The Catalyst

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

Remembering Alice December 4, 2015

Filed under: Grief,Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 12:03 pm
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The prompt this time was twofold: I had just seen the film, Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore, and just a few nights later, I offered these prompts to the writers in my workshop:

Remembering and forgetting

So this is what love is

Still, it haunts you

The trailer for the movie, as well as what I wrote, are below.

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During the film, I had to pee. There was no way I was going to make it through the entire movie; that big cup of chai from Peet’s was working its way through me. About thirty-five minutes in, I had to get up and go. Before Julianne Moore peed herself, I had to pee; I had to get up and leave Alice behind.

We were already sliding deep into her dementia—Alice—this character from a book, adapted into a script for this very actress. Alice, a fifty-year-old professor, a mother of three; I saw myself in her and her children: early onset dementia. I knew what the film was about. I wasn’t innocent or naïve, not anymore, not for a long time.

I didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave Alice, but in the bathroom mirror, while hastily washing my hands, I had to remind myself: It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. Like I had just left a horror film, or worse, had just awakened from a nightmare, and was about to fall back down into it again.

There were parallels: the teacher who just turned fifty, the genetic marker that I may or may not have, that my siblings may or may not have. There was Alice’s youngest child who knows something is wrong with her mother. There were parallels. But I didn’t get pulled back into the fear and sorrow the way I would have—the way I often did—ten or fifteen years ago. No. Now I was mourning for Alice and everything she was losing. Her words. A linguist without words. And I was mourning for her husband, too terrified to admit what he was most afraid of. I mourned for Alice and her family.

After the movie, I had to take myself out, I had to take myself out to a loud bar and drink vodka, and sit on the sidelines watching the other gay men dance. The familiar disco ball and the video screens full of performers half my age. I numbed myself to stay in one place: here. Numbed myself to that old sorrow that I have greeted over and over again. All that we lost when Mama got sick: the lunch dates and the phone calls, the sense of being seen and loved and known for a lifetime—hers and mine—cut off at that terrible place by that terrible disease.

I sometimes welcome that old sorrow, my old friend, the part of me that survived her, survived it. I navigated my way back to pop songs and bright pink Cosmopolitans, to handsome men named Michael, who ask you to dance, to come in from the sidelines, and hug you goodbye, because we all have to get up in the morning, don’t we? We have to get up in the morning and begin this remembering and forgetting all over again.

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Walking Wounded August 29, 2014

Filed under: Grief,Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:24 pm
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The prompt this time  was a music prompt. I played the song, “Imagination,” sung by Jimmy Scott. Scott’s androgynous voice is haunting and achingly beautiful, and listening to it produced some very powerful and strange writing. What I wrote is below.

 

 

Try not to think about all of the suffering in the world, he tells himself. Try not to bleed for everyone. But even as he places himself in the moment, here, on the cool, quiet street, he feels it. Somewhere bombs are leveling apartment buildings and children are being victimized. Somewhere a mother of two is hanging herself, or a home is going up in flames, engulfing everything.

He walks past the house with the potted succulents no one ever waters and fantasizes about giving the thirty plants a drink. He stops in front of the wishing tree, lit up with a string of Christmas tree lights, hundreds of wishes written on paper tags, hanging from strings. I want a new dog; I wish I could find new love; Please let my sister’s cancer be curable.

He wants to practice maitri—the Buddhist practice of loving kindness—to inhale deeply when he passes the homeless man on the street in filthy clothes, talking to himself. He inhales deeply: smoke, urine, dog shit, pain. Takes it all in, then lets it out. Exhale. And it still hurts.

Only yesterday, on his way to lunch at a cafe, a young man stumbled past him, barefoot on the city street. He leaned awkwardly, a plastic bracelet from a club the night before wrapped tightly around his wrist. He was in a daze, hung over from something, a roofie? Crystal meth? He couldn’t be sure, but he wanted to help the young man. He was frightened. The sight of him, vulnerable, cloudy, made him fearful.

But tonight, he brings himself back to tonight. The sun has just set and the sky is still a royal blue. Wind chimes clink and dance on a distant front porch. It’s Sunday, and he’s on his way to meet his lover at a bar where they will share a couple of overly sweet cocktails, exchanging their usual niceties before sex, before the lonely animals inside them reach toward one another in lust as old as humankind.

At some point, an old friend will walk past them, oblivious. His alcoholism has made him all bones and missing teeth. His old friend will not see him, nor his lover, will make a bee line to the end of the bar where there are empty seats, finally arriving for his reposados on the rocks with lime. They soothe the rawness of his old pain: the abusive older brother, the priest who used him, the cousins who humiliated him in ways he can only talk about when he is slurring and teetering on his bar stool.

“Let’s go,” he tells his lover, hoping to avoid the old wounded friend and the awkward conversation that is sure to follow. They leave. But one part of him stays behind. One goes out hand in hand with his lover, anticipating skin against skin, and the open, wet mouths. The other part stays behind, sidles up next to his old friend, orders himself a tequila too, just like they did in Puerto Vallarta all those years ago.

“Hello, old friend,” this part of him says. “I still love you. Tell me the saddest story you can, and I will listen. I will listen.”

 

 

 

 

Still Wishing August 8, 2014

Filed under: Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 9:46 am

The prompt this time was simply this: I played the video below. It’s Snow White singing, “I’m Wishing.” Watch it and see what you write afterward. I don’t think it needs any explanation.

What I wrote is below.

The story goes like this: I was five years old and knew the words to every song on the Disney Snow White album. My sister, merely eleven years old, pubescent and self-conscious, was given the task of accompanying me to the film in the theater at Crossroads Mall. We sat in the sixth row, and when the wishing well song came on, I began to sing along with the refrain; I was the voice, the echo, of the well.

“Stop singing!” my sister hissed. She was making an attempt to whisper; I was singing at full volume, ignoring her. “If you don’t stop singing, I’m moving!” she threatened. I kept singing. When Snow White got to the vocal exercise section of the song—”ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha”—I joined right in, my tiny pipes belting it out into the theater. “That’s it!” she exclaimed, and moved four rows behind me. I looked back once, just to make sure she was still there; otherwise, I enjoyed my solitude, and continued to sing along with the soundtrack.

Watching that scene again recently on YouTube brought it all back: all those years I sat in front of the stereo console in our living room, taking in all those songs. Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella. Snow White. I could barely walk, yet I was already being infiltrated by the messages that Disney was spinning: sanitized Grimm’s fairy tales that depicted chaste love, and princes who save beautiful, lonely, abused orphans who wear rags and fraternize with animals.

What surprised me this time was the presence of the prince (literally on a white horse), singing his own melody and interrupting my lovely memory with a realization: I got this message before I could talk. Before I had words, I learned that a strong, handsome, young man in tights was the answer to loneliness, suffering, sadness, hopelessness. You name the emotion; the prince is the answer.

Four-and-a-half decades later I’m still unraveling that belief system, still struggling not to see myself as helpless and in need of a savior. Being raised Catholic didn’t help either. Hadn’t Christ himself—also handsome, young and brave—also promised to return and save us all? As long as I stayed young and pretty, as long as I was good, then I would be saved.

What a fucked-up message. What a long history.

 

That Rainbow Again June 20, 2014

Filed under: Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:47 am

The prompt this time was the song “Over the Rainbow.” There are many renditions of this song, but the one I chose is from the TV show Glee (click here to hear the beautiful harmony of Matthew Morrison and Mark Salling singing Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of this famous song).

See the video prompt (Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz), and what I wrote, below.

 

 

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He reaches a precipice: 49. One year away from dead in gay male years. And he peers over into this strange nothingness. “What now?” he asks, and no answer comes.

In the morning, after yoga, he hooks the strap around his hips and ankles, lies flat, opens his heart to the shiny ceiling, and waits for an answer.

Nothing.

This was supposed to be the time in his life that included anniversaries and graduations. The family raised up, the husband and he renewing their vows, maybe a new vacation rental in Sonoma. Instead, he battles weeds in a dusty backyard that he shares with six other people, draws from his savings account to pay his rent, and arrives home after a fourteen-hour plane ride and a $50 cab ride to an empty apartment that smells like dust and enamel paint.

In Europe, he visited a castle and realized the gay king who lived there was just as lost in the fantasy of romantic love (and all it should look like) as he has always been. Vaulted ceilings and spire-topped towers, lovely long balconies and mythical paintings. Poor King Ludwig was just as misinformed about real life and the loss of dreams as any contemporary gay man. He and Ludwig both thought someday my prince will come, knight in shining armor, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

“Judy!” a fan said to Judy Garland as she came offstage at Carnegie Hall. “Don’t ever forget the rainbow!”

“Honey,” she said, “I’ve got rainbows coming out of my ass.”

Indeed. We’re all shitting rainbows. We are. Keychains, necklaces, even crosswalks. Rainbows everywhere. Everywhere but that one in the sky. Ever elusive. Intangible. Unreal.

 

What I Really Want to Say May 2, 2014

Filed under: Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 8:29 am

This prompts this time were:                                                             

Caterpillars take their time, so why can’t I?

The birds have a story to tell

Stuck in neutral

I found myself struggling to write, so I decided to write directly to my participants. You can find that piece below.

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Well, listen. I really want to write something profound. I want to move you the way you’ve moved me; I want to tell you made up stories about brave gay boys and wise women, but I am not Armisted Maupin and this is not a Tales of the City moment.

I want to tell you about kind mothers who knew about loving their little boys without judgment, mothers who taught their boys to bake, and sing, who clapped with them when those boys danced on their toes.  Someday my prince will come.

I want to sing to you now, something Broadway big and vaguely familiar, to build up to the perfect final lines: The cold never bothered me anyway. 

I want to do this, all of this, for you, for all of you, brave, bright, beautiful, bold, brilliant you, to remind you that you still have stories to tell and that there are people who want to hear them. To remind you that if you are afraid, this will pass. That there are safe places to write, to sit, to think, that there are people who are going to welcome you and protect you and love and respect you.

I want to tell you all of this with beautiful modifiers, clever alliteration, and gorgeous metaphors, but all I have is ten minutes, and this pen that’s running out of ink, and this little body racing against time, and my little heart, beating, beating, beating, holding your words here, right here, now.

 

 

Stronger Than Pride October 4, 2013

Filed under: Grief,Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 4:37 pm

The prompt this time was Sade’s song, “Love is Stronger than Pride.”        IMG_2256

Click here to hear the song (and then write in response for 20 minutes).

Here’s what I wrote:

Don’t write about loss. Write about lemons: Meyer, Eureka, Lisbon, a whole bag delivered to your door. Write about blossoming trees: plum and cherry, pink clouds lining the city streets.

Don’t keep winding back to that twenty-something who felt trapped: queer, stuck in the suburbs, his mother a ghost in polyester pants, a diaper underneath.

Write about the daffodils at the mouth of the Park Boulevard exit off Highway 13, that splash of green and yellow that surprises you every year. Write about the pug puppy who kissed your face, or the sexy, straight Puerto Rican guy who said, “Man, I think you’re beautiful. If you were a girl, I’d be all over you.”

Don’t write about the long, confusing, on-and-off with the handsome man with the black coffee eyes and the beautiful feet, the one who wouldn’t save himself, the one you couldn’t save.

Write about adding cream to caramelized sugar, and butterscotch pot de creme. Write about the tri-colored koi at the Botanical Gardens just thirty minutes from Puerto Vallarta, the bumpy bus ride past Boca and Mismaloya, the way the locals are lulled to sleep by the rush of warm air from the open windows, the wide curves, the growl of the engine.

Don’t write about sleepless nights, or age spots, the aisle in Costco where you seriously considered the bottle of promises for $124. No one wants to hear that you’re lonely some nights, so lonely that you go out and talk to strangers, drink too much, make out in crowded bars with men you don’t even know.

Don’t weave your way in and out of self-analysis: the way you still yearn sometimes to live out her shortened life for her, to be a parent, to grow old, be a grandparent. Don’t talk about Daddy issues, or how you delete the profiles of men who sound too much like Papa, even though you still hold a tiny grain of hope that he’s out there, that he’s waiting to be a rock, to do what’s best for you.

Focus on the flowers: narcissus rising like angels from a glass vase, calla lillies taking root in the shadowy corners of the yard, and the promise of lilacs this year. Little buds in the branches. The promise of those. The promise.

 

This is Water June 7, 2013

Filed under: Teaching,Videos,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 2:34 pm
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A few prompts for you this time, plus a video that will inspire mindfulness.

Prompts:

Beach, beach, and more beach

What is it about sadness that can be so fulfilling?

He was a thrill seeker

My advice? Save the prompts for later, and watch the film now (it’s nine minutes, but worth every second).

While you’re floating in the space that the film leaves you in, take pen to paper, and see what comes out.

(Note: The film’s narrative is built around an excerpt from the late David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement speech.)