A Writer’s Life: Living Wabi Sabi
  • by Audrey Archives
  • May 28, 2013

Former ER writer Shannon Goss, in her third installment of a continuing series, talks about life as a modern Asian American hapa woman.

I am not the person you want to hang something on your wall. Sure, I can hold up a frame, but if you ask me to hammer in the nail, be prepared to see your fabulous piece of art at a jaunty angle. Or, as I like to call it, wabi sabi.

Years ago, my parents introduced me to this Japanese worldview. Difficult to translate, it’s essentially the art of finding beauty in all things imperfect, which is in essence, all things. You, me, the chip in your favorite coffee mug, and everything that hangs on the walls of my humble abode are wabi sabi.

Since incorporating “wabi sabi” into my vocabulary I have found it to be a useful and convenient way to explain away the areas where I’m less skilled. Less useful is the word “mantastic,” which despite my best efforts I have yet to work into my everyday vocabulary.

New plants not evenly spaced? Wabi sabi.

Crack in my ceramic napkin holder? Wabi sabi.

Off-center lettering on a homemade card? Yup. Wabi sabi.

Brett Favre returning as a Minnesota Viking? Okay, that’s mantastic. However, his interceptions? Wabi sabi. I realize this isn’t exactly the correct usage, but it does illustrate that the Wrangler-hawking quarterback isn’t perfect. Although I think he made that abundantly clear when he threw the ball to Tracy Porter in the NFC title game last January. Note to the non-football fans: Porter was on the other team.

Regardless, I love the idea that we (Hall of Fame bound athletes included) are imperfect beings surrounded by imperfect things (in his case a less-than-perfect offensive line) that are meant to be accepted and celebrated (Viking fans would disagree on this one). As someone who has spent years attempting and subsequently failing at perfection, this is a relief.

Another aspect of wabi sabi is the acceptance of life’s impermanence. Whether it’s relationships, championships or my favorite Lily McNeal sweater, everything is transient. I should mention that my sweater’s life was cut short thanks to an absentminded laundry maid (me) who accidentally threw the sweater into both the washer and dryer.

Accepting my imperfections and life’s impermanence is not something I do gracefully and based on Favre’s return to the NFL, I would say he and I have that in common. The difference is that 300-pound men try to prevent him from doing his job whereas I only have to stare down my own psyche, which, while it may feel like a linebacker, is not. But then again, I also don’t have 64,000 screaming fans encouraging me. The enthusiasm of one loyal dog does not provide the same rush.

But I will continue to work toward this allusive acceptance of all things imperfect.

As it says in Taro Gold’s book, Living Wabi Sabi, “Appreciate this and every moment, no matter how imperfect.” But for the sake of my pals who are Viking fans, I hope those imperfect moments are less frequent than they were last year.

– Shannon Goss