The Catalyst

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

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 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.”

 

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Regenerating Kindness January 13, 2017

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher DeLorenzo @ 7:48 am
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                                                                                                                                                                                    pentgonaster-duebeni-3 

The prompt this time was about sea stars (formerly called “starfish”). I read some information about them out loud, and was struck by the way they can regenerate lost limbs.

A few other facts I read out loud were:                                          

Sea stars have an eye spot at the end of each arm.

Sea stars can move more quickly than you might expect.

Sea stars are famous for their ability to regenerate limbs, and in some cases, entire bodies.

Sea stars can live up to 35 years and are usually about the size of a teacup.

What I wrote in response is below.

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Everywhere, kindness. That’s what he’s choosing to see, anyway. That’s what he’s open to. The news fills the airways with horror, loss, murder, disease. Our world is spun into chaos: the end of times. So it seems surreal to notice a sparrow’s carefully constructed nest in the pipes above the carport, the old man in the donut shop having a conversation with a curious toddler, or to read about the Labradoodle who works as a therapy dog at a funeral home, and a herd of elephants who travel 20 miles to mourn a dead man who worked with them for decades and loved them. They came to pay their respects.

Then there’s the woman who waited to pull out of her parking spot on a busy Friday night so he could have her space. There was a line of cars behind him, so he couldn’t back up. “Go around the block,” she said, “I’ll wait for you.” A total stranger. And the clerk at his accountant’s office who so appreciated his interest in her African Violets that she gave him two leaves in a Dixie cup of water. “In about two weeks, you’ll have roots,” she said. “Plant them in soil and then keep them somewhere warm.” On the street outside the office, he used his hand to shield the flimsy leaves from the windy day. Once he was safely inside the car, he placed the paper cup in the beverage holder, careful not to spill it.

There are greater acts too. SS soldiers who worked as double agents and saved thousands from the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Now, two ninety-year-old survivors—one a former guard, the other a former prisoner whom he saved—meet again in Germany after seventy years. They hold one another and they weep. A policeman in Dallas covers a woman and her sons with his own body: he literally lies on top of them to shield them from a sniper’s bullets. And the surgeon, who has just told his patient that he might have cancer, sits for a moment and asks that patient about his life, about his work and where he lives. Sees him as a whole person, not simply a lung or a white spot on a CT scan.

These are dangerous, confusing times, he thinks. Airports are now targets for people who strap bombs to their bodies because they feel their li (more…)

 

Aging (Not So) Gracefully July 22, 2016

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

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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.

 

Dinner with Dad April 29, 2016

The prompt this time is called 5 X 5. It’s a list exercise that asks you to create five short lists with five items on each list. The topics for each list are as follows:

  1. Five cities you are familiar with (they do not have to be cities you love)
  2. Five colors
  3. Five people you have loved
  4. Five favorite foods
  5. Five regrets

After you’ve generated the lists, take one from each list and generate a new list of five. Do this several times (five times would be a good number to aim for!)

Here’s the list I ended up with:       red wine

  1. Pop
  2. NYC
  3. Filet Mignon
  4. Silver
  5. Not marrying him

What I wrote is below.

_________________________________

We meet at the Monkey Bar, at a table in the back. It’s not the same Monkey Bar that he and Mom sat in on their honeymoon; it’s moved. It has a corporate owner now, and it’s trendy and loud. The bar is packed with the after-five crowd: overpaid Millennials and Generation Xers who are still dressed all in black, still trying to be relevant. The walls are a deep red; thin lights hang by long silver chords over a black bar top, and the hostess stands at the black stick of a podium with an unhappy blonde queen next to her.

“I’m here to meet Dan DeLorenzo,” I say, and he picks up a bronze, leather-bound menu and walks me back to a small, cool dining room, where the noise from the bar becomes muffled.

Pop doesn’t look up when I arrive. He’s halfway through a filet mignon and a half-bottle of Cab; the pink center of the steak is glowing under the soft light of the sconce on the red wall behind him. “You’re thirty minutes late,” he says, taking a bite, chewing slowly. He looks up at the blonde, using his fork to motion toward his wine glass, then toward me. “I’ll bring another glass right away,” he says, and disappears.

“I was pretty hungry,” Pop says, “so I ordered.”

“Okay,” I say, opening the menu. “Sorry I’m late. I decided to walk. It’s such a beautiful, warm evening.”

“Yeah, well.” He looks up; his eyes look brown in the dim light, though I know they are blue, like mine. “You could have taken a cab. I don’t have a lot of time.”

I’m thrown off by his demeanor. I’ve never known this man: he’s typical, gruff, unaffectionate. An imposter of sorts. The host returns with my wine glass. “May I have the salmon, please?” I ask. He nods, and takes my menu.

“Still polite as ever,” Pop says, giving me a half smile. “Just like your mother.” It’s a compliment, but he still sounds mad.

“You seem angry,” I say. “Are you?”

“Maybe a little bit. I don’t know.” Now this sounds familiar. The man who didn’t quite know what he was feeling.

“I mean, I haven’t heard from you in months,” I say. “Not even last night, on the Day of the Dead.” He puts down his knife and fork, pours me some wine.

“We’ve been busy,” he says.

“Really? Doing what? Answering prayers?” He laughs.

“Something like that.” It’s the first warm moment between us; there’s my Dad. A crack appears and some light shines through. “I’m disappointed, if you want to know the truth.”

“Now you sound like Mom,” I say. We both laugh.

“I mean, why didn’t you marry that nice guy? All those years he’s loved you—”

“Dad—”

“And the other day at the gym—”

“You were there?”

“Couldn’t you see that he still felt the same way as always?”

“Dad—”

“The guy’s got some money, Tiger. He could take good care of you.”

“He wants a mommy,” I say, taking a sip of the wine. It’s full of tannin. It will be terrible with the fish.

“You want to live alone, is that it? You don’t want to give up your independence?”

“No,” I say, “that’s not it.” I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t want to marry someone just like him. I love the guy, but I don’t want to marry my father. It took eight years to figure that out, but I finally did. I can’t say that out loud, but he looks up, and in that moment I know that he knows. He already knows.

My fish arrives and we eat in silence.

 

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.

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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.

 

 

An Old Love Story September 11, 2015

The prompts this time were:            pile-love-letters

We were only children

Old Love/New Love

Letters in the mailbox

What I wrote is below.

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We were only children, really. Twenty-five and still coming out to parents and friends. I thought you were straight for two months. Your handsome face behind the glass counter, your strong and gentle hands moving the croissants with a paper sheet. I watched your bicep flex as you scooped the chicken salad, or when you brought the pitcher up to the arm of the steamer, that big, beautiful espresso machine and your lovely, full-lipped smile.

We rode our bikes home through the warm summer evening, stopping once for a beer, and I thought, “Here I go again, falling for a straight guy.” I did that a lot back then, so when you told me you found me attractive, I nearly choked.

“Are you experimenting”? I asked. “Because I don’t like being a practice run.”

“No,” you said, “I’m gay. I’m interested in you. Don’t you get it?”

What followed was one of the great, short-lived love affairs of my young life. Your smooth, hairless chest and soft kisses, the deliciousness of working together like friends and leaving together like lovers. Candlelight nights and lazy mornings. The time we couldn’t find any lube; I suggested olive oil, but grabbed the sesame oil by mistake. The next day you said, “I will always think of you when I eat sesame noodles now.”

When I returned to school, your letters began to arrive, waiting for me behind the tiny metal door of my P.O. box. I felt like a Jane Austen character, especially the day I climbed up into the old elm and read your profession of love. “I know what you’re thinking,” you wrote. “That I shouldn’t profess love in a letter, that we haven’t known each other long enough, but I don’t care: the truth is I love you. I love you. I do.”

No one had ever written me a love letter before.

Where are you, I wonder? And who are you now? Are you bald and unhappy? Are you a faithful partner? Do you think of me sometimes? But most important of all, are you being loved? That’s what I really want to know. Are you being loved? Is somebody loving you?