The Catalyst

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

Flowers/Growing September 18, 2015

Filed under: Grief,Poems,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:45 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

For this prompt I ask everyone to write two short pieces, and give them about five minutes for each.

IMG_0704For the first piece, I ask them to write about something or someone they have strong feelings for. I remind them that they can use short phrases, full sentences, even single words, and be as specific or as abstract as they like: there’s no right or wrong way to do a free write.

For the second free write, I ask them to write about something found in the natural world: trees, clouds, mountains, a specific kind of flower, anything that comes to mind.

After the two five-minute free writes are over, we combine the two pieces, taking them line by line: the first line from free write #1, followed by the first line of free write #2, then the second line from free write #1, followed by the second line of free write #2, back and forth this way, taking one line from each piece and putting them together to create one new “braided” piece. 

The result is always surprising, and often ends up being something like a prose poem.

Mine is below.


Sometimes he comes to me in my dreams. Yellow golden blossoms. He’s young and vibrant and a deep chestnut brown. Sweet scent. Golden red. I brought him home from the nursery. Tiny. My comfort during the worst of my adolescence. He grew tall. He’d lie with me on the cheap carpet while I’d cry. In the late spring the flowers came. Paw on my arm, sometimes he’d lick the tears from my face. On warm summer nights, that familiar smell. I had always admired others and wanted one of my own. Loyal. Impulsive. Gentle. Expensive. With a ferocious bark. Fragile. And a plume of a tail that could clear a whole coffee table of champagne flutes. Lanky. Just a sapling. I filled the wine barrel with dark soil. The roots were wound tight. I’d come home from school, the front door wide open, but he’d be right by Mama’s side. It was healthy. He wasn’t afraid of her madness. The other plants needed fertilizer, but the little tree grew. He never ran off, like I wanted to do. The front door wide open, and there he was. A few years in a row, I would smell it drifting up from the yard below. He was always with us, in one of our rooms, occasionally on one of our beds. I planted that, I’d sometimes tell myself, inhaling deeply. In the dreams, he’s still with me on our long hikes, like the ones we used to take in the hills behind our house. When I moved, it was too heavy to take with me: the roots had grown through the planter into the ground. He led the way, and always stopped and waited for me, looked back. It’s still there, growing, flowering. It’s still that way in my dreams, bringing someone joy. Like he’s watching over me. Still alive.


An Old Love Story September 11, 2015

The prompts this time were:            pile-love-letters

We were only children

Old Love/New Love

Letters in the mailbox

What I wrote is below.


We were only children, really. Twenty-five and still coming out to parents and friends. I thought you were straight for two months. Your handsome face behind the glass counter, your strong and gentle hands moving the croissants with a paper sheet. I watched your bicep flex as you scooped the chicken salad, or when you brought the pitcher up to the arm of the steamer, that big, beautiful espresso machine and your lovely, full-lipped smile.

We rode our bikes home through the warm summer evening, stopping once for a beer, and I thought, “Here I go again, falling for a straight guy.” I did that a lot back then, so when you told me you found me attractive, I nearly choked.

“Are you experimenting”? I asked. “Because I don’t like being a practice run.”

“No,” you said, “I’m gay. I’m interested in you. Don’t you get it?”

What followed was one of the great, short-lived love affairs of my young life. Your smooth, hairless chest and soft kisses, the deliciousness of working together like friends and leaving together like lovers. Candlelight nights and lazy mornings. The time we couldn’t find any lube; I suggested olive oil, but grabbed the sesame oil by mistake. The next day you said, “I will always think of you when I eat sesame noodles now.”

When I returned to school, your letters began to arrive, waiting for me behind the tiny metal door of my P.O. box. I felt like a Jane Austen character, especially the day I climbed up into the old elm and read your profession of love. “I know what you’re thinking,” you wrote. “That I shouldn’t profess love in a letter, that we haven’t known each other long enough, but I don’t care: the truth is I love you. I love you. I do.”

No one had ever written me a love letter before.

Where are you, I wonder? And who are you now? Are you bald and unhappy? Are you a faithful partner? Do you think of me sometimes? But most important of all, are you being loved? That’s what I really want to know. Are you being loved? Is somebody loving you?





Familiar Voices September 4, 2015

Filed under: Short Stories/Short Shorts,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:53 am
Tags: , , ,

The prompts this time were:    IMG_1286

Remember to breathe

I’d recognize him anywhere

Love is deaf and blind

What I wrote is below.


It’s the only time I’ve been late, and I’m rushing up the stairs, the voices battling in my head. It’s okay. You’re late. It happens to everyone. You’re tired and stressed. You’re going to sing like shit tonight. Hurry up. Slow down. Breathe. If nothing else, breathe.

Just as I reach the restroom, out comes Nikil, our teacher. “Hello!” he says, the deep resonant voice, the white smile.

“Hi,” I say, and finally exhale. I’ve been holding my breath.

“See you in there,” he says, and I think: Musicians are always late. Why am I freaking out?

Inside the tiny classroom, Nikil sits in front of the five of us; his wavy black hair and large eyes remind me of Ganesh, the Hindu god. “How is everyone doing tonight?” he asks, and I notice his milk chocolate skin peeking through a tear in his jeans. When he places his elegant hands on his belly and says, “Okay, let’s start with a few nice deep breaths,” some part of me wants to weep with relief. Just breathe. That’s all you have to do. “And two more,” he continues, “this time engaging in your core, like you’re blowing out candles on a cake.”

The day had gotten away from me, the alarm going off at 7:00 a.m., my lunch hurriedly packed and unappetizing, two crowded classrooms filled with 40 new faces. One of my students is blind. When she took my arm and I walked her to the shuttle stop, she confided in me that she hadn’t always been blind, that she lost her sight just a few years ago, and that because she was a trained singer, she had a well-trained ear.

“It’s a blessing in a strange way,” she told me. “Being free from the way we judge one another by how we look. I have an image of you in my mind,” she said. “Because of your voice.” My voice.

Now Nikil is playing scales on the piano, higher and higher. “Nice relaxed jaw,” he reminds us, “tongue flat in your mouth. Open your throat.” Marianna is sitting on my left. Last week I sounded terrible without her. Karen on my right sings easily, soulfully, but Marianna and I sound like children together. “Don’t strain,” Nikil reminds us, his long fingers climbing higher on the piano keys. “Pull the note back away from the sinus. Relax the root of the tongue.”

Marianna and I are in perfect pitch, but we’re approaching the top of my range and in two more octaves, she’ll climb beyond me, and I’ll have to move back down in order to climb back up.

I’m surprised how good I sound, though. Much better than I expected. The clock on the wall reads 6:45—only 30 minutes left—and I think, Breathe in; sing out. Don’t focus on anything but this: the position of your ribs over your diaphragm, the jaw loose. There is no bad news here. No appointments to make. No bills to pay. Just this. Only this. My voice, my lungs. My lungs, my voice.