Letter to my Long (Second) toe

Dear Long (Second )Toe,

I was 39 when I truly noticed you on my right foot–a petulant worm riddled with arthritis. I’d been steadfast in ignoring you my whole life. After all, you’re no showman. That’s Big Toe. He’s got rizz. (Yes, I used that slang). He’s sturdy and competent at most things. But he’s also a bit ridiculous. My seven year old’s current obsession with the old tv series Little House on the Prairie has me thinking and breathing the Olsen and Ingalls families. So Big Toe is Charles Ingalls in suspenders and no shirt.(See photo below).

My 7 year old daughter drew a Charles (Ingalls) toe when she learned of my odd association. I’m loving the boobs she added and the suspenders.

We all know what it’s like to polish Big Toe’s massive nail; it’s sublime. Seated on my bathroom floor with my acrylic polish in hand, I’m Jackson Pollack taking in his large blank canvas every time. No limits! (Big Toe also looks like Tutankhamun (in his sarcophagus) or else, a limbless Madeline (spirited childrens’ book character) or a nun. Big Toe’s diverse that way). With his stocky build, he’s the only toe that competes in toe wrestling–a real sport!

Photo of Jackson Pollock//life Magazine/ photographer Martha Holmes
Toe wrestling

Baby Toe of course is just that–primordial and eternally curled in for warmth. She may be the smallest but she’s no guiding coxswain (a reference to the Spring I took up crew at Carleton College and was no doubt the worst coxswain in collegiate history. Needless to say my shoddy navigation skills lead to an embarrassing crash that avoided bodily harm but resulted in a big gash to one side of the boat that made contact with rock).

How in heavens did I get this position on a collegiate crew team? It was to begin with, a club sport but the real answer for those uninitiated: my small liberal arts college was proudly non athletic as illustrated by our team’s ungainly recruits–each one more charmingly ill-suited for team sports than the next. I would marvel at the lot of us mumblers, slouchers and weak-limbed as we attempted coordination and vigor. Miraculously, no one mocked us. (Of course there were no spectators as we never raced another team. But at Carleton, there was a solid argument that it was the artsy/intellectual kids, not the plain jocks,who reigned. I recall an off-campus party in which the hostess turned to the other (tittering with wonderment and condescension) when an unknown wrestler somehow wandered into the fray with a beer in hand. The hostess could be heard saying out loud “[i]t’s very possible, we’ve never seen such a wide neck up close”).

Capping off the unique experience, our crew captain was a defiantly East Coast boarding school type—oft seen in stiff blue blazers at our school that was deeply entrenched in the 1990’s grunge aesthetic. I imagined, he with the erect posture and curls perfectly pommaded, was a shade embarrassed watching us try to lift the boats and flip them over in a cohesive, non-life-threatening way. Poor guy, trying to hold onto his prep school privilege!

You (my second toe on my right foot) get none of the affection that is reserved for Baby Toe. But I have to say, what did you expect? You, middle toe and fourth toe are a bland trio. You are the Supremes with three Flos and no Diana Ross or Mary Wilson. But Baby is not perfect. She may be a fan favorite, but her nail doesn’t seem so protective and is rubbish to paint. And she could be cuter. Nature/natural selection should have coated her with a light, downy fur–the kind bunnies have inside their ears. Then we’d all lavish our feet with attention 24/7 and therefore increase our longevity according to the New Yorker article I once read. (Indeed, studies have shown that the ability to stand on one foot for 10 seconds is correlated with longevity).

When I stare down at you and the rest of you digits, I can’t help but see you as uncomfortable reminders that we humans have evolutionary ties to other creatures, and something about this connection repels me. I just learned that the wings of a bird actually have bones inside that are basically fingers/hands. And fish fins have the same genetic material that allow animals to develop fingers and hands. I could hurl. Maybe I just dislike fish and birds. (Sorry DB!). I mean have you ever pet a parakeet? It’s a uniquely gross experience–the soft feathers luring you but then spiky bones underneath. (See the alarming x-ray below of a chicken wing. See those fingers under the wings? WTF!)

I guess I am a bit of a Human Supremacist. (This idea first surfaced during a recent walk through the Boston Commons with one of my oldest childhood friends. She showed me her curious and charming trick of making clucking/clicking sounds to compel a host of squirrels to surround her and get on their hind legs to beg for food. I was blown away by this ability. But along came a high energy kid who tore after one of the squirrels, which caused my friend to gently scold him for scaring them. A second later, the boy’s mother showed up–irate at my friend; in a long winded, overheated way, she accused my friend of terrifying her little boy (who frankly looked non-plussed). My friend apologized and then explained to me it annoyed her when people thought they were more important than animals. In that moment, I first realized I am a human supremacist but that is not something I say without some shame. I do, however, enjoy teasing my friend about her Disney princess-like affinity for squirrels!).

Maybe this is why I don’t understand foot fetishes. I know Anna Wintour has waxed poetic about toe cleavage. I know when I was eleven a creepy adult man saddled up to me at a bus stop and gazed wistfully/lustfully at my toes in open toed sandals, extolling my beautiful feet. (I have never again been singled out for pretty feet so it was my foot heyday). A relative of my husband’s once had his own porn site called Sweet Nectar that featured photos of feet and penises “dancing” together. I viewed his site once as a young woman and guffawed. But I assure you, I am less judgmental of fetishes now.

But I digress. Returning to the night you rose from obscurity, my family was on our annual trip to visit my in- laws in Boca Raton. My MIL known to us as “Baba” and I were in the middle of our nightly routine of staying up late to stretch and do a medley of moves learned from years of Intro yoga classes. (Despite, a slew of classes, I never advanced). We were sprawled out on the carpeted floor of her apricot-hued ranch-style house; we wore our finest stretch-wear.(My son, father in law and husband were already tucked into their respective beds–wisely shielded from the spectacle of our graceless limbs sliding on carpet instead of yoga mats).

Apparently, one of my wobbly, quickly aborted yoga squats on the carpet pushed you to the brink. Back then, I was still struggling to shed post-partum weight so I should have paused before kneeling on the carpet and then pushing into a low squat–you one of my only anchors. And you’re a pin of a thing! Sure, miraculous sculptures (see the upside-down elephant balanced on his trunk)seem to defy natural forces but they are pure artistic illusion. You can’t fight Gravity. (So sorry I forgot that).

I shivered in pain. I winced. My tush dropped to the carpet and my hands landed behind me. Hopefully, more delicately than I move a stick shift on a car or jerk around an Atari joy stick, I grasped the top of you with my thumb and pointer finger and rotated you to source the pain.

Days later, I found myself in a strip mall orthopedist’s office. The doctor emerged, x-rays in hand, and delivered the weighty news that you were riddled with arthritis with flat affect. I waited in vain for the requisite empathy and fanfare that the situated merited.For I was no senior yet! And arthritis was reserved for those like my admirable distant cousin Ruth who, surprisingly nimble and commanding in her nineties, would sometimes break down and complain of pain in her butt (always cheerfully adding “or maybe I’m the pain in the butt.) Pardon me, but I was still proof that “Asian don’t raisin.” At 39, I had so much more life to live!

Sure, there had been other harbingers of middle age/ the loss of youth; gray springy hairs slowly emerging atop my head at age 34 had mildly deflated me. (When I went to Seoul, Korea around this time to meet the foster mother who cared for me before I was sent to the United States to be adopted, she spent our lunchtime tenderly plucking out the few gray hairs so I viewed my grays with some affection).

When I turned 36, I learned I was a year too old for the 92nd Street Y’s Young member discount that provides those 18 to 35 reduced rates for talks and readings. Was 36 the end of youth? I had no idea. (Turns out, yes. The American Psychological Association defines “middle adulthood” as beginning at 35 or 36 and according to Wikipedia and sources I do not cite here, modern social scientists generally agree that midlife begins around 35 to 40). What a blow! The Y’s declaration that I was no longer young, had shaken me to the core.

My friends had a similarly bleak view of aging. One confided that she was bummed she was about to turn 36 because she thought 30-35 was the sweet spot for women–a time when we were still sexually desired but also taken seriously. She said before 30, women sadly are treated like little girls and aren’t taken seriously and then after 35, we are regarded as post-sexual but authoritative. What a drastic but not entirely off-base analysis! I do recall being an Asian attorney in my twenties and having clients say “What? You are my lawyer? You can’t be!” when they’d meet me in person in the waiting room, which really rattled me. At the same time, sometimes clients would ask me out to dinner inappropriately after their case was done. (So even after I had proven I could lawyer, they’d not take me seriously).

Now clients of course never cry out in disbelief that I’m their attorney nor ask me on sketchy thank you meals so that’s a plus. But occasionally and sheepishly, I admit I miss the less dark variety of attention that young women get. Most recently at a jazz foundation fundraiser I attended, I couldn’t help notice a young pretty Asian woman surrounded by a flock of admirers. Apparently, I wasn’t the only observer of the adulation. A certifiably elderly lady at my table expressed my thoughts quite simply when she leaned over to me and said “Sigh. To be young and beautiful.” Two crones admiring what has been lost.

Other than these sporadic wistful moments, I managed not to fall into despair about the realities of aging until you emerged whining in pain. You devilish sprite! I pledged to rid you of arthritis and bring you back to your former quiet obscurity. I temporarily disavowed high heels. I slathered lotion on you every day. I went for weekly pedicures.

But in these days of my intense scrutiny, I noticed little things about you I’d never observed before. You were a hair longer than Big Toe. You Freak! (But I realized I liked this quirky fact as it turns out 10-20 percent of people have this trait called Morton’s Toe. I hate being boring after all).

I learned that supposedly, the Vikings believed that a long second toe meant you’d have a long life. So Toe, L’Chaim!!

My husband will love the next gem: “Other cultures believed that women with long second toes were bad-tempered and would control their husbands.” Amazing! Next time, I don’t follow my favorite piece of marital advice (“Talk to your husband no worse than the way you talk to a stranger”) and my husband says I’m getting snippy, I’ll look down at you and shrug conspiratorily.

In the practice of psychic foot reading (something new to me) readers interpret a long second toe as a sign of leadership ability or royal ancestry.” Not sure about leadership but this might explain why I want to read Spare—after a lifetime of indifference towards the Royals.

It turns out, Longie, you are my favorite, most storied toe!

And my admiration for you is increasing in spades. I just learned that Big Toe and you can be used to replace my fingers if I lose them and need a transplant. (And unfortunately, I know from clients of mine who have lost fingers while working, fingers are vulnerable. My husband who recently anxiously watched me try to cut a thick skinned Pomelo with a butcher’s knife as I turned away repeatedly to engage in discussion with friends at our dining room table, understands this too). At the same dining room table, I mentioned this newly learned fact that Big Toe and you can be used to replace missing fingers, which made my friends laugh as the sacrifice of toe for finger is a choice one hopes never to have to make. (As my erudite dinner guests chimed: A Hobbesian choice! A Faustian choice? A pyrrhic victory!)

Having just experienced the enthralling Titanic pop up immersive exhibit that featured a model of one of the sparse lifeboats for passengers and highlighted how the scarcity of lifeboats resulted in the high death toll, I observe that you and Big Toe are like two lifeboats docked on my foot in case my fingers are lobbed off. So I must treat you like gold, especially since only you and Big Toe can be used to replace fingers; It hasn’t escaped my attention that I really only have four life boats (i.e, two sets of Big Toes and Long Toes) for potentially ten lost fingers. Egads, the Titanic part II!!!

The titanic’s lifeboats docked

I also learned that as we age we lose collagen on the bottom of the feet, which makes them less padded and more painful to walk on. I foolishly didn’t think we had to worry about collagen depletion outside of the face. Though I’m one of those people who shun Botox and plastic surgery, I can get obsessed with beauty trends that are less invasive like collagen infused everything. At my recent Korean New Year’s party, I walked around passing out those delicious apple flavored collagen gel drinks that allow you to suck on their spout like an infant and help your complexion at the same time. (I also gave away collagen face masks). Of late, I’ve also been known to unearth those convenient collagen sticks that appear in many Korean dramas, from the recesses of my pockets to give to friends as spontaneous, unasked for gifts. (If this happens to you reader, I am not face/wrinkle- profiling you. I’d bestow the same gift to Nefertiti herself!)

Collagen jelly drinks
Collagen stick

So Toe, be warned, soon I’ll be swiping you with collagen and you will G-L-O-W!)

How interesting to learn that arthritis in the toe may be genetic. Perhaps my Korean birth family is hobbling around Korea right now. This warms my heart. When I travel to Korea this summer, I will look out for Koreans with really thick wavy hair and flat noses who are hobblers. Who needs Heredity.com?

It occurs to me that if your arthritis is a genetic trait, maybe I don’t want to get rid of it! I’ve got an uber small mouth (with a low palette that supposedly causes me to snore) that some mysterious Korean relative passed on to me. I like this quirk most days (except when I recently went to the dentist and they stuck the water pick in my mouth as I was reclining, which filled my mouth with water fast and made me joke to my dentist that I was being waterboarded. (He laughed out loud). I imagine my birth mother had a doll mouth like me and that she too ate whole apples with trepidation. These imagined connections/similarities with our birth families are all most of us Korean adoptees have to grasp onto.

Long Toe, if I can speak frankly: aging petrifies me. How about you? Do you wake with nightmares about fallen arches, fungal growth, bunions and getting crooked with age? I’ve been reading articles about all the new age sounding benefits of aging–deeper appreciation of priorities, better self-esteem etc and I recognize these are positives. But turning 50 and realizing it’s unlikely I can wrangle up 50 more years, is alarming to me. What can I do to steel myself? The recent Korean New Year’s party my family and I threw energized me and reminded me what i can do: be creative, make big efforts to be with loved ones and try to laugh as often as possible.

Our family’s annual paper mache for our Korean Lunar New Year party. This year for year of the rabbit—scientist ballerina bunny and mushroom bunny.
My kid made her lambie a hanbok- traditiinal Korean dress with a lace scrap, a hairbow and a piece of felt.
My son’s mushroom bunny

Though normally, the old age trait of having a weaker memory is not something I embrace, occasionally, my loss of words leads to a good guffaw. Take this past New Year’s Eve. My husband and two kids and I were seated at our dining room table playing board games. When we’d worn ourselves ragged, I asked if anyone wanted to watch the Times Square New Year’s ball drop. I had a vague memory of a New Year’s Eve TV show but couldn’t place the famous host. This lead me to turn specifically to my teenage son and blurt out very loudly and enthusiastically,

“Let’s watch the Dick Show!”

(I had in mind Dick Clark’ show and then Dick Cavett so all contemporary hosts were stuck in the recesses of my brain).

My son, sometimes and understandably impervious to my gaffes/odd humor, started hooting in appreciation and then I joined him. Tears in our eyes.

Friends, Happy Lunar New Year! May we find more and more pleasures in aging!

Letter to a disgraced former head of a non-profit

Revenge (the protagonist in the Korean film Oldboy thinking of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and not getting her unadulterated joy).

Dear Sir,

It seems like scores of years have passed since you stepped down as the Executive Director of the non-profit where I’ve been a long-entrenched employee (though in actuality, it was about six years ago). Perhaps you are wondering, why write this now? To me, today makes perfect sense; we are living in the Age of Hubris (Elon Musk, Trump, Putin) and I assume hubris felled you. I’ve always been intrigued when someone with seemingly so much to preserve–social status, professional accolades, comfort and familial support– does something inane to derail everything. Take chess champion Hans Nieman who allegedly cheated in this year’s Sinquefield Cup. Rumor had it, he inserted a vibrator in his rectum and someone made it vibrate to guide his winning chess moves. (This seems as impossible as a rat directing a young man who can barely boil an egg to whip up Michelin-grade meals by sitting inside the kid’s chef’s hat and pulling his locks. See Ratatouille). It was a year that a French soccer player was caught throwing his cat around violently to widespread condemnation and a year that a hubristic but super talented musician with a difficult psychiatric disorder made an anti-semetic rant that has seemingly damaged his career.

I like to joke with colleagues that the legal services non profit organization you started decades ago is a cult. This means you were our cult leader, complete with an ill-fated departure/resignation/erasure.You certainly had charisma, energy and good intentions, at least at the start. (You were part of a small group of attorneys who started the non-profit legal organization and under your helm, our tiny office burst out of its seams–providing free legal services to countless low income New Yorkers). You had some skills.

Your life story that I’ve stitched together from my own observations, office rumors and the machinations of my listless mind, reminds me of the documentaries on streaming sites I watch ad nauseum–the ones about vivacious, starry-eyed men(entrepreneurs or cult leaders who start a venture with a seed of good intention but eventually cross a line. (Though sometimes, as described in the Vow, a docu-series on HBOMAX, many leaders, e.g. Keith Raniere, lack pure intentions). These stories fill me with awe and revulsion. (It must be added, that I know nothing about the allegations against you or your guilt/innocence and that’s not the focus of this post).

The organization you created is no cult; we have never worn matching robes in our office(though recently, management gifted us staff admittedly high- quality black oversized sweatshirts with our organization’s logo on it). We do tend to have a certain uniformity of thought–tending to sway left–and some managers/leaders (like you) have at times been arbitrary and dictatorial. Unlike a cult though, we are free to leave and many of us have–without retaliation and coercive tactics.

But I can attest, it’s an easy place to fester unattended for decades and an easy place to feel overlooked and subordinate to those on top. As a former coworker once said, our office is “the place where ambition goes to die.” Similar to a cult where members sometimes work for pittance, our staff is not well paid for a NYC lifestyle and our organizational structure makes true advancement difficult; the incremental raises for most promotions and common burnout working with low-income, sometimes difficult clients, means many staff do not stay for more than a few years. Though today, as you probably know, we have a union, (This probably irks you. You liked absolute power and denying us regular raises even though we’d heard your salary was considered to be particularly high for a non profit ED).

The day when we learned that the Attorney General’s office was investigating you for alleged financial hijinx and that you were resigning, was a momentous one. (It must be noted that in the end, you were not indicted but reached a settlement with the AG’s office). Initially, I felt pangs of glee; how could I not with a rush of coworkers gathering in the sunny, large office I shared with my longtime friend to gossip and titter? But I am not a simpleton (on a good day), so there were other emotions at play.

Of course, Anxiety. We speculated that our jobs could be on the line, the organization condemned. (Fortunately, this never happened). Next: Embarrassment. I felt, as a Korean adoptee who was raised Jewish, anxious that you were being investigated in the same year as other unrelated Jewish public figures/politicians, which could enforce awful anti-Semitic stereotypes. See Walt Disney’s vintage cartoon The Three Little Pigs that features a villainous wolf portrayed as a Jewish salesman or take for example how in the 1990’s, two non-Jewish jocks at my nyc private high school dressed as Orthodox Jews for Halloween and found it riotous to stamp on pennies on the floor. (Some more recent examples other than violent attacks at synagogues, non Jewish parents calling Jewish people Jappy and not having similarly negative words for other materialistic women or a UES parent complaining to my husband out loud about his “fucking Jewish lawyer).

Some were angry at you for bungling a good thing a la Bill Clinton (minus of course the sex scandal). How dare you squander your power and humiliate us? Other people who weren’t even your employees, were inexplicably pissed off at you. Around the time we learned of the AG’s investigation, I recall sitting in a sweeping law firm conference room with an unusually unpleasant attorney with whom I was co-counseling a case. This wounded buffoon had the habit of asking any young attorney in the vicinity where they went to law school and when they weren’t Top Tier or hadn’t clerked for a federal judge, he’d promptly ignore them. Bozo. As a proud graduate of a second Tier law school who had not clerked, I was mincemeat. But apparently, he had spoken to you at some event, and all mooney-eyed, made some donations to our organization. Oddly piqued that afternoon, he grilled me as to what I knew about the investigation. ( I knew nothing). He felt hoodwinked. What impressed me was he was oddly angry like a jilted lover. (Maybe I also envy you for having the type of raw charisma that could make an attorney so hardened by status overlook the fact that you went to my Second Tier alma mater, and revere you nonetheless).

I have some fond nostalgia for your reign. Who could forget your welcome moments of generosity, e.g. how pre- 9/11, you’d invited our small team of employees on a magically cheap 10-day trip to Israel that included airfare, meals, camel riding and an elegant hotel stay for $1,000 a head and how you once closed the office spontaneously so we could go enjoy the Jewish History Museum for the day. Or the time you stuffed us onto a dilapidated party ferry in Albany; we floated down a polluted river of mud and rollicked for hours with an Elvis impersonator. An abundance of alcohol and a dearth of dinner food left the most abstinent/withholding in our group cross eyed and sloppy. We had some affection for you. Our Captain.

Rumors always followed you. You had spent your youth dancing half-naked in cages at NYC’s storied Limelight club and pricked yourself so you bled. You were maybe Mexican. You were not raised Orthodox but converted. You put seemingly well-intentioned mezuzahs outside each of our office doors, which puzzled and annoyed many staff members who would take them down as inappropriate in a modern workplace. You subjected us to, egads, Kosher wine (before Kosher wine was any good if I can say that) at all work parties/events. You once threw us an office holiday party at a vegan Kosher vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown before veganism was a widely embraced practice (and we may have balked). Once, at a dinner with my husband’s childhood friend from Winnipeg, Canada and his wife—both Orthodox Jews—I learned you were a big deal. People in your community knew your stats.

We assumed you had ADHD. It was apparent the way you would unannounced, twirl into our offices– jittery with energy and offer non sequiturs, e.g. the time you walked up to me and said “hey now that you’re married, you don’t have to worry about having a job!” But I admit (though not in that example), sometimes I found you amusing/on point. You may have recognized my own attention issues long before I was diagnosed. Once preparing for some office party, I stood at the office sink dumping strawberries from the carton into a large bowl. You ran down the hall towards me, yelling “Did you not wash those? You’ll kill us all with pesticides!” (Admittedly, I’d spaced out and hadn’t washed them. I’ve gotten better about fruit washing since having kids. I swear.)

You had mastered the art of the well-timed, vague compliment. At one office party long ago, you saddled over to my mother whom I had oddly brought along, glanced at me at her side and said, a few choice words.”She’ll go far here. We think the world of her.” Music to my mother’s ears and okay, who am I kidding, my own too. (I’m a glutton for a compliment).

But I also sometimes disliked you immensely so I felt some joy at your departure. Schadenfreude. For when it mattered the most, you failed me. Shortly before we learned of the investigation and your departure, you called me into your office, a brilliant suite flanked by tall windows that overlooked the Hudson river. You had a white, sleek leather couch and I sat on it–stiff backed and uncomfortable. You chose not to sit behind your Head of State desk and sit directly opposite me in a small white chair. A man-of-the-people move. Though your office was indeed serene, your presence was not. Your limbs were as usual in flux–your arms waiving around and your legs shifting. Your eyes blinked rapidly even though you were not directly facing the sunlight. (I was).

“Look at that suit,” you said, pointing to a dark mens’ suit jacket hanging off the hook on the back of your office door. “It’s a good, very high-end suit. Expensive. That’s what happens when you marry a [add illustrious NY family with generational surplus].”

I had nodded, a shade amused. Apparently for you, the second time (for marriage) was the charm!

You played the clown well to be disarming. I get that. But that day, I knew your intent, despite the show, was to deny me the promotion to supervisor that I had requested. I’d years before created the employment law practice (with help from other more fleeting, ambitious attorneys) and, unasked, had organized creative, unique fundraisers for my project; so kill me, I felt entitled.

Do you recall your stated reason for denying me, something I felt I deserved? You said I did not litigate in court, something blatantly untrue. As you were not my supervisor, you knew little about the work I did. I routinely litigated my employment cases in federal court and did plentiful agency filings and mediations which lead to settlements. My regrettable reaction: bowing my head so you couldn’t see my face distracted by a familiar dirge–the hum that scolds me for not finding a good mentor in the law, for lacking self-confidence, for possibly choosing the wrong career and for not making myself visible enough at work. I barely managed to sputter that you were wrong about me. I thankfully shed no tears. But you looked at me unmoved and oddly satiated. Your erratic movements gone. I wanted to twist your wiry beard and yank it so hard, your eyes would recede. I imagined clawing your small, pale face. What restitution!

But I only left your office, an angry simp. Days later, in my supervisor’s office after officially being denied promotion, I dramatically quit my job. I barreled through the office like a deranged quarterback-no ball in hand-and hooted with joy. (If you have ever quit a job that you have alternatively loved and loathed over the years, let me tell you, it is a euphoric moment). Caveat: 24 hours later when rational thought resurfaced and I was gripped by fear of unemployment, my supervisor gave me back the job I quit because he’s a patient, even-tempered guy.

So when I learned of your departure so soon after our delightful meeting, I felt oddly responsible. Was your plight, a manifestation of my ill-will? Though I am intrigued by the idea of the voodoo doll rife with pins, I never utilized one of those. My rage has (before this post) been more introspective.

Looking back so many years later, though less angry, I still nurse a revenge fantasy. As you could probably predict, my revenge fantasy is unabashedly nerdy. I will not prance around in a cool canary yellow jumpsuit slashing everything like Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill. (I don’t want further harm to come to you after all). I’ll be seated at my desk at home, in my coziest, nubbiest ware and I’ll be drinking tea and adjusting my reading glasses so they don’t fall down my flat nose. I will keep tapping at my keyboard and listen to the erratic, sometimes dim voice that assures me I’m worthy. I’ll publish a novel I’m proud of in this next decade and complete a unique, immersive art exhibit about my journey as an adopted Korean-American Jew. I’ll use words and images to make you and other naysayers eat your words. And don’t be surprised if your initials somewhat sarcastically make it onto the dedication page of the book I will someday complete. En garde!

Will my revenge be fully satisfying as classic American revenge films like Carrie, Kill Bill, Promising Young Woman and others suggest? Probably not. I’ll be less resplendent than Uma and perhaps more like the protagonist of the brilliant, dark Korean film Oldboy. Du Su is a Seoul businessman who avenges the man who kidnapped and locked him in a private prison for 15 years for mysterious reasons. In the end, we see the protagonist in agony for revenge leaves him ravaged and wanting. After writing this post, which has felt like cathartic release and yes, slightly vengeful, I understand an important truth: you were not my greatest foe/villain. That was me. Instead of working hard to fight ADHD and shoddy self-esteem, I spent years villifying others. It’s easier. This revelation is not easy to process. I gulp. (But today I am working to change myself through therapy and ADHD drugs because it’s never too late).

I feel a strange gratitude to you. By not promoting me to supervisor years ago, you squashed my interest in becoming management, and in the end, did me a favor. I still get to help low-wage workers get money from their employers who have wronged them and enjoy hearing my clients’ stories. But I don’t have to sit through torturous management meetings. I can join spirited, union-lead sidewalk protests alongside that inflatable rat and my mostly younger cohorts (and get the free cute union-logo tote bag). I’ve had time to unearth my passion for writing and making art that I’d ignored for years of my life. Without widespread accolades or monetary compensation, I have made significant time for creativity in recent years, which has left me more confident. If it weren’t dark outside as I write this and the terrain pretty flat in Manhattan, I’d climb to a mountain top and yell: I’m a damn good writer, I have stuff to say and I’m an eager artist who has potential to improve! And yes, I recognize my strengths as a lawyer. (A shout out to my newish supervisor who has contributed much to my sense of well-being. May she be cloned in spades!). In the words of a TikTok life coach, we must learn to welcome rejection as redirection. So thank you, Sir, for the redirection.

Sometimes I even miss you (or maybe I just miss the days of yore). Our office is vastly different today; we have three floors of prime office space downtown, a well designed lobby and conference rooms named after celebrities. (Did I mention, we have unlimited office supplies no longer kept under lock and key and doled out by a grumpy Russian man in grimaces?) But part-timers no longer get offices. We scrounge around for a few hours of a conference room to avoid dreaded cubicle time. My seat is warm from someone else’s butt. I can’t decorate my office with cute postcards and photos that reflect my experiences and tastes. Gone is the quirky fun that a small office fosters. How impromptu, we’d on our own throw an all office swap-a-thon where people would dump old clothes and household wares into an empty cubicle and all day, staff could be heard oohing and ahing over items. How someone could be heard laughing maniacally (often me) without admonishment. How long ago, our wildly inappropriately dressed, gabby receptionist used to take naps on the only couch and haggle with a jewelry salesperson who would peddle wares out of a leather briefcase. How that small, intimate workspace lead to some of the best friendships of my life.

I wager that you have found a new audience. I hope so. We all deserve a renaissance. I see you differently these days. You’re no longer the Grand master with the cold, black eyes seated across from me in your office–unmoved. You are uncharacteristically quiet. You are walking slowly and contemplatively into the horizon–a small but determined figure who held our attention for so long.

Adieu.

Dong-mun-seo-dap (answer not matching the question) and u-mun-hyeon-dap (sensible answer to a dumb question)

I have routinely asked myself why I have I been blogging at night for more than 1.5 years because blogging is antediluvian. Podcasting is not a good alternative for me as my voice is thin and I’m a stranger to spontaneous wit and reflection. I plod. (I think of an old writing group friend who said he once spent twenty minutes debating whether to write “wood floor” or “wooden floor.” That is completely me).

I am hoping that this blog is like Shoji Morimoto’s rent-a-man-to-do-nothing business. (Though, I do not charge). I read that since 2018, this 38- year-old man has been charging clients in Japan to do nothing. He is not a therapist/coach offering advice or a surrogate friend/caregiver. He offers nothing but his mostly quiet presence at a meal or a walk. One example of his work: once he was hired to sit and watch a lonely man blow out candles on his birthday cake; despite these limitations, he is somehow valuable to his clients. Similarly, I offer you few practical takeaways–no shopping links/tips, no glorious travel photos, recipes and/or clear direction (boo to linearity!), but I hope you eke out something worthwhile.

If you think my blog is a trite, middle-aged woman’s call for attention and that It does not slap (sorry, I love using amusing Gen Z slang at opportune moments to my son’s chagrin), I have one response: “FU and Fuck your standards!” (Let me explain my burst of profanity: once I saw two friends having a fight at Carleton College in our main social hall. One woman stood up dramatically, wagged her finger in her friend’s face and roared these words. At the time, I’d observed this from some distance with some some delight/admiration and thought, I hope I get to use that line one day).

A recent example of dong-mun-seo-dap (an answer that does not match the question) comes from the Depp-Heard defamation trial. (Don’t roll your eyes. I know you heard at least snippets). Recall Johnny’s attorney as she attempted a Matlock moment while cross-examining Ms. Heard; roughly paraphrased, the attorney asked Ms. Heard: “Isn’t it true that you have yet to donate the money you pledged to the ACLU?”

The gist of Ms. Heard’s reply: “No, that’s not true. I pledged the money.” Possible explanations for her answer: she had cotton in her ears, she was coached by her attorney to answer this way or she truly, as she later testified, uses the words donating and pledging synonymously.

Whom among us hasn’t pulled a Heard when faced with a pesky question? As an employment attorney, I am sometimes asked how to deal with an illegal or just offensive question by an employer during a job interview.

Flouting my own general tendency to offer scant practical information,I offer you the following quiz and answers. Guess which questions are probably no-no’s for the bulk of employers to whip out at interviews (at least currently in my favorite liberal bastion–New York City). I included a few suggestions for applying dong-mun-seo-dap to the interview context.

a) What’s your salary at your last job? OK____ NOT OK____

b) Have you been convicted of a crime? OK___NOT OK___

c) Ever been arrested? OK____NOT OK____

d) You are so skinny. I hate you. Do you eat?

OK___NOT OK___

e) I noticed a two year gap in your resume. Were you unemployed then?

OK___NOT OK___

Answers:

a) Not ok. This is an illegal question in NYC for most employers to ask. Particularly if you don’t want to be limited by your old salary, you may want to answer this kind of question by pretending you misheard the question: “I am glad to discuss pay. I’d like to get paid commensurate with my x years of relevant experience and my accomplishments.” (Or you could of course provide a number/range). Some might prefer a direct approach as in just explaining to interviewer that the question is illegal; however, as an oft conflict-averse human, I would probably try answering a different question that hopefully gets to the heart of the employer’s question).

b) Not ok. This question at an interview is an Illegal question for most employers in NYC. If your answer is yes, you have been convicted of a crime, you might reply along the lines of “I believe I’m a good fit based on my experience, skills and interest in the position and nothing in my background would affect my ability to perform my job well. ” (Of course, if you haven’t been convicted of a crime, you will probably just say no).

c) Not ok. This is an illegal question for most employers in NYC to ask. If you were arrested but it did not lead to conviction, you could just answer this by saying “I’ve never been convicted of any crime.” Or of course you could answer similarly to question b above.

d) This question is probably not illegal on its own but is certainly annoying and a red flag for problems down the road if hired. When I was a new attorney fresh out of law school, a female partner at a firm unloaded this question during my interview. I smiled awkwardly and said nothing as if I’d lost the ability to speak, which is of course another option. (This pretend-you-are-at-a-loss-of-words method reminds me of how a goofy law student who used to respond to our Contracts professor’s Socratic method by feigning laryngitis when our professor asked him a question. Though this law student M, was a really a bad actor–moving his lips without any sound and grabbing his throat dramatically–our wiry prof would shake his head in disbelief and move on to another victim; so I guess it’s sometimes a useful method of avoidance).

e) Not ok. An illegal question for most NYC employers to ask. Possible answer if it’s true you were unemployed and don’t want to answer the illegal question: “I have x years of relevant work experience and look forward to drawing upon my significant experience in this position.”

The other somewhat related Korean expression I highlighted is u-mun-hyeon-dap (a sensible answer to a dumb question). I have often wished I could come up with snappy answers to dumb questions. (When I was in high school, one teacher asked me repeatedly why I was so shy. I used to shrug as I had no idea.How do you answer that?) I think of actress Carrie Fisher answering the question “What are some similarities between Paul Simon and Harrison Ford? (as she’d dated both). Her great response to the dumb question:”Both look better after a couple of beers.” Nice.

Happy July 4th weekend!

안습 (anseup) – Watery eyeballs (from an embarrassing situation)

oops did I really do/say that? (old drawing. I’m better now.)
I am beyond ridiculous.

I seem to have an endless reserve of embarrassing moments that I have no qualms about sharing on this blog. So here it is: the Anseup scale from 1-10, 10 being the height of humiliation. (After reading this, it may become readily apparent that I am easily embarrassed or you will agree that I’m a total clown).

9/10:

One memory is from more than a decade ago when I lived with my infant son and husband in a shabby but cozy apartment in midtown West. A stunning Korean-American couple lived in our building with their son who was a few months older than ours. The mother, a petite woman with a classic, perfectly aligned face had quit her finance job to parent and devote her time to achieving physical perfection (two worthy ventures). She was at all times resplendent, be it Sunday morning in her apartment or on her way to an opera; I marveled at her matte skin, painted lips and designer clothing– nary a wrinkle or stain in sight. I may have envied her hard-earned radiance for it was a miracle if my hair was fully combed every morning. Her husband, also in finance, was a smooth-skinned looker with a dizzying array of expensive-looking narrow-hipped suits, shiny shoes and commanding watches that surely a connoisseur would recognize. In the elevator, he would smile at me polite and curt, his lips closed and his head in bow. A high-school girl Isabelle (who used to babysit my son) and I once anointed this dashing couple “best dressed.” (You might think this was a wide open field in a dinky pre-war building but there were a surprising number of stylish tenants including the arrogant actor who played Blake Lively’s father in Gossip Girl. He took newsboy hats/fedoras and jeans to new heights in our elevator every morning).

My few exchanges with the mother (for drama’s sake let’s call her my nemesis) always ruffled me. Stumbling home from work, I — my hair whip-lashed, my skin wan and perspiring from the subway crush–sometimes bumped into my nemesis on her way out for the evening. She’d look up at me–for she was a shorty–with a pitying gaze and say ” you look soooooo tired!” Fighting words! I once asked her if our boys could have a play date to which she responded ” Isn’t your son two months younger than mine?” –her peculiar way of saying no. Another time, I saw her at Nixon In China, a purposefully unique opera, and she saw me at intermission and said “it was so, uh..different” and scrunched her nose in distaste. I, of course, had to mock her to my husband; for, duh, being different was very much the point! How fun to hold her in contempt for once.

But my flash of arrogance/feeling of superiority was short lived. When my son was around five-months old, I locked both of us out of our apartment on a weeknight around 6 p.m. Some details are obscured in memory, e.g., why I was in the hallway in this vulnerable state. I’m guessing I was dumping my garbage in the hallway bins. My son, not yet walking, was in my arms either half naked in a diaper or fully naked. I wore nothing but underwear and a terry cloth bathrobe that had an impish belt that never stayed tied. (My husband, was on a three-day work trip and my phone was inside). In retrospect, I could have knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked them to call our doorman John on their intercom but my post-natal mind was euphemistically adrift. Holding my son to my chest for dear life to assume a measure of modesty and to keep me warm (It was a blustery winter), I chanced to get an empty elevator. When the door opened at the lobby, I stuck my head out–lemming style– hoping to wave John down discretely without subjecting anyone to my own version of American Gothic. He was, of course, MIA. I had to hold the lurching door open with one hand and clutch my bulbous son with the other hand. I realized, grimacing, that with each passing second, the likelihood of someone eyeballing my fleshy child and an-in-the works- half naked me, increased significantly. My son, perhaps sensing my heightened state, took this moment to squirm wildly in my arms and let out an urgent wail, which forced me to hysterically clutch the folds of my robe and those of my progeny while jamming one foot against the door to keep it open. When I looked up, no doubt flushed, I faced the unthinkable: John, seated behind his desk by the lobby door grinning at me, and by his side– the impeccably dressed Korean couple from apartment 5A with their mouths wide open. I am not imagining that one look at me made the husband bow his head to his shoes–his chin tightly tucked to his chest. Needless to say, my mortification, and therefore my memory of this moment, is forever etched in my mind.

3: Once on a romantic night out with my husband at a fancy restaurant in Hong Kong, I greedily slurped a bowl of spicy brown soup only to be politely (but incredulously) told by the server that I was, in fact, guzzling the sauce meant for the chicken dish.

2: In college, I wrote a final paper for a political science class called “Poverty and Public Policy.” I discussed The Tyranny of Kindness by author Theresa Funicello and other books. Seemingly oblivious to the concept of editing my work, over thirty times I misnamed the author and referred to her as Annette Funicello–the famed brunette Mouseketeer. My professor drew a smiley face next to all 33 misnomers.

1: I have major geographical amnesia, which I blame on going to so many different schools growing up.( I like to think in the year they taught geography, I moved to another school). I recently referred to Scandinavia as the Netherlands to my husband and was corrected, to minor embarrassment. (I do know the difference but with some regularity, I mix up these white people territories). After almost twenty years of marriage, he perhaps now sees my kinship to those pedestrians you see on Tik Tok/Instagram videos who are shown commonly known national flags only to draw a blank or more comically, mistake it for an equally iconic flag. (I’m no flag expert but egads, mistaking Canada’s maple leaf flag for France’s? I judge).

Tell me your anseup memories!

Gae-gwa-chun-sun (to shift from being evil to good) and your Dark-factor score (perfect for dating profiles and resumes)

D factor results analyzed

When I think of people who morph from evil to good, my first fuzzy, ill-informed association: General Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. As you may recall, he was the fearsome dictator turned chipper sycophant who tried to lure Americans to Libya’s shores for beach vacations. A subsequent Google search for evil to good, drew up a list of former KKK members who disavowed the Klan later in life, e.g. U.S. senator Robert Byrd and Nathan Bedford (founder of the KKK), Nazi sympathizer/war profiteer-turned-ally/savior to the Jewish people Oskar Schindler, and then fictional characters like the Scrooge. (Notably, the major financial villains, e.g. Michael Milken and Bernard Madoff get off scott-free from these lists).

During this time of Putin’s war, the emergence of a nutty, far-right Italian prime minister, alarming right-wing violence in this country and journalists’ frequent description of public figures as “evil,” it’s no wonder I’m left pondering some well-trod questions–what evil is, the origins of evil, and whether someone evil can become good. I recently looked to a few tv shows for answers: Ken Burns’ documentary series the U.S. and The Holocaust, Netflix’s Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Netflix’s Inside the Criminal Mind, and more tangentially, HBO’s Industry (a show which begs the question whether a figurative stabbing of your colleagues qualifies as evil).

I do flock to TV shows about evil folk, which my friend says makes sense for someone with ADHD; it’s well known that my brethren seeks newness, conflict and adrenaline rushes. I’d like to think my fascination with evil is distinct from that of the peculiar woman at my law school I once met who showed me her romantic snail mail correspondence with one of the Menendez Brothers (forgot which one) and proudly handed me a photo of her roughly painted triptych of herself flanked by the two murderous brothers. Certainly, I have no interest in intimately mingling with evil people like the brave neighbor in Dahmer: The Monster was forced to; for more than a year, this poor lady endured the odor of decomposing human flesh that wafted into her apartment, listened to the victims’ screams of pain and fielded a horrific “gift,” a mystery meat sandwich with content that bore a striking resemblance to a human hand. (Side note: this show gave me a new appreciation for the worst neighbors I ever had whose main offense was complaining of my son’s short-lived routine of doing ten minutes of jumping jacks in our apartment. Bless their souls!)

As I learned, defining an “evil” person is not a simple task. A bevy of philosophers and psychologists have debated evil at length but I simplified (and no doubt botched their research) to create the following definition:

An Evil person:

1)Commits wrongdoings (violation of moral, ethical code or law) PLUS the following:

2) Gets pleasure from the wrongdoing and/or performs the wrongdoing out of self-interest;

3) Harms or at least intends to “intolerably harm” at least one person. Examples of intolerable harms include severe physical or mental suffering as well as the deprivation of basics such as food, clean drinking water, and social contact;

4) Acts voluntarily, intends or foresees their victim’s suffering, and lacks moral justification for their actions; (So under this definition, the criminally insane aren’t evil);

5) Has some set of character traits to an extreme degree, e.g. extreme callousness or extreme maliciousness;

One oddball on the internet suggested Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge as a good example of someone who made the transition from evil to good. But he’s just a curmudgeon -ungenerous and mean–like me on a rainy, pre-menstrual day when I’m prone to bitching, mimicking people I find ridiculous or vastly superior to me, boycotting the kitchen, ordering the family consecutive pizza meals, shirking social obligation and instead, reclining on a divan and popping mochis.

If you are like me, you may be tempted to apply this evil analysis to every politician, celebrity and person in your life because hell, it’s fun. (This reminds me of the Intro to Psychology class I took at Carleton College with my friend. We studied something called “matching theory”, how couples tend to be similarly attractive (with some outliers of course). This admittedly caused my friend and I to, quite amused, evaluate every couple we know, which lead to my friend’s boyfriend to dismiss us as “sorority girls.” He was wrong. We were social scientists at work!)

Of course no analysis is required for Hitler; we know he epitomizes evil. But watching Ken Burns’ documentary series, The U.S. and the Holocaust was eye-opening for me as it reminded me that Hitler and his virulent hate didn’t exist in a vacuum–contrary to what my teachers taught me. I hadn’t realized that while pacing his prison cell after his failed coup of the German government, Hitler looked admiringly at the U.S.’s xenophobic immigration policies, segregation and racial prejudice. When we Americans belatedly opened one crusty eye to wag a finger at the Germans, they had a fairly solid basis to smirk and retort “I know you are, but what am I?”

One question that emerges in all this heady “research”: how often does one have to do something evil to be an evil person? If your murder stats fall very short of Hitler’s millions and Jeffrey Dahmer’s seventeen, are you evil? For those who have watched the documentary series and/or the dramatized version of The Staircase, does pushing two wives down a staircase to their deaths (decades between incidents) reveal evil tendencies? What if you do everything else by the book/are an otherwise upstanding citizen? Philosophers known as “consistency” theorists (not in vogue for some time) say evil people almost always make evil decisions so that according to them, the husband in the Staircase who wasn’t always evil, would probably not be marked evil. He also wouldn’t be considered a serial killer with only two murders done decades apart.

The line between wrongdoing and evil intrigues me. When I was in the throes of dating my husband, decades ago, I asked him what hypothetical wrongdoing in my past would cause him to fly the coop. (Poor guy just wanted to pass time with a cute young thing (as I humbly refer to my 20-something self) but I had to harangue him with odd banter!). I warmed up with shoplifting, escalated to stealing money from an imagined childrens’ nonprofit and concluded with torturing a cute animal or committing a jealous rage-crime of passion. Turns out, my guy was pretty non judgmental about my imagined crimes. (P.S. to those who are single, I don’t suggest you try this exercise in the dating circuit. It could make you look unhinged.)

Though perhaps you might make your potential mate take the Dark Factor test that I just discovered, which supposedly measures your propensity for evil by asking up to 70 questions about your values, self-image and ways of relating to others. (The questions range from subtle to ones that made me chortle such as: “How much do you agree with these statements from very much to not at all (and degrees between): When I get annoyed, tormenting people makes me feel good” or “Most people are somehow losers.” High scorers on this test will ruthlessly pursue their own interests, even when it negatively affects others (or even for the sake of it), while having beliefs that justify these behaviors. Go ahead, take this test if you dare! (My therapist, I should warn you had not heard of this, which makes me question it’s accuracy/validity because she’s a demi-God). Seems like a good score would belong on a dating profile alongside other measurements!

As a lover of all personality tests, I dove into the quiz with gusto. After answering 70 questions, I scored a 2.07 (“very low”) on a 1-5 scale for Dark Factors, which sounds right. Years ago, I recall watching a harrowing scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan, in which a young American soldier in a shelled out building tries to drag his body up some steps with a rifle on his shoulder as he awaits the Nazis, but he can’t do anything but shiver and quake on the stairwell. I remember thinking “that would be me.” Not to say I’m an angel. I just probably lack killer instincts, unlike the young female financial analyst Harper and her Machiavellian boss Eric in the addictive HBO show Industry whose “primal hunt for dopamine” and tendency to put their own needs first in lieu of the feelings or careers of their colleagues, make it likely they would score high on the D factor test.

Can I take a moment and gloat about my low D factor score? After all, who cares about IQ., GPA or credit scores? My score is germane, baby! So don’t be surprised if you see the following on my resume: D factor score: 2.07. For it could signal that if the USA becomes a totalitarian dictatorship one day, I may be less likely to turn all Himmler/Goering than others. If that’s not a marketable, prized quality what is?

Of course, this score in reality tells me little about what my behavior would have been in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. We all know about the Milgram shock experiment in which most participants who were not particularly evil approved the full dosage of electric shocks to their victims, despite the victims’ (I believe, feigned) yelps of pain. Given this experiment’s findings, I’d assumed that soldiers in combat who are coerced to kill probably shoot to kill or at least make an earnest attempt; however, I recently read that this is not true–most soldiers shoot at the air, unwilling to kill. Ah humanity, my faith is restored!

I hesitate to delve into the Origins of Evil here as it sounds like this remains inconclusive — a mysterious swirl of genes and environment. But I can’t help discuss the list of commonalities that many serial killers supposedly have, according to an FBI profiler on Inside the Criminal Mind; for dubious entertainment value, I’ll evaluate how many factors I share in common with these killers such as:

1. A dominant mother, often single. This made me chuckle. Single mothers are so maligned! Raised by a single mom (who is certainly “dominant”) I used to feel an undercurrent of annoyance as I sat through college classes ranging from English Lit and various Political Science classes in which our readings revealed one salient point: most of society’s ills can be blamed on single mothers. Unfortunately, this sentiment is not fading. In fact, Americans are more likely than they were three years ago to say single women raising children on their own and couples living together without being married are bad for society, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2021. Though after watching Dahmer: The Monster, it seems Dahmer’s father who was mostly around to raise him is more to blame than the momma. For it was he who taught Dahmer (with seeming relish) to find roadkill and dissect it, who observed troubling behavior and never sought treatment for his son and who later admits that he nursed his own fantasies about killing people that he never acted upon. Ah, those cursed genes!

2. Some revulsion at the maternal figure. For me, I only possess a base-line, par-for-the-course level of revulsion for my mother. For she adopted me on her own in the 1970s from Korea when this was truly novel, she outfitted my childhood bedroom with whimsical touches like hand-painted rabbits on my walls, a real wooden swing that hung from my ceiling and a swinging ladder in my closet that surely sealed the deal for more than one friendship. (But I feel a tinge of revulsion when she deluges me with emails written in ALL CAPS!)

3 Alcoholism in the home. Nope. My mom who adopted me is a light-weight who has little interest in this form of entertainment. I’ve seen her tipsy maybe three times on a Jewish holiday. A full glass of Manischewitz would likely reduce her to Santa-Con drunk. The only alcohol I ever saw her relish was my grandparents’ homemade Wisniak (a Polish Cherry Cordial Liqueur), which consists of sour cherries left to fester for years in a glass jug filled with vodka and sugar); once a year, mom would break out the comically large jug that my grandparents kept in a dining room cabinet, pluck out one very doused cherry and pop it in her mouth with childish delight.

4.Being male. (Nope.)

5. MacDonald Triangle for homicidal personality(now seemingly discredited), states that there are three red flags for such deviant behavior: bed wetting, fire setting and animal killing. Supposedly Ted Bundy had all three indicators. (I am thankfully a stranger to these things. My kids can attest that watching me tear through two match books this summer to try to kindle a pre-fab fire pit so that we could roast marsh mellows and make s’mores, severely tested their patience. Pyromania is not in my cards. As for bed wetting, I never knew it was such a sign of psychosis and I’m relieved that I found this out now, not during my kids’ accident prone toddler years. If bedwetting is such a harbinger, ought we look sideways at comedian Sarah Silverman who stars now in her autobiographical play The Bedwetter?)

6. Lack of empathy. Yoo-hoo Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis for sending buses of actual humans across state lines for political points and yoo-hoo the U.S. during and after World War II turning boats of Jewish people and other refugees away.

7. Identity confusion: Ted Bundy was told his mother was his sister and believed this for much of his life, which is a scenario that is hard to imagine and pretty twisted. Though, anecdotally, I know people who don’t tell their children they are adopted out of shame but yet the kids avoid a life of infamy. After all, whom among us aren’t a little confused about some aspect of our identity?

8. Ted Bundy said that serial killing was like stamp collecting. (Lesson to extract from this: parents, don’t let your kids collect stamps! There are surely a host of less sinister hobbies to enjoy!)

9. Abnormal sexual fantasies. (I recall hearing a silly rumor of an odd, hirsute guy at college who supposedly loved shoving Haribo gummy bears up his girlfriend-as foreplay –which eventually trickled down her legs–a sticky, rainbow wash. Think he was a serial killer?)

10.Serial killers are usually middle class, not poor or rich. Hah, finally the middle class are under fire! Notably, it’s usually the poor and the rich that get the blame for everything!) Serial killer John Wayne Gacy-a born salesman- managed a family restaurant and was a respected member of his community. The Netflix show Inside the Criminal Mind goes onto say “he even performed as a clown at kids parties” as if that fits in with their high-functioning theory instead of being the damning fact it is! We learn that Ted Bundy held part time jobs as a student and that he worked at the suicide hotline center and managed the Republican party’s Seattle campaign office. (There are easy jokes re Republicans that I will avoid here).

11. Evil people can be charming actors/role-players. Apparently, Ted Bundy was a charmer and played the role of father, husband and employee in a convincing manner that probably explained his “success.” Hearing about the deceptive charm of serial killers,I thought of how Americans were somehow hood-winked by the propaganda and pageantry of the 1936 German Olympics. As I learned, Goebbels ordered the removal of prevalent antisemitic signage around town and told Germans to basically conceal their German-ness. He said “be more elegant like Parisianers, more easy-going like the Viennese, more cosmopolitan like Londoners and more practical like New Yorkers.” Americans’ blood-boiling acceptance of this idealized Germany, despite more and more evidence of violent racism, reminded me of Mr.Poe and Justice Strauss in Series of Unfortunate Events who may have meant well but by being so easily duped by Count Olaf’s ridiculous costumes and accents, were ultimately complicit in his evil schemes. (Okay, might I be pulling that metaphor too tautly?)

12.Motivations that drive serial killers: fear of rejection, sense of inferiority and the need for power. (I share two of these motivations; I abhor rejection as evidenced in fact I haven’t submitted my short stories to writing journals in more than a decade and I think i’m worse at most things than my peers; thankfully, I have little need for power, which might explain why when I volunteered to be a class parent of my daughter’s Kindergarten class, I abhorred any “managerial” tasks that required me to convey parent complaints to the Powers that Be.)

12. The mind of a “normal” person may be different than that of a serial killer. Neurocriminologists study whether some are prone to violent behaviors at birth. A University of Penn doctor looked at the brain imaging of murderers who killed in spontaneous rage and found diminished brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls self-awareness, sensitivity to violence and processing of emotions. On the other hand, the doctor found that serial killers who were long-time planners, had high functioning in their prefrontal cortex but a diminished capacity in the deeper part of the brain called the amygdala. Their amygdala, the brain’s seat of emotion and of conscience, was found to be 18 percent smaller than that of non-murderous folk. (If I had to predict what my brain looks like between these two extremes, I’d say I’m more likely to have a sleepy prefrontal cortex; if I had to kill, it’d be in a spontaneous rage not in a methodical pre-meditated manner. (I’m thinking the brain of most ADHD people looks similar). As a small circle of humans know, I can be a lightning bolt when I’m pissed/overwhelmed!) Between these two brain types, which one do you probably have?)

13. Scientists have also found those with a low resting heart rate don’t feel fear as strongly and may be more violent/ take more physical risks. Apparently, life may feel dull for these so they seek intense stimulation. (No one has ever told me I have a low resting heart rate but I doubt it as I shun physically risky activities. A small sample of activities I have not done and will never do: ice hiking, hiking without harness, bungee jumping, roof jumping, cocaine/heroin and botox. But Netflix, you really know how to unseat me, e.g., taking two formerly innocuous things like low resting heart rates and bed wetting and turning them into signs of villainy!

Circling back to the Korean expression, gae-gwa-chun-sun (shifting from evil to good), I ponder if the truly evil can change. An extensive 2008 study on serial murder for the F.B.I.’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime found that killers may quiet down when they find other outlets for their emotions. (This makes it sound so sweet like these guys take some yoga and discover aromatic oils and gems). But the study was in part talking about autoerotic activities, which I looked up for a proper explanation.

Dr. Michael H. Stone, a professor of forensic psychiatry at Columbia University who has extensively studied serial killers, noted that Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, murdered prostitutes during his first two difficult marriages. He married a third time, more happily, and the killings dwindled. “Some of these men have little oases of compassion, within the vast desert of their contempt and hatred of women,” Dr. Stone said.

Reading about the Green River Killer and his wives, lead me to this unoriginal conclusion: women are always to blame–from the single mothers who birth these killers to the wives who drive these men to psychosis. The lover of tangential minutiae that I am, wonders what in heavens the third wife did to create a”little oases of compassion.” It should be noted that I am married to a man who by all accounts has a continent of compassion for women (even ones like me who promise never to write about him on her blog but sometimes slips); however, it can’t hurt to take notes on how to keep a husband content in case I have grossly misjudged my law abiding, even-tempered partner for the past 19 years, and one day, my sometimes irritating wifely conduct provokes a killing spree. I imagine wife three made home-cooked tasty meals every night, gave fantastic, spontaneous head, wore no depressed-lady schmattas around the house and said “you don’t say!” to everything the GRK said. What do you think were her secrets?

Tell me your D-Factor score! xoxo

Interesting Korean-American #6: Q and A with Kate Telfeyan, owner and chef of NYC’s Porcelain restaurant(& formerly of Mission Chinese restaurant in NYC)

Kate Telfeyan

When I read the NY Times article about Kate Telfeyan and other Korean-American adoptee chefs, I knew I had to convince KT that doing a Q and A for my modest blog was worthy of her time. After all, anyone with an Instagram account and a past pop up called “Vaguely Asian” at a Queens restaurant, must have a sense of humor and be self-aware. (I want “Vaguely Asian” in script on a t-shirt!).

ME:I have to believe you are a scrappy, ambitious person for starting a pop up during COVID and opening your own restaurant, Porcelain, that is by all accounts thriving. What gave you the gumption to do all this?

KT:I don’t think ambition was ever really part of the decision making process. For me, given the current state of things I was mostly just following my gut. Before the pop-up I had started doing meal prep and delivery out of my apartment, partly as a way to keep busy, but also in an attempt to service my community in whatever way I could. The pop-up and the partnership at Porcelain became evolutions of the same inclination.

ME: What’s your adoption story? (e.g., year you were adopted, what age were you, what kind of family adopted you)

KT:I was adopted at age 2 from Korea in the early 80s. I grew up in rural coastal Rhode Island with my parents and an older brother (not adopted).

ME:Are your parents similarly creative and entrepreneurial?

KT: I think my parents are creative and entrepreneurial in their own right and I credit them with teaching me the very best things I know about how to pursue all things in life, business or otherwise, with kindness, strength and curiosity.

ME: Have you ever searched for your birth parents or like me, thrown your hands in the air and embraced your unique, mysterious past?

KT: I’ve never made any attempts, though I can’t say that I won’t ever; it’s just not something that’s ever been a huge priority. I think it’s mostly because I feel extremely fortunate for the life I have, and while the past may offer some insights into my biological origins, who I am is undoubtedly a reflection of the world in which I was enveloped post-adoption.

ME: I agree with that but I do have passing fleets of fancy re my birth family. The following question is not one I’ve considered myself but maybe you have:

If you were to meet your birth family, is there any fact about them that would sorely disappoint you ? (e.g., they aren’t explorative eaters, they lean Right etc).

KT: I don’t think so. I think if I were ever to meet them I would just hope they’ve lived a life as fulfilling as mine.

ME: Have you looked for any blood relatives via Ancestry or one of those services?

KT: Not actively. I did 23andMe a while back so I still get the “new relative” email notifications sometimes, but they’re always fractions of percent related.

ME: When i was a little girl, my grandma bought me a pretty Korean doll dressed in a silk hanbok. I used to perch it on a high closet shelf and play a game where my friends and I would run past the open closet and try not to scream as we ran by. (We always shrieked).  Did you have similar fear/conflict about your Korean identity?

KT: I wasn’t really exposed to Korean culture as a child, and wasn’t even really hyper aware that I was different until I hit adolescence. My hometown was not a very ethnically diverse place when I was growing up, so I white identified almost my entire childhood.

ME: I have been reading how recently there’s been a shift re: how Korean adoption is portrayed in the media. As you know, the bull-horned message used to be that we Korean adoptees were so lucky to be rescued from abject poverty; now more adoptees are voicing the darker side/the trauma of loss and forced assimilation that has been harmful to some. Have your feelings about being adopted morphed at all over time?

KT: Not really. Without knowing the circumstances under which my birth mother gave me up, I never had a narrative to fall back on except that maybe she was sick (I had tuberculosis when I was adopted). If the alternative to being adopted was to grow up motherless/family-less in Korea then I think I made out pretty well.

ME: Do you have qualities that your adoptive family do not, which you attribute to your birth family?

KT: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking on the notion of nurture v. nature as it pertains to human development, and specifically when it comes to food proclivities. And while I have no conclusive theory, ultimately I tend to believe people imbued with certain inarguable inclinations from birth, but that most of us are products of a beautiful and sometimes complicated chaotic mish mash of dna, environment, access, and individuality.

ME: Do you think that being adopted has fueled your creativity?

KT: On some level, yes. Wanting to learn more about my Korean heritage definitely led me down a pathway filled with foods and flavors from a whole different part of the world than where I grew up.

ME: Is food the main way you have explored your Korean identity or are there other ways?

KT:Definitely food was the driving force initially in my early 20s. But as I got older I wanted to learn more about the culture as a whole and made my first trip there in 2012.

ME: Favorite Kdrama/Korean movie if any:

KT: I have so much more to explore on this front! But I would say of the shows / movies I’ve seen, My Mister and the Reply series are my two favorites. I also loved Train to Busan.

ME: Have you, like me, been felled by late-in-life attempts to master Hangul and the Korean language or are you victorious?

KT: I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts, but as the years go by I feel more and more compelled to take a serious stab at it.

ME: Do you celebrate any particular Korean holidays/traditions?

KT: As someone who didn’t grow up celebrating them I always feel a little conflicted about trying to adopt them into my life now, but I do enjoy marking the occasions of Chuseok and the new year – mostly just by making the traditionally eaten foods of each 🙂

ME: Did you have a specific light bulb moment of realizing you wanted to be a chef for the long-haul?

KT: it wasn’t really a light bulb moment, it was more of a dull nagging voice in my head that persisted from the time I was about 20 until the day I started my first cooking job.

ME: Are you classically trained as a chef?

KT: Nope – learned everything I know either from teaching myself, or learning from all of the talented people I’ve been fortunate to work with along the way.

ME: Some of your favorite Korean foods:

KT: Tteokboki, kimchi jjigae, gimbap, soondubu jjigae, pretty much all banchan, samgyetang, seolleongtang…too many!

ME: Five essential food items you need from Hmart:

KT: eomuk, kkaenip, soon tofu, salted shrimp, shin ramen

ME:The gold medal for best K-town in the USA goes to:

KT: I’ve only been once, and only for one meal, but I would say LA’s K-town is probably superior

ME: You are a culinary wizard. Take Dan Dan lasagna on your current menu. How in heavens did you wrestle up this combo?

KT: I generally think of food as cross-cultural. There are culinary traditions that are unique and foundational to every culture, but in looking at the birds’ eye view of the world, similarities and derivations start to emerge across borders and country lines that start to seem familiar and recognizable. I think of a dish like dandan noodles (which I love!), and start to wonder about different forms it could take while still remaining true to the traditional preparation. As someone of eastern heritage raised in a western world this cross-pollination of ideas, flavors and techniques really speaks to me, and represents my palate and viewpoint.

ME: It’s quite a gift to forgo recipes and mix unexpected ingredients together to make an appetizing dish. (I am unfortunately much like lil’ orphan Annie in the Jamie Foxx-Cameron Diaz film update who combined a motley set of fridge ingredients to cook Foxx(Daddy Warbucks), a gag-worthy dinner).

Are you by any chance good at home decorating? (e.g., artfully mixing let’s say antiques and modern pieces. I suck at cooking and home decorating so I am wondering if that means there’s a good cook,-good home decorating correlation.)

KT: I definitely am not a home decorator! I like things organized and aesthetically pleasing, but that’s about where my commitment to decor ends 🙂

ME: Restaurants that you love in nyc other than your own:

KT: Bamboo Garden, Keen’s, Taste Good, Taiwanese Gourmet, Ops, Taste of Samarkand

ME: This shows me what I already knew: I am not at all current with the NYC restaurant scene. Thank you. I will be looking up all of these places.

Arguably the litmus test for Korean-ness: a love of Kimchi and soju (independently). Do you like one type of kimchi best?

KT: There are so many, and I certainly haven’t tried all of them, but I would say radish kimchi, water kimchi, super fermented napa kimchi and mustard green kimchi

ME: Is there anything you can flat out say you’d never mix with kimchi?

KT: milk?

ME: Do you have any soju-drinking rituals you follow?

KT: I must admit I’m not a big soju lover!

ME:Is there any food you will not try?

KT: None that I can think of…

ME: Any chance you were a picky eater as a child?

KT: Not at all!

ME: Do you follow food trends on let’s say Tik Tok/Instagram or do you try to wipe away the noise to preserve your own unique voice?

KT: I’m aware of them for sure, but only as pure entertainment

ME: I am a bit obsessed with people who have many multiple talents like Rhode Scholars, the Leonardos of this world and you. I read about your culinary career path from working as a line chef at the Talk-of-the Town restaurant Mission Chinese in the LES to opening your own Mission Chinese as head chef in Bushwick. On top of all this, I see you are also also a talented writer with a PR background and, excuse me as I wipe the sweat off my brow, a bit of a restaurant industry activist. (You are putting the rest of us Korean-American adoptees to shame!).

What helps you stay sane and unwind?

KT: I watch a lot of really trash tv (like crime procedurals and food tv!), and if I don’t cook / go out to eat on my own time away from work I get antsy.

ME: As a legal services attorney who has represented restaurant workers in wage and hour and discrimination cases, I was pleased to learn you want to revamp the oft-toxic restaurant industry and that you’ve put your money where your mouth is by doing things like paying your workers no less than $20/hour. Bravo!

Where does this impulse to be fair and decent come from?

KT: I think in part from having come up through the system and seeing so many talented hard working people struggle to live on trash wages while expected to work excessive hours. I also have the perspective of coming from outside of the industry in the early part of my career life, so I experienced many different workplaces and was able to really form and articulate my belief system as far as what I feel is equitable and fair.

ME: I used to work on employment law cases in collaboration with with a restaurant worker center whose members long ago all co-owned a Manhattan restaurant. I loved the idea but unfortunately didn’t love the food. Their restaurant did not endure. Do you think a cooperative restaurant can thrive/survive the NYC restaurant scene?

KT: I definitely think there’s a model of coop restaurant that could work, but not with the current laws and regulations in place in NYC.

ME: My 13-year-old son and I are always eager to find service opportunities in the City. Thanks to your shout out in one interview, we now know about non profit Heart of Dinner that feeds dinner to home-bound elderly Asian-Americans in New York. City. Do you know of other good non profits that serve Asian-American communities that might offer volunteer opportunities?

KT: There’s an amazing farm in Chester, NY run by Christina Chan (who I am in total admiration of) called Choy Division. She specializes in East Asian produce and I do as much buying from her as possible during her harvest season. She, along with other Asian American farmers in NYC and the Hudson Valley are working to “weave relationships between AAPI growers, mutual aid, and community based organizations in order to preserve the ancestral foodways and provide culturally resonant produce to those in need” (taken from their web site).

ME: Favorite COVID-era hobby/past-time (if you have any leftover time for hobbies):

KT: Vacuuming! I became a bit obsessive about it during lockdown and now I find it quite soothing 🙂

ME: What, if anything, is hard for you?

KT: Writing recipes

ME: What skill do you wish you had?

KT: Singing or drawing

ME: What is something you are good at that is a modest achievement but an achievement nonetheless?(my own examples: being a happy, adventurous eater, drawing Garfield the cat with my eyes closed).

KT: Folding a fitted sheet

ME: Bravo! That is an achievement!

I imagine chefs must have dry hands and aching feet so you need a good moisturizer and good shoes. Do you have a favorite moisturizer and do you wear a specific type/brand of shoes to work?

KT: I usually just use something that’s good for sensitive skin, except in the winter when I need something stronger for my hands like aquaphor. For shoes I’ve been a die hard birkenstock fan since day one.

ME: Have you ever joined a Korean-American adoptee group of any kind? Can we start a group and gather at intervals at your fine restaurant or elsewhere?/srs.

KT: I’ve never been a part of one, but would be open to it!

ME: I read about Korean han (Korean rage) being a uniquely Korean feeling. Do you think you’ve experienced han? It’s not clear to me if we Korean-American adoptees can feel it.

That said, what if anything pisses you off? (Hopefully not middle-age bloggers who approach you on Instagram for a q and a and then deluge your inbox with pages of questions).

KT: I definitely think I have it – I’ve been told I’m “fiery” 🙂 I think I mostly get annoyed when people I care about are mistreated.

ME: What’s next for you?

KT: I have no idea! But I actually think that’s the next chapter – the unknown leading to new adventures.

ME: Thank you Kate. Appreciate your time so much. Enjoy the Unknown!

P.S. A sincere note: if you do want to form a club for Korean-American adoptees, i’m in. I’ll bring some crafts. Please bring the food and maybe the other Korean-American adoptees (as i know none in the area)!

Interview with Interesting Korean-American #7, Boram Nam (most recently founder of Boram post-natal retreat in nyc and formerly a founding member of Drama Fever)

Boram Nam

(Thanks to my lovely friend Dylan who connected Boram and I).

It took a particularly patient person, that Boram revealed herself to be, to not only Zoom with me for more than an hour during what was for her a busy work day but patiently wait for me to wade through a morass of scribbled questions.(Unfortunately for her, despite my recent hours devouring Sean Evans’ Hot Ones interviews, I lack his grace and ease and I assume, his research prowess).

ME: As someone obsessed with Kdramas, I am grateful to you for your role in giving us access to a bounty of K-dramas. Tell us about Drama Fever and your role there.

BN: I am proud to say I was a founding member along with my husband of Drama Fever, one of the first streaming sites for Kdramas, so we had at least a part in bringing Korean content to the U.S. and around the world. I started working at Drama Fever in 2008 as VP of marketing, licensing and business development. We were the first to distribute Korean content to Netflix and sold our business to Soft Bank in 2014. I’m happy we didn’t have to compete with Netflix!

ME: As someone who has had the same job for an unusually long time and is risk averse, I admire entrepreneurs like you. Looking back, were there tell-tale signs that you’d be your own boss?

BN: My parents, both professors in Korea, saw that I was not so obedient in school and sent me to the States for my education–high school and college. I was basically dropped off to live on my own in the U.S. This independence may have prepared me for an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

ME: I read your husband and you have worked alongside each other on multiple ventures–a fact that I find beguiling. Do you believe as I read Koreans do, that blood type reveals personality? What blood types are the two of you?

BN: I think it’s fun to think about but It’s not always accurate. I’m type B, which supposedly means I am aggressive and blunt. So that is right. My husband is type O, which means welcoming, patient and warm and he is definitely those things. He’s the one who cooks, is hands-on playing with the kids and affectionate. I am the one who organizes and cleans the house. The combination works well.

ME: Favorite Korean dramas:

BN: Crash Landing on You, Iris and It’s Okay That’s Love are some I’ve enjoyed.

ME: Your latest venture:

BN: Boram Post-Natal Retreat emerged out of my own personal experience as a new mother. After my son was born in 2014 through a planned C section, my recovery was challenging and I didn’t have the right supports physically or emotionally. It took me two years to feel better. At the time, my friends in Korea were checking into post-natal retreats(sanhujoriwon) and i realized that we don’t have these hotels here for new mothers and there is a need. I had the perfect name for my business-Boram, my own name. Boram is Korean for”the fruits of one’s labor.”

What we offer is a luxurious, carefully researched retreat for new mothers at the Langham hotel in New York City. We have the ninth floor including 16 rooms for guests, a mother’s lounge and a nurse’s station where nurses are on site 24/7 to care for babies and provide post natal education. It’s unique for combining hospitality with a nurse station for 24/7 baby care, which allows the mom to have quality time to bond with the baby, receive education about post natal care and have time for herself. We provide 3 chef-prepared meals a day with special foods for new moms, post natal massage, SoKo Glam beauty products for guests, and education about lactation and self-care etc. (Though there are post-natal facilities in L.A.’s Koreatown and other places, they are focused on new moms who are Korean).

ME: This sounds idyllic. I love my kids but I would have sent them spinning on a platter to that nursing room to get some sleep/mental rest weeks after childbirth!

As someone who struggles to find community, I heard about your retreat and thought it sounded like a luxe kibbutz (minus of course, hard labor). I could have used a support system/community as a new mom. Seems your retreat would be a good way to make mom friends and start creating some community. Is that another goal of this space other than supporting moms individually?

BN: Glad you asked that. Definitely. The mother’s lounge (that is stocked with healthy snacks new moms need), is a place for movie nights, education about post natal care and lots of bonding. It took me a year to make mom friends so I recognize the need to foster that bonding early on.

ME: Do you offer any Korean fare at Boram Care?

BN: We offer seaweed soup and bone broth that is so nutritious for new moms.The menu isn’t specifically Korean but is nutritious, tasty and chef-prepared.

ME: Seems like a great moment in time to shine a spotlight on post-natal care (or lack therof) in this country of ours. I like how you frame the post natal period as “the fourth trimester.” For me and many women, it’s the hardest one!

I’m intrigued that Korea has many of these post-natal retreats for new moms, some of them less costly. Can you imagine a world where there are these retreats for all new moms?

BN: We’ve been in talks with various employers to see if they would provide the retreat as part of employee benefits and want down the road to work with insurers to see if we can provide services to a wider group of mothers but i realize the necessity for all new mothers in this country.

ME: Do you think the prominence of Korean culture (beauty, food, music, films and shows etc) is accurately described as a wave (the Hallyu wave)? Wave kind of implies a sudden emergence that sounds fleeting to me.

BN: What you have to remember is it did not come suddenly. Korean beauty has been around forever. Kpop has been huge in SE Asia and therefore Asian-Americans have caught on for a while and of course social media brought all of this new exposure. Korean dramas have reached beyond Korea for a long time. I like to call it a network effect and mirror exposure–it was a slow progression of things that came together in one fruition. I think it’s here to stay.

ME: I like to joke that one indicator of the Hallyu wave is there are a lot more Asians white people can mistake me for now. Ever been mistaken for an Asian celebrity and if so, who?

BN: In college, Lucy Liu was pretty much the only well know Asian female celebrity so I remember people telling me I looked like her, which I found offensive because i don’t look anything like her; we both just have long black hair.

ME: She must have shouldered some burden as the sole Asian-American household name. Poor Lucy!

Let’s test as a reflection of the rise of Korean culture today, how many Korean-Americans you can name right now on this Zoom:

BN: I’m bad with names but I can name Juju Chang, a news anchor I like, Steven Yeun from Walking Dead, Chloe Kim and Daniel Dae Kim of Lost are what come up fast.

ME: Not bad! Better than it would have been ten years ago, I imagine.

I don’t know about you, but my tolerance re being mistaken for other Asian women is wearing thin. What’s your reaction to mis-recognition?

BN: I find it annoying when it happens to me but when it happens to my son, i am offended. At school, teachers have repeatedly mistaken him for other Asian students. My son gets offended. I tell him to correct the teachers and he says has already done that. He asked me to complain so I did and the school apologizes but it does offend me. But we just have to stay positive and try to educate people.

ME: My kids who are half Caucasian and half Korean struggle to feel Korean as I don’t know the language.(I’m adopted). How do you keep your kids immersed in Korean culture? Is that seamless or do you have to make a big effort to expose them?

BN: I try to speak to them only in Korean but they are at the ages when they want to speak only English. I take them to Korea once a year, enjoy Kpop with my daughter, feed them Korean food every day and take them to Korean church on Sundays. My son also takes Taekwondo.

ME: I see. This is admittedly troublesome to me; even two straight-out Koreans your husband and you have to make such Herculean effort!

Tell me some things you like about being Korean:

BN: The culture, the food, the respect for elders and jeong, a Korean concept that is hard to translate but basically means a deep connection,affection for others that is built over time and through shared experiences. My friend Charlotte Cho (co-founder of Soko Glam) wrote a wonderful and short book about jeong that I highly recommend. It’s called The Little Book of Jeong.

ME: Things you dislike about being Korean:

BN: We are feisty, get angry easily and we do it collectively. That can lead to a bully culture, which is the side of Korean culture that is not the best.

ME: Indulgence:

BN: Wine. I’m pretty health conscious and do Pilates but i drink wine.

ME: What is something you are not good at?

BN: Cooking and I am also too blunt.

ME: Favorite Covid-era craft you have tried:

BN: None. I am bad with my hands. Even doing my daughter’s hair is a struggle. I am good at cleaning and organizing.

ME: I recently read some young Koreans are questioning the Korean use of honorifics, do you get offended if honorifics are not used for you?

BN: If it’s a Korean person who understands honorifics, yes I like their use.

ME: I am not in that category so I won’t attempt using honorifics today but know that if I understood them, I’d use one that shows my humility to you for spending your time with me ( but also highlights the fact that you are younger than I).

As i’m too old to have another baby, I can’t aspire to stay at Boram Care myself but I will spread the word to expectant moms I meet because it looks incredible and unique. Thank you for your generous time Boram. xoxo

Q and A with my son re Netflix’s Kdrama Extraordinary Attorney Woo and other matters

Friend greeting from Extraordinary Attorney Woo

ME: I managed the impossible: I got you and your sister to watch a Kdrama with me–Extraordinary Attorney Woo(a popular and fantastic Netflix aired show about an autistic attorney). We’ve discussed a few shows with autistic characters and you usually have serious critiques and find them unwatchable. What makes this show not cringe-worthy to you?

SON: To clarify, it was my friend who told me about the show, not you! But Attorney Woo is a full-fledged, interesting person beyond just being autistic. She’s one of the first autistic characters I actually related to, because 1) she’s usually the one doing the narrating/explanations for the audience about what autism is and her experiences, and her descriptions feel authentic and non-pathologizing, as opposed to most other shows where a non-autistic side character is doing it, and 2) she is a full-fledged, interesting character beyond just being autistic. The show also breaks down a lot of stereotypes about autistic people, such as the idea that we can’t feel empathy, can’t be in romantic relationships, etc, which I appreciated.

ME: I love the friendship of Attorney Woo Young-Woo and her firecracker, quirky best friend Dong Geu-ra-mi. It makes me regret I passed my youth without a signature friend greeting like theirs that has been widely imitated by fans and of course by our family. See video and the imitators.

Ready to drum up a signature mom-son greeting?(We don’t have to dab)

SON: Alas, no such greeting will be obliged.

ME: In honor of Attorney Woo’s loyal bestie Dong Geurami we made her sloppy, easy-to-make-looking gimbap that she makes Attorney Woo(the #1 fan of gimbap). Did you like it?

SON: I found this edible and pretty tasty, but I can see why a gimbap purist might not like it lol. It sucks all the essence out of these ingredients: it’s messy and doesn’t have the aesthetically pleasing vibe that I love about a lot of Korean food. 

Sugar, kimchi and oil carmelized. Yum!
I promise my counter is clean. Clearly though, I am no photographer/food blogger, sorry! This is it before you fold the bottom left corner over to the fried egg section and then fold that to the kimchi square and fold again ( folding clockwise).
Ta-Da! Just like on the show, the result is sloppy and nothing to write home about.We agree with Attorney Woo’s critique of her friend’s creation: “It’s strange.”

ME: Attorney Woo has special interests: whales, law and gimbap. Is it a myth that all autistic people have special interests? What if any are yours?

SON:I think it’s true that most autistic people have special interests, but the degree to which these interests are distinctly “autistic” as opposed to neurotypicals having really passionate obsessions (eg. you blabbering on about your dream country houses and me exasperatedly trying to get you to stop to no avail) depends on where on the spectrum someone is. In the media, special interests are often portrayed as these all-encompassing compulsions that consume the entirety of a person’s life: Attorney Woo relates everything back to whales, is constantly offering up her rote memorized facts, and is completely oblivious to when others are not interested. Whereas me and a lot of my late-  or self-diagnosed autistic friends often have these same joyful, intense interests, but they’re able to talk about other things and won’t launch into a monologue if it’s clear the other person isn’t interested. I’ve never been the kind of autistic who’s able to memorize rote, concrete facts: I remember having a deep special interest in alligators as a kid because I thought they were cool, but not caring enough to actually remember facts about them. My current special interests are: writing, queer literature and theory, frogs, mushrooms (the non-psychedelic kinds for any concerned adults reading this!), social justice and anti-oppressive movements of all flavors, the history of neurodiversity activism, and creative DIY projects. 

ME: Having special interests seems like a boon not a liability.

SON: Most of the time it’s a very positive thing! the sheer joy autistics experience when talking about our interests is something I pity the rest of you for never getting to experience. it feels like a soft ball of rice squishing my brain. there’s a really good article by this old, defunct autism blog that explains this joy beautifully:

“I pity anyone who cannot feel the way that flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel and thrusts it up into the air. I pity anyone who doesn’t understand how beautiful the multiples of seven are, anyone who doesn’t get chills when a shadow falls just so across a solitaire game spread out on the table. I pity anyone who is so restrained by what is considered acceptable happiness that they will never understand when I say that sometimes being autistic in this world means walking through a crowd of silently miserable people and holding your happiness like a secret or a baby, letting it warm you as your mind runs on the familiar tracks of an obsession and lights your way through the day.”

ME: One episode of Attorney Woo has a sub-plot that involves a female attorney having a poop accident at work. (Don’t groan at my reference, but it reminded me of an episode of Sex and the City when Charlotte pooped in her pants). I’ve heard Koreans are a little obsessed with poop, e.g, they have a popular poop cafe in Seoul. What’s your take on a poop obsession?

Is this poop cafe a necessary stop for our upcoming trip to Korea?

SON: Why not? I’m… very intrigued by what this cafe would look like. Like, is the food actually… poop-themed or is it just that the general aesthetic of the cafe radiates poop? I also like the “anti-procrastination” Korean cafe I saw on TikTok: you tell the staff there what project, assignment etc you’re working on and they take your phone away and don’t let you leave until you finish, then bring you unlimited sweets once you’re done. It seems like a magical place for both our ADHD minds!

ME: I am sold!

Anyways, enough re Attorney Woo (for now). Let’s talk other entertainments.

A good novel I just read, Either/Or by Elif Batuman, discusses Kierkegaard’s same-named work in a way that makes me curious so I’ve been, as you know, all summer hunting for this philosophy book in any bookstore we go to. (I recently on beach vacation shrieked in delight to the alarm of the man behind the cash register when we found it in a tiny bookstore with literally 10 philosophy books). As a philosophy novice with ADHD, what are the realistic chances, I will read this cover to cover?

SON: Pretty slim: devouring dense, complicated philosophy texts does not exactly seem like your area of strength. I’m in the same situation: I’ve been wanting to read Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality for a while now because it’s considered, like, one of the foundational texts of queer theory, but can’t decipher one word of his obfuscating, esoteric language.

ME: What was the best thing we ate at Porcelain (Korean-Chinese fusion restaurant in Ridgewood, Queens whose Korean-American adoptee chef I am interviewing for this blog) today?

SON: The glass noodle dish was SOO good! i have never seen fat glass noodles like that in my history of Korean food consumption. (photographed below)

ME: Were you disappointed we didn’t go to my big college reunion in August?

SON: Not really? Being led around and begrudgingly introducing myself as “Elissa’s son” to all your 40 year old college friends is not exactly my idea of fun. I’m mostly relieved that I don’t have to constantly hear you agonizing over whether or not to go every second of the day anymore!

glass noodles, celery and tofu dish.
photo of delicious kimchi-brined chicken with sesame pancakes and two types of kimchi. Amazing.

ME: Best book you have read for summer required reading:

SON: Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.

ME: Best non required reading of the summer:

SON: Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Here are a few especially moving/well written parts (I annotate my books because I’m a huge nerd):

ME: In summertime, we always play a silly made up family game when we have pool access; we do a cannonball as we yell “Rock on—–!” sarcastically, e.g., “Rock on Ron DeSantis!”

In that vein, give us a Rock on….

SON: rock on, white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy!

ME: Show me something you crafted recently:

SON: these patches I made for my denim jacket over vacation:


mushrooms, spider web, “frogs against fascism” and frog with knife + rainbow flag
historical queer activist symbol, TikTok’s adorable “autism creature”
skull king design I copied from an etsy shop

ME: Show us something in your room that you prize:

SON: this mushroom poster!

Thanks for agreeing to do this again! That might satiate me for a while. xoxo

60th post: What inspires: Alphaville, Hairbeds,NYC art shows and Basia the Nazi hunter

My treehouse

I briefly researched the number 60, which means I skimmed Wikipedia in preparation for my 60th post. I felt I had to justify the undeniable pride I am feeling about making it to this somewhat arbitrary number. To my surprise, when I recently printed out my posts–many of them quite wordy– I had a veritable tome! But the only interesting association with the number 60 is that Jean-Luc Godard’s sci-fi movie Alphaville had a sentient computer character named Alpha 60 that sought to eliminate human emotions, poetry and love from the movie’s fictional universe. Godard’s movie that I have not seen, is supposedly about the “potentially catastrophic uses of computers to enslave rather than liberate humanity.” What a perfect association for this post that celebrates my blog and computer usage!

Playing a role in enslaving humanity is a small price to pay for the joy I’ve received sharing my post with you.Though I hope Godard was wrong about computers destroying us.

New goal for this blog: prove Godard wrong! Blog to spread more emotion, poetry and love! (Hey, as K-dramas are all about emotion, poetry(hmm?) and love–watch more K-dramas!) I like that. (It’s clear I’ve been living under a rock as I am not familiar with Alphaville (but I do remember that band with that name and their song “Forever Young.”) I think i’ll watch it as it’s spawned a lot of discussion and i like Godard).

Since I set up this blog in November 2021, my best friend from middle school Michelle, a busy artist in San Francisco has been my pro bono creative coach/supporter. Michelle is someone who in her spare time not only dreams up theme parties but executes them enviably well. When the song “99 luftballoons” was a radio hit long ago, Michelle created a website for a related theme party, bought 99 red balloons, blew them up with friends and stuffed each one with the website information so people who found the balloons could contact her via the site. On an impossibly photogenic day, her friends and her partied on a rooftop and took photos of the balloons’ glorious release into the sky. For some time after the party, she received enthused messages from finders of these balloons. The list of her creative projects and ideas is endless. An adoptee like me, Michelle once silk-screened the images of the pages from her adoption file onto a baby blanket–an evocative, beautifully done art project. After years of advising artist friends and inspiring them for free, she’s begun her job as a creativity coach; her first client: me. I know she will brilliantly define this position and will totally shred.

My need for her service is immense.Michelle affirms that I am an artist and writer despite my self-publishing and lack of renumeration. As someone who understands the struggles of having ADHD and sticking to long-term projects, she is the perfect coach. She and I love to discuss what is inspiring us lately.

In this post, I’d love to delve into THINGS THAT INSPIRE ME:

  1. Art: Among Michelle’s first assignments: a) see a live art exhibit at least once a month and b) buy Art Forum every month, tear out images that excite me and hang them on a board. When it comes to the first assignment, not to brag but I’m an Honors Student or more like Valedictorian. In the past two months I’ve seen at least six art exhibits: Virgil Abdou etc at the Brooklyn Museum, Faith Ringgold at the New Museum, Frieze art fair, Met costume exhibit, Scenes from the Collection at the Jewish Museum and The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do at the Jewish Heritage Museum. Though I have scant credentials other than a lifetime love of art and an art history class or two under my belt. let me be your wacky docent today.

I always knew Jean-Francois Millet was a punk artist for his times–depicting rural life and people as heroic when most deemed them unworthy subject matter. But this painting Shepherd Tending his Flock at the Brooklyn Museum stopped me in my tracks. This master gives us his usual rigmarole–beautiful rendering of light and shadow and yummy, thick brushwork. But check out my crappy photo above, which zooms up close to his cloak and what lies beneath. What’s with the quirky undergarments? How does one explain the unexpected jolt of pastel colors in the midst of all this realism! I’m imagining that an art restorer’s son snuck into his dad’s studio, got his hands on this painting and took some liberties with some colored Sharpies. That scamp! Alternatively, perhaps the artist, bored of realism but unwilling to court more controversy, shyly picked a shadowy spot to test out a new style. Third hypothesis: yours truly, your novice docent, may have read the signage next to the piece too fast and this could be the artist’s rough study, not a final painting. You pick!

PP

Behold Philip Guston’s Red Cloth painting at the Brooklyn Museum. I am imagining those responsible for acquiring art for the Brooklyn museum slapping a conference table and shouting “Sold!” in unison to enthusiastically land this one over the artist’s more controversial paintings that have white hooded KKK-like figures in them. (This docent clearly has no knowledge of how museums buy art). As a non-Black person, I don’t want to comment on whether his work with the white hooded cartoon images is offensive but I hope the verdict is not guilty as I’m a fan. I like that his art incites conversations about race in America and I love his humorous style/vibe. I’m glad the Philip Guston Now exhibit is no longer being delayed as it was for some time due to controversy following the murder of George Floyd and the protests. Join me friends to see this show at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston before it closes. It will not be dull.

Another KKK-related painting? My daughter and I admired this work at the Jewish museum by Black artist Trenton Doyle Hancock (TDH. He's written that it involves an imagined meeting of Philip Guston's avatar (the cartoonish KKK figure) and TDH's avatar Torpedo Boy. TDH is, by the way, a fan of Guston's and similar to Guston, seeks to use humor to diminish white supremacy and create dialogue about race.  My daughter and I were struck by the fun materials on this painting like cut up pieces of black fur and medicine bottle caps. This made me want to forage through my recycling bin and glue that shit down! The painting also reminds me of the charming children's book, Lookalikes Junior, in which every day objects are used but cleverly concealed in scenes.
Finding this in a dimly lit hallway

Finding Under the Cloud, the above painting by American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder ( one favorite artist of mine) at the Met museum was a boon. His more iconic work, The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) has been one of my favorite paintings for years. It’s moody, mysterious majesty! (The fact that The Race Track is at the Cleveland Museum of Art, in my mind, elevates Cleveland, a city I associate with bad politics, hyper-segregated neighborhoods and grim winters.)

As I’ve only ever seen one of his paintings in person, I was tickled to find this one as I impatiently barreled through a curious set of rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (rooms in which lesser known holdings are unceremoniously displayed in rows of dimly lit glass cabinets). A total pearl!

This above work appeals to me as someone who never went to art school and is deficient in techniques such as perspective drawing. I like the gaze here–focused downward on the shoes of this group and I appreciate the cool leaf-like patterns. I know that placing patterns like this, without the talent/know how, more times than not will destroy a perfectly awesome piece of art so I give this a standing O and wish i could own it.

dolls, glorious dolls!
I can’t even start here. It’s just too much incredible-ness.

The mind-altering Faith Ringgold exhibit at the New Museum surprised me. Check out her life-sized, expressive dolls I never knew she made. She worked with so many different materials and had so many styles, not just the awesome folky paintings and textile art I associated with her. She also made these hilarious quilts where she roasts famous artists like Picasso (see below) and highlights how artists appropriated African art without much or any credit. I bow down to you Faith.

Picasso looks so silly in this quilt. Love it.

I love this painting. Kind of unexpected for me. I love how she could do any style so well.

Thi

This large painting, Self-portrait-tears, by Korean artist Dae-Won Yang delights me. I love the shapes and colors he uses to depict his Donggeulin (round man)– the artist’s avatar. He explores themes of isolation, inequity, evil and the search for the meaning of life. Sounds like my cup of tea. Plus his paintings use “interventions with textiles and iron clothed transfers.” Without seeing his art up close, I do not understand what I’m dealing with fully but I want to know more. And I want it in my house please.

A drawing that shows I’m improving but still have a long way to go to please myself

2)Korean pop culture-kdramas and music.

You get it by now. I like Kdramas.

treehouse drawing
Sweet scene from the Extraordinary Attorney Woo Kdrama on Netflix that inspired my drawing.
My Sculpie of Attorney Woo who loves whales and kimbap. The whale cracked in the oven but the kimbap survived!

My tree house drawing (top image above) was inspired by scenes from my favorite new Kdrama, The Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix. Attorney Woo, a brilliant autistic attorney hangs out in a treehouse and admires scenery with a woman whom she later learns is her birth mom. Watching this scene as an adoptee, I felt mopey and I hate to admit it, a tad teary. The drawing I completed ridiculously late that same night, turned out to be about what inspires me. My sad head on the branch is me when I watch shows/movies that deal with abandonment and/or reunions with birth parents. It also represents me when I can’t finish projects and get frustrated with myself. (The cartoonish character writing with a quill pen is the frustrated writer brain cell from the Kdrama Yumi ‘s Cells). I drew baby me on her own under the prickly looking blanket. (Note my crazy curly hair that I can’t believe I once had). I also added my kids who inspire me and my husband who is supportive of my odd projects. Finally, I drew some images representing Korean culture-Kpop (BTS) and Kdramas (man holding umbrella for woman).

3) Min Jin Lee’s Instagram feed. The Pachinko author turned unofficial Korean-American ambassador is a powerhouse who hobnobs with every Korean-American luminary and up-and-coming creator but does so with the humble, wide-eyed charm of a school girl (who happens to be worldly and erudite with off-the-chart communication skills). She’s forever raising awareness about anti-Asian bias and violence in an un-whiny way that feels palatable and introduces us to a torrent of amazing Asians. Her feed is like a jolt of always needed Asian self-esteem. Long live MJL!

4) My offspring. (I can’t include my son as he’s a private teenager wary of my blog and the multitude of ways I could embarrass him but my daughter on the other hand…

My seven year old daughter’s drawing from a year ago. Made me smile. I am not showing off her technical abilities here but I do like her idea! it’s silly but somehow makes perfect sense: Hair bed, well of course!
kid cracking me up at the Brooklyn Museum

5) My Jewish family/Judaism.

Recently, my friend Aidah asked me why I don’t delve into my Jewish roots more on this blog. There’s so much to love much about Jewish culture. I’d hate to think I don’t focus on my Jewish connection (the fact I was adopted from Korea by a white, Jewish woman and was raised as a Reform Jew) because Jewish culture is not “trendy” in the way Korean culture is now. Egads that’d be despicable. Let me change course starting now.

When my teen son heard I had a distant cousin who was a Nazi hunter, he perked up in his seat–all eyes on me. My Cousin Basia/Bessy–distantly related to my mother– was a Nazi hunter who lived on West End Avenue. She wasn’t the Inglorious Bastards, gun-slinging sort but worked for decades behind a desk to locate the scummiest Nazis after the war had ended. When I knew her best, I was a bit of a mess–a mildly depressed teenager hiding beneath thick bangs. Bessy was in her mid to late eighties, retired and suffice it say, always happy to see me at her door.

During high school, I’d visit her most Sundays and read the actual hard copy of the NY Times to her for she had dim vision and a sharp mind. The spacious, art-filled pre-war apartment in which she lived stood in contrast to the small apartments mom and inhabited. I liked all the spaces for idle sitting-so many chairs and couches, which seemed like the ultimate sign of wealth to me. My mother once informed me that the somewhat gloomy small paintings in the foyer were done by famous Jewish artists who were distantly related–though now I can’t recall any of their names. I hadn’t been impressed.

When I’d enter her apartment, Basia’s Polish caregiver would warmly greet me in smiles and indecipherable Polish chatter. She’d direct me to a doily-clad table with homemade steaming Pierogi’s that I dearly loved. (Those mushroom/sauerkraut ones were solid). Then Bessy would inevitably amble into the room and in that one moment, standing at arms-length, would look up at me and glow; this woman of stooped shoulders, petite frame and brusque manner, never told me in so many words that she loved me, but with one of her wide, closed-lip smiles, I knew she accepted me and even cherished me.

I had no idea she was a badass though. I was after all just a self-absorbed teenager. How I wish I’d been more curious about her and asked her to regale me with Nazi hunting tales but I was often too busy planning a swift, graceful exit. Bessy would sit at the dining room table across from me, her spectacles drawn down to the tip of her nose, and roll the beads of the wooden necklaces she often wore in her fingers as she listened to me read. Yes, she’d sometimes drive me batty with her exacting manner–continually correcting my pronunciation of long, unfamiliar words but I’d smile at her sweetly and carry on. The worst part was that she would often make me repeat the word I mispronounced and then the entire sentence to boot. I’m not sure why she thought perfect pronunciation would give me a leg up. (Given all the time I spent on elocution, I’m unclear why I often still mispronounce words that are commonly understood). Nor did I emerge particularly well-informed, as I don’t recall absorbing any of the information I read. The news bored me back then, (though who am I kidding; today, it’s sometimes a gruesome chore to stay well-informed). I hope I read to her with some inflection and drama, though I was soft spoken and self-conscious, so I’m skeptical.

Some days, there were no Pierogies awaiting me. Those days, I had to make do with day- old pastries that Bessy would buy from the UWS bakery that offered half off after 5 pm each day. I’d sit and chew at them slowly and internally decry that someone with money could be so cheap. Or I’d go to the bathroom and wrinkle my nose at the fact that she was saving water by not flushing after each use. (In her defense, there was some kind of city-wide drought/shortage at the time so Bessy was the hero). If I was in a pissy mood, something de rigeur given my immediate family’s oft unstable financial state, the fact of adolescence and the incessant dirge of self-loathing that was hard to quiet, the trip to Bessy’s was particular gruesome. I remember carrying on some Sundays, pleading with my mother to be excused from my visit, but to mom’s credit, she never let me shirk my duty. For this, I’m grateful now.

Looking back now from where I am comfortably seated, I am awash in a haze of affection for this lady who was responsible for bringing many Nazi war criminals to trial and to consequence. Her eccentric habits that I once decried, in retrospect, made perfect sense given her family’s experiences in pre-war Europe, the Holocaust and afterwards. (See below re my Cousin Abrasha who was related to Basia. He was a Holocaust survivor). Recently, recounting memories of Basia to my son, I felt my loss again. For every stale croissant I endured, was a lady who rescued my mother and I from doom more than once (e.g., giving mom overdue tuition money for the many private schools I attended over my childhood—schools often beyond my mother’s means). Perhaps more than that, she was squarely on my team– bragging to her immediate family who were actually blood-related about my accomplishments-no matter how trivial; in my senior year of high school at Trinity, I handed Basia My Spiritual Journey, an essay I’d written for class about spirituality, adoption and being Korean and Jewish. I knew she’d be proud of the A my teacher gave me.

One Sunday, Basia returned my essay to me.She’d placed it a long yellow envelope and rest it on the table where we sat facing each other as usual. She charmingly dissected each and every page of my twenty-page essay as if she’d memorized each line–one hand on top of the envelope the whole time. When she was done, she took the essay out of the envelope and pressed it down with her palms. (My papers were always wrinkly then and are so now). Then, she stood up abruptly and without explanation, left the room. When she returned, she unearthed a felt pen from a deep cardigan pocket (uncharacteristically silent)and bent down comically close to my essay. Next to my teacher’s handwritten A, she wrote a wobbly plus symbol and handed my paper back to me, quite pleased. I still have my essay with that wobbly plus. Love you, Bessy!

A recent view of the new Holocaust exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC led me to find the above fork. My Cousin Abrasha (related to my Cousin Basia) was a concentration camp survivor whom I was blessed to know for much of my adult life before he passed away.I’d heard about how dashing he’d been as a young man, but I had never seen a photo of him.
This painting, part of the Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibit is fun but most importantly to me, feels like I could one day paint something like this. Maybe I’m self-aggrandizing but those cartoon hands are just my speed and I might be able to carry off the mix of macabre and mundane.

Thank you for reading my 60th post (and thereby being complicit in my enslavement of humanity). I hope you stay with me until we reach 100 and beyond. Is that greedy?

Party idea #2: to bear the heat wave, try having a iyeolchiyeol* party (*Korean expression that means to fight heat with heat)

A silly drawing done late last night to illustrate iyeolchiyeol. I imagined having a theme party where guests wear puffy coats in the heat, eat hot chicken and ginseng soup, and watch horror movies. (Note, my face looks particularly garish as I’m wearing a chilled Korean skincare mask).. P.S- yes, that is my beloved Sculpie I stuck onto my drawing to be flames. Just had fun pressing it into the paper. That’s all I can say.

This week, I learned about iyeolchiyeol, a Korean expression that means fighting heat with heat. Of course, this is relevant now as temperatures are skirting 100 degrees. New York City is responding to the dreadful heat wave by extending city pool hours, which makes some sense; however, I warn you from personal experience that excessive cranial submersion in a pool for many hours can be unwise. (As a teenager, one dull summer, I spent maybe 8 hours in my grandmother’s community pool in Ohio and all that submersion left me with a swol

menenges ? and some killer headaches so be warned! ). Apparently, keeping cool by staying someplace cold has it’s limits. Koreans seem to understand this; many Koreans believe that eating hot food or going to a sauna during a heatwave will help you overcome the heat by sweating a lot. I have always believed this! (Alas, further confirmation of my Korean-ness!)

I recall myself as a young woman wearing a long-sleeved shirt on the stifling nyc subway. This oddity caused a young man to ask me, concerned, if I was anemic. I was/am not anemic. I am often found in my own apartment wearing unseasonably bulky sweaters/hoodies as if I reside year-round in a winter log cabin. I was an enthusiastic fan of the 2020 celebrity-driven trend of wearing puffy coats during the summer (but never tried it myself.)

In part, I like wearing long sleeves as they prevent sunburned arms. I may be warped, but I’m convinced I’m cooler than those wearing flimsy tank tops and almost-naked wear. Incidentally, I like the look of balancing bare legs with a more covered top, which is very Korean of me. (To those who have seen my confused, haphazard outfits over my lifetime, it may surprise you that I have any heart-felt fashion principles. I do!)

As I start to plan a trip to Korea for my 50th birthday next year and to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary, I ponder whether my family and I can tolerate my motherland in August–a month when weather can reach 100 degrees F. (I can’t be the only heat-hater who sometimes wishes the school calendar could be modified so that school ran through the summer and summer vacation began in the fall).

In the spirit of iyeolchiyeol and very much inspired by an article I read, consider having a party or at least a modest gathering of a few friends with this theme. Though for fun and benevolence, you might want to offer more traditional methods of staying cool as well.

Ideas:

1. Many Koreans believe that being scared cools your body temperature down, which is supposedly why horror movies are released during the summer in Korea. That said, invite friends to watch some of these creepy tales, especially the one about the murderous twin sisters that will surely leave you frost-bitten.

2. Serve hot drinks–Korean soju hot toddy anyone? Throw in some fun cold ones to be charitable to your guests.

3. Offer guests hand warmers, the kind you slip into gloves during winter or cave in and provide a more traditional cooling method: offer guests ice facial rollers that have been pre-chilled in your fridge for a delightful jolt of cold. Or a cheaper option that is popular in Korea is to put your Korean facial masks in the fridge/freezer for a short time. That is just good times.

4. Serve hot Korean soups like samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) and/or my favorite Korean icy cool-off soup Naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles), which comes in a package at HMart and Amazon of course.

5. Though this is not quite on point/relevant to this post,I am obsessed with these in-demand jelly cakes by a Korean-American baker that look perfect for a hot summer day. They make me smile.

6.Require or cheerfully suggest guests come wearing their best winter gear–puffy coats, scarves, winter beanies and mittens to add an element of ridiculousness. Absurdity elevates most parties, no?

7. Use fans or put your a/c on that conserve mode that you may shun on hot days (of course not in a heatwave, that would be selfish!). The idea is to be a little warm but not too warm. You don’t want want your guests to wilt, abandon the party spirit and question your regard for their well being/curse you out.

7. Decor, decor, decor. Hang a string high across your party space. Draw jagged flames with permanent markers on clear, thin acrylic sheets and then cut out the flames. Use a hole punch on each shape and and hang flames off the main line. Or use layered colored felt to make flames. Draw other things that are hot/summer themed. Good Lord, use your sense of humor if you have one. This could look really rough-hewn if you do just what I wrote above.

In drawing my imagined party, i notably forgot to include any guests, which may be my way of acknowledging that my friends would not want to extend their heat-wave misery and melt at my party for my sheer amusement. Perhaps this party is limited to my immediate family–an agreeable lot who often entertains my passing fancies.

Stay cool either conventionally or try the Korean iyeolchiyeol way!

My friend Deb eating a Korean hot soup on a oppressively hot day. Try this tasty new Korean restaurant called Yoon Haeundae Galbi.