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
A continuing series by former ER writer and Audrey contributor Shannon Goss on life as a modern hapa Asian American woman.
Last year I attended a party that was held at a private residence in Beverly Hills. The guest list was dominated by agents, that is people whose very job it is to schmooze. One could argue that as a writer, my job is also to schmooze. Unless I want my audience to consist exclusively of my parents, then yes, networking, schmoozing, whatever you want to call it, would help.
And while I can carry a conversation, engage in witty repartee and generally avoid being a social moron, I do so only when absolutely necessary. My first instinct is to stand in the corner and eat every passing hors d’oeuvre. The food usually serves as my main talking point, “Did you try that prosciutto and goat cheese pizza?” It’s okay, I’ll say it. Sad.
Looking back, I realize that as an affable creature I peaked at age twelve. In animal terms, it went like this: As a third grader I was in the chrysalis stage, tucked away in my cocoon. I was so shy that while on a trip to Disneyland, my parents, in an attempt to raise a confident girl, wanted me to ask Mickey Mouse if I could get a picture taken with him. I was too shy, resulting in the photo seen here.
Yes, that’s my sister and me getting our photo taken with Mickey’s back.
But then as a middle school student I blossomed into a social butterfly. Every day after basketball practice while my mom was patiently waiting in the parking lot, I was busy striking up conversation in the locker room. I may not have been the best basketball player, but I was a champion chatterbox.
It does seem that the next stage for this butterfly is to slowly, but surely, turn into a hermit. That is a recluse. Oddly the second definition of hermit is: a spiced molasses cookie. That actually sounds better.
But before turning into a delicious cookie hermit I decided to give it one last go. Social or bust by way of joining Facebook. I harbored an unjustified resistance to Facebook or any other social or professional networking site. I illogically covet my privacy. Illogical given my extremely low profile. The only explanation for this behavior is, “Because I’m weird.” So I signed up only to realize a very plausible result would be that Facebook will become my great enabler. You mean I can keep in touch with people without leaving my house?
Back at the party, I was about to dig into some steak on polenta when an agent friend did what any good agent (and friend) would do. She dragged me into the middle of the party, forcing me to be social. Hermits are nimble creatures, though, and a short while later I was able to slip off to the side. After all, I caught sight of the dessert trays. Was that pana cotta in a Chinese soup spoon? Couldn’t miss out on a second talking point.
– 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
A continuing series by former ER writer Shannon Goss.
If I could travel back in time and have a tête-à-tête with my kid-self, I would say, “While in college, go on a study abroad. You’ll think your world revolves around what happens stateside, but it doesn’t. And while you’re at it, learn a foreign language. Oh, and take more creative writing classes.”
I would also add: “There are guys who won’t treat you right and will break your heart. Wait it out. Good things happen during the writers’ strike of ’07.”
At that point, my kid-self would ask, “What do you have to do with a writers’ strike?” And that’s where I, self-proclaimed nerdy square-pants, get to look cool in front of my younger self.
As a kid, I had Tiger Beat posters on my wall. I wrote fan letters and, like Joanie, I loved Chachi. According to my diary, I also loved John Stamos.
So, when I joined the ER writing staff, I got to meet the guy I first knew as Blackie on another hospital show. After dropping the “John Stamos is my co-worker” bombshell, I imagine my kid-self would gloss over the fact that I landed a coveted job I had long pursued and go straight to, “Why aren’t you two married?” My kid-self apparently has an inflated sense of how much mojo I have as a grown-up.
I would explain that I have a boyfriend who I love very much. Boyfriend? As recently as college I imagined my 30s to include a husband and children, to which I say “boyfriend and dog” are the new “husband and children.”
So while my kid-self bombards me with questions about why I’m not yet married, I would distract her with tidbits such as: The man who created your favorite show, Laverne & Shirley, guest starred on this ER show (which made Jo Polniaczek’s boyfriend on The Facts of Life a huge star). And during a table read you will get to read opposite him. That’s right, kid-self; you will run lines with Garry Marshall.
And speaking of The Facts of Life, your second episode of ER featured Charlotte Rae, TV’s Mrs. Garrett. You will have and use Mrs. Garrett’s phone number.
I’m not sure how my starry-eyed younger self would handle this onslaught of awesomeness. To know that as an adult I would live blocks away from the man who played Jameson Parker’s brother on the TV show Simon & Simon?
“You mean, the guy who played AJ Simon’s brother? The AJ Simon I named my gerbil after?”
“Yes, that guy.”
Side note: I just realized Jameson Parker is two years younger than my parents. It’s a little weird to think that had things worked out as I had once hoped, I’d be married to a full-fledged member of the AARP.
Life is funny. I may not be able to hold a conversation in any other language or say I have ever lived abroad, but I can say that I’ve met Judd Nelson. And that’s saying something.
– 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