The Catalyst

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

Feline Intuition March 25, 2019

The prompt this time was “Pet’s Tell the Story,” which is a POV exercise in which you write in the voice of a pet you are familiar with (your own or someone else’s). For a detailed description of this prompt, see this link.

I’m more of a dog person, but I’ve met quite a few cats in my life whom I’ve loved, and one in particular who made me realize that some cats are sweet and affectionate (and possibly wise). The memory of that special cat inspired the piece below.

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Those voices can only mean one thing: the boys are here. I can practically taste the testosterone. Bitter, it is, but not all bad. And I’ve learned by now that whatever nap I had going is over now; these guys will be smoking and laughing and banging cabinets in the kitchen, so I might as well join them.

When I get to the landing, I can hear their voices clearly, and I pause when I hear Marcus. He’s my favorite. The only one who never pushes me off his lap: ever. Kieran, whom I’ve known since he was a little boy, doesn’t treat me with the the tenderness that Marcus has for me. Some humans just get it and some humans don’t, you know?

I take my time coming down, because for some stupid reason they toss their stinky tennis shoes at the bottom of the steps, and I’ve tripped over them before. Don’t worry: I always land on all fours.

I round the corner cautiously. The kitchen is filled with sunlight, and all five of them are crowded together on the L-shaped yellow bench beneath the windows. Everyone loves that kitchen booth.

“Kieran,” Marcus asks, “what time is your mom coming home?”

Kieran’s at the counter, the cabinets in front of him are open wide. He’s stretching to reach a bag of cookies; his long limbs are just the right length for high places.

“Not until 6:00,” he says, his shirt hiking up a bit to reveal a light dusting of dark brown fur and that flat, unnerving navel that humans have. I look at Marcus and watch his deep-set brown eyes slide from Kieran’s bright, bright blues to his flat stomach, then back up again to his face.

One of the guys lights a joint and opens the window.

“Hey! There’s that cat!” the blonde says for the 100th time.

“His name is Mr. Boots, dumb ass!” Marcus says, faking annoyance. And everyone says, “Ooooh!”

“Pass him the joint first,” Kieran says. “He’s testy.” He plops the bag of Keebler Fudge Stripes down on the table. I have no interest in human cookies, but everyone else grabs a few and starts chomping away. Marcus selects one, looks at it carefully, and then looks up at Kieran. “I love these,” he says, and Kieran smiles.

I leap onto the closest lap and walk my way toward Marcus. His hand knows just where to go—that spot between my ears and my neck—and I can’t help myself: my motor starts running.

“You guys going to Pinky’s tomorrow night after the game?” Kieran asks. “Buy one large pizza and get a pitcher of Coke free.”

“I got to study for a Trig test,” Marcus says. His hand is traveling down my back now, all the way to the tail. Then he lifts off and goes back to my head. This kid knows what he’s doing.

“On a Saturday?” Kieran asks.

“Just cheat in Wignot’s class, like everyone else,” the blonde says.

“I do,” Marcus says, “and I’m still getting a D.”

“I can help you study on Sunday,” Kieran says. There’s an uncomfortable silence. “I mean, I’m pretty good at math.”

I can feel Marcus’ heartbeat pick up a bit. He wants to tell Kieran something, wants to tell him that he’s in pain, some sort of grief, though I don’t know what it is exactly. He’s silent. Then the conversation turns to girls: who’s foxy, who’s got big boobs. I thought Tomcats were bad! These guys are like dogs.

I decide to sit on the window ledge to soak in some of the sunlight, but I stay right behind Marcus. He remains silent while the guys— Kieran too— go on and on about girls. So I stay close to him. Real close. I can feel his loneliness, but he knows I’m right there.

 

 

 

 

 

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Girl Talk January 28, 2019

Sometimes in the workshops, we return to characters we’ve written about before.  

I sometimes write in the voice of a character named Sheila. Sheila is 15 years old, and was adopted by her uncle and his partner, whom she considers her two dads.

The prompt this time was the Five Word Free Write. For a detailed explanation of this prompt, see an earlier post here. 

The five words were:  1. Wild Geese (I know that’s two words)          2. Pomegranates   3. Red   4. Rain   5. Longing

What I wrote is below.

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So my dads were like, “It’s not a choice, Sheila. You’re coming. You’re only 15; staying home alone is not an option.” And I was like, WTF? I’m practically a grown woman now. And they were like, “No way. You’re coming to the showcase with us.”

Whatever.

It’s times like these that I want to pull the adoption card and say something mean, like, You’re not even my real parents, but I don’t, because they like, legally adopted me a few years ago and Uncle Bob is my blood relative, and my real parents suck, so like, I would never say that. But sometimes I want to. I swear I do.

So I tried the intellectual approach.

“I’m almost 16 now,” I said, “I’m supposed to be individuating.” (I totally learned that term in my Psych class with Ms. Frasier, who’s like, the coolest lipstick lesbian EVER!). “It’s a right of passage,” I said, borrowing Papa Jimmy’s term. He just gave me that look and said, “Bring a sweater.”

Whatever. It wasn’t even cold outside. What am I? Like five years old? God.

So anyways, off we went to their stupid Alma Mater where they met like 500 years ago, that hippie-dippie college in Amherst to see the f-ing showcase of like, all one womyn shows (that’s womyn a “y” you know), and all I can think is Capital B: Boring.

But you know, some of it was sorta good. Most of the performers had like, good projection and all. And one girl—er, womyn—was like, a total freak, with like a rainbow pixie haircut and purple lipstick. Her whole piece was about the vagina, like, vagina pride, and I was like, okay. This is interesting. She got my attention, I guess.

She spread her legs, and THANK GOD, she was wearing tights under her skirt, and then she like magically produced a pomegranate from like, nowhere, and she ripped it open with her bare hands, and juice went everywhere. And she had this, I don’t know, instructional speech about the fruit of her womynhood and the beauty of menstrual blood, and, GROSS, right? But I kind of admired her, really, for like, going there. I was like, having a moment of girl power bonding right there in the audience remembering how like, embarrassed both of my dads were when I started my period, and how embarrassed I felt too.

That sucked.

And it’s like, totally natural, you know?

Anyway, Ms. Rainbow Head was pretty cool. All Uncle Bob had to say afterward was, “She really made a mess on that stage.”

God, I swear, sometimes men are so clueless. Totally. They really, really are.

 

Ready for a Change April 12, 2018

The prompts this time were “nonsensical sentences.” Everyone in the group generates them, we read them around, and then write in response. The result is often some bizarre, playful, surprising prose. (My piece turned out to be a silly character.) 

Here are a few examples:

 “Don’t think about the mouse in the house, said the wheat cracker. “Just look around and step on the little white lines.”

 The chocolate pudding was in love with the dog’s leash, and all the baby yellow-jackets sang a good morning hymn.

 The ballerina decided a barber shave would be a better choice for the hot toddy on rye.

 What I wrote is below.

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Today I considered painting my toenails blue and adopting a Chihuahua. It’s sandal weather after all, and so many dogs need a good home. Of course, I’d have to quit my job at the ice cream shop and stay home to care for little Lulu, but Craigslist is full of “work from home” job listings. I could sell my homemade kombucha door to door if I needed to, with my canine companion right by my side.

Or how about selling those new extreme pressure cookers? I saw an infomercial for one that has about 20 push button options and cooks everything from pot roast to lasagna. Chicken poured right out of the removable, non-stick, dishwasher safe insert, and right onto a platter of rice with a gravy so beautiful and glossy, it was hard to believe the whole process only took fifteen minutes. It was just a matter of adding the ingredients and locking the lid nice and tight. I am seriously excited about this product. I think I could sell it, I really do.

All of this angst might have something to do with turning 26: I could be having my quarter life crisis. I found a grey hair the other day, and am seriously considering just going platinum blonde to avoid seeing more of it. But silver hair and blue toes? Is that too matchy matchy? Well, I want to give it a try. I’m too young to be old.

Maybe Martin planted this seed. He’s a very cute trans male who is traveling the country in a green Nissan Cube with his skinny Irish Wolfhound, Ace. Martin is connecting with other transmen from Ohio to Washington State and chronicling the whole adventure on Instagram. I met Martin here in Portland two weeks ago. We were smiling at each other across the back patio at the Rainbow Cattle Ranch Cocktail Bar. He eventually came over and introduced himself. He’s about my height, but muscular, with big, bushy eyebrows. When I first saw him I thought, He’s so pretty for a CIS male. What a wonderfully surprising world we live in, huh?

Martin and I talked for a while; I was impressed by his mission out there on the road, his positive attitude, and his biceps. When we exchanged contact info, he took my phone and entered his number quite deftly; he has beautiful hands. And when he hugged me goodbye, I got the sense that he was a top, and I wanted to know more about that. He was sweet and smart and cute, and he didn’t have a lot of hair on his arms, which I like. His dog liked me too. Maybe we’ll meet in Omaha for a microbrew at the Old Market, or dance together on the sand in South Beach while Deadmaus spins his holy beats.

Anything’s better that what I’ve got going now: a sore elbow from scooping ice cream and a lot of lonely nights spent with a prison full of lesbians on Netflix. I love those gals, but I think I’m ready for a real relationship. I’m definitely ready for a change.

*Photo above is famous model Ben Melzer

 

Role Playing November 13, 2015

The prompts this time were inspired by a recent obsession with Dynasty, that high-camp show from the 1980’s. A friend and I worked our way through all nine seasons on DVD. I wrote down many of the one-liners that Joan Collins had every episode. The few that follow were the prompts one evening. What I wrote is below.

If you’re quite through with your pop psychology lesson for today, I am late for a meeting

Well, the only word for it is passeimage

Listen, we all know you for the gold digging slut that you are.

I’m terribly sorry, but you’re not going to make love to me tonight.

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Let’s not quibble, Dear,” I said earnestly, and Jason shot me a dirty look.

“Stop talking like that.”

“Like what?” I said, rearranging the scarf on my neck so it covered my wrinkles and the brooch faced forward.

“Like you’re Joan Collins, that’s what,” he said, then motioned for our waiter to bring two more mimosas. He used the international hand signal: two fingers pointed at his empty glass, then two fingers up.

“Slow down, Darling,” I said. “It’s only 11:30.”

“You’re driving me to drink,” he said, only half-kidding.

I was sipping mine self-consciously. The lip gloss that little tart at Sephora sold me was tacky, and I knew it would only stick if I dabbed it with a paper napkin. Jason was looking away.

“What are you staring at?” I asked. “Or should I say whom? The busboy?”

“Stop it,” he said.

“Well, why are you looking away? Look me in the eye, dammit!” He rolled his eyes.

“You’ve gone too far this time, Cookie. You really have.”

“Have I?”

“Yes. Method acting is one thing, cross-dressing offstage is clearly going beyond the beyond.”

“Is it really?”

“Aww, Christ! Will you stop talking like that?”

The waiter brought our second round. The glasses were thick and sturdy, catering types, but I did so enjoy the bubbling orange of a mimosa at Sunday brunch. I took a big swig and emptied mine in one gulp.

“Thank you, dear.”

“You’re welcome, Ma’am,” he said. Jason audibly groaned. It seemed I was passing.

It was one of those glorious late summer days in San Francisco: seventy degrees with big, fluffy fog clouds hugging the perimeter of a pale blue, otherwise cloudless sky. We were trying out brunch at an old hangout that used to only be open for dinner; sitting under an awning without a heat lamp in my strappy sandals (size 10 1/2) felt wonderful.

“This is because I asked you to wax your chest, isn’t it?” Jason said.

“What?” I was sincerely incredulous.

“You’ve always criticized me for emasculating you.”

“That’s absurd.”

“And now you’re punishing me with this, this act.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about. I really don’t.” I laughed then; I did my best Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter laugh. “Ah ha ha ha ha, Darling. Don’t be daft.”

“And you can drop that fake English accent, Cookie,” he said, knocking back the last of his drink. “We both know you’re from Ohio.”

“But Mummy insisted on British boarding schools,” I reminded him. “I guess the accent just stuck.” I batted my false eyelashes at him.

“Oh, God,” he said, smacking his hand against his forehead. “Do I really have to endure this for the entire run of the show? Eight weeks?”

“Nine,” I corrected him.

“Coookieee,” he moaned.

“Yes, Darling?” I adjusted my bra. Could I ever get used to wearing these contraptions?

“I want my husband back.”

“I know you do, Sweetheart, but—Oh, look! My Eggs Benedict!”

Below the table, two little sparrows were hopping about and peeping for dropped crumbs. They sounded like they were in an argument. I wondered if they were a couple.

 

 

My Little Rose February 28, 2014

Filed under: Craft,Poems,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:40 am

For this prompt I ask everyone to write two short pieces, and give them about five minutes for each. For the first piece, I ask them to begin with a list of emotions, and then choose one and write about it. 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.

 

tilda

I miss her. Every April. Her wrinkly nose, her little black eyes. Big pink and yellow blossoms. I love the way she snorts in my ears when she kisses them. Fat. Juicy. Her tongue is whiplash fast. Fragrant. I love her chunky body. I love that bush. The squat legs, the tiny clip of a tail. The first one he gave to me. When she sees me, she smiles. Taller than any other. Wiggles her entire back end. Sometimes I have to tend to it. Crying. She and I have a history of tenderness. I spray away the bad stuff with a non-toxic soap. We shared a home that could have been. Clean. Sometimes. My bulldog love. I clip a rose, bring it inside, set it in water. My bulldog love. It blooms like a peony, layer upon layer, opening. My bulldog love. I never get tired of that. The way it looks. So lovely. He asks every year if I can stay with you. Every year. My heart swells, it does. I have to tell him no. I’m in love all over again. Still, I have to tell him no.

 

Pets Tell the Story October 1, 2013

Filed under: Craft,Short Stories/Short Shorts,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 3:41 am

 

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The prompt this time is one I call, “Pets Tell the Story,” and is a POV (point of view) exercise. Here’s how it goes:

Begin with a list of pets you have known, yours or others’. (Note: these don’t have to be pets you particularly liked, but ones you have known, even superficially).

Simply name them.

Now choose two and make a few notes about their attitude, general personality, and something these pets might say: an expression or a comment. Choose one of these animal characters and write in his or her voice. Tell us what it’s like to live in the place he or she lives, and what he or she thinks of the human he or she lives with. Be as serious or as playful as you like.

What I wrote is below.

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Is it time to eat? Is it time to eat yet? Eat? Eat? Oh! You want love? You just want love? Okay. Love, love, love, love, love. I’m stretching, stretching, stretching up. Oh, it’s hard work to wake up. Come on down here for kisses instead. Warm morning kisses. Love, love, love, love, love. My mouth is dry. Let me lick my chops. Come back for more now. Love, love, love, love, love.

He plays the TV too loud in the morning. And he burns the toast. That stinks. But he cracks an egg for me sometimes, fries it up, and breaks it into little pieces. Then I crawl out of bed for breakfast. Eat eat, eat, eat, eat. Then back to bed. Sleep. Ah. The TV finally off; he’s gone. Deep, deep late morning sleep.

At noon my walker arrives. I love him. Martin. He comes to the gate at the kitchen door and I’m up shakin’, shakin’, shakin’ this bulldog booty for this handsome man.

“Good morning my dear one,” he says, stepping over the gate, squatting down to kiss me. Love, love, love, love, love. Then he lets me out the back door, and I run down the steps to pee. Ahhh. I should have gone this morning, but I was so sleepy and he was running late. He’s always running late. Late, late, late, late. He’s always late. But Martin’s always on time, and he always lets me out. Always Martin. And that other one, Ryan. I love Ryan. Love, love, love Ryan. Where did he go?

After I pee, I chase that stupid squirrel up the lemon tree. Ruff! Stupid squirrel! Then I grab a lemon and bite down. Sweet tart, sweetheart. Sweetheart. That’s what Ryan called me. Where is he? He is part of the pack. Where did he go?

“Penelope!” Martin calls. “Let’s go for our walk.” Our walk! Our walk! Walk, walk, walk! The stupid leash clicks on. I bite it. Bite it! Bite it! I hate this leash. Grrrr. “Penelope, stop it now,” Martin coos, and I only do what he asks because I love him. I love him. I love him.

Down the hill, I sniff the little girls with their mama. They run over to me. “Penelope!” they scream in unison. Oh, yes! I love the girls too. Love, love, love, love, love. Every day before lunch, this love, that love. Sometimes Mochi, that curly black beast comes up and barks at me. C’mon, let’s do this, Mochi! C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon!

Then down the hill for lunch at the cafe. Me under the table, cooler here, and Martin eating his wrap. Little bites dropping down. Snacks. A little marinated onion. Yes. A piece of chicken? Wow! A pepper. Forget it. Too hot. And then I hear a familiar voice. Who’s that? Ryan? Ryan! Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!

I come bolting from under the table, but my leash is caught. Thunk! I see him there. right there, talking to another man! Not my main man, some new man. He doesn’t see me. “Penelope!” Martin says. “Easy. What is it?” I’m stretching, stretching, stretching, stretching. And I start barking. Ryan! Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!

“Penelope?” Ryan turns to me. Those big brown eyes. Oh, Ryan! At last! Back in the pack, get back in the pack! “Oh my God, Penelope!” Ryan kneels down. Love, love, love, love, love. Crazy love. Crazy, crazy, crazy love. Ryan! Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!

“I take it you two know each other,” Martin says,

“Yeah. Her dad and I used to date.”

“Oh. Are you Ryan?”

Ryan! Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!

“Yeah.”

“I’m Martin.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Ryan stands up. He’s sniffling and wiping his eyes. I crawl up his legs. Come back, come back, come back, come back!

“Oh, Penelope.” He comes down for more love. “I miss you, girl.” Then he says, “I gotta go.” And he starts walking away. What?

“I’ll tell James we saw you,” Martin hollers, but Ryan just keeps walking and doesn’t look back. No! Ryan! Come back, come back, come back, come back!

“Calm down, Penelope, jeez,” Martin says. And when he slips me off the leash for a second to untangle me from the table legs, I almost get away. But he grabs me by the collar. “Stop it!”

Ryan! Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!

First, he’s a dot in the distance. And then he’s gone.

 

Comrades in Cyberspace May 13, 2013

Filed under: Craft,Recipes,Teaching,Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 4:55 pm
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This prompt is one I call, “Absurd Modifiers.” Everyone begins with a sheet of notebook paper folded in half lengthwise, creating two columns (one in front and one on the back). On one side, I ask everyone to write down ten nouns (a person, place, or thing).

Then everyone flips over the folded sheet and passes it to the person on his or her right, BLANK side up. On this blank side, I ask everyone to write ten adjectives (colors, texture, size, speed, attitude—bitchy is an adjective I often suggest).

I ask everyone to pass the folded sheet to his or her right one more time, and for the person who receives to open it up: now both lists are visible. Finally, everyone takes the two lists and matches up the nouns and adjectives in the most absurd combinations.

Examples of the resulting pairs look something like this:

Red Dachshund

Obnoxious Broccoli

Jealous Fire Escape

Bitchy End Tables

Exuberant Cream Cheese

     

What I wrote is below.

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There were many nights during the spring semester when a stack of student essays sat on my kitchen table waiting impatiently for me to grade them. And although I knew an eight hour marathon grading session was worse than chipping away at them a few hours a day, my resistance seemed to mount the longer they sat there.

This went on day after day.

I wanted to do everything else: watch Dynasty reruns with a close friend, clean up my iPhoto library, read The Huffington Post, see a drag show—I even chose ironing once, a chore I detest.

Who gave them this assignment? I sometimes wondered as I read about human rights violations and environmental disasters. But of course, I knew the assignments were my own creations, foreign to me now in ways I couldn’t articulate.

Another stack consisted of short essays that asked ESL students to summarize, to quote, and to paraphrase. The students also had to construct argumentative theses and integrate outside sources. I looked forward to their repetition the way I look forward to a trip to the gym: with a lack of enthusiasm and a fat dose of guilt.

I had to grade those essays, but I wanted to do everything else: drink white wine from New Zealand, perfect the lemon bar recipe, bake a champagne cake, whip up a double batch of chocolate peanut butter cookies.

Instead of grading papers, I poured over photos on Pinterest and got lost in recipes and food blogs. I dreamt about coconut loaves, cream cheese chocolate chip cookies, Greek macaroni and cheese. I read the bios of business men and women who became food blog celebrities, who survived painful divorces, years being single, and dead end jobs. They all seemed to find a path out of hopelessness that was lined with peppermint cupcakes, pesto-stuffed halibut filets, and mascarpone mashed potatoes, piped into an enamel-coated cast iron baking dish, beautifully browned.

I left the essays behind for awhile and entered this edible world instead.

It gave me hope.