et me say it before you do: This is weird. That I’m writing this. This is, and has been, Richard’s arena, his place to do what he does to set the tone, to tell you how he’s looking at this issue, his attempt to tint the field in Richard-colored tones—for those reading serially, that is, though many of my friends start at the back, with the list of who’s what and where, then jumping to those that appeal best to their own color schemes—and, so I’ve been led to understand, it’s often an attempt on his part to force a kind of cohesion that otherwise may not exist; or perhaps, and this is probably likely, it’s that he does see something and he wants you to see it too. But here I am now, sitting in for him and part of me thinks that it’s one of the mildly cruel jokes my father and Drew so love to play. They made me write Drew’s section a few years ago, after he had his wisdom teeth pulled and spent a week or so holding his head and moaning and swearing and refusing to do anything. The fact of that was, it turned out, Drew had already written his section, a perfectly fine piece, very much his thing, but they thought it would be fun to make me write it, to see what I—at 12 years of age—would write. And so I wrote it, and they edited it for me, and then they published it, and there it sits, my first literary embarrassment.
     Thanks, boys. I mean it. Thanks.
     I’m already in this issue. I don’t need to be in it again. But here I am, right at the beginning, me and gmail, trying hard to get this done.
     It’s Richard this time who’s sick. Drew said it’s pneumonia. Richard confirmed it for me when I saw him last week. Fist delicate before his mouth and: cough-cough. “I’m sick, Amy.” Yeah. What. Ever.
     So: pneumonia. Lungs filling with fluid, all that. You want to breathe, but you can’t. And so, what good, what good at all, are your words? How do they serve you when they won’t come out? You want to put that force behind them and make them dance in the air or on the table before you but you cannot, because, for one reason or another, you are not breathing. And when you’re not breathing, what then?
     Cough-cough. So delicate. “You’ve written a mature piece and now you must contextualize, Amy.”
     What? What the heck does that mean? Contextualize? Give myself context? Give my writing context? Why? How? No, really, Why?
     I know the difference between a –cillin and a –dal. I’m 15, not retarded. Contextualize myself. Please. You’re not sick, Richard. You’re insane. Just plum outta your head. It’s your voice and your words people want, not mine. But I’m doing it, despite how utterly wrong it seems for me to do it.
     All right, here’s your context. No. What is this all-consuming need to… wait. See, the words are not the master. There is no muse. And to flagellate yourself when the words fail you and then to try to force them into all those—[1]



  hen they ask you the question, you must not hesitate: do not wonder, do not ponder, do not consider the vast array of grays lurking inside the interrogative, and above all, do not affirm or vacillate.
     “Are you a danger to yourself or others?”
     Backpedaling is ugly. How do you convince your psychopharmacologist that your meds no longer work and yet you are not in the mood to check-in to the hospital?
     “I came here, give me some credit. I didn’t go to the gun store.”
     It’s not like it doesn’t happen every couple of years. If we can make our own magazine, we can make our own hospital. That’s what I told Drew. And I told Amy she could write my section (which, it seems, only made her hostile). If you want your dreams to come true—as my grandma always said—then don’t sleep.
     So I took a couple (11 actually) weeks off from work and we made a little hospital for me: I bought a folding card table and set it up with paints and brushes, cardstock and glue; I bought saftey scissors and yellow pudding; I turned off my phone, got into pajamas, and renamed the living room the “Day Room.”
     Painting is fun when you’re crazy. The perspective’s off, everyone looks like a monster, and you can decide that everything—battlesmoke, skin tone, buildings—needs to be a shade of blue. I painted Civil War scenes (A metaphor, perhaps? chides the disembodied voice of Dr. Jones) but I don’t know much about the Civil War. “On to Richmond!” featured Mr. T with six arms trying to free the slaves. “Attack on Fort Sumter” had a giant monkey with eyes like wedding rings eating sandwiches against a background of pennies, flowers, popsicles, explosions.
     I still made sure to go out once a day for coffee so my peoples could look upon me and decide if my hospital was working or if I’d have to go to the real hospital. A few days were dicey, sure. There was that cartoon in Che’s Lounge that was trying to kill me. There were the red birds flying all around that everyone else denied seeing. And there were a few nights where I thought I was speaking English but I wasn’t. But this, like everything, passed. I feel much better now. Just in time to help send off this issue.
     I told Amy to contextualize, which she didn’t, so I’ve cut her off. She blathers when she’s scared—and she gets scared when grown-ups freak out, which I guess I did—but blather doesn’t fly in my magazine, and this is still my magazine. I do like her story, though. And mostly she’s a good kid.
     Here’s some context then: you can build your own anything if you want to. If you write a story, you can build a magazine around it, to hold it. If you lose your beans for a little while, you can build a safe place around yourself, to hold you. For those of you who like what we do here at spork, we ask this: get a lamp, a chair, and a bookshelf; make a little place for us in your world. And really, I feel much better now.

—Richard Siken


[1]The rest of Amy's text is as follows (not in the printed version): —shapes they don’t want to assume, to throw them jagged and broken… but that’s not the purpose here, that’s not my point either. What it is, is that we are not mastered by the words—we are not subservient to their whims, but rather we are more like their Lords. Masters over them, yes, but more important than that, we are responsible for their well-being and happiness. Our duty is to govern them kindly, wisely. You do that and they will do your bidding joyfully and often before you even ask anything of them. They’ll anticipate you. But force them or use them ill, and they will turn on you every time.
     See, what I’m saying here is that it is never the words that fail us. It’s always that we fail the words.
     Richard, that’s just my opinion… I mean, it’s not me making an indictment or anything. That came out bad, but it’s what I want to say. Fail is really such a hard word, and I don’t mean it in the hard sense. I guess I mean it in the hard sense, but I don’t mean to imply—what am I talking about, imply? That was pretty explicit there—I don’t mean to say that you’re failing. I really don’t know what’s going on. You don’t have pneumonia or an upper-respiratory infection or lower-GI disturbance (well, maybe you do, but I’m not going to ask), or any of those things Drew and my dad rattled off when I asked them what was really going on… maybe it’s that everyone’s looking at you and your words have to be… I don’t know what they have to be, but I can imagine that there’s expectations now that maybe were not there before, or if they were there, they weren’t quite so strong or daunting. The one thing I’m sure about is that it’s not my place to suppose anything.
     Maybe you really aren’t breathing. Are you holding it? Has it been taken? Did someone come up and hit you so hard and you’re still waiting for everything to unclench? Whatever it is, whatever the reason, let me remind you that words are not the only way. I’ve got flags and you can sing in semaphore. You can call yourself Fred Astaire and tap it out on the floor of your apartment. And so what if your tapping and signaling are out of context? Does that really matter? It’s still you, friend. Still you getting it across, and if we are too busy or too thick to get your meaning, then that’s our failing, not yours. And that time I do mean it in the hard sense. The hardest sense possible. You are the best possible iteration of a benevolent dictator when it comes to your words, every one a stylishly attired fanatic, stepping in time and chanting your name.
     So take your time. Relax. Wait for it to pass. And when it’s time…