The Catalyst

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

Stepping Back July 19, 2013

Filed under: Grief,Poems,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 6:23 pm
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The prompt this time was Breyten Breytenbach’s poem, “Your Letter,” which was written while he was being held as a political prisoner in South Africa, fighting Apartheid. I’ve pasted it below, but for an audio link, click here.

It’s a powerful poem that produces powerful writing. What I wrote is below, following Breytenbach’s poem.


your letter


your letter is larger and lighter
than the thought of a flower when the dream
is a garden—

as your letter opens
there’s an unfolding of sky, word from outside,
wide spaces

I slept in green pastures,
I lay on the cusp of the valley of the shadow of death
during the last watch of the night
listening to those condemned to die
being led through tunnels in the earth,

how they sing
with the breath at their lips
as residents at the point of leaving
a city in flames, how they sing,
their breaths like shackles,

how they sing—
they who are about to jump from light into darkness,
they who will be posted to no destination—
terror fills me at the desecration

the table before me in the presence of my enemies
is bare, I have ash on my head,
my cup is empty

and I fled to your letter to read
of the orange tree decked out in white blossoms
opening with the sun,

I could smell it on the balcony—
I can smell you
lovelier and lighter than the thought of a flower
in this dismal night

I will be suspended from the sky of your words—
grant that I may dwell in your letter
all the days of my life

your letter is wonderful, larger and lighter
than the thought of a flower when the dream
is the earth of a garden—

as your letter opens
there’s an unfolding of sky, word from outside,


Who was it that shone a light in those dark years? My teenaged friends, of course. The ones who passed me joints and wrote me cards and took me on hikes. Had I been isolated, withdrawn, I wouldn’t have had those relationships, and I wouldn’t have survived.

Loss is complex. I can’t spell it out for you, can’t simply say, “She died and our whole world fell apart.” Because dementia doesn’t work that way. It’s insidious in the truest sense of the word, seeping in like water into stone, like mold into layers of plaster. A slow rot. Now you recognize her, now you don’t.

Had she simply died, it wouldn’t have messed me up so badly. I wouldn’t have always expected the worst, or felt incapable of everything adult for so, so many years afterward.

I resist the tedious details. The way her mind unraveled, the way she couldn’t feed herself, or remember where she lived, or use the bathroom. Fifteen years this lasted. Do you know what that does to a family, to a fourteen-year-old boy?

No one really wants the details. And even now I can’t tell you who really pulled me up and out of that hopeless place, the place that said, Just die with her, because the guilt of surviving her—and perhaps the fear of having to grow up without her—was too great to reckon with, while all of life stretched out ahead of me.

I was lost. (But am I found now? Am I?)

Who saved me?

My father, though he made a lot of mistakes. My father, who fed me: risotto, carbonara, and chocolate cheesecake, who made Thanksgiving dinner and watched Dynasty with me every Wednesday night, laughing at Joan Collins’ terrible makeup and hilarious dialogue.

My loyal, loving dog, the same dog who followed Mom around and kept her safe. Who recognized her over and over again when she lost the ability to recognize herself, me, her own hands.

A few nurses, who guided me back to school, to daycare for brain-damaged adults, to medical journals and national associations.

Those few kind lovers, and one remarkable therapist.

And I suppose I saved myself, didn’t I? By reading and dancing, by believing in the future despite my DNA, my sexuality, my lack of resources. I found flowers and airline tickets. I kept believing—I still believe— in love, in healing, in practicing patience and kindness. I had faith.

I suppose I promised her in some silent way that all the time she spent with me in childhood, through the fevers and fears, through the hunger and the celebration, that all her good love wouldn’t go to waste.

And here she is on the page with me now, still humble, reminding me: Look what we did together, you and I.

Look how we did that together.


Pie Pride July 2, 2013

Filed under: Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 5:33 pm
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Now that SF Pride is over, I feel like a kid the day after Christmas vacation: gluttonous, a bit sad, but thoroughly satisfied. 

Today’s writing prompts reflect some of my thoughts this past week. They are followed by a simple recipe for pie crust.

Make a pie, then eat, write, and enjoy:


I’m so over him now

The Sexual Revolution: Part II

Receiving text messages from a friendly ghost


A year ago, I posted a recipe for a strawberry and blueberry galette (click here for that recipe).

In that post, I mentioned I had a simple recipe for pie crust as well, but like a baking tease, I never gave it up, so here it is.

My recipe includes half butter and half Spectrum shortening (this is vegetarian and non-hydrogenated: skip the butter-flavored one and go for the plain one in the blue and white container).

This recipe makes enough for two open pies, or a bottom and a top crust for closed or latticed pies.

Recipe: Pie Crust

1/2 cup butter                                             IMG_1580

1/2 cup shortening

2 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. vinegar

1/4 ice water

Mix dry ingredients with a whisk, or in the food processor. Add shortening and butter, cutting through with a pastry cutter, two knives, or pulse in a food processor, until the dough resembles small, course pebbles. Add vinegar and water, then pulse again (or mix) until dough just comes together.

Separate into two, even balls, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for two hours. (You can also store it in the freezer in a ziplock bag for several months.)

Remove from the fridge and let the dough warm up for about 10 minutes, then using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a circle on a well floured cutting board, turning the dough often to get it as even as possible. If the dough cracks at the edges, simply fold the cracked edges over one another and press together.

If the dough is too sticky, roll it into a ball, then roll it through a little flour. If the crust is too dry, add a few drops of water, working more water into the dough until it is more pliable.

Make sure to get the crust nice and thin (about 1/8 of an inch is perfect, but roll it as thin as you can without it tearing). Most people make the dough too thick, which makes it tough and gummy. Too thin, and it will split. Play with this. The only way to know how to do this well is to try it a few times. Once you’ve baked the crust, you’ll find your own desired thickness.

Gently lay the crust in the pie pan, and trim the edges with a sharp knife, so you have a relatively even circle, but be sure to leave about a half inch of overhang. Take that overhanging crust and fold it under, making a thicker edge. Using your thumb and forefingers on each hand, pinch the crust together to form little peaks (see photo above). You can also fold the overhanging crust under and press it with a fork all the way around, which produces a nice design on the edge of the crust.

Fill pie and bake as directed by your pie recipe.

If you need a baked pie crust for a cream pie, poke holes in the crust with a fork, and bake at 450 for 10 minutes.