Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Category: 5 Things

5 Things about an Easel

by Treehouse Editors

from Linda Conroy, author of The Way of Neighbors

1. Twice I’ve owned one, twice have given it away.

2. I thought I wanted lushness of another life, modest help for my intentions, a guarantee of restful nights. I thought I wanted mystery, a way to find true artistry without the grind of too much work so I bought an easel, strong of back, and plain of face, its three feet still on earth.

3. In art class sometimes, feeling shy, I can’t cope with the paint. It doesn’t go the way I want. I hide behind the easel, though it trips me with its legs spread out, or leers, leaning on grey walls, with paint still wet, the brushes needing to be rinsed, put back into the jar beside the sink. The canvas, though, is steady, twenty degrees from vertical, suggesting life propped open, waiting. A framework, tripod, a tall support, a wooden form upon the desk or standing on the floor, asking “am I something you could use? Would you rest your half-formed collage on this ledge, edge of the artist you’re beginning to become?”

4. In winter when snow forms banks and drifts, and squirrels, groundhogs, hibernate, I see evergreens dot steep-sloped mountain sides, and the sun slides quickly, leaving blue shadows longer than the trees, like fingers pointing in a landscape of mixed media on nature’s easel, murmuring “paint.”

5. The Dutch word for donkey, ezel, meant to carry weight.


Linda Conroy is a retired social worker who likes to observe the simplicity and complexity of the human connections which inform and foreshadow the art of writing poetry. Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Third Wednesday, Shot Glass, The Penwood Review, Washington 129, The Poeming Pigeon, Clover – A Literary Rag, and Raven Chronicles.

5 Ways of Seeing the Moon (Who is Also My Grandfather)

by Treehouse Editors

from Finola McDonald, author of Denial

1. Against all the darkness of the small, city–suburb that was my home. Curious how
something so big could be so small against the night. Also wondering
if I could ever look as magnificent
under the same circumstances.

2. Getting off the bus at dusk a few blocks from our tired, green, house.
Surprised to see him out at this time, still carrying faint stains
on his whiteness that time so graciously lent him.

3. At midnight, still up, peering through the kitchen window
at the blue walls, and the land line,
shining a faint light
on the pantry.

4. Through the rearview mirror while I rush to leave,
catching him for a moment, imagining he is saying
goodbye, don’t forget to fill the tank
before returning to his present atmosphere that I
am moving further from.

5. Looking for him through the cracks
in bedroom doors, or by the meat market,
greeting strangers, asking my grandmother who says:

“He’ll be up soon, love, he’s just down for a nap.”


Finola McDonald is a Bronx native and coffee enthusiast with a thing for writing. She is currently completing her undergraduate studies at SUNY Purchase in Westchester, NY.

5 Ideas about an Afterlife

by Treehouse Editors

from Bailey Bridgewater, author of The Congregation

I’m an atheist, and one of the best things about being non-religious is that it allows a person to evaluate different religious ideas pretty objectively, without any commitment.  It’s like if your friend handed you her phone and asked you to do her Tinder swiping for her.  It’s entertaining, and you can evaluate the choices brutally, curiously, without having to directly deal with the consequences. I believe that when we die, you, me, and all those people on Tinder are simply dead–nothing more, nothing less.  Yet ideas about the afterlife captivate me, so I share with you here five ideas my good friends and questionable family members hold about the afterlife.

1. We re-live the same life in perpetuity. This theory is held by a good friend who has a graduate degree in Mathematics, which gives him some level of credibility–not because graduate students are trustworthy, but because anyone who can deal with numbers at that level has access to mysteries of the universe that most of us can’t or simply don’t want to understand. He believes that not just the individual, but the entire universe participates in an endless cycle of creation and destruction that goes the same way every single time, and thus we all live the same exact life over, and over, and over, never able to correct our mistakes or even remember that we made them. You’ll always lose that key, always miss your boat, always say the wrong thing, always realize a little too late. Always. It’s the most depressing of the theories I’ve heard. There’s no justice in it.

2. We are reincarnated on down the food chain. My great-grandmother lived by far the longest of anyone in my family, which is its own argument for some sort of God–surely nothing that’s out there would have wanted her back. What she lacked in overall goodness, she made up for in fanciful ideas.  Despite her Methodist upbringing, she believed that we’re all reincarnated–a not uncommon idea worldwide. But her reincarnation was ruthless. You only come back as a human if you were pure as the driven snow and right as the unpolluted rain.  Screw up a couple times, and you might come back as a donkey.  Screw up a lot, maybe you’ll be a possum. Manage to mess it up so badly that your kids don’t come to your deathbed, and you’ve got a good shot at cockroach–which means, ironically, a reward of near immortality. There’s a chance you might kill a cockroach that is my great-grandmother.

3. We live again, this time as someone close to us.  All right, so this was my idea, and I don’t actually believe it. I thought it up as a comforting punishment after divorcing an abusive ex.  What if my great-grandmother’s reincarnation idea was on track, but instead of a wolf or a goat, we came back as someone who had an impact on our life, for better or worse? We would feel the pain we caused that person, or the joy, and we would see what had been ourselves from this new perspective.  It could be a strange form of heaven or hell, depending on how much of an ass you were.

4. There’s totally a dog heaven. Totally. One common denominator among both the religious and non-religious folks I know is that they all sincerely want to believe in a pet heaven. One acquaintance of mine is so looking forward to seeing his deceased pets again that he has a tattoo of himself running out of the void and down the rainbow bridge, where his animals are all running to greet him. If there is any justice in the afterlife, there is a place where we can be reunited with our animal companions, or at least where they can eternally play with one another. If there’s not, it’s just further proof that there is no higher being.

5. All is forgiven, if you remember to repent right before the ax falls. My grandmother, a devout Catholic who was apparently so religious that she almost never had to go to church, firmly believed that no matter what you did in life, if you repented on your deathbed, lucidly, honestly, then all was forgiven. (She also believed in curses and ghosts, and would sit on the sofa to talk to her deceased sister well before she developed dementia and Alzheimer’s. I don’t know where all this fit in with her religion.) It didn’t matter if you were a murderer, a rapist, a pedophile–so long as you repented, God would allow you into heaven. I often wonder if, given that she died not knowing where, when, or sometimes who she was, she remembered to say her “my bad’s” in time.

5 Ways in Which My Ideas Are Like My Garden

by Treehouse Editors

from Karen Collier, author of The Gift

1. Sometimes my ideas are like clematis. They are so dawdling I forget I planted them until the day I notice they’ve overrun the trellis.

2. Sometimes my ideas are like coreopsis. They leap their boundaries, and I must rip them out by their roots.

3. Sometimes my ideas are like flame acanthus. They immediately perish but then pop up the next year in the most unexpected places.

4. Sometimes my ideas are like pigeonberry. As soon as I plant them, they are stolen, not surprisingly, by the pigeons.

5. Sometimes my ideas are like mealy blue sage. They grow tall and strong in exactly the place I planted them.

5 of My Favorite Emojis

by Treehouse Editors

from Darren Higgins, author of Wapiti

🍯

Nothing drips quite like honey, so slow and sweet. Nothing shines. Nothing stays. The stickiness comes as a surprise but then I like it. Does honey wrap around your tongue? It does. Around and around. It does. Honey is liquid time. Honey remembers us, that’s what we want to believe. Honey tastes like.

🐞

I once sat in an awful patch of grass, more dirt than grass, really; it was sharp and unevenly cut, at odds with itself, poking my palm. Then I felt a tickle at my fingers. A ladybug. I watched her climb my arm, then returned her to the grass many ladybug-miles from me. But she returned. She found me. She kept coming back. She preferred me to the grass.

🗝

I have never had a tattoo nor really even considered it, but if I do ever get a tattoo then let it be a fancy old key right there on the inside of my left wrist, near the delta of my veins, near the tendons that rise like cables when I make a fist, floating upon the twitch of my pulse. What is a key? What is it really? I think the key is desire.

🥝

No one suspects the kiwi. Who would? No one suspects that it is my favorite fruit, more favorite than even the strawberry (though I do like to bite strawberries, I won’t mislead you). The unassuming kiwi. What are you hiding? But I know! I already know.

🚂

The rhythm of the train is the rhythm of the masquerade. I am never myself on a train. I am a performer, to be seen, to be looked over. But that’s all right. You are never yourself either. You take me by the hand and push me into my seat. You smile. I turn my eyes toward the window, watching the golden fields pass slow and sweet as honey.

5 Steps for Lighting a Match (after Julio Cortázar)

by Treehouse Editors

from Mary Haidri, author of Celestial Divorce and The Cactus Moment

1. Unbraid your mother’s hair. Brush it carefully. Among all the grey and silver, watch for small sparks igniting between the teeth of the comb. Catch these in your palm and put them into a mason jar. Do not punch holes in the lid.

2. When you have caught twenty sparks in the jar, walk out into the night. Let the jar light your path. Find a rose bush and break off the largest thorn.

3. Walk until you reach an empty field. Find a stick. Draw a line in the grass, nine feet long and three feet wide. Shape it like your mother’s body.

4. Take your jar of sparks and the thorn and sit in the middle of the outline shaped like your mother. Wait in the dark without moving. Wait until the first light rises in the east.

5. Hold up your jar and observe: the sparks have formed into a single flame. Open the lid. Fish for the flame with the rose thorn. It will wriggle and resist. Once hooked, pull the flame out of the jar. Offer it to the sun.

 

Five Things I Learned in the Nuthouse

by Treehouse Editors

from Timothy Stewart Johnson, author of I’ll Tremble If You Like

In 1987, my baby-mama convinced me to check myself into a nuthouse because I was contemplating suicide. My four weeks inside ended my suicidal ideation and set me on a path of recovery. It also opened my eyes about certain things I should have known and other things no one should ever have to learn.

  1. My childhood traumas were not funny. I was regaling my therapist with funny stories about things that happened to me as a child. My mother grabbing my ponytail and chopping it off with a butcher knife in front of company, drunk out of her mind. Having psychotic episodes while on PCP, LSD and mushrooms. My best friend holding me at gunpoint and threatening to kill me, and then trying to kill a girl at school for rejecting his affections. The therapist looked at me in horror and said, “Why are you laughing? Those stories are not funny! You were a child!”
  2. Everything I knew was wrong. I knew I grew up in an awesome home. My parents were cool, and everyone loved them. The things that happened when no one was around were simply swept under the rug or dismissed as humorous foibles by a well-meaning mom who simply had a little too much to drink. No one noticed when I went off the rails, and no one ever stopped pretending everything was alright. The truth was a bomb that blew my reality to pieces.
  3. I can dance without alcohol. They don’t serve cocktails in the nuthouse, but they do have parties. The psych techs dimmed the lights and all of us lunatics put our arms around each other and floated around the common area like a clot of fire ants clinging together in a flood. It was awkward at first, but after a while all of our diseases were drawn to the surface by the poultice of music, and the fumes of our pain brought tears of healing, and after, when I looked at the beautiful bulimic girls, and the suicidal young men, and the woman with multiple personalities, and the one who stood at the window at night watching invisible monsters, I saw myself.
  4. Insanity is Real. My friend Melanie told me about her father raping her, and I wanted to hold her, to heal her. When she went missing, I believed she would find her way home and resume being a mom. When they found her behind a dumpster two blocks away and dragged her back to the funny farm to finish facing her demons, her wrists in ragged tatters from a chunk of broken glass, she was not Melanie. She had become Monique. Then Monique faded away and Melanie returned, with no memory of what had happened and no idea who had slashed her wrists.
  5. It’s mostly about the money. My psychiatrist drove a Rolls Royce with her name on the license plate, and she parked it in front of the hospital where we could see it from our unit. Five minutes into my first session, she began a campaign to convince me I was bipolar and put me on lithium. I refused. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew what wasn’t. The good doctor was later indicted for “…knowingly and intentionally devis[ing] and intend[ing] to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses and representations…” She ultimately prevailed and is still practicing medicine, but the Rolls was as real as our mental problems were.