The Catalyst

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

Growing Pains February 1, 2017

home-about-us-insetThe prompt this time was about Sea Turtles. I read the group a page of information about these creatures. A few excerpts are:

They spend their entire lives at sea, except when adult females come ashore to lay eggs several times per season every 2 to 5 years.

After laying her egg, she returns to the sea, leaving her eggs to develop on their own. The hatchlings do not have sex chromosomes, so their gender is determined by the temperature within the nest. 

Experts say only one out of a thousand will survive to adulthood under natural conditions.

What I wrote is below.

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We were all settled in at Rockaway by the Bay, napkins on our laps and sourdough bread piping hot, water glasses full, when Sarah cleared her throat and announced that she had “something very important to say.” I felt a familiar tightness in my chest anticipating what this might be about. It had been a tough year with the kids. Since she had turned fourteen, Sarah was always upset with me about something; my middle child, Jamie, had become obsessed with getting nothing less than straight A’s, and recently my youngest, Bobby, had come out to us as trans, at age seven.

Something to announce? I prayed this wasn’t about her support for the Tea Party again. “I can see where they’re coming from,” she had argued with me one afternoon, right there in the kitchen. Or maybe she was going to defend Putin’s behavior in Chechnya (that pig!). Here we were on a Sunday evening in Pacifica, the sun was setting on the water turning everything steel and rose, and she suddenly had to make an announcement?

“Okay, Sarah,” Robert said, just like the therapist had taught us, “What is it you would like to say?” She stood up, flicked her strawberry blonde mane over each shoulder and said, “I am now a vegetarian, and I think you all should be as well. Every bite of flesh that you put in your mouth is contributing to environmental disaster and the suffering of innocent creatures.”

Jamie was already wearing the paper lobster bib the waiter given us, and I was trying to decide between a New York strip or a Crab Louie. ”

Can we eat seafood?” Jamie asked.

“No, Jamie!” Sarah hollered. “If it has eyes, don’t eat it! Meat is murder!”

“All right, Sarah,” I said. “We hear you loud and clear.”

“But I want to talk about it!” she said. “We need to dialogue as a family about this.”

“Okay. I know. But will you please sit down?”

The waiter came over to tell us about the King Crab special: a grilled sandwich with a side of coleslaw and steak fries. Bobby started to cry. “We’ll just need a few more minutes,” Robert told the waiter.

“I won’t sit here and watch you all eat dead animals!” Sarah said, gripping the edge of the table dramatically.

“What about hormone-free meat?” Bobby asked, tearfully. Since she began her transition, she was obsessed with the concept of hormones.

“Murder is murder,” Sarah said, sternly. She crossed her arms and looked straight at me. I could never look at her without thinking about how different we were physically: me with my dark features and she all peaches and cream. Those blue eyes like the sky in Iceland. I remember seeing her the first time in the hospital and thinking, Where did this baby come from? Defiant she was, and ice queen beautiful. Smart and strong, but impulsive too.

“I suppose you’re having a steak, Mother, just to spite me.” I never liked it when she called me by my first name, but when she called me “Mother,” I felt like Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest.

“I think I might just have dessert,” I said, surprising myself. “Their coconut cream pie is out of this world.”

 

 

Aging (Not So) Gracefully July 22, 2016

Filed under: Aging,Grief,Humor,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 11:09 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

PAUL-HOLLYWOOD_2731978bThe prompts this time were:

Having an awakening

Well, the only word for it is passé.

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

What I wrote is below.

___________________________________________________

At the optometrist, I discover my weakening eyes require a stronger prescription; now it’s harder to read small print in low light. “That’s okay,” I tell myself, “there are some great looking glasses out there now.” But that little part of me that clicks off insults in the mirror is busy with his checklist. “The skin on your belly is soft and flabby, and your neck is lined and red from sun damage.” So begins the nagging voice inside that reminds me I am aging. Daily. Rapidly.

“Try these new lenses,” my optometrist says, taking out a yellow and white box I already hate. “They’re corrective for astigmatism, and yours seems to have gotten slightly worse.” Great, I think. Even my eyeballs are growing more misshapen. “And your feet are dry and cracking,” the shitty little guy inside says. “Better be more consistent about putting lotion on your feet before bed.” Add that to the list of activities I never had to do when I was young. It seems life’s all about maintenance now, all the time.

“Everything dries up as you age,” a friend told me once. “Your eyes, your hair, your skin. There’s less oil production everywhere. Even your body fluids shrink in volume.” Um, TMI? I thought. But thanks for that uplifting information.

After my depressing eye appointment, I stop at Peet’s to get a cup of coffee, too fatigued to make it past four o’clock without a caffeine jolt (or a nap). Everything feels harder now that I’m in my fifties. What is this struggle? I ask myself that over and over and over again. Why can’t I just accept growing older and be happy I’m alive and healthy? These two strong legs, this full head of hair (albeit, with strands of grey, and thinning). Why can’t I love my body as it is right now? It’s only going to grow older.

Some people seem more attracted to me as I age. People call me Sir in a way that sometimes makes me think they want me to take charge in the bedroom. They hold the door open for me and then watch my ass as I walk in front of them. Just yesterday, a young bank teller was giving me the big eyes, flirtatiously chatting me up. The guys on DudesNude and Scruff often refer to me as “Stud,” even after they see my shirtless picture. It seems some younger men would like an older Daddy boyfriend who occasionally enjoys a beer. Maybe there’s a new hotness quotient here I’m missing? Maybe. But why do I still feel like a chubby, middle-aged guy who drives a boring car and is no longer marriage material if so many men keep telling me I’m fuckable and fabulous? How do I learn to see this aging body and this new desirability with grace and affection?

Everyone else seems to understand that this is the most natural thing in the world. Growing older. Becoming more comfortable in your own skin. No one else is comparing me to the younger version of me, 25 pounds lighter with a flat stomach. Nobody is asking me to be younger than I am right now, except me. “Older men are hot,” my close friend Renaldo says. He and I are the same age, and he seems to embrace his older, sexier self. “When are you going to get that through your head?” he asks. Then he adds, “Honey, you’re beautiful. Somewhere out there, there’s a barista lusting over you right now.” When he says this, I believe him. We bubble up with laughter, and I can see the lines around our eyes crinkling up like tissue paper.

 

You Beautiful Doll April 22, 2016

The prompts this time were:                               307.8L

A beautiful doll

There’s nothing to be afraid of, really

Roses, Roses, Roses

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The Spunky Shirley doll was flying off the shelves that year. She was the first of her kind: a lifelike toddler that walked, talked, drank from a bottle, peed and even pooped (plastic panties and diapers included). Personally, she creeped me out, but as a Toys R Ya’ll employee in charge of the doll section, I had to deal with her.

Dealing with her meant stacking the pale green and pink boxes of her five high, scanning the new boxes that came in weekly on huge pallets, and separating the variations of the spunky one: Asian, African-American, Native American, and Caucasian. You think those guys at Mattel would have at least given them different names, but no: four faces, all named Shirley.

“How do you look at those faces all day?” my co-worker, Rose, asked me. Rose was a pretty Millennial who looked like Snow White with a pierced nose. Management made her take the steel hoop out before every shift, so she had a big red hole in her nostril.

“You get used to it,” I said, tidying up the Cabbage Patch dolls; they were always slumping over in their boxes.

“They remind me of that episode on The Twilight Zone,” she said, looking up at the Malibu Ken and Barbie 2-for-1. “You know, the one where the doll talks?”

“How do you even know about that show?” I asked. “Way before your time.”

“My parents own the boxed set. Anyway,” she went on, waving her hand in the air as if to push my last question away—her nails were short and painted black—”this doll starts threatening the family, saying shit like, ‘You better be nice to me, or else.'”

“Uh-huh.”

“Then she trips the dad and he falls down the stairs and breaks his neck.”

“Nice story, Rose. Well, Spunky Shirley would never do that to me,” I said. “And the Cabbage Patch kids over there? Spineless. Literally.” Rose didn’t laugh.

“She fucking creeps me out,” Rose said, staring at Native American Shirley with a muted rage. Then she gave the box a little kick.

“Hey!” I said. “Knock it off. That’s a $100 doll. Get back to work.”

“Ooooh,” she said, mocking me. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your little baby doll. You probably liked Chucky, the murdering red-headed doll, too, didn’t you?”

“Get the fuck outta here,” I said, laughing.

“Whatever, doll lover.”

“Get back to work, Rose.”

“When no one’s around you probably fondle them and—”

“God damn it!” We both cracked up. “Go, you asshole!”

After Rose left, I sort of felt bad for Shirley. Just like Madonna, people either loved or hated her. No one was indifferent. I picked up African-American Shirley—really just an Anglo face with brown skin—and looked deep into her glassy eyes. She walked and talked and peed and pooped; next year she would probably spit up a little, but it wasn’t her fault if she was creepy and annoying. She was designed that way. Still, if you want to know the truth, I never liked being alone with those dolls on slow nights. Her battery was built in, so she would blink occasionally. I know it just meant that her battery was working, but it never ceased to startle me.

 

Everybody Loves Raymond (Except Me) February 19, 2016

The prompt this time was the five-word free write. For a description of this prompt, click here.

The five words, and what I wrote in response, are below.

Honeybees   image

Mushrooms

Magenta

Thunder

Crashing

_____________

As if having my Dad in rehab wasn’t bad enough, Steven’s cousin, Raymond, decided to show up on that rainy day, asking to crash on the couch.

“Steven’s in Vancouver on business,” I told him, knowing it wouldn’t deter him. He was calling from a pay phone at the train station. I didn’t even know pay phones existed anymore, but Raymond didn’t believe in cell phones.

“That shit gives you cancer,” he used to say so eloquently.

“Steven will be back on Monday,” I said, hopefully, but Raymond wasn’t deterred.

“Well, I’ll be heading to LA on Sunday night. I can just crash with you for a couple of days, can’t I?”

“LA?” I aked. “I thought you were living in Vietnam now.”

“I am. My flight back there leaves from LA.”

I had grown used to Raymond living across the ocean in another country. I liked having him far away. The farther the better. Mongolia would have been nice, or the South Pole.

I didn’t want to be alone in the apartment with him. I didn’t trust him (or myself) after what happened the last time. But he was the closest thing Steven had to a brother—they even looked alike—and Steven had always been loving and loyal to Raymond. In other words, I didn’t really have a choice.

“You still have keys?” I asked. I figured I could conveniently be out for the night when he arrived.

“Jimmy,” he said—he was the only one who called me that, other than Steven—”I don’t know where the hell those went.”

When he arrived, I was baking a spelt and sesame loaf. Everyone knows that means I was anxious. I always bake bread when I’m anxious. It calms me down.

“God, that smells great!” he exclaimed, dropping his duffel near the door and grabbing me. Raymond is about seven inches taller than I am; he’s burly and furry, a bit like the lumberjack on the Brawny paper towel packages. He looks like the straighter version of a Tom of Finland drawing, though Raymond would be the first to tell you that his sexuality is “fluid,” something he feels proud of.

“You look great, man,” he said, holding me out in front of him and looking so deeply into my eyes I blushed and had to look away. “Been doing a lot of yoga?”

“Yeah, and also running a bit.”

“Right on.”

Cally, our seven-year-old Calico, came running right up to him, rubbing on his legs and purring loudly. She hates everyone, but she can never get enough of Raymond.

“Hey, baby,” he said, leaning down to pet her. I could see the curve of his deltoids through his shirt and I felt myself rush with arousal. “Are you going to sleep with me tonight?” He was talking to Cally, but I knew the invitation was open to me as well.

It was going to be a very long weekend.

 

 

The Imperfect Teacher February 5, 2016

Filed under: Humor,Teaching,Vignettes — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 11:30 am
Tags: , , , ,

The prompt this time was an excerpt from a long poem by Ron Padgett, “How to be Perfect.”

That prompt, and what I wrote in response, is below.


How to be Perfect

Get some sleep.

Eat an orange every morning.         ING_19043_06216-paper-pile-funny-guy-big-glasses-1024x678

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass
ball collection.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if
you have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want
to.

Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not
possible, go to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.

Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel
even older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put ice on it immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for 20
minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of ice and
gravity.

Do not inhale smoke.

Take a deep breath.

Do not smart off to a policeman.

Be good.

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to
drink, say, “Water, please.”

Take out the trash.

Love life.

Use exact change.

When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.

____________________________________________

Let the piles of essays sit. Make excuses. Say, “I need two weeks to grade these.” Then take three weeks.

Make them feel guilty when they ask. Say, “I was sick,” or snap at them, saying, “I haven’t finished grading all of the essays yet!” Don’t say you’re sorry. Later, apologize in an email.

Organize the essays into two piles. Make a schedule: seven hours of grading. Two hours on Tuesday night, three hours on Wednesday night, then finish on Thursday. When Friday comes, and they still aren’t graded, get stoned and watch Orange is the New Black. Revise grading schedule, then spend the weekend grading essays with resentment.

Realize you shouldn’t grade essays while you’re angry. Several studies have shown this. So take a walk. Give yourself a pep talk. Say, “I make the rules; I’m the teacher.” Feel guilty and drink coffee at the local Starbucks. Charge your phone on their magic tabletop. Stare at the married man and lust over his hairy forearms. Then feel like a perve. Think of him naked and on top of you. Then leave, saving the image for later.

Arrive home and stare at the two piles of essays. Apologize to the essays. Say, “I’m sorry I’m neglecting you.” Then eat lunch.

Feel guilty.

Masturbate.

Then sit down, sigh a big sigh, and begin.

 

 

 

The Mating Game January 25, 2016

The prompt this time was a piece I read aloud about Tundra Swans. See the long prompt (and what I wrote in response) below.

True to its name, the Tundra Swan breeds on the high tundra across the Arctic, migrates many miles to warmer weather—up to 3,700 miles round-trip—in cross-continent migration. 

Tundra Swans make the daunting journey twice each year. 

They arrive at their breeding grounds around mid-May, and head south for winter quarters around the end of September.

Though large populations winter in North America, the breeding range extends across the coastal lowlands of Siberia, and from the Kola Peninsula east to the Pacific.

They can be found in the White Sea, Baltic Sea and the Elbe estuary in Denmark, the Netherlands and the British Isles, as well as Algeria, Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Marianas and Volcano Islands in the western Pacific. 

They are strong and speedy swimmers that take to the air with a running start, clattering across the water’s surface with wings beating. In flight, the rhythmic flapping of the swan’s wings produces a tone that once earned it the name “whistling swan.”

Tundra Swans winter on the water and sleep afloat.

Tundra Swans sometimes feed during moonlit nights.

Tundra Swans mate for life.

They mate in the late spring, usually after they have returned to the nesting grounds. They pair up for nearly an entire year before breeding. Though in their winter grounds they gather in huge flocks, they breed as solitary pairs spread out across the tundra. Each couple defends a territory of about three-fourths of a square mile.

When mating, the birds face each other, wings partly spread and rapidly quivering, while they call loudly.

Tundra Swans pair monogamously until one partner dies. Should one partner die long before the other, the surviving bird often will not mate again for some years, or even for its entire life.

Despite the tundra swan’s dedicated efforts, its entire breeding season is subject to the whims of the Arctic climate. 

Tundra Swans mate for life.

Tundra Swans sometimes feed during moonlit nights.

Tundra Swans winter on the water and sleep afloat.

_______________________________________________

If one more person tells me about birds who mate for life, or male penguin couples who raise chicks together in the SF Zoo, I swear, I’m going to scream: “It’s purely biological! This is all about reproduction and survival of the species: those birds aren’t in love!” (I don’t even think Lovebirds are in love. They’re probably rubbing their cheeks together to stir up tiny mites for a snack; more than likely it’s simply a ritual that leads to penetration.)

Love? It’s for the birds, we say, along with other birdy expressions: building nests, nest eggs, guiding fledglings to take flight, empty nest syndrome. I mean, okay, I don’t actually know if birds love one another or not, but it’s more likely they are simply biologically driven to reproduce and help their young survive to propagate the species, just like other animals. Doesn’t the lioness fiercely defend her cubs for this reason? She wouldn’t think twice about swiping your face off with one paw if you approach her and her family, but is that love or instinct?

I’m more like the whale, I guess, sounding out a mating call with the other males. I want the slippery skin on skin, the moaning pleasure, the climax. I’m a Bonobo, masturbating others to help them sleep. I’m a tomcat: multiple partners and then I sleep all day. I don’t have the resilience it takes to fly 3,700 miles and then wait a year to mate. I don’t float while I sleep (or do I?). I have never eaten by moonlight (or has it just been so long that I can’t remember?).

Today, a budding psychoanalyst and I spoke about why neither of us have partners when we are each such a great catch. We live alone. We spend weekend nights with Netflix and medical marijuana. We cry sometimes in the car on the freeway on our way to being alone again. “I’ve made different choices,” I said, reminding myself out loud that I’ve been proposed to three times and said no every time. Doesn’t that prove I’ve made a choice?

“Maybe,” she said, as she approaches 45 and I look back at 50. “But did you really make this choice?”

I wonder.

But what other choices are there? Especially now, with a crepey neck and reading glasses? Sure, I could be your Daddy, but for how long? Eventually, I’ll be an old bag and you’ll be all grown up, staring at young men, looking for your youth again.

I want to be a Tundra Swan, so dedicated to migration patterns that I don’t even know north from south or Palestine from Nevada. I’d just follow the sun. I’d like to fly from a sitting position, to run on water with wide, webbed feet, so sure of myself, and take off, wings whistling, toward fertile fields and icy continents. But I’m just little older me, a man with gray chest hair and tired feet. A homo-Homo sapien, still not sure if loving someone for life exists in this one wild ride—or what I have left of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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.