The Catalyst

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

My Old Friend: Vincent Revisited July 26, 2014

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:18 am

Recently, I celebrated a five-year anniversary. I’ve been leading all-day writing retreats in Sonoma County with a partner since July 2009. That first retreat launched me and a group of beloved writers into the world together. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Italy and Mexico with groups of writers since then, but our first international writing retreat at Laguna Writers was in Aix-en-Provence, France. It was there that I used a collection of Vincent van Gogh’s words as a writing prompt, and published my first blog post from abroad. (Click here to read that post from 2009).

Those who know me well know I am very nostalgic, so while I planned my recent anniversary celebration, I returned to many of my previous writing prompts, and the van Gogh prompt (slightly revised), still produced some fantastic writing.

You can find the revised prompt (Dear Vincent’s words) and what I wrote below.                                                             


Vincent van Gogh: Words

 . . . pain, which sometimes fills the horizon . . . takes on the proportions of a hopeless deluge.

About this we know very little

it is better to gaze at a field of corn, even in the form of a picture.

We are still far from the time when people will understand the curious relations, which exist between one fragment of nature and another

Some, however, feel it silently, and that is something.                                                                                                  tumblr_metoii759N1r87i11o2_1280

Try to walk as much as you can, and keep your love for nature

Painters understand nature and love her and teach us to see her.

If one really loves nature, one can find poetry everywhere.

I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough? 

Patience, you will tell me. And I must have it.

I have been painting in the cornfields in the hottest part of the day.

I notice the sun sometimes has a strong effect on the grain, which soon becomes very yellow. 

How lovely yellow is!

the cicadas are singing fit to burst—a harsh cry, ten times stronger than that of the crickets

and the burnt-up grass takes on lovely tones of old gold.

a sun flooding everything with a light of pure gold.

I know well that healing comes—if one is brave—from within

Grief must not gather in our hearts like water in a swamp.

Patience, you will tell me. And I must have it.

The olive trees are old silver, sometimes nearer blue, sometimes greenish, bronzed

whitening over a soil which is yellow, rose, violet-tinted or orange, to dull red ochre.

towards sunset it generally grows a little calmer; then there are superb sky effects of pale lemon

I got up at night to look at the country. Never, never had nature seemed to me so touching and so full of feeling.

and the mournful pines with their silhouettes stand out in relief . . . with effects of exquisite black lace.

I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?

violet hills in the distance, are so beautiful

These days are like a fresh revelation of color to me.

This morning I saw the country again after the rain—quite fresh

I have a new period of light before me.

all the flowers

the cicadas . . . abide; and here they still sing in ancient green.

And the blue sky never tires me.


Oh, Vincent. I never tire of your love for color, the way yellow fills your paintings, the way you capture sunlight in blue. You had a kind humility, a love for peasants and poor servants; you had hope for a family, a wife.

In Aver-sur-Oise, I visited your grave. It was covered in ivy, flowerless. A hot afternoon sun beat down on the back of my neck. A treeless graveyard. The sleepy town was like a graveyard, too, including tours of the inn where you died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. For 15 euros you could stand behind a velvet rope and stare at the bed in which you had lain suffering for three days. Who would pay to see that?

I waited two hours on an empty train platform in that terrible sun. I just wanted to get out of there, back to Paris. Sitting there, waiting, I suffered through my thoughts about why no one tended your grave. Why tourists posed in front of it holding cheap reproductions of your paintings, laughing. Your paintings sell for hundreds of millions of dollars—the world wants your work now, though in your own life they called you talentless, and your paintings grotesque—the world wants your work, but they still do not love you, the man, the person who taught himself to paint in only ten years.

What is this projection I feel? Why do I want to save you? Is it because I know now that you could have been helped, that perhaps somewhere deep in your childhood was a terrible secret never revealed? Do I want to save you the way I wanted to be saved from the madness of my adolescence, the mother spiraling down into early dementia, the father and the sister coiling in tighter so there was no way out?

Sometimes I wish I would have left. Hitchhiked my way to New York to live my own life, rubbed elbows with Basquiat and Madonna, lived in a shitty warehouse makeshift apartment with other queer artists, explored what it meant to sing and dance and act. Unlike you, I never put a gun to my belly, but I did believe what you came to believe: that I was a failure. That I was unlovable.

The exit gallery at your museum in Amsterdam is a long hallway hung with paintings of those who came after you. Men and women who imitated your style so crudely it felt like the last blow to your thin, pale frame. All your life the art community denied your talent, ridiculed your work. But after your death, so many emulated you, and they were successful. It made me queasy; I rushed out of there angry and sorry for you.

And what of it? One hundred and thirty-five years dead and still I mourn you. Did you help me to see nature in a way even Emerson and Whitman couldn’t? Did you validate my own love for yellow while all the other boys chose blue? Here I sit, more than six years after my affair with you began, and I am still trying to find a way to save you and the teenage boy I once was. I am still trying to thank you for what you taught me, not only with your paintings, but with your words. I love your words, Vincent. And I am so, so saddened by them, always.



Flower Fanatic: Part II July 11, 2014

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:39 am

dahliaThe prompt this time was two-fold:

1. Begin with a list of places you’ve been (or are familiar with) that are memorable and particularly colorful (three minutes).  

2. Then write this down: “The sky is yellow, the clouds are red, and the trees are turquoise. Where is this place?”

Write for 20 minutes, anything that comes to mind.

What I wrote is below.


I’m staring into the tiny face of a lavender blossom: little violet stars magnified by reading glasses. I know the whole world is in love with flowers, but I feel like they are my lifelong companions.

Wasn’t it I who made a special trip every September to Golden Gate Park to visit the dahlias? My eyes would drift past the gates into the forest of bright galaxies and suns.

And what about that year in late April when I gave myself Chicago for a birthday present? The tulips and jonquils along Michigan Avenue surrounded every tree for a perfect mile: purple, yellow, bright orange.

I saw the Jardin du Luxembourg in May, when the marigolds glowed like miniature suns in great clusters near the pond, and the cherry trees burst forth pink blossoms: comets shooting up and out of the dark branches.

Even yesterday, in Oakland, when I confused Valley Vista Avenue with Grand Vista Avenue and had to backtrack to find my car, even then, frustrated, hot, I found my way again past the wall of star jasmine, inhaled deeply, and said thank you.

I don’t need to visit a florist or find my way to a field of mustard flowers or orange poppies bobbing in the wind, because I’m sitting in the center of a garden wherever I am. Wherever I am, I’ll seek out the flowers. I’ll wander under the canopy of pink, pink Japanese cherry trees. I’ll stop in front of the rose bushes on Tiburon Street on my way from one class to another and press my face into the white and raspberry folds curling out like some fabulous nebula, the center sweet as ripe berries. Even the strawberry blossoms make me feel at home with their dumb, bright centers that grow green, then red.

I’ve grown beyond the days of hollyhocks and geraniums. Grown beyond the mother who taught me their names, who plucked violets and gathered them in glasses of water along the window ledge. It’s been thirty-four years since I discovered lilacs on Lilac Boulevard, or orange roses in my neighbor’s backyard. Now I place myself squarely in the center of this world of flowers, this universe I belong to, this place I call home.