gets like this.

“I mean it, Man,” she says, throwing a sweater over her body, pale and Botticelli beautiful. “I’ve done everything I can to help you out.”

“It’s not my fault!” I argue, sliding to the edge of the bed, Harriet Doerr’s novel butterflied open and face down beside me. “I haven’t had time to write, I–”

“Save it,” she says, slipping on my neoprene sandals, walking out.

“Where are you going?” Then I hear her clanking through the bottles in the liquor cabinet.

“You’re drinking?” I ask, trying to hide the accusation in my voice.

“You’ve driven me to it,” she snaps, stomping into the kitchen, grabbing a coffee mug, filling it with brandy. “Maybe when I’m good and drunk you’ll start acting sensibly.”

The early spring sun is filling the kitchen table, and the African violet is reaching toward it. In the yard below, two hummingbirds are chattering in what I’m sure is an argument over the tiny feeder of sugar water.

“You’re my muse!” I holler, grabbing the mug from her, brandy sloshing over the edge onto the jute rug. “You’re supposed to be patient and kind and–”

“What a load of crap!” she says, grabbing the mug, taking a gulp.

“Stop it!” I say, but she takes another swig and downs the rest.

“You stop it,” she says. “Stop reading Facebook, and getting stoned, and watching YouTube videos. Start saying no and reading only on weekends. Submit that fucking poem and open up that file, and finish your novel draft!”

“Wow,” I say.

“Yeah,” she says. “Wow.”

“I have to rest,” I argue. I need more time to rest.” I think of Sinead O’Conner singing, I need to write it all down/And rest for awhile.

“You can rest when you’re dead,” my muse says. Then she puts the mug in the sink and walks right out my front door without any pants on.

She’s got a beautiful ass, but I like her pretty face so much better.


Shantel Redux March 16, 2013

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 11:07 pm

This time I asked everyone to write down three phrases:

When to call the poison control center

Reverence for the holiness of sex

Take a long walk

Then we all chose one and wrote for twenty minutes.

What I wrote is below.


I should have turned my phone off.

The early spring weather offered 65 degrees, clear skies, and a light breeze, so I decided to skip the gym and take a walk. I was busy looking up into canopies of plum branches, heavy with pink blossoms. I was also enjoying the sweet scent of magnolias and flirting with a chickadee, when my phone rang.

It was Shantel.121130wendy-williams-peta1_210x305

I hit decline.

She called right back.

“Hi, Shantel!” I said, trying to sound pleased. “How are you?”

There was a long pause.

“I think you know the answer to that question,” she said.

“I do?”

“Yes, darling, you do.”

“You’re angry.”

“That’s correct.”

“You feel I’ve been irresponsible.”

“Go on.”

“You feel abandoned.”

“Well now,” she said a little more seriously, “let’s not get overdramatic.”

“I’ve been meaning to get back to you. I just–”

“I know,” she said, interrupting me, gracefully, as always. “You’ve been working on that cookbook.”

“I have. I’m nearly done with the memoir pieces.”

“How nice for you,” she snapped, doing her best impression of Bette Davis in All About Eve.

“I know. You couldn’t care less about my cookbook.”

“It’s not just that,” she said, not exactly denying it, “and it’s not only me. What about the rest of them? Vincent and Gabriel and Officer Harvey.”

“How are you and Officer Harvey doing?” I asked, genuinely interested, trying desperately to assuage my guilt.

“How the hell should I know?” Her voice rose an octave. “You haven’t even written the Epilogue yet.”

“I did, actually,” I said meekly. “Well, most of it.”

“Please,” she said, sounding mildly disgusted. “Save your defense. I didn’t call to badger you.”

“You didn’t?”

“No, of course not. I called to remind you that you have a responsibility.”

“I do?”

She let out an exasperated sigh.

“Yes, darling, you do. Who else is going to finish the novel if you don’t get on it right away?”

“You have a point.”

“I know I do. And what about that poor girl who spent all of her summer typing up your hand written draft?”

“Yeah. She’s working on her book now.”

“Mmm hmm.”


“I didn’t call to hear your excuses. I called to remind you: we’re waiting.”


“We aren’t leaving.”

“I know.”

“Honey, we are not going anywhere. Am I coming through?”

“Loud and clear.”

“Well all right then,” she said sweetly. “Because I don’t want to have to call you again.”

And then, before I could say anything else, she hung up on me.