Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Category: 5 Things

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.

 

The Unsung 5: Rolling Stones Haiku

by Treehouse Editors

from Doug Hoekstra, author of Silently

1. Haiku for Brian Jones

blonde hair. devil’s grin
vox dobro fades on display
founder of the Stones

2. Haiku for Ian Stewart

upright confidant.
battered keys. behind the van
driving Mick and Keith

3. Haiku for Andrew Loog Oldham

king’s road, paisley dreams
christening the songwriters
mettle into gold

4. Haiku for Bill Wyman

hired for your amp
in the back, the bottom line
bagging the most chicks

5. Haiku for Mick Taylor

long forgotten sway
smiling. misplaced expertise
burnt out on main street

5 Things on Self-Forgiveness

by Treehouse Editors

from Katie Miller, author of I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

Now, I’m not saying that you need to admit yourself to a treatment center in order to learn how to forgive yourself. But it certainly accelerates the process.

1. There is something I should get out of the way before I proceed. In learning self-forgiveness, there is no place to hide from cliché. Two years ago, I applied for graduate school on the premise that I wanted to build narratives that could be described as nuanced and genre-bending and unclassifiable; in treatment, I was given a binder full of worksheets offering to walk me step-by-step through the process of learning how to accept myself. This was difficult for me to accept.

Leslie Jamison, from her book The Recovering: “In recovery, I found a community that resisted what I’d always been told about stories—that they had to be unique—suggesting instead that a story was most useful when it wasn’t unique at all, when it understood itself as something that had been lived before and would be lived again. Our stories were valuable because of this redundancy, not despite it. Originality wasn’t the ideal, and beauty wasn’t the point.”

2. There will never be time; there is always time. I used to hoard excuses by the fistful: I have a job I have a cat I need to clean my bathroom sink I need to respond to an email or two or five this is not the time. I knew that forgiving myself would be, out of all of the internal processes that I could possibly attempt to undertake, a lengthy one. Easier to put it off. I will forgive myself when: ___________.

On the morning of my sister’s college graduation last month, I awoke early. In treatment twenty-six hundred miles and two time zones away, I imagined holding my past in my hands, rolling it between my fingers, pulling it apart like dough and holding it to the light that filtered through the branches of the palo verde trees dotting the endless desert around me. I imagined her walking across the stage, now; I imagined myself asking for help at fifteen instead of twenty-four; I imagined stretching time backwards and forwards at once; I imagined letting go. There was no time to forgive myself until it became the only thing I had time for.

3. Self-forgiveness can’t really coexist with shame. I carry(ied) a lot of shame.

Is it enough, here, to simply say: I have an eating disorder, and with every single day I am learning how to discard the myriad ways in which I detached myself from my body in order to distance myself from the pieces of my life that I couldn’t face? Is it enough to simply say: you may construct any narrative that you see fit, but ultimately it was the only way that I knew how to survive when life itself felt unendurable? Is it enough to simply say: I have outgrown it?

4. I’ve been told that to outgrow doesn’t mean to sever. I’m still trying to figure out the difference.

5. I used to worry that I wouldn’t recognize myself post-forgiveness. That I’d woven my refusal to forgive myself—for my illness, for where I am because of it, for where I’m not because of it—so thoroughly into my self-conception that if I let it go, there would be no narrative thread left to grasp.

But I’m learning that there is no post-forgiveness. There is no arbitrary point at which I can complete enough worksheets or sit through enough group therapy sessions and, suddenly, the pieces of my past will rearrange themselves like misshapen shards turned into stained glass, all cohesion where there was once only brokenness and empty spaces. It is, instead, a daily decision: to move forward even when I don’t know where the story will go; to move forward even when sometimes, it feels like there is no story at all.

Jamison again: “I wanted to know if stories about getting better could ever be as compelling as stories about falling apart. I needed to believe they could.”

5 Things We Love by Female Authors

by Treehouse Editors

1. Bodies That Hum by Beth Gylys (Silverfish Review Press, 1999)

“The first chapbook of Beth Gylys sparked my interest, but her first full-length work, Bodies that Hum, really excited me with her formal dexterity (especially the villanelle), as well as free verse, showing me that poetry could be deep, poignant, and entertaining. Gylys, above all others, started me on this path of writing and taking the poetic craft seriously.” — Joanna Davidson, Poetry Editor

2. A Burst of Light: Essays by Audre Lorde (Firebrand Books, 1988)

“‘I make, demand, translate satisfactions out of every ray of sunlight, scrap of bright cloth, beautiful sound, delicious smell that comes my way, out of every sincere smile and good wish. They are discreet bits of ammunition in my arsenal against despair.’–Audre Lorde. To be black, female, and queer, all at once, is to know great despair. But to be black, female, and queer, all at once, is to grow brilliant.” — Bella Hugo, Genre Bender/Brief Encounters Editor

3. Social Studies by Fran Lebowitz (Random House, 1981)

“Women have been accused of being the ‘sensitivity police,’ unable to appreciate or utilize humor without injecting sentimentality or political correctness. Having been expelled from high school for ‘nonspecific surliness,’ unapologetic New Yorker Fran Lebowitz delightfully defies this stereotype. ‘People (a group that in my opinion has always attracted an undue amount of attention),’ she writes in the opening essay from Social Studies, ‘have often been likened to snowflakes…their only similarity to snowflakes resides in their invariable and lamentable tendency to turn, after a few warm days, to slush.'” — Laura Casteel, Managing Editor

4. “Of the Empire,” from Red Bird by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2008)

“As Americans stand face-to-face with the consequences of rabid consumerism, imperialism, and estrangement from nature in the twenty-first century, the timeliness of this poem stings. ‘We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power,’ Oliver writes. ‘All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity.'”–Laura Casteel, Managing Editor

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006)

“This novel serves as a compass in my own writing journey, a reminder that the best literature strikes our deepest senses with details as small as the leg of a bee. It also proves the versatility of female writers. We can be sardonic and romantic, critical and sensual–in other words, we’re human.

‘[Janie] was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!'” — Laura Casteel, Managing Editor

5 Things a Survivor Needs to Learn

by Treehouse Editors

from Alle C. Hall, author of Crashing

It was cherry blossom season. I sat on hard grass in the cold March sun and read the survivor’s Bible, The Courage to Heal. Tears, when I read what I had felt between my teeth since the abuse started but could never find words for: I was not a victim. I was a survivor. As Courage says, I earned that title. To move to an entirely new level of surviving, however, into thriving, there were five things I needed to internalize.

  1. The facts of the abuse, the details, are important for only as long as they are important. It was everything to name them. Over time, the facts blurred into two thoughts: I was raped. A lot.
  2. The facts can be so dramatic. They seem like the hard stuff to heal from. But the facts don’t have lasting impact. What lasts is the need for approbation from the wrong sources, the reliance on the addictions. Saying the right thing at the wrong time, being too loud or too quiet; feeling perfect until we tumble; not knowing how to do simple things that to others seem innate: being honest on a resume; saying, “You’re cute.”
  3. It is possible to learn how to love and be loved.
  4. There is no need to confront an abuser. Abusers don’t cop to it, such as: “I never thought that raping you would make you feel bad.” Do we imagine that a confrontation will change them? “Let’s go to counseling together.” “Let’s be family again.”
  5. I wanted an apology. I don’t need an apology. I don’t need them to change, to tell me they believe me.

I believe me.

5 Things on Encounters

by a contributor

from Sean Pravica, author of A PSA About Love:

Everyone has had them: sudden encounters with memorable strangers. Here are five of my own personal favorites. A supporting character in my novel, Stumbling out the Stable, is based on one of these people.

  1. Blonde hair, blue eyes, spoke with a wistfulness that made every word froth over with existential longing. He worked for the Forest Service in Big Sur, a place heralded for its austere and largely unadulterated beauty. He stood in a wooden kiosk at a trailhead, slowly leafing through a National Geographic, surveying pictures of the world’s beauty.

  2. He wore a patchy red and blue jumpsuit. I saw him when I was a child. The first time was from my mother’s car as he stood at a stoplight holding what looked like a child wrapped in a blue blanket. The next day in the next town over, out to breakfast with my mother, I looked up and saw him again, his face nearly messianic in its calm. Now I saw the blue bundle he cradled in his arms was empty.

  3. Some forgettable backlot in downtown Los Angeles. A kind man ambled carefully to my car, in one hand a bucket and in the other a rag, which he held outstretched like a flag designating peace to an unpredictable alien. Two dollars to wash the windshield. I accepted and received some backstory per my request. Unemployed, used to be in construction, built Staples Center, its purple glow peeking over squat buildings behind us.

  4. She was not filling up her car but parked oddly in front of a pump. She was smoking a cigarette and had the window rolled down, so passing by her on the way to the register I asked her to put her cigarette out. She took offense, called my laptop case a purse, and we exchanged words. I paid for gas, and as I came back, she invited me to get in her car and sit with her. So I did. We talked about vague things, and she was friendly but aloof. She had some kind of alcohol in a water bottle that she offered me, telling me I could use it since I was being uptight. I declined. She was looking over a paper throwaway magazine that lists the latest local arrests, complete with mugshots. She called them “knuckleheads,” and betrayed a strange connection to them as she shook her head, a familiarity unspeakable but palpable. I asked her what she did and said she was an entrepreneur, but would not elaborate. I left, and we ended our conversation in peace, and that was much more than I could say for how things started.

  5. I lived in Big Sur for a little while myself. But I did not work in a kiosk, though my job booking room reservations was tremendously unsatisfying. I feeling guilty about the prospect of leaving only a few months after being hired when I happened to meet an older woman at a concert after-party. She was a psychotherapist and we talked about goals and ambition, things owed to others versus things owned to oneself. She had a generous laugh that signaled a deep satisfaction in her own life.