The Catalyst

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

Wise Guy September 2, 2019

The prompt this time was to begin with a list of five cities you are familiar with, then to write about one of them.

First on my list was Mexico City, but I also had my inner adolescent on my mind. What I wrote is below.

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My inner adolescent is on the couch reading when I arrive. He looks up as I struggle through the door with my gym bag, school bag, and lunch bag. “Hey, bag lady,” he says. “Need some help?” He’s wearing white socks, tight Levi’s, and a red tank top; with his 30-inch waist and bulging crotch, he looks like a Blue Boy Magazine model: oozing sex and yet totally unsure what to do with it. I ignore his offer, knowing he’s only being polite, and heave my book bag into the corner by the printer. 

“What are you reading?” I ask, bracing myself for his naive criticism. He only likes National Geographic or Vanity Fair. Quite frankly, I’m not in the mood for him today.

“Something called Saveur,” he says, surprising me. “A special edition on Mexican cuisine. Pretty delicious.” His eyes are darker blue, more like Mom’s, and the whites are bright and clear. Young eyes. His hair is curlier than I remember, from getting caught in the rain, perhaps, or a working up a good sweat.

“I’m just wondering why you’re here,” I say, heading to the kitchen to put a kettle on.

“Beats me,” he says, leafing through the magazine, “I figured you needed to see me.”

“Tea?” I ask.

“Gross,” he says, then catches himself. “I mean, no thank you.”

We volley this way sometimes. That lovely boy I once was who plays cynical now, but really lived in a world with a sense of wonder and spontaneity, two things I have to get high or travel 1000’s of miles to tap into now.

“Actually,” he says, “I was wondering when you were going to buy that ticket to Mexico City.

“You want me to go, is that it?”

“You’re awfully bitchy today,” he says. “I mean, more so than usual.”

I sigh. He sighs.

He looks so earnest. I want to tell him that forty years from now he will sometimes be driving home in the rain so filled with a sense of melancholy that he will want to drive to a bar instead and get good and drunk. That some days, his work will feel like helping countless young people with their whole lives ahead of them, while he feels stuck in his own life, fearful of chronic illness. That he will feel bone-tired.

Anyway,” he says, “have you bought your ticket yet?”

“I don’t know about Mexico City,” I say.

“Why not? You’ve always wanted to go there: Casa Azul, the museums, and now this hot guy you’ve met online—”

“I don’t think living in a fantasy world is healthy for either of us,” I say. He laughs then, that shotgun laugh we get from Mom.

“Oh, please!” he says. “You’re a writer. We’ve always lived in a fantasy world.”

What could I say in response? He claimed me as a writer, and the kid had a point. Has always had a big heart too. Had no qualms about saying no to dissecting a fetal pig in Biology class because it was “disrespectful to the poor, dead, baby piglet.” (His words exactly.) I knew his love for flowers—roses, jasmine, violets—was a reflection of this big heart, and an attachment to romance.

“What do you have to lose by going to Mexico City?” he asked.

“About $1000,” I said.

“Just charge it then.”

“And my dignity, if I contact that beautiful young man.”

“Your dignity?”

“Yeah,” I say, taking the screaming kettle off the burner. “Once he sees what I actually look like in the flesh, he’ll run for the hills.”

“You underestimate how beautiful you are,” he says.

“So do you,” I say.

“You’re better looking than I am,” he says.

“You just have low self-esteem.”

“I’m serious,” he says. “You need to own it.”

I want to tell him that I only feel beautiful when I put eyedrops in my eyes, when I haven’t eaten very much, when someone I love looks at me and I can see myself through his eyes. Or when I am dancing. But I don’t dare. I don’t want him to want him to feel this kind of sorrow yet. I feel protective of him.

“Oh, I know sorrow,” he says, reading my mind. “I stayed home and took care of our dying mother, remember?”

He’s right, of course. Back then I didn’t have the mindfulness I have now. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the lifelong friendships to talk my way through a bad day, a big worry, or the tug of grief when it came in waves. I have options now; I have the freedom to make my own choices.

“If I meet him in Mexico City,” I say, “it’s probably just going to be a sexual thing. Nothing more.”

“Sounds good to me,” he says. “It’s only $366 round trip if you buy the ticket today.”

We look at each other for a moment, and then he just smiles that big white smile. I want to smack him, but I also want to thank him. Instead, I just smile back.

 

Auntie’s Lament August 7, 2019

This character piece came from a writing prompt titled, “Breaking the Rules.” Each writer made a list of unspoken rules of social etiquette, then we read them around and wrote about one of them. I chose, “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

What I wrote is below.

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Well, frankly, I don’t know what she sees in him, I really don’t. I mean, sure, he’s tall and handsome, I suppose, if you like big muscles. Personally, I find them unattractive. All those veins?! He does have good skin, but otherwise, I’m at a loss here, I really am.

I mean, he dresses in baggy shorts and oversized t-shirts; I’ve never seen him in anything but tennis shoes—high-tops, I think they call them—he rarely makes eye contact, and perhaps worst of all: he talks with his mouth full.

“Great lasagna, Andrea,” he said, with a globby first mouthful of a meat, cheese and noodle so huge, I was surprised to see that there was still some food left on his plate.

“As I told you before, dear,” I said, smiling at him, “all the kids call me, Auntie.”

“My bad,” he said, “Auntie.” And then he smiled a tomato sauce smile, and I cringed, I tell you, I cringed.

“I think he’s going to propose,” Sarah told me later, when we were alone together in the kitchen. I was wearing my red and white hibiscus muumuu and only rinsing dishes, but I was still sweating like a little piglet, I tell you, what with the summer storm building up outside the window, and now this awful news! My blood pressure skyrocketed, it really did.

“What makes you say that dear?” I asked, handing her a plate. She loaded the dishwasher beautifully: there’s an order to it, you know.

“Well,” she said dreamily, “we’ve been talking about it a lot lately. We both want a bunch of kids.”

In this mixed up world? I wanted to say, but I bit my tongue.

“Well, there’s no hurry, dear,” I said. “You’re only twenty-two—”

You already had two babies when you were twenty-two!” she interrupted, giggling.

Precisely,I thought, and look at me now! Living on Henry’s pension—God rest his soul—and a great-great Auntie left and right. Oh, why are we so fertile in this family?

“Well,” I said, “keep me posted, dear,” and I winked at her. I wanted to say, Please use birth control. But I have never spoken to any of my nieces or nephews about sex, a rule I am reconsidering now, since they all seem to be popping out offspring like rabbits.

“Time for ice cream!” he said, his large frame filling the doorway.

“Grab a spoon, ” Sarah said. “You can get started on the Kona Coffee Crunch; Auntie and I prefer Coconut.”

“Okay,” he shrugged. And—would you believe it?—he grabbed a dirty spoon right out of the dishwasher, opened the freezer, popped of the top, and dug right into the pint. I kid you not!

“Mmmm,” he moaned, his mouth full of coffee cream. “It’s dericious.”

And I thought I would drop dead right then and there, I really did.

 

A Brilliant Idea May 3, 2019

This time the prompt was a tried and true one: “5 x 5,” which uses a list exercise to generate five lists of five words. The words are then used to fill in the blanks in this phrase:  ________________is/are like _____________________. (To see a detailed explanation of this prompt, see an earlier post here.)

My phrase was “Puppies are like ice cream.” What I wrote is below.

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He got a business license, an LLC, because he was sure he had an idea that would make him rich: a puppy farm with scheduled visits. For $25, each person would get ten minutes to lie on the soft green grass and be overrun by a litter of puppies.

“That’s amazing!” his nephew said. “It’s a classic example of how to sell childlike joy.”

They were brunching at a new San Francisco eatery after waiting forty minutes in a line that wrapped around the block. His nephew’s fiancé, however, a bottle blonde from Hayward—whom he detested, if he could be totally honest—didn’t agree.

“Aren’t there going to be some serious liability issues?” she asked, sipping her decaf macha cashew milk latte. “I mean, the puppies could get hurt.” His nephew took a gigantic blood orange vegan biscuit out of the ceramic bowl in the center of the table and looked around for the ramekin of olallieberry coconut spread.

“You can get liability insurance to cover that kind of stuff, can’t you?” his nephew asked, mercifully.

“I would do that, of course,” he said, nodding toward his nephew. “And I’d have monitors to protect the puppies at all times.”

“Monitors?”

“Yes, Bri-ANNE. I would have human monitors specifically hired to protect the pups.”

“And what about vaccinations?” Brianne added. “Aren’t puppies supposed to limit their exposure to humans until they’ve had a series of vaccinations?”

He frowned.

“Dude,” his nephew said to Brianne, “you’re kinda raining on his parade.”

The uncomfortable silence was broken by the waiter, who was just a little too cheerful. He arrived with steaming plates of micro-servings and called out each item. “Okaaaay,” he said, swinging his head to one side so his long bangs flipped over and then fell promptly back into his eyes. “You have the red and yellow kale hash with wild duck yolks, and the chickpea and green marmalade pancakes for you, sir.”

He hated being called “sir.” Did he really look that old? “They’re just being respectful,” his colleagues counter-argued when he complained about students on campus doing this. He also complained about them holding the door for him and letting him pass in front of them. “You complain when they’re rude, you complain when they’re polite—”

“I can get the damn door myself!” he snapped. “Do I look like I’m ninety-years-old? Am I shuffling?” His colleagues usually just clucked in response.

Now the three of them sat in silence again, eating joylessly. Finally, Brianne said, “I didn’t mean to sound so discouraging. I actually think it sounds like a lot of fun, your puppy farm idea. It sounds joyful.”

“Thank you.”

“Once you work out all the kinks and everything—”

“Uncle Bob,” his nephew interrupted, “you could totally make a living doing this. It’s fucking brilliant.”

He wanted to believe them both, he really did, but he was full of self-doubt now. These kids could spoil all your dreams. That’s what you get when you have Generation Xers for parents: cynicism. But he didn’t say anything. He just smiled his tight-lipped smile, sipped his purple Rooibos lavender tea, and imagined being under a pile of squirming puppies.

 

 

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

 

Little Big Man July 6, 2017

Filed under: Aging,Humor,Travel,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:36 am
Tags: , , ,

   

The prompts this time were:  

Dingy, but functional

Something is calling to me

His life was big, too big

 

What I wrote is below.

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Sometimes he thought about a road trip. A ride in his trusty car to the Four Corners or Monument Valley. Yellowstone. The Grand Tetons. Glacier National Park. New Orleans. Something about the fantasy of being behind the wheel of his own car was satisfying in itself. Not a rental car or a bus, but his own car.

“You can fly to Vegas and rent a car from there,” friends said when he told them he hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon. But he wanted the long hours in his own car, the air conditioner blasting, or in the evenings, just the roar of the road with all the windows rolled down.

The busier his life became—the emails negotiating next semester’s schedule, the conference at the end of the month, the dental appointment in May, the tax accountants quarterly reminders—the more he fantasized about the open road.

At one point, he started eyeing tiny wooden campers: cool, modern pods with kitchens in the trunk, or refurbished Airstreams, even a VW Vanagon with a convection oven and a pop top roof. They all made him think about cashing in his 403B for a life on the road. Canada. Mexico. New Brunswick. There were whole worlds to explore.

Would he become one of those sixty-something hippies living in the moment, depending on his Social Security direct deposit and the kindness of strangers? Could he shower in outdoor stalls and have his morning movement in a composting toilet? Would he have a long, gray ponytail and well-worn river sandals, cargo shorts, and—God forbid—a fanny pack?

Maybe. Some days it sounded great. Better than student conferences and curriculum meetings with the Dean. It sounded better that choosing one corporate evil over the other so he could escape to Netflix without the interruption of a frozen, spinning rainbow wheel. It sounded better than trying to find a less expensive apartment with more storage and quiet neighbors. Why not live on the open road? Why not tune in and drop out? It was something to think about, at least. It was something to think about.

 

Growing Pains February 1, 2017

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The 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 had 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.”