The Catalyst

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

Walking Wounded August 29, 2014

Filed under: Grief,Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 10:24 pm
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The prompt this time  was a music prompt. I played the song, “Imagination,” sung by Jimmy Scott. Scott’s androgynous voice is haunting and achingly beautiful, and listening to it produced some very powerful and strange writing. What I wrote is below.

 

 

Try not to think about all of the suffering in the world, he tells himself. Try not to bleed for everyone. But even as he places himself in the moment, here, on the cool, quiet street, he feels it. Somewhere bombs are leveling apartment buildings and children are being victimized. Somewhere a mother of two is hanging herself, or a home is going up in flames, engulfing everything.

He walks past the house with the potted succulents no one ever waters and fantasizes about giving the thirty plants a drink. He stops in front of the wishing tree, lit up with a string of Christmas tree lights, hundreds of wishes written on paper tags, hanging from strings. I want a new dog; I wish I could find new love; Please let my sister’s cancer be curable.

He wants to practice maitri—the Buddhist practice of loving kindness—to inhale deeply when he passes the homeless man on the street in filthy clothes, talking to himself. He inhales deeply: smoke, urine, dog shit, pain. Takes it all in, then lets it out. Exhale. And it still hurts.

Only yesterday, on his way to lunch at a cafe, a young man stumbled past him, barefoot on the city street. He leaned awkwardly, a plastic bracelet from a club the night before wrapped tightly around his wrist. He was in a daze, hung over from something, a roofie? Crystal meth? He couldn’t be sure, but he wanted to help the young man. He was frightened. The sight of him, vulnerable, cloudy, made him fearful.

But tonight, he brings himself back to tonight. The sun has just set and the sky is still a royal blue. Wind chimes clink and dance on a distant front porch. It’s Sunday, and he’s on his way to meet his lover at a bar where they will share a couple of overly sweet cocktails, exchanging their usual niceties before sex, before the lonely animals inside them reach toward one another in lust as old as humankind.

At some point, an old friend will walk past them, oblivious. His alcoholism has made him all bones and missing teeth. His old friend will not see him, nor his lover, will make a bee line to the end of the bar where there are empty seats, finally arriving for his reposados on the rocks with lime. They soothe the rawness of his old pain: the abusive older brother, the priest who used him, the cousins who humiliated him in ways he can only talk about when he is slurring and teetering on his bar stool.

“Let’s go,” he tells his lover, hoping to avoid the old wounded friend and the awkward conversation that is sure to follow. They leave. But one part of him stays behind. One goes out hand in hand with his lover, anticipating skin against skin, and the open, wet mouths. The other part stays behind, sidles up next to his old friend, orders himself a tequila too, just like they did in Puerto Vallarta all those years ago.

“Hello, old friend,” this part of him says. “I still love you. Tell me the saddest story you can, and I will listen. I will listen.”

 

 

 

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The Never-Ending Saga of Dating in San Francisco August 22, 2014

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 11:12 am
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The prompts this time were:

Never-ending bad dates

By all means: share your wisdom with me

Getting closer

What I wrote is below.

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“You’re getting closer,” my best girlfriend says when I tell her about bad first date number 236. Great, I think. What that really means is that my list of what I won’t tolerate is getting longer. And it ain’t pretty, folks.

“No one’s perfect,” another friend reminds me, and I imagine he wants to add, “including you.” But he doesn’t. I know I’m not perfect. I have a very low tolerance for humorless men who wear flip-flops to wine bars on the first date (so much for first impressions). I mean, I think feet are sexy, but for Christ’s sake, did you just get out of bed? p.s. It’s 48 degrees tonight: put some shoes on.

“Please, God,” I posted on Facebook, “make the bad dates stop.”

“That’s why I’ve given up on dating,” my neighbor said. “Just bring yourself to orgasm, go to bed alone, and get a good night’s sleep. Everyone snores anyway.”

But my heart is a long-distance runner: one more lap, one more lap, one more lap.

Others who are happily coupled have told me, “When you stop looking for it, that’s when it comes to you.” I want to say, “Maybe you’re right, but could you please fuck off?”

Because letting go is one thing, but giving up is another. Keep your heart chakra open, and all that jazz, right? Except my heart chakra has been blown through with so many cannon balls it makes the Sacred Heart look like skinned knees. “This HURTS!” I want to scream, as our short, adorable Latin waiter delivers the merciful last call and the tab. I’ll pay whatever it takes to get away from this sad-faced, flip-flop date. And what time do you get off work, Chiquito? ‘Cause you’re much more my type.

“I wasn’t really attracted to my husband when we first met,” a woman who’s been married 30 years reminds me occasionally. “Your type isn’t always the one to be looking for.” Thanks for that GIANT kernel of wisdom, I think, but your husband is still a fox, and you love anything blonde, which he still is.

“Marriages are made on Match.com,” the ad promises, so for a while, I subscribed. But receiving thumbnails of faces connected to profiles that begin with, “I don’t know what to write here” only depressed me. You only have 300 words anyway, DUMB ASS, so why are you wasting them with those boring words of insecurity?

“I’d like to eat you from head to toe,” a man named Rogelio said to me recently. “And my husband will love you too.” A gay cliché? Perhaps. But I took the bait and let him kiss me in that crowded bar. What else am I supposed to do in this Godforsaken desert of never-ending bad dates?

 

Goodbye, Old Friend August 15, 2014

Filed under: Grief,Short Stories/Short Shorts,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 10:24 am
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For this prompt, I handed out the list below. It’s a list of commonly used old sayings; you may be familiar with many of them. I deliberately left a gap between clauses and asked everyone to mix and match the halves so we came up with new phrases. Some of the sayings we ended up with were hilarious, some of them were thought-provoking, and quite a few were poignant. “Don’t believe in moderation,” was one. Another one was, “When life’s path is steep, an old broom knows the corners.” I ended up being drawn to, “One day, you can’t make him drink.” What I wrote surprised me.

The list and my own writing are below.   

______________________

The list of old sayings:

A bird in the hand is                                worth two in the bush.

A penny saved is                                       a penny earned.      

A stitch in time                                          saves nine.      

Better late than                                         never.      

Don’t believe                                              everything you hear.

Early to bed and early to rise,              makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

 

Never spend your money                          before you have it.

One day                                                         at a time.      

Save for                                                         a rainy day.      

Seek advice but                                            use your own common sense .

Seize                                                                 the day.

The best cure for a short temper is           a long walk.      

When life’s path is steep,                             keep your mind even.

A new broom sweeps clean but                 an old broom knows the corners.      

Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if        it kept its mouth shut.      

Everything                                                      in moderation

 

Give a man a fish and                                   you feed him for a day;

Teach a man to fish and                               he’ll eat forever

 

Health is better than                                   wealth

Life is a journey,                                          not a destination.      

Life is                                                              what you make it.

Money buys everything                              but good sense.     

Out of sight,                                                  out of mind

 

Plan your life like                                       you will live forever    

and live your life like                                 you will die the next day

 

The more things change,                            the more they stay the same

The truly rich are those who                      enjoy what they have.      

What’s good for the goose is                      good for the gander.      

You can lead a horse to water but            you can’t make him drink.      

You have to take the bitter with                the sweet

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One day, you can’t make him drink, though you bring the bowl to him, and scoop the water up in little handfuls, bringing it to his mouth. That’s when you know it’s over; the life you’ve shared together is about to end.

So you pull out the Mexican blanket and cover him—he’s shivering more than usual—and you take the cushions from the couch and place them on the floor next to his bed. You lie down, and you wait.

He sleeps. His breathing is slow, but steady, and occasionally he wheezes. But soon you are both in a deep sleep, dreaming your own dreams. His dreams have always been unknown to you. Is he chasing that grey squirrel up the fruitless mulberry again? Is he marching down the beach with his mini-frisbee?

At 11:30, you awaken and place your hand on his belly—still warm—and surprise yourself with the joy you feel knowing that he is still alive, though you know he will not move from this bed ever again and you will never again feel his cold nose pressed up against your face.

You relieve your bladder in the bathroom, where a candle burns near the mirror. You scrutinize your reflection. Crows feet run deep from the corners of your eyes. Your neck is baggy and red. When did you grow old?

In the kitchen, there’s an open bottle of red wine on the counter. You pour yourself a glass and sit down on the couch cushions again, stroking his head, saying, “It’s okay, Buddy. You can go if you need to. It’s okay.” But you don’t really mean it, and he probably knows you’re lying, the way he knew on those lonely nights when you drank too much and cried watching stupid movies like When Harry Met Sally, even though you knew it had a happy ending. Or Summertimewhen you knew it ended sadly. You were past forty and still single and feeling very sorry for yourself.

He’d crawl into your lap, his wiggly half-Chihuahua body shaking more than usual. “It’s okay, Buddy,” you’d lie, and he’d place his front paws on your chest and lick your chin, knowing you were going to that place again.

Those who work with the dying say they will wait for you to leave the room if they don’t want you to see them die, and though you can’t imagine any creature wanting to die alone, you stand up and walk back to the kitchen, wondering what he wants right now, wishing he could show you.

You remember him the first day you brought him home, how he was just a butterscotch drop with bat ears and two brown marbles for eyes. How you sat on the floor in the shelter and he crawled into your lap. How he chose you.

 

Flourless Chocolate Love August 13, 2014

Filed under: Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 12:10 am
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This week I’m on retreat and working on my memoir cookbook, but I thought I’d share this recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It’s a keeper.                                                      flourless-chocolate-cake1                                                    

A few prompts to go with your cake:

Covered in whipped cream

He loves me, he loves me not

What we lose is greater on either side

Enjoy.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into pieces

6 large eggs

1 cup sugar, divided in half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon powdered sugar, for sprinkling over the top (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (a 10-inch will work too if that’s all you have)

Butter the pan, including the paper lining, and wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to avoid leakage.

Place chocolate in a double-boiler and melt on high heat until it breaks softly when pressed with a wooden spoon. (If you don’t have a double-boiler you can use a saucepan and melt over medium-low heat.)

Add the butter to the chocolate and mix together until melted and combined.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and cool to lukewarm, stirring once or twice to keep it from separating. Do not allow to harden.

Separate the eggs and set aside the 6 egg yolks.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks begin to form and cling to the beaters, then gradually add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until firm peaks form. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer (with clean beaters), beat the egg yolks and additional 1/2 cup of sugar in a large bowl until very thick and pale, about three minutes. Add vanilla extract and lukewarm chocolate mixture until blended.

In three batches, using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped egg whites, drawing the whites up and over the center of the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake top is puffed and cracked and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs on it. Cool cake on rack; the cake will deflate a bit.

Once the pan is cool enough to touch with bare hands, slowly run a butter knife around the edge and release the cake from the pan. Allow cake to cool completely, then cover it with a plate and invert it. Carefully peel the paper off, then using another plate, flip the cake back over.

Dust with powdered sugar. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream (optional).

 

 

 

Still Wishing August 8, 2014

Filed under: Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 9:46 am

The prompt this time was simply this: I played the video below. It’s Snow White singing, “I’m Wishing.” Watch it and see what you write afterward. I don’t think it needs any explanation.

What I wrote is below.

The story goes like this: I was five years old and knew the words to every song on the Disney Snow White album. My sister, merely eleven years old, pubescent and self-conscious, was given the task of accompanying me to the film in the theater at Crossroads Mall. We sat in the sixth row, and when the wishing well song came on, I began to sing along with the refrain; I was the voice, the echo, of the well.

“Stop singing!” my sister hissed. She was making an attempt to whisper; I was singing at full volume, ignoring her. “If you don’t stop singing, I’m moving!” she threatened. I kept singing. When Snow White got to the vocal exercise section of the song—”ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha”—I joined right in, my tiny pipes belting it out into the theater. “That’s it!” she exclaimed, and moved four rows behind me. I looked back once, just to make sure she was still there; otherwise, I enjoyed my solitude, and continued to sing along with the soundtrack.

Watching that scene again recently on YouTube brought it all back: all those years I sat in front of the stereo console in our living room, taking in all those songs. Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella. Snow White. I could barely walk, yet I was already being infiltrated by the messages that Disney was spinning: sanitized Grimm’s fairy tales that depicted chaste love, and princes who save beautiful, lonely, abused orphans who wear rags and fraternize with animals.

What surprised me this time was the presence of the prince (literally on a white horse), singing his own melody and interrupting my lovely memory with a realization: I got this message before I could talk. Before I had words, I learned that a strong, handsome, young man in tights was the answer to loneliness, suffering, sadness, hopelessness. You name the emotion; the prince is the answer.

Four-and-a-half decades later I’m still unraveling that belief system, still struggling not to see myself as helpless and in need of a savior. Being raised Catholic didn’t help either. Hadn’t Christ himself—also handsome, young and brave—also promised to return and save us all? As long as I stayed young and pretty, as long as I was good, then I would be saved.

What a fucked-up message. What a long history.