Clowns, get dressed

Sculpie of girl from True Beauty, Kdrama I liked. She has a lipstick in tow for her transformation.

I’ve enjoyed writing stories about real life Vixens but what about the Clowns? (See this blog’s prior Vixen 1-4 posts). In terms of self-care–grooming and style–many of us have been Clowns during quarantine/this past year; some of us are career Clowns, tickled that our ways have been normalized. No need for shame if your wardrobe is brim with sweatshirts and if your manicure-free nails are talons. It’s no longer just Keanu Reeves’ older girlfriend prancing around town with a head of greys! Even Vixens have joined the fray and I hear many have enjoyed the break from societal expectations. Take for example, my friend D, a successful entrepreneur and socialite from an iconic American design family; to her delight, gone are the social functions she used to frequent and the need to showcase her charms. Ensconced on a bucolic estate owned by her family she was, as I last saw her a few months ago, calm and resplendent in a messy ponytail, bare face and no shoes. Further, she told me I was the second friend she’d seen in almost a year–limiting most of her contact to her family. But the clock is ticking.

Without making light of this past year, there have been some positive notes. Whom among us Vixens or Clowns will unexpectedly miss our face masks for the anonymity they provide when we walk down the street? Personally, as someone who gets in trouble for having a face that is an open book (my friends often tell me I look bored when I am), I’ve enjoyed the fact I’m unreadable behind the mask. (Some people have expressive eyes. My eyes are like dead pools of black. I have noticed people trying to study them to figure out my mood but I’m impenetrable!) Speaking about less trivial benefits, more employers, including my own, have finally accepted the idea that working from home, to some degree, is for a wide range of workers a viable option that accommodates parents and those with disabilities. I know that one day a week when my employer requires us to return to the office most days, I can squeeze my daughter when she comes home from school, drive my son crazy with open-ended questions about his school day and wear snuggly apparel as I advise people whether their employers have done anything illegal or are just cretins.

Though I’ve enjoyed the ease of wearing clothing that morphs from daytime to bedtime seamlessly, as I walked through Central Park this past Sunday with my first Moderna shot coursing through me and a spate of cherry blossum trees on view, I experienced an epiphany–I’m ready to bust out of my cocoon in a swash of colorful, dignified clothing! Blazers and floral skirts galore. Am I ready for shoes with hard heels? Lip color beneath my mask? The possibilities are rampant.

It was hard for me not to gawk as my kids and I rambled down the path to the boat rentals; for the park was a veritable runway of stylish adults (mostly unhampered by children). Indeed, I have observed, New Yorkers are dressing very “Korean” these days—lots of cute knitwear sets, layered looks, baggy jeans, puffy sleeves, pleated mini skirts and attention grabbing hair pins for example. (If you have any doubts about the rise of Korean fashion and the influence of the Hallyu wave that comes from Kpop and Kdramas, look on the website that I adore, and wait a year to see the same fashions emerge in the U.S. It’s pretty fun to see).

My kids and I enjoyed a day full of minor mishaps that on paper, would suggest a fiasco.. We grabbed Subway sandwiches for lack of imagination and circled the park looking for a non-balding patch of grass (which is no small feat. Am I paranoid or are UWS lawns way more trod upon than UES ones? Is that because of all the children here or is it some nefarious scheme of FLO (Frederick Law Olmsted?) We found a patch of mud with some grass, soaked in some Vitamin D and then headed to the Boathouse. En route, we stopped at a large bank of swings and I unwisely put my five year old in the kind meant for a 2 year old. This caused me to struggle comically to lift her out, an ungraceful reckoning that caught the eye of an observant father whom, contrary to the idea that good samaritans do not exist, huffed and puffed until he lifted my little turnip out of the swing. (This was before I read about a TikTok trend of teenagers purposely shoving themselves into baby swings to get stuck). We waited forty minutes on the Boathouse line only to discover a cash only policy. Three tired gerbils re-traced our steps home. Despite the setbacks, at the end of the day, my teen son said with no discernable trace of irony “This had to be the highlight of my vacation,” which gave me immense joy and gratitude; for the world has suffered so much loss and devastation, yet we clowns were together on one of the prettiest Spring days ever.

Hope you have a good Spring everyone!

Tried to find a looser style by drawing in Sharpie fast. I’ll keep trying! The first three are of a lawyer character on a very popular Kdrama, the Penthouse. He’s a true clown and his outfits reflect that well. The last drawing is of another main Penthouse character wearing a fancy sweatshirt with a shirt layered underneath-so Korean. It’s got a cool leather collar detail that, hah, makes this “fancy” for me. Baby Steps, I guess!
Peg dolls of the main three characters in The King, Kdrama, a show with some good outfits

Asian Persuasion and other cause for revolt

A few days ago, jogging on Columbus Avenue en route to the Reservoir for a morning run, an elderly woman waved at me to stop. Out of breath and wary, I slowed down to hear her. She had twisted a tendon and needed help to walk to the Dagostino’s–a good deed that would set me backwards a few blocks on a chilly morning and force me to engage with a stranger in close proximity. She clutched my arm and hobbled forward, expressing joy that Biden was president and then, stopped her labored tread to say “It’s terrible what they are doing to the Orientals.” I took no offense as she had intended to be supportive and found the exchange sweet. Though I knew she was referring to the Atlanta attacker, NYC subway slasher and that extreme ilk, I considered the “they” she referred to as a broader group than those lone assailants. For is there an existing Asian-American who is shocked by these violent outbursts? So much of our lives involve hurdling “innocuous” racism by coworkers, strangers, love interests and resigning to our station or quietly grumbling to friends; we understand racism against us is more benign and tolerable than racism against African-Americans and others.

It feels tone-deaf/absurdist to write a blog about Korean-American identity and not discuss racism but I’ve managed to avoid it to date. I’ve always felt certain the kind of racism I’ve faced is dopey, docile stuff like being called shy by people who have never interacted meaningfully with me or being ignored. When I describe ludicrous interactions I’ve had with people to my non-minority friends, they say “these kind of things always seem to happen to you,” and they giggle. I never thought these odd exchanges were tied to race, but I’m starting to think they are indeed. Once I got into a cab and gave my directions to the driver. He nodded and drove a block or so. We stopped at a crosswalk and a white woman rushed to my door and attempted to jiggle the handle. I heard the driver, turn towards her and unlock the door–to my befuddlement. The woman, one leg in the cab, finally looked at me, shocked and peeved that I existed. The two of them had overlooked me! If that was an isolated incident, I’d chalk that up as a fluke but that strange invisibility is real. A friend of mine who is Asian has claimed she thinks people bump into her on the street more than others. Another says people cancel her private voice lessons last minute and she’s convinced it’s her race.

When we are noticed, the attention is often unwelcome. Hence the title of this post. For most of us Asian-Americans, “phile-screening” for prospective partners/dates has been a familiar rite of passage. If a non-Asian guy you meet has dated more than one Asian woman in his past, he’s red flagged. Studied/taught in Asia? Points off. Say things like “Asian women have great legs and hair”? Toast. All women are catcalled and bothered and some find this flattering. But to be an Asian woman means strangers on the street yelling “Asian women are hot!” in a hostile way or subjecting you to weirder stuff; I think of the time a well-dressed white man stopped me on the streets of downtown Cleveland and did a whole “wax on, wax off” circular hand motion complete with an unflattering squat, courtesy of the Karate Kid, and then walked away. Or more recently as I briefly wrote about in “Dr Phile,”an earlier post, my physician described me in the past as a “young, hot innocent Korean woman” or something to that effect as I sat in his office–a sorry, unwelcome moment.

Sculpie of the famous Breakfast at Tiffany’s scene in which the Japanese-American neighbor/landlord? is unflatteringly portrayed with buck teeth, terrible makeup and a crazy vibe by Caucasian actor Mickey Rooney. (The hard-to discern squiggly items represent steam and they glow in dark). Always pissed me off but I realize it was a different era. There are unfortunately still an inordinate amount of offensive portrayals of Asian-Americans in the media.

I”ve been caught off guard by work colleagues and “friends” with their offensive racial theories; once at work, my colleague dropped by to make small talk and offered this gem: “(Name of spouse) and I were talking about all the pretty Asian girls who date nerdy rich men and I brought you up because you’re not a gold-digger and (husband) said “she’s the exception because she’s Korean but adopted.” And to each of these small offenses, I have been cordial and may have laughed along to avoid conflict.

Actually, I’ve spent a great part of my life, curiously quiet. Though inside, I’ve always had plenty of opinions, I labeled myself to my friends’ amusement in college “mute girl” because I rarely spoke in class. That carried over to my career to some extent as an attorney who was, particularly as a young woman, seldom vocal at meetings. I remember one time being agitated/firm with opposing counsel on a phone call. A white male colleague whose office abutted mine passed by afterwards to tell me he was impressed/surprised that I could be tough as if he expected me to always speak in shadowy whispers or cheerful exclamation.

Of course when people anticipate you are quiet, it takes more effort to be otherwise. So these relatively minor infractions and stereotypes do affect us, make us believe we are meak and inconsequential. But Hark, old age and years of collected grievances have cured me of my reticence! Best not utter nonsensical/stereotypical things in my presence now. Want to imitate a Chinese bus boy in front of me or free associate with me about your offensive racial theories, I dare you! I will EDUCATE you. Best be warned. And I won’t be laughing.

Drawing of actress Nancy Kwan looking strong

My brush with a literary agent

My only brush with a literary agent came a few years ago when I wrote a little rhyming picture book about a toddler bidding adieu to her pacifiers. The toddler appreciated and collected pacifiers the way her parents collected records and other treasures. Before braving this critique, I read my two pages to a wide and disparate audience–delighted by the reaction from friends who were bad liars/credible critics. I’d suffered many humorless picture books that featured fairies coming to whisk away pacifiers to the woods, during the time that I was wrestling my child’s soothies from her clenched jaws. Through my generous friend CKim (incidently one of my two Korean friends), I had the chance to show a well-known literary agent my book. As this agent represented one of my favorite children’s book authors of all time, I may have had a star or two in my eyes, hoping that she’d like it.

She called me a few days after reading my two pages of text and said in a thick European accent that I densely could not specify, “I do not know the pac-ee-fi-er lit-er-ra-ture.” This cracked me up at the time. I too had no knowledge of pacifer “literature” but did she get the attempt at wit or at the very least the effort I made to look up the word pacifer in different languages and find ONES THAT RHYMED? Maybe not. (I now regret using my one chance with a great literary agent for this. If I happen to miraculously write something great one day, like you know War and Peace, I will be forever branded the “pacifier literature lady.”)

With that build up,here is the text for your amusement and, if you must, your mockery. xoxo

Dad has his records. Mom has her books. I am in the stroller giving dirty looks.

(picture of a toddler in a stroller watching her dad flip through records at a store, looking bored)

These antique pins I’ve found could poke me in the eye.

These shakers seem to fall and break whenever I pass by.

(photo of kid in a antique store with rows of different salt shakers)

These watches would be nifty, if only i told time.

A coin collection is not allowed for fear I’ll eat a dime.

What makes me warm and fuzzy and comforts me at night? My pacifier, soothie or Mr. Binky Bright.

A soothie is a work of art. I hold mine to the light. The question that I ask myself is how it feels to bite.

(Drawing of a kid holding a soothie up to the light like a diamond)

There is beauty in its color–its shape and its design. Mom says best of all, it eliminates the whine.

In Paris, they have suzettes. In Norway, they have smokks.

(Picture of kids in Paris sucking on their pacifiers and in background the Pont Neuf with discarded pacifiers decorating it instead of locks)

In Denmark, they have suts. In Estonia, lutts.

In Romania, suzetas. In Portugal, chupetes.

There is a pacy for every occasion. for every frame of mind. The plastic drugstore pacy of the fourteen-karat kind.

There are pacys for the happy times and pacys for the blue. There are even DYI pacys to decorate and glue.

There are pacys for the holidays–for ring a dinging through the snow and pacys for the protest marches–yelling “We won’t go!”

Though I’d travel far and wide for them, by jet or by balloon, my extra squishy oldies are the ones that make me swoon. Best of all, my binkie, my little friend, my Boo, is always in my mouth, reminding me of you. No matter where my parents are of what hurdles I face, my soothie is my partner in crime, in each and every case.

One dark, gray day my parents brought me to my room. “It’s time to part with pacy. You’ve had a good, long run.” This news was as you’ll imagine was anything but fun. I thumped my chest and pulled my hair–my angry ape rendition. That day I skipped or meal or two–revolt against nutrition!

To part with my collection, i ranked them A to Z. The furry ones, the spiky ones, the ones most dear to me. I watched mom slam dunk them, one by one with glee. I wondered without pacys, could I still be me? Goodbye my boo boo pacy for when I scraped my knee. Goodbye my pearly pacy for afternoon high tea.

Mom suggests a new collection–dollies or stuffed bears. But my heart is filled with pacys; nothing else compares.

At night without my friends, I tossed and turned and cried. But by morning, what a miracle, my tears had even dried.

I searched my house for my new collection.

The stress balls on my daddy’s desk are good for squeezing tight.

The warm glow of my nightlights can make the dark alright.

The makeup brushes in mom’s purse I sweep across my cheeks. I picture mom in the mirror and me, the little girl who peeks.

(Drawing of girl watching her mom put on makeup in mirror)

I’m growing up my parents say, and this sounds good to me. But from time to time, please let me smile and think of my binky.

The End (If you are someone who typically reads this blog, I promise no more rhyming picture books on these pages. It was a blip).

Korean Daebak gift box unopened-Give Away for NYC friends

I’ve learned one wort of ADHD is ordering multiple things accidentally, e.g. ordering some ordinary amount of Swiss cheese on Fresh Direct only to get handed a 8 lb round of cheese by a Fresh Direct delivery man. Infinite fondue!!

Well I’ve done it again but this time with something arguably better than cheese-a box of Korean snacks, beauty products, a tote bag, drinks and other assorted things from a company called Daebak. My kids and I have received one of these surprise boxes every few months. I ordered two by accident so one is waiting a friend who wants it. Because it’d be super expensive to ship, I have to limit it to people in NYC withwhom I can drop it off easily. I think you’ll enjoy it. The skin products and snacks are great.

Just leave a hello on Facebook or comment on this post and I’ll blindly pick a winner out of the names. Last time, only a few people tried, so your chances are pretty great of getting this fun prize.

Hope you are all doing okay.



Vixen, part 4

For the years my oldest kid attended a preschool in the East 60’s, I enjoyed a perch on the top step of a red bricked brownstone; waiting for my kid to emerge, I had an entertaining view of the UES cosmos. Though I shared the stoop with other parents, I rarely felt obliged to speak to any of them. It was clear to me from the start that I was not a bird of the same feather. Who could forget the day the white stretch limousine parked in front of the school to reveal a curvy, middle-aged blonde woman in a tight white suit and white patent leather stilettos. She moved like a drunk cruise director– teetering precariously on the sidewalk as she held her small daughter’s hand to enter the school. It struck me as funny that someone confident or deluded enough to make this kind of entrance had not mastered the walk. I couldn’t fathom a plausible agenda for her day. Was this a prelude to the gym locker room/board meeting/morning of chores i.e, folding her laundry at home? Because of the generally haughty audience of parents at the time, I had no one to nudge and share snarky, amused comments. What a wasted moment!

I imagined most of the parents at this school looked at me in the same light as the blunt Chinese facialist who once learned of my lack of skincare routine and shouted as I lay on my back “you are like a peasant!” By extension, some of the parents’ nannies refused to smile back at me and denied playdate requests. I learned that one such nanny asked our babysitter if I was poor based on the way I dressed. (That mortified but didn’t shock me. I’m casual and I don’t care about designers. It may have unduly disturbed me, given the financial travails I endured as a child and my scruffy adoptee background. Was poverty, in fact, unshakable? ) Perhaps my favorite example of the comic parent body: at my kid’s fourth birthday party, one father who revered navy blazers said to my mother in law after she handed him a pizza slice on a paper plate, “how nice they let you eat!” (It was true that my MIL was handing him a slice of pizza while scarfing a separate slice of pizza in her other hand but no matter!). She politely explained she was my mother in law, to which he may have blushed. This was the same father I once overheard asking another parent “Where do you summer?” in all earnestness. (How I wished he’d ask me this question so I could respond with some funny, un-chic locale!) Other stand-out characters- the plastic surgeon mother in her sixties who constantly mistook me for other Asian mothers, which really irked me because I had assumed a plastic surgeon would pay proper attention to facial features and be able to distinguish mine! The best revenge I could hope for happened on grandparent visiting day when I left the classroom to go to the bathroom and upon my return, walked into the room where my little one was out loud, on his own compulsion, pointing out who was a grandmother and who was a mother. Before I could stop this exercise, my kid pointed at the plastic surgeon and declared “grandma!” (Heh, Heh “Grandma” was utterly displeased.)

These wealthy UES people, admittedly, both irked and fascinated me. Seated on my perch one afternoon, none other than Luann De Lesseps, a main character in the Real Housewives of New York, a show I watched two seasons of, and Ramona Singer, walked by, deeply immersed in a conversation. To my disbelief, as they passed, I shouted “love you guys!”, causing the mothers on the stoop to turn my way and more importantly causing said reality TV stars to look up at me and shout “Thank you!”. Did I really love these two? I hadn’t imagined so, but there I was declaring my devotion. My declaration surprised me because I thought I felt more animosity than adoration for this group. It wasn’t just the disparity of wealth and worldview that set me apart from these parents. I was different because my kid was autistic and therefore, the Other. The parent body at the school was particularly sold on early reading as the panacea, some having their kids do Kumon after a day of handwriting and literacy. Though here I had a bright two-year-old who read complex full sentences with no parental push (hyperlexia), we were sometimes socially excluded. During this time when I was just learning about autism, I admit it pained me to be once again, an outsider. (Now I have gained an appreciation of autism’s strength through my advocate child.) So this may explain the fun I derive from mocking the nouveau rich. Finally a minority group worth the derision! It does the soul good; for I may be less wealthy but my family is unique and I’m way less tacky.

Fast forward about seven years to an afternoon in which one of the only friends I made at the above-mentioned preschool, E, took me clothes shopping. She didn’t take me to a traditional store but brought me to the showroom/UES apartment of Vixen, a middle-aged Chinese-American woman who sold designer knockoff clothing and accessories she had made at a Chinese factory. E had not adequately prepared me for the other-worldly experience. In an apartment, so sunny and white, it made my eyes water, Vixen greeted me with a flamboyant hug, furry, slipper/shoes and a Missoni-like dress that contrasted sharply with my Target velour leggings and graying white sneakers. She had puffer-fish lips, a suspiciously even tan and a swath of bronze eye makeup that contrasted greatly with the minimalist decor. In the adjoining dining room, sat ten mostly blonde women at a long white table who turned to stare at me in unison. Most of them, including the hostess, were parents at the same preschool I’d known years back. The table was set with long trays of sushi, cloth napkins and champagne glasses at each plate setting. Each chair was draped with a piece of white fur, supposedly in fashion at the time. In this unfamiliar setting, I fell quiet, aware of the clink of champagne glasses among women I did not know and I clung greedily to my friend. (Though my friend is blonde, tall and solidly very UES, she is a human I trust. If I wanted to run away screaming, I’m pretty sure she’d follow).

After getting us good and tipsy, Vixen led us into her showroom of clothing with its large windows overlooking Central Park. I was met by rows of fake Chanel jackets complete with fake labels inside (I’m sorry Fo, my friend who used to do trademark at Chanel!), fake Prada, Miu Miiu sweaters that those around me, whispered were incredible knock offs at a fraction of the price. Evidencing my quick surrender to peer pressure, I bought things I not only did not need but did not particularly like. A fellow customer, an elegant woman from Spain with a Balanchine neck and hair in a corresponding bun, encouraged me to try on not one but two mock Chanel jackets; she told me the green of the boucled jacket made my face “pop”—opening a closed fist near my face to emphasize her point. Though when I looked at myself in a long mirror, I only felt the unappetizing scratch of the fabric and felt the dowdy matron, I snatched up these jackets. The Vixen herself was the consummate saleswoman, bringing me the type of tight skirts and dresses that even in my youth, I avoided as she cooed words of encouragement. I found her sales skills a shade overwrought (though amusing).”This is like the sexy you need, like your date night, straight-to- the-boom-boom look” or “it’s a myth that pink isn’t for everyone. You can’t go wrong in this sweater. Men love bunnies.” When her young daughter arrived from school with her nanny, the mothers appreciatively clucked at the 5 year old Eurasian beauty; Vixen, greeted her by stroking her pretty dark hair. “Check out her Fendi fur keychain. This one’s for real. How fab is it?” The women collectively murmured their approval. Then the sweet girl was escorted away by the nanny, neatly out of sight. I had to wonder what a five year girl needed with an expensive fur keychain, possibly worth $1,450 according to my covert Google search. But the little bit of champagne soothed my brittle thoughts and allowed me to waltz out of her apartment with a fake Chanel shopping bag. Vixen was if anything a perfectionist-her fraud was not a half hearted endeavor! I had to give her that.

Two days later, I re-tried my Chanels and decried my morally questionable/tacky purchases. I am a legal services attorney afterall and I had no plausible place to wear these jackets. I made a call to the Vixen. When I asked to return the jackets, it was silent on the other end.

Gone was the gaiety and loquacity I had witnessed. “All sales are final.” I could hear the sound of her drumming her long nails on some surface. I hung up, annoyed more at myself than anyone else. After that, I followed her world with delighted gasps of disbelief–how she had told my friend that she gave a Rolex watch (probable fake) to the Exmissions director at the preschool, how she liked to post photos of her daughter in front of the most prestigious private school in nyc and post triumphant photos of her white, disheveled attorney husband and herself at Mar-a-Lago –Trump and Melania half visible in the background. Finally, I learned how she got in some kind of trouble for doing a trunk show and telling her clients that she was selling real designer clothing when she in fact was not. Though time passed, my mom became the happy recipient of my fake Chanel jackets, and I wish Vixen well, I do occasionally enjoy the ping of joy from seeing her baroque world of opera benefits and garish lunches with her friends–a motley group of old, plastic socialites looking for eternal beauty. Please, friends, let me have this small joy.


Mom in her fake Chanel jacket given to her by me

Mr.Queen flip doll

Kdrama Mr. Queen about a modern Korean chef whose soul after an accident transports into the body of a Korean Queen from the Joseon Dynasty. This side of my flip doll is the Korean King Cheoljong. He’s eating a cookie.
The Queen with the man’s soul in her.

In Defense of Nahshimbee

나심비 (nah-shim-bee): An abbreviation for “나의 심리를 만족시키는 비용”, which means “an unnecessary expense that satisfies you”.

During COVID, I can see my increased online purchases are rivaled by many of my neighbors. Our collective packages overwhelm the cracked marble floors of our pre-war lobby and mailroom; as farsighted me has to bend low and study each package label to see my name, I can’t help but make some quick judgements like “hey apt xx, do you really need a SHEIN package every single day? A few sweatpants should carry you through!” Little do they know, I use their packages as a barometer of my own spending. I CANNOT be the most gluttonous person in our building!

Our soft-spoken postman M. who usually keeps to himself, recently griped about the severity of packages that he, on his own accord, picks up and delivers to each of our doorsteps. He does this heroic task because we have an intermittent package thief, which is clear sometimes when I am met with a torn package, nothing inside. According to my nosy but seemingly informed neighbor, the police showed her video footage from our mailroom camera that revealed our package thief in his glory. At one or so in the morning, he was seen entering our building with a key, suggesting he’s a current resident or a devious former one. Once inside our mailroom, he opened our packages at a leisurely clip- probing the content with his fingers and no doubt, smiling beneath his masked face.

The other day in the elevator with M, I filled the elevator silence by sheepishly commenting that I must be one of the top package recipients in the building. Without hesitation, he shook his head. “Oh no. Apt 9A wins.” My worst fear actualized; he indeed judges our spending! (And I hate to break it to you, your postman probably does too.)

Or maybe I am paranoid. He probably has other things to consider. Having ADHD and being trapped indoors for the past year, I admit to getting a heightened thrill from package receipt. (Perhaps I should halt the online purchases and emulate my penny-wise five year old who derives great pleasure watching others open packages on YouTube.) Last year, my shopping propensity became scrutinized by my in-laws when I had the chance to live with them during the height of the pandemic. Living in suburban Atlanta with my husband’s family for almost six months without my own car and with limited excursions outside the house, my package flow increased under the critical eye of my father-in-law. Yes, without digressing too much, it was worse than the imagined critical eye of my postman! But perhaps I should forgive, as we all judge the spending habits of other people. (Even my husband, who is not particularly judgy about spending, was floored by the high cost of my Caesar salad without protein at an NYC diner, but when I told him of a wealthy record collector who built a separate listening house so he could blast his records, it made perfect sense to him.)

My immediate family is defiantly anti-minimalist. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but we like our collections- be it my drawing journals from museums and travels and art supplies or the shelves of books and records that surround my dining room table; we look like we’re Barnes and Nobles (it doesn’t help that I’ve found myself turning my favorite books face forward). Our stuffed apartment, like Alice in Wonderland’s house with her growing inside, teeters towards demolition. Though I have surges of embarrassment, particularly when minimalists visit, I stand by some of our purchases. Poor minimalists who vilify and gloss over the thrill of possession! These smug brethren know not the pleasure of playing librarian when friends visit and peruse my bookshelves. (Looking for a dystopian novel all written in a made up language? Have I got something for you!) This pandemic has made me grateful that I have a wealth of art supplies and grandma earrings of which to entertain my 5 year old. Notably, the Korean word nahshimbee is a joyful sounding word unlike the English equivalent, splurge. So I guess the Koreans understand.

So what if I derive real joy from collecting drawing journals and vintage clip on earrings? (See my photos below of some favorites). Judge me all you want, each journal has potential for me to write new stories and draw my heart out. Each pair of vintage clip on earrings, in my mind, transforms me to someone more storied and eccentric than I am. Sorry Marie, the hunt for these treasures at flea markets, museums, stationary stores definitely “spark joy.” As for my husband, he unwinds by listening to his record collection; the pursuit of records has given us an off-the-beaten-path purpose when we travel (e.g., finding an obscure record shop in Tokyo once lead to some winsome tales). Ladies and gentleman of my imagined jury, I challenge you to find frivolity watching this dear, hard-working man clean his vinyl with a soft cloth, tenderly encasing each in a paper sleeve and then carefully marking down when and where he found each record.

Of course, I understand how wanting an apartment that lives up to some imagined ideal of an UWS professor’s apartment with its bookshelves runneth over means we may one day be approaching Hoarder-ville. I’m not condoning hoarding. I’ve seen the real deal in person, particularly when I was a young attorney visiting clients with mental illnesses in their basement apartments stacked so high with papers and chotchkas that I had to interview them for hours on my feet. My friend recently told me of an elderly relative who had a home filled with her objects and when she outgrew that, filled two trailers with more. When there was no more room, she put her possessions in garbage bags on her front lawn. The bags lingered for so many years, trees grew through the bags.

A smattering of my favorite journals, mostly from trips I’ve taken. My friend made the one on the top row, the second one from the left. Sorry this photo is not visually appealing! Looks sad.

With this disturbing image in mind, I corralled my kids to watch the Netflix documentary The Minimalists: Less Is Now. The two male friends (who are the main narrators) share their path to minimalism, one noting that when you are poor, you take everything offered to you. This comment made me think of my own issues living with my in-laws last year, one particular moment where I felt judged for not being as neat as they are and started to mumble that growing up without money made me messy. At the time, it felt like a disservice to the poor to make such a statement, so I was tentative. But I wonder if the narrator is onto something. Maybe my oft unstable childhood, in which I frequently crashed with family friends and sometimes people I barely knew, has shaped my love of nahshimbee. Or maybe I’m needlessly sullying the word nahshimbee (as it’s a positive word). Perhaps it’s the tyranny of the minimalists who pathologize the clutter-prone when it’s really their OCD selves that need treatment. (I tried this reversal on my mother-in-law by saying with some disdain in my voice “you are the neatest person I’ve ever met in my life” but she knowingly responded in her most cheerful tone “thank you for noticing!” so I failed.) Regardless, I will continue to enjoy my journals and art stuff and not feel guilty for the joy they bring but as it’s still the Lunar New Year, I hope to shed the things that do not give me pangs of joy. For the next two months, I will try to do the pact set forth on the Minimalists show–day one I’ll donate/trash one object, day two I will donate two, and so on. Who will join me?

A few of my favorite clip ons. One cannot get attached to these devils- they get lost in sweaters etc. I can’t help but recall the time when I was too young to be called grandma that a construction worker and his friends yelled that I was a “hot grandma.” I imagine it was these old lady earrings above, plaid summer dress and a tiny crocheted sweater that gave me thus moniker. Hah hah I will further digress now. The best comment a stranger ever made to me was shouted out of a van- “hey muffinhead.” I looked this up on UrbanDictionary as I had to. I assumed it was a racial slur. Maybe it is and I’m naive but online it said it’s slang for someone whose hair looks like a muffin! God I love people.

A Celebration of Ox

My morning began with a jovial text from my good friend. I’m sure she won’t mind my screenshot of it below. It put me in good spirits; my mostly white friend was so enthused to be .1% Korean! I understand her pride.

There is much to celebrate today, which heralds the Year of the Ox. As I watch snippets of the Impeachment Trial, I want to believe that 2021 marks the death of last year’s heinous/turbulent Rat. I’ve never really thought much of the Zodiac signs and their meaning but maybe this is the Year. I’m going to celebrate the Ox as a symbol of stability and prosperity. To this end, I made my family (with some help from tired, whiny hands), a family of Ox that represents each of us.

We used paper mache and balloons to make our ox family.
After painting and making accessories out of cardboard. Dad ox and his audio equipment and record in hand, (Thanks to Mariana for making the audio equipment. The record player needle actually moves!) See mom ox wearing beloved eyeball sweatshirt bought in Koreatown,. She’s watching a Kdrama. Tween ox reading Neurotribes and little ox’s glitz and toy. Happy Lunar New Year!

As someone who is lousy at routines, creating family traditions is tough. Even Friday “taco night” (admittedly i tried this for two weeks) is challenging. I’m determined even with few Koreans in our lives, we’re doing this Korean-identity thing. So hence the blog, hence my attempt at festivity today and making the kids play Korean games. Fortunately, some things stick like this game below. It’s fun and simple to learn.

For us, the best Korean game is Yut Nori. Easy to learn rules and you get to throw sticks.
I had such lofty aspirations but ended up ordering food from my favorite Ktown place, Woorijip.
Even half-assed efforts at tradition building are exhausting! I managed to get the kids to bow to us, the Elders in exchange for dollars. The kids weren’t so into the Korean jacks and Korean hacky sack, which may have more to do with mediocre hand-eye coordination than how fun they are. (The book of Korean idioms my son found today at the Ktown bookstore may lead to many related posts…)

The highlight for these children of Capitalism was a tradition my distant Korean cousin Leah and her family created–the dignified “money-grab.” The true tradition is to bow to Elders and then get envelopes or fabric bags with cash. My Cousin Leah and her family put a fun spin on this and throw mass amounts of dollars in the air. Then all the relatives, young and old, keep what they can grab. It brings out the Beast! Last year, we did this with a large group of revelers to great delight and we added a fan so it was leagues more fun. We did it again this year with my kids and a classmate friend and joy was experienced. (well duh!). Happy Korean New Year (Solleol). May the Ox be with Us this year!

Yes that is a flying one dollar bill on my kid’s head.

Deoku or Dilettante?

One enjoyable part of learning Korean is discovering slang/interesting expressions. I recently came across the Korean word deoku, meaning a person who has an obsessive interest in one thing; it has a negative connotation. In English, the word dilettante, which seems the opposite meaning of deoku, is also an insult. (Imagine an obituary: “the deceased was “a happy dilettante.” Won’t happen but obituaries are full of deokus and polymaths.) The ideal for some, might be the Rhodes Scholar polymath who has a deep knowledge of a few areas. But how few of us have the ability/time to be polymaths? Not I.

I have the dubious honor of being a dilettante in a family of polymaths and deokus. My husband the polymath, has a deep knowledge of music, philosophy, art and politics. He is good for party tricks–eerily able to name every major cabinet member for each President, tell me the electoral numbers for every election in modern times and give me a thoughtful summary of the rise of conservatism from Barry Goldwater forward. On our bookshelves thanks to him, are a long row of books about Canadian parliamentary politics and Richard Nixon that makes us look nutty and dull in one fell swoop.

My 12 year old son is obsessed with neurodiversity advocacy. When he was ten, he wrote impassioned, poetic letters to Sesame Street and other places chastising their portrait of autistic characters; he recently presented a Power Point presentation for autistic adults on his vision of the neurodiversity movement and is currently writing a sci-fi novel about neurotypicals who are forced to live on a planet ruled by autistic people. My five year old daughter speaks the language of My Little Pony, her all time favorite show== often telling me she’s dressing up for the “Grand Galloping Gala” or raising a fist above her head and yelling “Pony up!”.

My dilettante ways led me to draw every night for almost two years to see if I could improve (I did. For less than Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, I became a competent drawer. Yup, my early drawings are pretty ghastly and I know I befuddled/irritated some “friends” by flooding Facebook with them anyway). Just when I could have taken things to the next level like, gasp, take a drawing class to get better, I quit and moved on to Sculpie, making Korean drama stuffed animals and writing. Fun but maddening. Recently, watching the animated movie Soul with my family, I was amused by its premise that all humans need a “spark” to exist on earth. What if you have not one spark, but a million? Can your soul be fully formed? Egads. I hope so.

For this dilettante, deokus make me nervous. When my son wants to read a book about autism, I hear my voice trilling “but why not read The Great Gatsby? Salinger? Tobias Wolf?” and then intone that good writers have a wide range of interests/areas of knowledge. I have, kudos to me, resisted the urge to wrestle Neurotribes out of his hands. He has, in turn, successfully dissuaded me from reading Range, a book that seems to champion the benefits of not focusing on one thing intently (as Malcolm Gladwell advised) but exploring several skills deeply a la Roger Federer. My kid is smart enough to know that Range in my hands would be dangerous (or at least really annoying).

Perhaps my 12 year old has unwittingly come up with the following best solution for keeping me in check and not driving him nuts with my anti-deoku bias. In a hammy mood, he recently decorated a huge cardboard box we had in our foyer by writing “Cringe Containment” in bubble letters and joked along with my 5 year old daughter that I had to go into the box when I embarrassed them. This became a game for this oft bored family; Once I was in this box-no limbs visible, the kids delighted in generously carving our a small window of air and telling me I could not leave until I passed a cringe quiz they devised.

What parent wouldn’t benefit from some solitary confinement to reflect on all their ridiculous errors/unnecessary anxieties? In my served time, I will think of my kids and their deoku glory. They seem so at peace with their single mindedness, unlike chicken-with- head-cut-off- me. For this, I envy and admire them. Maybe they are the lucky ones.

Deoku, dilettante or polymath, which one are you?

If you don’t hear from me, I’m in the box.

3 Unexpectedly fun COVID-era things to do in NYC, mostly free

After one too many frigid Central Park meetings with friends, I welcome any “safe” indoor meeting spots/activities. With the right mask, these activities below might be alright?. As Mayor-to-be Andrew Yang so keenly observed, it’s hard to live in a city apartment during these times!! I have no Hudson Valley escape, but the next best thing…

  1. The Ralph Lauren Mansions on East 72nd street

This idea might not work for whole families but for a masked friend meet up, it’s a funny option. My friend Erin and I had coffee at Ralph’s little cafe outside the women’s store and sat at some well-spaced tables. When the cold wind became unbearable, we moved inside and ascended the staircase to admire the perfectly framed prints and fashion photos on the walls. (See a nude Kate Moss with her hair in a big bun that threatens to topple her small frame-classic!) The mansion smells faintly like tangerine and florals.

The one or two sales women we passed barely looked our way as we cautiously settled on two plaid couches artfully layered with a cacophony of different plaid blankets and pillows. (It took every muscle of restraint not to take off my shoes and go full hammock mode; these couches are quality!) Maybe I don’t need a weekend home as I’ve always wanted! This could suffice. This place is serene and completely untrammeled right now and I suspect, maybe was so before COVID. Never really realized I loved Ralph’s clothes until that day. Far from the watchful gaze of staff, we could fully examine and appreciate the soft leather of a belted brown dress.. This $3,000 leather is so fine, it has no odor.

The piece de resistance is the top floor; it has a large living room with two long white d couches and no joke, a sleek white fire place complete with what appeared to be a true crackling fire safely behind glass. In one corner, you’ll behold a vintage book cabinet with enviable, swipe-worthy books. I saw not one cheesy volume (e.g. the collected works of Monet) but stuff like a vintage book of Kathe Kollowitz’s macabre prints. Someone curated this collection and I suspect few shoppers really notice (The travesty of hoarding such great books here irks me. It’s akin to how some law firms have enviable art collections displayed on their walls for lawyers to run past on the way to their conference rooms). If I had more time, I’d crack open a book and really leave a dent in those couches! Beneath intricate moldings and high ceilings, we luxuriated and enjoyed the feeling we had unearthed a little known treasure. Maybe I will return and go gonzo; I’ll set up my laptop and enjoy a luxe, kid and husband-free office. I’ll hide my Keto cookies in a couch cushion. Take a lengthy snooze and try not to drool.

En route to exit, Erin and I did enter a room and interrupt a strangely quiet meeting with cross, well dressed employees at a conference table but it was our only moment of feeling we had overstayed out welcome. Secret is out!

2) The Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue

My Jewish Museum treasures—Free touch sticks etc, postcards and cute sketchbook
Geez I’m a terrible photographer. This painting meant to be about Ethiopian Jews has an amazing frame meant to signify the Torah and I cut the photo off.

Why is this place my spirit animal? It’s not just my Jewish roots calling to me and the fact that Russ and Sons (normally open but not these days) provides the museum grub and I never say no to the type of Jewish delicacies my baker grandmother used to make me. (On my pre-Diabetic diet, I would kill for a good babka. Grandma Libby I’m thinking of yours. I would tear into it like a rabid animal!).

I can’t forget the memorable, fun exhibits I’ve seen here (Maira Kalman, Leonard Cohen etc) and it is most days, so quiet you feel akward entering a room—the guard, listless, studying you.

Right now admission is FREE. I went on a Friday afternoon and my friend and I were the only people other than a mom barreling through the galleries with her wailing baby in a stroller. Best part was the exhibit of the permanent collection of the museum, which had some fun paintings of iconic famous people, an Alex Katz painting on metal which seemed novel to me, a pop art painting of some lovable Yiddish words as pictured in the postcard above and modern sculptures that would make it enjoyable for some kids. (There’s also an exhibit about artists and social justice that was mildly enjoyable but not so memorable.) Bonus points for the gift shop that has some unique, quality merch and best of all gives away free little “touch sticks”for want of a better word as pictured above in the photo.. Now I can touch elevator buttons, ATM screens and credit card machines with sheer abandon (or at least can give these chapped hands a small reprieve from incessant Putell). I asked the kind ladies of the gift shop and they let me take four of these marvels for my entire family. What mazel!

Painting by Louise Nevelson whom my mother says is is distantly related to her. I’ve never seen her paintings only sculptures.

3) Museum of Arts and Design, Columbus Circle

Another of my favorite places in the best of times and it’s not bad now. Admission isn’t free but it’s still a solid choice for a quick indoor activity. A friend and I went during the day and there were about four other people milling around, far away from us. The jewelry exhibit is small but inspiring. Made me want to go home and bend some serious metal. Why can’t I make a bracelet that looks like a human fist like the one pictured below? Then the exhibit of Brian Clarke’s work pretty much blew me away. He uses many materials including stained glass, canvas and embroidery in such punk ways. Remember the dorky stained glass of your youth? All the labor you’d endure and the wake of burns and glass splinters? This guy elevates this form beyond church windows and the ugly hinged jewelry boxes I made at My Quaker Camp Netimus. . I never imagined adding it to a canvas like he does. Plus there’s this elaborate display of what inspires Brian from music to personal effects that reminds me of the “crazy boards” and bulletins I so admire. He’s my art God!

A blurry photo of a fist bracelet.
Stained glass and canvas. See the skeleton on the right? Brian Clarke.
Brian Clarke inspiration display.again blurry.

I wish someone would add to this list of places to go now. I’m stir crazy like many of you are too i imagine. Tomm I test out the MOMA to see if it feels safe/ unpopulated.