A continuing series by former ER writer and Audrey contributor Shannon Goss on life as a modern hapa Asian American woman.
Much of my childhood was spent in small-town Oregon. My high school graduating
class had roughly 130 graduates, and my best and perhaps most generous guess is
that less than 10 percent were ethnic minorities. And while I don’t want to make a sweeping
assumption that small town = small mind, after spending time in good ol’ Junction City
a few weeks ago, I felt compelled to share this (surprising) story. Keep in mind it’s now
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As many people know, I cry. Easily. It’s not something I am proud of as it often makes me feel like a big, walking, wet-faced lady-cliché. But I can’t help it.
I was proud, however, to have gotten through our entire wedding planning without one bride-gene fueled trip down crazy lane. There were no hysterics, no bridezilla rearing her ugly tiara-adorned head. Nothing of the sort.
Well, almost nothing.
She’s baaack! Former ER writer Shannon Goss ponders life as a modern Asian American hapa woman.
When I was in college, two of my girl friends were physically unable to walk past a jewelry store without stopping to gape at the engagement ring display. I was never that girl.
It wasn’t that I was above coveting material things, after all, I was probably (im)patiently waiting for them to finish gawking so we could move on to Charlotte Russe. Apparently, the things I longed for could be purchased with one $20 bill. I wasn’t superior. I was cheap.
Former ER writer Shannon Goss muses about life as a hapa Asian American woman.
I recently said that I need to sign up for a half-marathon so I have something to train for. The assumption being, if I have a specific goal I will get in shape (and apparently an upcoming wedding is not enough of a motivator). However, after a quick trip to London, I realized that what I should be training for is life.
The other day I was on my computer minding my own business when Jerome walked by and asked if I was OK. I said yes, but then asked why. “You look sad.” Hmm. I have been known to make failed attempts to conceal my feelings, but in that instance I was being honest. I was quite happy.
Later, I asked Jerome if he noticed anything different about me. “You’re not wearing your glasses.” Yup. I was in day three of my contact lens training.
Year ago I wore contacts, but you get your first corneal ulcer and suddenly putting a piece of plastic over your eyeball sounds less appealing. From then on I was a glasses girl. A four-eyes and proud of it.
But now with an upcoming wedding, it got me thinking about contacts again. After all, it might be nice to have wedding photos where my face isn’t covered by a pair of black-rimmed glasses. And if I’ve learned anything from seeing pictures of my dad in his glasses circa 1978, it’s that styles change. And while the same could be said for my dress, the glasses I think look great now might (that is, will) look ridiculous in years to come. I recently came across my first pair of glasses, purchased when I was in college and can I just say? Wow. Both big and round. Of course, at the time I believed them to be awesome.
Thus, the contact lens training. Never mind that it took me almost five minutes to put them in, it’s more about getting my eyes used to the lenses. And, as it turns out, also about getting Jerome used to seeing my face without glasses because this is what happened: Once he realized I wasn’t wearing my glasses, it clicked. He thought I was upset earlier because I didn’t have my glasses on and the only time I don’t wear them is when … I’m crying. And let’s be honest, nine times out of 10, those are not tears of joy.
So the training is as much for Jerome as it is for me because if not, he will spend our entire wedding thinking I’m quite sad.And while tears will be shed, they will be of the happy variety and from the eyes of an overjoyed girl who just wanted to look a little less nerdy on her wedding day.
Former ER writer Shannon Goss ponders life as a modern Asian American hapa woman.
If I had to guess I would say I am one of the few people who still make (and valiantly attempt to keep) new year’s resolutions. With the new year comes the opportunity to be a little bit better. Some years I succeed with my resolutions, other years I fail. Generally, it’s on year five of making an annual resolution when it finally sticks. It was that stubbornness that got me to finally develop a nightly floss habit. And still, I’m not always great at it. I admitted this to the dental hygienist at my last cleaning, however, I must be holding my own because she was pleasantly surprised to find very little plaque around my teeth. And believe me, she was looking. I guess that’s a good life lesson for the kids: Set people’s expectations low and then you’ll always exceed them. You can say it: I’m going to be a great parent.
So as the reality of a new year sets in, I once again look to improve myself one resolution at a time. So for 2011, my resolutions are:
1. Do 25 push-ups twice per day. I’m happy to say I have been doing this. In light of the fact that my 91-year-old grandfather does 100 push-ups a day, this may not sound like much, but trust me, it is. I started by doing five. I had to stop three times and thought my arms were going to fall off. Now I do seven regular ones and 18 on my knees to complete the set. Sad? Perhaps. An accomplishment for yours truly? Absolutely.
2. Meditate for fifteen minutes, three times a week: Today’s meditation resolution is yesterday’s flossing resolution. I look forward to 2016 when I actually accomplish this.
3. Run three times a week: I’m not there. Yet.
4. Read one book per month. An accomplished resolution from last year, but one I need to make again this year to ensure that my reading horizons expand beyond email and Facebook.
5. Volunteer once every two months: This might sound piddly, but trust me, it will be an improvement. I volunteered once last year. In December.
6. Electronics off by 10 pm every night. Considering this post will go up after midnight, I have room for improvement.
At this rate I am confident that, if nothing else, I will be doing a lot of push-ups this year. Or at least until I get married. And by “married” I mean “photographed in my wedding dress.” I keep trying to tell Jerome that I’m doing this for him, but we both know it’s really for posterity so that when I look back at our wedding photos my arms look great (that is, less bad). Good arms and a tartar-free mouth. Boom! Happy new year.
Years ago I was in New York City and my then-boyfriend said I looked like a tourist. I wasn’t sure what he meant considering I was wearing the same clothes I always wear. Did my uniform of jeans, converse low-cuts and a T-shirt scream left coast? In hindsight, he was probably referring to the smile I was wearing. And my penchant for eye contact. And the giddy look of “I’m in Manhattan!” that was spread across my face.
It’s those same qualities that, while on a trip to New York last fall, led multiple people to ask if I would like to rent a bike or go for a carriage ride through Central Park. On the last day of my trip I took a different approach. I kept my head down and walked with more purpose than wonder. No surprise, the questions stopped.
But what fun is that? It’s not every day I get to engage with the funny, irritable or weird. In New York, I engaged with more people during one block on foot than I do in a whole day in Los Angeles (and returned with the cold to prove it). I also engaged in so much food that on my last night I had to buy the “emergency Perrier” to settled an over-stuffed, but incredibly satisfied, belly.
If I were in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t be on a street corner wondering which way to Broadway only to see Kristin Chenoweth, the star of Promises, Promises, the show we were going to see, standing on the same corner. Suffice it to say, we followed her directly to the theater. (The show is, in a word, delightful.)
Of course, this is because I was on vacation. It was all fun all the time, which is exactly how it wouldn’t be if I lived there.
If I lived in Manhattan I wouldn’t be going to high tea at the Plaza (where I felt super-posh in my nice jeans, new cons and fancy T-shirt), taking in Broadway shows (specifically musicals, because why settle for talking when you can have talking and singing?), or returning regularly to Mario Batali’s Otto (a frequent daydream is getting trapped in this restaurant). Sure, I might when I first arrive, but then the city would lose its luster and become just the place I live. In the same way that I live in Los Angeles and yet rarely go to the beach.
Which is all to say that being a tourist in the Big Apple is, for me, the way to go. I get to take in all the city has to offer, and when it’s time to leave I bid adieu to my teeny hotel room and say hello to my large-by-comparison 800-square-foot house in a city where I’m never mistaken for a tourist. But that’s probably because I’m always in my car.
In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, Ben Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.”
I would add one more certainty: writing is hard.
I am reminded of this truism on a regular basis, usually when I’m staring at my blank computer screen and muttering something as eloquent as, “Writing is hard.” To help ease the self-induced pain of writing, I try to find the best possible place to write. This varies between my house, the public library and a nearby coffee shop, depending on my mood and what I hope to accomplish. When I’m productive at home it is pure joy. There’s a kitchen full of food and drink, a dog who shows her affection regardless of the quality of my work, and when I have to go to the bathroom, I don’t have to ask anyone to watch my belongings.
I would like to think I’m a trusting person, however, when it comes to my laptop, I do nothing but worry that someone is going to swipe it. This fear has been exacerbated by the new signs posted at the Burbank library warning patrons to not leave their belongings unattended. My concern is less about my computer and more about the embarrassment I would feel if someone actually stole it. I realize my priorities might be out of whack, what with my embarrassment being free whereas a new laptop is not.
“So what you’re saying is you left your laptop on the table and walked away?”
This would be similar to the stupidity I felt when, as a 17-year-old, I left my purse in the car. It was in plain view, so no surprise when I returned only to find that it had been stolen. Joke’s on them, I had $6 cash. This was of little consolation to my parents considering it was their car that had a smashed passenger window.
So last week, in order to avoid having to ask people to watch my belongings while at the library, I simply drank fewer fluids so as to avoid going to the bathroom. It goes without saying this was a terrible idea because this week I ended up with a urinary tract infection.
Besides the requisite doctor’s appointment, I have one other beef with working in the library. Despite my general love and affection for the public library system, there is nothing more frustrating while in the midst of writer’s block than being surrounded by the work of published authors. It’s as if I’m being mocked. These people did it. What’s your problem, Goss?
Naturally, I won’t be back to the library anytime soon. At least not until I have a head full of ideas and have finished my antibiotics. So the lesson of the day is this: Death and taxes are unavoidable. Urinary tract infections should be. And writing is hard. Anyone who says differently is lying.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. An L.A. girl I am not. Oregon? Yes. Hawaii? On occasion. (My grandpa beams with pride when I’m assumed to be a local.) Los Angeles? Not so much. But like a chameleon I am able to blend into my environment, look as though I belong. However, when I roll up to any location, one thing is clear: I’m not Girl Hollywood.
You see, my car is a 1992.
That used to belong to my parents.
I’m fairly confident I am the only person in Los Angeles under 40 with no children who drives a minivan, much less an 18-year-old one. A friend once suggested I put in a car seat just so it “makes sense” to a passerby. When I pull up to any valet stand, it’s obvious I’m not part of the rich elite. No one is that practical. And not surprising, the thing about owning an old car is this: over time things stop working properly, a lesson I learned the hard way one sweltering summer day.
On my way to the Hotel Bel-Air for high tea, I stepped into my car looking the part: cork wedge sandals, cute dress and even cuter purse. By the time I got to the end of my block I realized my a/c wasn’t “on the fritz” as I had previously led myself to believe. Damn thing wasn’t working. At all. Once on the freeway, I could feel beads of sweat dripping down my torso. Instinctively, I used the front of my dress to sop it up. Then I remembered my dress was light grey. And yes, when wet, light grey turns to dark grey. I glanced down at the growing sweat mark on my stomach. Taking a quick mental assessment of all the other places I felt sweat dripping I knew this had the potential to be very bad. Acting quickly, I found a towel and laid it down on my seat so I could hike up my dress as close to my waist as possible without letting passing cars know the color of my underwear. I may be a sweaty pig, but I’m still a lady.
While driving at a snail’s pace on the freeway I shoved wads of Kleenex anywhere I could reach; against my stomach, between my knees and up around my bra. Once on Stone Canyon Road, I pulled out each piece of Kleenex, which now had the consistency of tissue paper. By the time I reached the valet stand, I was tissue-free save for the errant piece I found four hours later. I hopped out of my car, apologized that the a/c wasn’t working and, head held high, hoped for the best. And by “the best,” I mean I prayed my ass didn’t have giant sweat marks.
When I spend time with my friends’ children who are just learning to talk, word-by-word, short sentence by short sentence, two things become abundantly clear. The first is that Art Linkletter was right; kids do say the darndest things. After all, there’s nothing cuter than a three-year-old saying – out of nowhere – “Party over here, party over there!” I would have fallen out of my chair if my friend’s daughter followed that up with, “Wave your hands in the air, shake your derrière!” The second thing is that I’m constantly baffled by kids’ sponge-like ability to learn a language simply by being embedded in an environment where that language is spoken. Obviously, that’s how I learned English, but as someone who aspires to speak a second language, it’s astounding.
Since I was a teenager, I have done nothing but make halfhearted attempts to become bilingual. In high school, I attempted Spanish. And while I probably got an A, I wasn’t left with more than the ability to ask, “Donde esta el baño?” In college, I decided to give French a go. Again, I passed, but did I learn more than “Parlez-vous Anglais?” Nope.
Not one to be discouraged, as an adult, I tried French again. When I came out of that class without a better handle on the language, I moved on to Japanese, which I recently took for the second time. The only part of Japanese that is easier than Spanish or French is that I find the accent to be more accessible. Slightly. Although, recently I said something in Japanese to my Japanese grandfather who responded with, “Are you speaking Spanish?” Maybe I should’ve stuck with Spanish after all.
But I’ve come to realize that my problem is simple. Stage fright. On paper, I’m quite good. Well, better. But without my worksheets and note cards as my security blanket, I’m a mute. My Japanese teacher asked if I have gone to Little Tokyo to practice what I’ve learned. I have, but thus far I’m too nervous to try anything out. I realize that ultimately I have to face my fear and go to Japan. Not that the country is scary, but having to fumble through my remedial Japanese is downright terrifying.
So I watch in amazement as kids grow their vocabulary. I figure by now I have the Japanese language skills of a three-year-old. And that is on my best day and the Japanese toddler’s worst day. I also have the swimming ability of a small child despite taking swim lessons twice as a kid. Foreign languages and large bodies of water; I’m not comfortable with either. Let’s hope that if I’m ever stranded at sea I’m in an English-speaking body of water and not, say, in the Sea of Japan. Tread water AND speak Japanese? Better get some waterproof note cards.