I, Too: A Reflection of Stage Time and Wine 86
Stomach churning, I put my name on the performers’ list of Stage Time & Wine (STW) LXXXVI. Although it would be my second time to read at STW, I had reasons to dread. Located near the top of the list, I thought my trial would soon come and be over. As time went by, however, I realized that the host had shuffled the performances to give the show a better flow. That unexpected unpredictability only worsened my stage fright.
Finally my name was called, and I dragged myself up front. My nervousness was transparent. I prefaced my reading with Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” as my backhanded apology. In this poem, the African American poet pays tribute to an earlier literary giant, Walt Whitman, and his poem “I Hear America Singing.” This “darker brother” stresses that in addition to the people of different genders and occupations whom Whitman praises for forming the multi-faceted American identity, African Americans, “too, sing America.” He laughs at the discrimination he suffers from and asserts that one day, people will see how “beautiful” he is. Just as the two poets reflected and celebrated the American-ness from their view points, so I wanted to maintain that “I, too, am America.” Despite being neither black nor white, or even American, having neither the English language as my mother tongue nor the Anglo-American literature as my inheritance, I’ve written a thesis which surfaces the little-noticed positive sides in one of the gloomier poets, Philip Larkin, and I wish to ascend from academic writing to poetry or prose, writings that may one day be included in the literary canon.
It was with this ambition I attended STW that evening—to test the waters as a writer for the first time. Like Hughes, I resorted to an earlier American writer, Raymond Carver, for inspiration and based my narration on his short story “Popular Mechanics,” a story about a couple fighting over their child. Beginning by borrowing elements from a famous writer and retelling his story from a different character’s perspective, I hope that one day I, too, an outsider of this language and this culture, will have unique tales to offer.
Ever so nervously, I started my reading. My whole body was tense, my legs trembling. So was my voice, I believe. A couple of times I paused, to catch my breath and for dramatic effect. During those moments, I found myself embraced by an attentive silence. I peeked over the edge of my script. No one was checking their phone or checking out the bar. Instead, I was greeted by faces with eager anticipation. Feeling encouraged, in a steadier voice I read on. After I finished reading, the audience’ warm applause thawed my stiff muscles, enabling me to bow and resume my seat.
Earlier that evening, I joked with friends that with Red Room’s renowned supportive crowd, “I wouldn’t know how badly I suck.” I was wrong. The audience’s feedback was genuine. They shared with me how they were moved (“I knew the cameraman was taking my pictures and I looked stupid, but I was jaw-dropped and couldn’t control my face”), and which parts of my story resonated with them (“I’m a mother, so I know what the woman in the story chooses to do at the end”). That night, I left STW, eyes brimming with tears, heart full of joy. Like many others, I, too, look forward to returning to STW, where several successful artists have been cradled. Uplifted by the warm air current at Red Room, a fledgling writer is gathering up momentum, ready to fly.
By Li-Chieh Lily Yen