“Chapter One” by John Hyatt ’16
“Fragments of Red Satin” by Alex Li ’19
“On Gender Equality in the Bedroom” by Anonymous ’17
“On Cultural Appropriation” by Hamsa Srikanth ’19
“The Sky’s a Canvas, and the Ink Your Face” and “Don’t Temper the Artist” by Lauren Livingston ’18
“Stress Fractures” by Caroline Willian ’17
Photography by Wes Edwards ’18
Photography by Grayson Gunner ’17
Ceramics by Nick LaBerge ’19
Photography by Jackson Smith ’18
Letter from the Editors
Thank you so much for taking the time to look at Discourse. As a new magazine, we know we have a long way to go to establish ourselves in this community, and the most important step is your readership. We are committed to creating this artistic space for people to express themselves and celebrate each other. It’s time that CMC cultivates its artistic community, and makes a designated space for celebrating creativity on campus. In 2013, the CWPD launched slam poetry events and write-ins to provide more creative platforms on campus. The insight the students presented at each event inspired us. We wanted to create a space to highlight these voices. Discourse Mag is the tangible product of this vision. We are endlessly thankful for all of you who create and appreciate art, as well as for the CWPD for making this venture possible. We hope you enjoy the first ever edition of Discourse!
Liat Kaplan, Emma Henson, and Jen Vaccaro
Alex Li ’19
Fragments of Red Satin
Father stops the car somewhere along Bruckner’s Boulevard and slaps Peter across the face. It was on our way over to dim sum in the city, a family tradition. The stillness casts a shadow of silence over all five of us, and our eyes are fixed on the man slumped in the driver’s seat. Our car is motionless along the roadside, all of us trapped in a sphere of our own making as the rest of the world moves forward. My headphones are plugged in, so I can only see my dad’s lips spitting insult after insult and my brother staying silent like the good boy he’s supposed to be. Maybe my dad found out Peter got a B on his last calculus exam. Or maybe he found the red satin dress in his closet. Peter starts to fiddle with his fingers, scratching away at the scars of black and blue nail polish from the night before. Father keeps on yelling; he starts crying. I leave my headphones on.
6 years ago
Peter sneaks into my mother’s closet and slips on my mother’s black stilettos—scratched with imperfections and a missing heel. He went to the dollar store and bought himself some cheap red lipstick and a tacky floral-print sundress a couple of days ago. He keeps those hidden underneath the untouched action figures father got for him last Christmas.
Father always works late at the Laundromat and mother goes out every night for tea with the rest of the Chinese moms. Abby and I are eight years old, too young to understand yet. When mother leaves the house, Peter is free. He slips on the tattered stilettos, dons his gown, and smears the makeup onto his face.
He is beautiful in his own right. It was the only time I would ever see my brother confident. Peter struts around the house with authority and ambition. He practices placing one foot in front of the other, ready for the runway, and puts on a show for Abby and me. Abby and I think he is playing dress-up, a game, though the game was more real than the lie he lived before 7 PM every day. Peter gives a twirl for us, showing off his toned calves. Abby and I erupt in applause as he gives the most elegant of curtsies, rivaling the perfection of a well-seasoned debutant. It was a show for us, something spectacular and entertaining. A couple of weeks later, my father came home early. He didn’t say a word.
I hear a scream and the crackle of the fireplace. I run to the staircase only to see Peter’s floral-print dress blooming into flame alongside a broken boy. Peter’s face was bloodied and his fingers were burnt. Peter’s sundress was no more, but he clawed at the flames to salvage what ashes lay behind—his smoldering dreams. My father bought him a tie.
Peter tells us to call him Zoe from now on, but not around mom or dad. He comes home with another dress—one lined in red satin. It burns like the flames that engulfed the flowers. The dress shimmers in the light, igniting my view of the world. Peter puts on the dress in front of his bedroom mirror and becomes entranced by his new skin. I walk by his room and see him from the corner of my eye. He catches my gaze and smirks. A brawny Jessica Rabbit eying me with allure and zest. My body begins to shiver. I feel cold to the touch, yet my skin starts to permeate with sweat. I turn away and run.
Kids at my school call my brother faggot. I don’t really know what that means. They said that he feels like a girl and is dating a guy. I find it odd. His boyfriend is nice. They’re cute together. But the other kids make fun of him and he runs to the bathroom. The wrong one. He didn’t come out for an hour yesterday. The other kids followed him this time. He trudged out with a bloody nose, wet hair, and smeared lipstick. Nobody calls him Zoe. I sometimes forget and he forgives me; he tells me to remember next time. There are some times when I do remember, I still call him Peter, it’s more comfortable.
I walk into the bathroom and see Peter. His cheeks are powdered like a china doll, and streaks of misplaced eyeliner layer his face. His eyes glaze, staring down his naked body trembling from the cold. A long scar scathes his entire thigh, circling around to his pelvis on either side, his battle wounds. Father said that Peter had to be the man of the house. He shamed him for walking a daughter’s stride, told him to honor the man who crossed the sea for his children. To honor the man who left the slums of Hong Kong to show him light. Honor.
Yellow bottles litter the counter, empty. Peter starts to sway uncontrollably, his knees buckle from underneath his dainty frame, his eyes roll towards the back of his head. He staggers around the bathroom, performing a sort of dance. Peter drops to the floor and I scramble to his feet. He lies down on my lap, unmoving, unconscious, unnerving; a reincarnation of Pietà, sitting on the chipped tiles of my bathroom floor. “I love you, Zoe,” I cry. Her eyes began to open. She smiled, and I saw a sunrise.
I take off my headphones and open the car door, letting rush hour in and chaos out. My father doesn’t even notice, he keeps yelling at Zoe.
“How could I raise such a pussy! Be a man and grow out of this skin!”
Mother and Abby follow the tirade, cutting into the fabric of Zoe’s moral fiber with every blade of insult and disgrace they can find.
Zoe just shakes her head and stares at her toes. Her fingers are bleeding now. In unison, Zoe and I disembark from the van, our eyes unwavering and our movements deliberate. We start walking along the roadside; we have no destination in mind. Our eyes wander but never meet. We start turning our heads towards each other. I begin to see the edge of her smile, but I start to shiver and sweat before we fully embrace. My vision fades and I am left with darkness, then bright light.
I cradle myself back into the real world, back into the car alongside Peter. I see my father still yelling at him. Peter sits still in his seat, still fiddling with his chipped nail polish. I sit still. My hands reach to take off my headphones, but stop midway.
Cultural Appropriation Is Never Appropriate
Staying up-to- date with Hollywood drama is one of the few guilty pleasures I indulge in. A few weeks ago, Coldplay released their music video Hymn for the Weekend, and the internet burst into outrage accusing Beyonce of appropriating Indian culture. When I told my friend about this, he remarked that he didn’t think “cultural appropriation was such a big deal.” I desperately wanted to refute his statement, but like most situations, I only came up with a good comeback long after the conversation was over.
The truth is, there’s a fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Appropriation involves the inherent belief that some aspect of another culture is “exotic.” The word exotic implies that the other culture is out of the norm, and deserves no place in the mainstream. It is very flattering when the dominant group hails an aspect of the minority culture as the new “fashion statement,” and adopts a cultural artifact as part of their style. But why is the same culture then rejected as “foreign behavior” when it is practiced by the minority group? This is a clear instance of power-play, where the minority culture is appreciated but the minority community is discarded.
We, as the dominant society, are more than willing to wear a black facemask around Halloween, or try out afros and cornrows. But we are reluctant to discuss the more difficult aspects of the black experience. Black culture is aspirational to us, unless of course it involves something like police brutality or workplace discrimination. In those cases, it’s a taboo – a discussion that is better avoided. In doing this, we cherry-pick only those aspects of the minority experience that we are comfortable with emulating and create a romanticized version of it. Cultural appropriation attempts to separate minority culture from the minority community, as if they are not intricately intertwined with each other. Truly appreciating minority culture means acknowledging the minority experience in its entirety.
Many would argue that no one truly “owns” a culture, and therefore people cannot get policed for adopting it. Let me concede to this point for a minute. I’ll grant the fact that minorities don’t have property rights over their culture, but no one can deny that they are the majority stakeholders. Their culture is reflective of them in the dominant society, and they have the most to lose with its misrepresentation. The traditional artifacts that we adopt so carelessly are indicative of the minority’s shared history, struggles, and triumphs. Cultural heritage is the core identity of the minority, and a mere novelty to the dominant group. It makes no sense to state they have an equal claim.
We are not dealing with physical things like cornrows, Bindis, or feather headdresses – but the significance that real people attach to them. The value of a cultural artifact to a fellow human is what we, as a society, need to respect. If we truly wish to appreciate a culture, we must honor the sentiments of the people first. We can adopt aspects of other cultures as long as we appreciate the belief systems of the community, and practice it within the required context. If we are mindful of this, then we can freely engage in a cultural exchange that is based on trust and mutual respect.
So, to the friend who didn’t think this was “such a big deal”:
This is my long overdue come-back to you.
On Gender Equality in the Bedroom
We’ve all that that hook-up where there’s instant connection. Witty banter is flowing both ways, the scene gets steamy quick, the buildup feels promising, only for the actual action to be a disappointing act finished far too quickly. Your partner is relieved, elated, feeling all things good, and you’re lying there frustrated and full of discontent.
As a woman, it can feel daunting to ask to have the same returned for you. Daunting because, as a woman, I’ve been trained to believe the male orgasm is the priority. Daunting because I really don’t think he’ll know what to do with my confusing downtown terrain. Daunting because of the reaction I receive when I simply ask for orgasmic equality.
“It’s going to take you so much longer than me to get off.”
“You realize you’re lucky, right? No guy does this.” (In reference to my request for a 1:1 orgasm ratio)
Yeah, I realize no guy does this. That doesn’t make him the hero, or me grateful. The only thing that makes me realize is the continuing gender inequality.
Men seek hook-ups for pleasure. Someone please give me an example of why that shouldn’t be mutual. Orgasms aren’t the end goal, but there should be equal levels of effort on both sides for whatever the chosen goal is. Maybe boys are embarrassed they can’t conquer the unknown, maybe they’re lazy, maybe they’re really just the pigs I’ve known them to be. Regardless, to let your partner know they are your equal on all levels, please prioritize their sexual needs equal to your own. And women, know your worth enough to demand it. Break the mold.
Caroline Willian ’17
Starting to wonder
If a heart can break
Like a stress fracture
Routine force lets twiggy bones crack
Like my nights of callous intimacy
Where I’d taste old ash from cigarettes
On beds in rooms I’d soon forget
I knew, some stranger’s lazy words
Would fracture me
Starting to wonder
If you can be in love
With more than just people
I think I’m in love with a movement
A sound like a rosy voice in the ground
Sleepy feet putter on soft pavement
Our hearts race and slow in rounds
While my bones break and heal at once
Like spring, we bloom
Starting to wonder
If we’re really more hurt
Than we say we are
Less flat than we think we are
More full than we appear
Than we’ll admit
by Caroline Willian
Grayson Gunner ’17
Jacksón Smith ’18
John Hyatt ’16
Chapter 1 of a Novella in Progress
He stirred from sleep when a sound entered his room: the punctual beeping of a crane, greeting the foggy dawn. The crane’s mast rose upright, carrying a wooden crate into the sky. It paused a moment at its apex, swaying softly in the morning breeze. The crate then descended onto the roof of the tall pavilion, where it landed with a thud on the unvarnished surface. First task of the day.
As the first crate was unhooked and a second readied to launch, the foreman set his arms akimbo and tilted his head back, bellowing into the still morning air: “Remember now boys, every second counts.” Such was his mantra. Tasks and days made sense in such a frame of mind; grueling tedium grew into a greater purpose: Don Smith Gymnasium, a big slab of concrete and steel.
Two months stood between the foreman’s reverberating roar and May’s graduation ceremonies. There was work to be done. The idea of an unfinished gymnasium displeased the foreman. Generally, he detested that possibility of the possible going unrealized. He dreamt of a happy occasion: Don Smith Gymnasium opening its doors in the midst of their festivities.
The foreman had climbed the rungs, from a teenager working odd jobs to a full-time overseer. It would be the crowning moment of a long career. He saw himself tall in his Sunday best, rubbing shoulders with men of commerce atop the broad concrete stairway. Their collective industry would foreground the slab’s marvelous façade. The school’s president would recite sentiments. Heartfelt gratitude for Mr. Smith. Proud commendations for the institution’s progress. A wistful anecdote touching on the slab’s small predecessor. United, a series of words and modulations performed with intent: show the slab’s worthiness, explain its right to exist. A fine gym for a fine institution, not to go unnoticed by U.S. News and World Report.
Perhaps the eponymous benefactor would be seen, the man whose munificence was larger than the playplace put together in his name. “A fine name for a more than fine man,” the foreman thought, and said aloud at the dinner table now and then. “A fine man, I’ll tell you. A successful man too. And my God a generous man. Fifty million dollars for this beauty.”
The foreman’s dream lay latent, its substance miry. Sometimes the dream grew clearer, without ever materializing. His temperament would not allow otherwise. He possessed a knack for rationalizing expectations. Nature had calibrated a responsive inner compass, with neural networks stitched together by the fibers of reason. The foreman had ascended life’s arc with graceful ease.
“Well yes you could say I was involved. I oversaw the project from day one.”
“It really looks marvelous, the kids are going to love it.”
“Oh yes, they’ll love it alright. This beast has everything they could need. Not to mention we only finished up the roofing two days ago. I’ll tell you, pulling it all together in time was no easy feat.”
“No easy feat indeed!”
“How did you do it?”
“Well, its good you ask. I’ve considered the question myself. You see, two months ago the finish line appeared far away. There were no expectations for any grand unveiling ceremony. As late as a few weeks ago it seemed we wouldn’t get it done.”
“Yes, what a tragedy it might’ve been! But, I’ll tell you, as you can see” – gestures solemnly toward the slab – “constructing this guy was no easy feat. And don’t forget, we only had two months to see it through.”
“No easy feet, indeed! Tell us please, how did you do it?”
“Well look. The talent of a man like myself isn’t in strength or stamina, as with the workers.”
“That’s right. You see, I’m the one who organizes. I’m the one who gets them in place. I’m the one who sets the agenda. Task by task, day by day. But more than that I help them understand their effort in its entirety. You see what needs teaching is intent. That every day, every hour, every minute: each matters. More than they know. More than you or I may ever know. If intent were not felt to the fullest extent on my site, things would have fallen into place a little too late. But once the workers fully felt it, boy I’ll tell you, only one outcome awaited – the right outcome: Don Smith Gymnasium opening its doors in the knick of time for ladies and gentlemen like yourselves.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said the crane operator. Taskless workers approached the foreman first. “The balusters, handrail pieces, and posts have been taken up. The men have started installing them.” A pang of dread arose in the presence of ambition. The boy detected his boss’s mood before his boss spoke. His mood was apparent from either the presence or absence of a glint in his steely gaze.
“Get up there and help set the railing. We don’t want these kids falling to their deaths, do we? Wait a minute let me think,” he said shifting his steely gaze to the slab. “Yes alright, go and help them. We’ll get it out of the way. Wait, no, here’s what you’ll do. Get up there and tell half of them to start on the railing. But you – go and grab two of them and get em back down here. They’ll help you haul over the crates with the rows of seating for the second-floor courts. About a dozen this time and they’re damn heavy. Half on the railings, the other half installing the rows of seats. Let’s get it all before lunch, get and tell them the plan.”
The boy darted up the broad concrete stairway and up two more flights of stairs inside. He told a condensed version of the plan, then grabbed two and brought them back down. The boy reentered the crane’s operating box and delivered the first crate, then a second, then a third. Every flicker of movement passed under the foreman’s watch. He surveyed his machine with pride.
It was around half past seven when the student stirred again. The belch of a leaf-blower prodded his slumber. A worker from Campus Services was cleaning the sidewalk because the sidewalk needed cleaning. The worker was walking north, uphill to main campus. In the moment the student stirred the worker glanced up from his leaves and encountered rows of beige slabs with terracotta roofing. Further on, verdant foothills and white mountaintops shrouded in mist, reaching up to the fence of clouds and pale blue expanse.
It was only a stir but the student sensed daytime’s obligation. When 8:00 arrived and his iPhone screeched he was grasping the day already, moving for his iPhone and silencing the alarm before getting online and deleting spam emails and checking the weather with an outfit in mind, then communication channels where a text from parents, hazy Snapchats, a red disk of Facebook joy: The Night of Nights, something about the best party of the year, details at breakfast, now to Instagram and CNN, all the while his iPhone propped overhead and arms starting to grow sore. The student sprang from bed and paused a half-second before knowing to shower. He rummaged through his drawers and assembled a reasonable ensemble: flip-flops, shorts, a polo. He lay his clothing atop his unmade bed, stripped down, wrapped the bath-towel around his waist, and glanced at his closet’s sliding mirror door. Tom’s dark eyes narrowed at the sight of his morning self.
After showering and dressing he grabbed his stuff and left. It was 8:15 and his first class was at 9:00. The school’s dining hall awaited his service a hundred feet north. He glided past rows of dormitories, content and alert with his destination in mind. While arriving he caught sight of shadows behind the opaque glass. He pulled open the door and pivoted aside, allowing two younger ones to exit. Two thank yous were exchanged for a smile. He entered the building and slipped his student ID from his wallet, greeting the one who worked the register on mornings.
In motion past the register he extracted a pump of hand sanitizer. Grabbing a tray and looking around there were three people in line at the omelet bar; he filled a mug of piping hot coffee and a tall glass of water before claiming his favorite table, which abutted the tall window walls opening onto the community’s main artery. He set down his drinks and bag to walk unencumbered for an omelet, eyes on the move. “Not too crowded for a Friday, not yet” he thought surveying. He rarely ate breakfast alone because the dining hall was often crowded in the morning. He shared tables with full-friends and half-friends to happily lament full-days of half-misery.
About the time Tom sat down to eat, Broderick finished preparing his feast: yogurt-mixed-with-granola, toast with peanut butter, slabs of scrambled eggs, and a tangled mound of bacon. His hands full with the heaping plate and glass of milk, Broderick was caught off guard by the dining hall’s congested appearance. He spotted Tom by the window and decided that one will do.
“Hey Tom, mind if I join you?”
“Not at all.”
“How’s your day looking?” Broderick crashed his fork down sideways on the slab of eggs for a post-bite question.
“Fine,” responded Tom, eyeing the hulking specimen. “A full day of classes but nothing’s wrong with Friday. Yourself?” Tom was not thrilled by Broderick’s suddenness.
Broderick swallowed hastily before responding. “Just Astronomy at 1:15, then nada. Definitely hitting the gym after that, you feel? Ha! Then we’ll see.”
Tom chuckled inwardly. “Cool man. Hey did you see the size of that party tonight? Haven’t seen anything that big since the old days.”
Broderick gulped down some milk. “Yeah man, I got that invite on Facebook last night! Looks like a proper banger, ey? Ha? Haha!”
Tom could not suppress laughter this time. “Oh yes, for sure man, for sure. I have no doubt that good times will be had.”
When food consumption recommenced, Tom remembered to open Facebook for party details. With happy delight he discovered four pleasant facts: (1) Over two hundred people had rsvp’d (2) The Facebook event was only eight hours old (3) over two hundred people had yet to respond (4) There would be two kegs and three water-coolers each with its own flavor of punch. Things were in order. The matrix of happy numbers gave rise to a grin. He glanced up to find Broderick intent on his food and then remembered an Instagram photo posted by the party’s hosts a few weeks prior: “new addition to the fam,” a big new stereo. Tom’s grin grew wider.
Upon finishing his meal Tome bid adieu to Broderick and grabbed two bananas. He exited through the backdoor and followed a road to Clayton Institute, slinking into the classroom at 9:01, just in the knick of time. He pocketed his iPhone and took a seat, ready for lecture.
Lauren Livingston ’18
The Sky’s a Canvas, and the Ink Your Face
I fell in love with a painting:
porcelain skin, sharp angles, battered face.
I created a constellation in your name,
but stars are a constant reminder of the past;
and not all the debris in the world could make a forgotten wish come true.
I wanted to be a painter,
but I couldn’t capture the last rays of embers
before they blinked out of existence.
Sometimes I count stars,
on a cloudy night,
and I glimpse the freckles on your shoulders, and the birthmark on your knee.
I watch Disney movies because I like to imagine you as the little boy on the moon
reeling in the gentle joys of life,
a reminder that life is too short.
You’re a dying star on its last breath,
blindingly bright as it waits to implode.
I tried to wait for the star to collapse,
but it was only the illusion of light that I sought.
And with the delay between the light and my eyes –
I didn’t think was worth the wait
Don’t Temper the Artist
There’s an art to making art
An illusion, if you will.
A repetitive, menial task –
and smoothing ridges of broken ashtray.
Fingers glide like ghosts over the edges,
shaping them in compliance with her will.
The clay fills the creases between her palms.
A homage to lost hours, and reverent touches.
The reward in her art –
to bring forth what others cannot see.
Years later she marches:
her patience wearing thin,
her emotions fraying –
translucent walls, collapsing inwards.
Her base is all that remains.
“Hands up, don’t shoot,”
Her palms are caked in red, and
her clay long forgotten.
Her hands steady.
Didn’t you know?
You never touch the clay
when the wheel isn’t spinning.
Nick LaBerge ’19
I am a young artist who uses clay to create functional and aesthetic artwork for my friends, my family, my customers, and myself. I strive to create dynamic aspects in my pieces because I find the sensation of natural flow both relaxing and beautiful. I use ceramic art as an outlet for self-expression, so my artwork is most influenced by whichever mood I am in as I create each piece. As I create my art, my principle hope is that each piece will be regularly used and appreciated. – Nick LaBerge