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.
A continuing series by former ER writer Shannon Goss on life as a modern Asian American hapa woman.
I have and always will kiss my parents on the lips. I also, of course, kiss my boyfriend on the mouth. Beyond that, I dole out hugs like candy on Halloween. Friends, family, even people I’ve just met will get a hug … whether they like it or not.
On occasion I have had platonic male friends greet me with a kiss on the mouth. They were usually the husbands of female friends and, in every case, 10 plus years older than me.
Generally, they would land a kiss the first time, due to catching me off guard, but then I would play defense, ensuring that all future kisses land on my cheek.
Once, I worked for a man who had a penchant for kissing women on the mouth. Despite my attempts to dodge and weave, he would still get me. At one point he kissed the back of my head because I turned so far away.
When I asked friends how they feel about the platonic lip lock, I realized that, like me, they’re not interested. One person went as far as to call such smooches “weird” and “gross.” I also learned that more than a few people have a “creepy uncle” who engages in such behavior.
As for me, three years had passed with no ambush kisses to speak of. But that was before I signed up for yoga classes. My motivation was simple: infuse structure into my fairly
unstructured days. The added benefit would be toned arms, not the worst thing in the world, and an hour and a half where I wouldn’t obsessively check my email. A win-win.
Before my first class I signed a waiver that, like with most waivers, I skimmed. Unwise? Perhaps. Efficient? Yes. I noticed a clause stating something to the effect of: in yoga practice
the teacher may touch you to help with the poses.
So I wasn’t surprised when, while in the corpse pose (despite it’s morbid name, it is my favorite pose), I felt the instructor straddle me as he massaged my waist. It felt non-sexual (and good), so I was okay with it.
But I was taken aback when, while stretching my back with the assistance of the instructor, I received what felt like a kiss on my neck. That’s normal, right?
Now granted, my eyes were closed and my muscles were stretched to the max (read: not of sound mind), so I wasn’t 100% sure it was a kiss, although I’m not sure what else it could have been.
A few days later I was recounting this story to a friend along with my doubt as to what really happened. He asked me the name of my instructor. After I told him he said with no hesitation, “I know him. I’ll save you the trouble. He definitely kissed you.”
Suffice it to say, I switched classes.
A continuing series by former ER writer Shannon Goss on life as a modern Asian American hapa woman.
September 6th marked the two-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing at the age of 85. When thinking about how much she meant to me, I can still be brought to tears. I realize the significance of my crying is lessened by the fact that it doesn’t take much to bring tears to my eyes (read: the trailer for The Blind Side), but still, you get the point. My grandma left an indelible mark on everyone in my family, as she was an extraordinary woman in every sense of the word.
In August, my sister gave birth to her first child. A girl. For their daughter’s middle name, my sister and her husband decided on my grandmother’s Japanese name. No one was more pleased to hear this than my grandpa. I had the privilege of calling him with the news. Hearing aid in, he was able to understand me perfectly. For a man who has spent the better part of two years grieving the loss of his wife, I have never heard so much joy in his voice. I could practically hear him smile.
And while my niece will never get to meet the woman she is named after, she will get to know her through the stories that we will, undoubtedly, pass on.
My niece will know that her great-grandmother was the woman who taught her mom and auntie how to ride a bike. She will know that she was the woman who, when laughing really hard, would slap the person next to her. This is something my mom, sister and I all do and, with any luck, so will my niece. She will also know that her great-grandma was a woman so fit that, even in her 80’s, she could pull off wearing short-shorts. And my niece will also know that her great-grandma was the woman who, in the phone call she had with my parents the week before she died unexpectedly, told them to “be kind and take it easy.”
So as we welcome this wee baby into our family, there’s something wonderful about knowing that through her a part of my grandma lives on. I say “part,” but to hear my grandpa say it, it’s much more than that. As I was getting off the phone with him the other day, he told me to tell my sister and brother-in-law to take care of their little girl. He then added, “They’re taking care of grandma, you know.” So, in other words, no pressure.
– Shannon Goss
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
We were excited for former Audrey contributor Shannon Goss when she landed a (dream) gig writing for ER, but sad to see her leave for greener (and well-paid) pastures. Now that ER has ended, she’s back to sharing her writing skills with us, this time with a regular column looking into her life as a writer, a hapa Asian American, and all-around modern woman.
I was asked to kick off my bi-weekly columns with an introductory piece. For anyone who has visited my website knows, I’m not big on the “About Me” page.
So what follows is an essay, which is my veiled attempt to get you – the reader – to like me, read me and clamor for more.
One of my high school classmates was convinced that I, with my non-white skin, was not an American. He was equally convinced that my fair-skinned best friend was. He was wrong.
My nationality? American.
My best friend? A green card-holding Canadian.
My ethnicity, which he confused with my nationality, is half Japanese; the other half equal parts Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh. In Hawaii, where I was born, I am known as a hapa, that is, a “half.”
Despite growing up in small town Oregon (read: not a Japanese restaurant in sight), I identify more with my Japanese side than my British Isles side, thus writing for Audrey magazine and not, say, Irish Lass Monthly.
My annoyance over the misuse of “ethnicity” and “nationality” probably has to do with the fact that I was raised by parents who were teachers. In our house, words and how you used them mattered. This supports the life assumption that we can blame pretty much anything on our parents.
Fear of abandonment? Thanks, Mom and Dad. Although in my case a little unwarranted considering I’m basing this entirely on the time I thought my parents boarded a cable car without me. Spoiler alert: They didn’t, something I realized after successfully chasing down the trolley with no money to pay my fare, what
with me being 8-years-old and all.
Inability to wake up early? Totally my parents’ fault, despite my mom’s best efforts to wake me from my teenage slumber by threatening to spray me with a water bottle and/or sing Chinese opera (she is neither Chinese nor an opera singer).
Comical confusion between rights and lefts? I want to blame this on my parents because I don’t know how else to explain my consistent ability to say, “turn left” when I mean, “turn right.” My boyfriend has accepted this as one of my adorable (my word) foibles despite the fact that when I make this error he’s generally at
the wheel of a moving automobile.
In my parents’ defense, however, I also take responsibility for my hang-up about words because I am a writer. Most of the time word choice is a matter of taste. Was she agitated or incensed? Overjoyed or jubilant? This changed while on the writing staff of the show ER where one wrong word could be the difference between life and death (in a fake TV show way).
So yes, words and how they are used matter to me. But hopefully not in a pretentious, you want to punch me in the face way. More of a I’m-laughing-with-you-because-you-misused-the-word-“literally” way.
– Shannon Goss