The Catalyst

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

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.

_____________________________________________________

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

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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.

________________________________

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

 

image

 

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
Tags: , , ,

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.

 

Similes, Metaphors, and Kisses September 7, 2012

Filed under: Craft,Poems,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:42 am

Some of my prompts have titles; this one is “Similes and Metaphors.”

First, I ask everyone to make a list down the left-hand margin of five  nouns and five verbs ending in “ing.” This is a free write, so I remind them to just write whatever words pop into their heads.

Then I have them write “is like” next to each of those words, setting up the foundation for a simile.

Next, I have them finish the phrase using whatever words come to mind, or borrowing from other words on their lists. So we get phrases like, “Coffee tables are like friendships,” and “Kisses are like promises,” or Flying is like freedom.”

We each choose one of these and read them around to hear the variations.

Next, we cross out the phrase “is like” and create a metaphor. Now we have, “Coffee tables are friendships,” and “Kisses are promises.” Very different indeed.

As with all of my list exercises, I have everyone choose three that they’d feel comfortable reading out loud, and we read them around, leaving enough time between each reader to write down any we find inspiring or interesting in any way.

Finally, we choose one, write it at the top of a blank page, and begin writing, using the metaphor as a prompt, repeating it if and when we feel stuck. We write for twenty minutes.

My metaphor was, “Kissing is Flying” Here’s what I wrote:

_____________________________________________________________________________

Kissing is Flying

a mouth open as wide as the sky

a whole cloud of birds between two wet lips

the world opening up beneath you:

fields covered in the shadows of clouds,

trees reaching roots into river beds

 

the breath coming quickly as you travel under bridges,

over buildings, sloping down, down, down, then soaring

up, up, up into the horizon, through a passage of towering

rock formations, rushing over great bodies of water,

suspended in bright air, the sun rising out of the ocean

 

past a flock of gulls, blindingly white,

the sun reflecting off their wings,

or a murder of Crows, darkening the sky.

For a moment, for a moment

for a fantastic moment you transcend

 

this body: bone, flesh, muscle, tail spread out

behind you, you take flight, and there is only this

only this, no gravity, no sorrow nothing to hold you

down, so just for a moment

you rise and rise and rise

 

 

 

Playing with Point of View (POV) August 10, 2012

Filed under: Craft,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 4:40 pm

This prompt asks everyone to begin with a list of inanimate objects found in a home.  After a few minutes of generating a list, I ask everyone to choose one object and write from the point of view (POV) of that object. When we enter the POV of an object, we are able to see details that humans might not notice. And what’s often surprising about this exercise is what we learn about the humans in that same space.

My list is below. What I wrote (from the POV of a land line phone) follows.

The bed on the floor

The armoire in the living room                           

The bedside table, covered with dust

The stove downstairs

The desk in the window

The couch downstairs

The highboy

The huge old hutch

The blue chair

The TV

The old console stereo

The ivory couch in the window

The blue dish rack

The little, flat, cheap phone from Walgreen’s

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I’m not worried, really. I mean, nobody in this little house can do what I do. And certainly there’s no reason to worry about being replaced: I only cost $10.99 at Walgreen’s, and as far as the old man’s concerned, I work just fine.

“Pop,” his daughter says, holding me open, my dial tone humming right in her beautiful face, “why don’t you let me buy you a cordless phone? They’re so much more convenient.”

The old man is washing dishes at the sink, staring out the window at the fat, pink roses.

“Honey, that phone is just fine.”

“But Dad!” she exclaims, “all these cords!”

He rinses the dishes gently, rolling a pale blue plate under the running water, placing it carefully in the wire rack.

“I like the cords,” he says, turning off the water, drying his hands on a yellow towel. “They keep me in one place. When I was young, there was only one phone in the house,  and it was in a nook in the hallway.”

I start beeping at her—she’s left me off the hook too long— so she presses a lavender acrylic nail into my belly and shuts me up.

“There’s a nook here,” she says thoughtfully. “The house was probably built in the ’40’s, right?”

He nods.

“Back then, the phone didn’t move around. Call me nostalgic, but I like sitting there, at that nook, talking.”

After she leaves, he scoops two large balls of strawberry ice cream into a bowl, sits down at the table next to me, and reads the sports section of the newspaper. He often spends his weekend afternoons this way, and leaves me later for that obnoxious TV in the other room.

But tonight I can tell by the way he carefully rinses that bowl that he’s going to make a call. He’s lonely. And when he pulls the worn black vinyl book from our shelf, I feel a joint anticipation. He will turn the pages, squint behind his glasses, then pick me up gently and dial slowly. On the other end, a familiar ring. His closest friend. An old man, also lonely, on an old phone, with a cord, like me.

“Hello, Jack,” he’ll say. “Got some time to bat the breeze?”

His breath smells like milk and strawberries, and all four of us feel warm.