Seu bul jae-Korean expression meaning self imposed disaster

Rudy the pigeon in a Skinner box making the wrong choices again and again- Seu bul Jae

For someone intimately familiar with Seu bul jae, I’m intrigued when people make the same mistakes over and over, despite having a rational understanding of the negative consequences. I think of the Psychology of Learning Class that I took at Carleton College that demanded I teach a slow-witted pigeon named Lola, the Skinner method of learning by applying a series of positive and negative reinforcements. How I disliked having to reach my hand into her cage every class and bear her indignant screech and battling wings long enough to place her in the metal learning box. Lola, I quickly discovered, was a bit of a clod, slow to learn from her mistakes. If she did peck the right button inside her cage wall, leading to a tray with bird seed, she would indulge happily—only to shortly thereafter peck at the wrong buttons-jack hammer style—and stare blankly at the empty trays of food. I did, however, feel some affection for the idiot fowl. (She was at least pretty with white feathers and shiny black eyes like a dove).

I have less sympathy for Lola’s human counterparts like Rudy Guiliani whose gradual descent from popular mayor to the alarming Zombie with the black goo dripping off his face/supporter of Trump was inevitable. His repeated pie -in-the- sky allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election— blatant lies–have resulted in the suspension of his law license and his widely acknowledged villain status. He had to know that his repeated, outrageous incitement would lead to negative consequences (or maybe Trump followers gave him adequate positive enforcement).  Let’s not forget Jeffrey Toobin, formerly respected scholar of the U.S. Supreme Court etc who is forever etched in our minds as the delinquent Zoom masturbator–regardless of his recent re-emergence on t.v.  

For some, embarrassment, shame, an empty tray of seeds and/or pecuniary loss are not enough deterrence for wrong behavior. Perhaps, Rudy, Jeffrey, Lola and many of us need one of those bracelets I once saw featured on Shark Tank, that shock your wrist to inhibit negative behaviors. Perhaps gut crunching, searing physical pain rather than embarrassment and shame is in order for certain segment of society—celebrities and people with ADHD.

Similarly for me, shame/self- flagellation, embarrassment and pecuniary loss from messing up dates in my calendar are seemingly not enough to alter my ADHD behavior.  Most recently last Friday, leisurely picking up my phone, I heard my friend on the other line saying “I hear there’s bad traffic coming here. You stuck?”

Utterly confused, I was silent.

“You and the kids are on the Jitney to me right?”

The answer was no. I had thought my friend had invited me to her country house the following day, her young children now disappointed and a round of inconvenience for everyone. Perhaps my friend would have liked to administer a jolt of electricity to me that day and I don’t blame her.

My therapist once suggested I get positive reinforcement for being flakey at times (I am capable of having my head on my shoulders it should be noted). Could it be that I somehow think this behavior-losing my crap and irritating friends, is somehow charming? Perhaps this blog where I document and connect with others over my mishaps is positive reinforcement. (Then you readers are complicit so avert your eyes!) I’m a little at a loss how you can program a bracelet to track your misdeeds but I may have to invest in this shock therapy. So If I  fail to double check each date in my calendar one day and it leads to chaos, BUZZ.

With such a bracelet, if I buy a white linen couch/a white tablecloth during my kids’ formative years or deign to purchase anything style-forward or anything not covered in protective vinyl like my grandmother’s furniture, my bracelet will shock some sense into me and remind me that my kids are mess tyrants who delight in using non water soluble art supplies and Hansel and Gretel-ing through my apartment–snacks in tow. I must resign myself to having an apartment that is known for aesthetically displeasing choices like my glass coffee table that was for years encircled by a gray protective padding (causing a stylish friend who used to work at Chanel to comically comment “your furniture has a diaper.”

Finally, I think of friends I may have admittedly judged when they have stayed in ruinous relationships with men who lie, cheat and do other irritating things like gamble their savings away or leave the bad eggs for similar rot. (Of course, this author has only made pristine decisions in all my relationships). Ho, Ho, Ho. Bracelets for everyone!

In my own life, I once shoplifted at age 19 in Minnesota and was caught and arrested. (For years, I told no one this in my life. When I started dating anyone seriously, I’d tell them this as a litmus test: would they run when they heard this confession? I thought they might but they were never that impressed). I was the saddest shoplifter, trembling and afraid-all 112 pounds of me. I’ll never forget the store owner calling the police as she clutched her baby to her chest–miraculously cowered by me. Fortunately, utter humiliation and a misdemeanor on my record were enough to cure me of any shoplifting inclination. Or maybe the reaction of the 10 year old Northfield girl with whom I volunteered as a mentor was the panacea. She had been told of my arrest by the mentorship program, Project Friendship, and, accordingly, I could no longer be her mentor. In the middle of my college’s main lounge surrounded by classmates, the two of us sat at a table across from each other after she had been told the news by someone else. Her sweet freckled face in tears. “I can’t believe YOU could do this,” she’d said—suggesting some degree of respect for me. I never forgot that. That negative reinforcement, I believe, was my salvation. No shock treatment needed.

What works best to alter your negative behaviors–positive reinforcement (praise, rewards) or negative (embarassment, physical pain, pecuniary loss)?

Rhyming Book Reviews for the Impatient Reader

Decorating a slippery plastic tray with Sharpies. Scene from a good K-drama Itaweon Class. .

I’ll read anything if it rhymes. If only case law, the NYTimes and my mother’s treatise- length emails rhymed! I’ve heard many a friend decrying the fact that they can’t read anything anymore. Lately, I have to like a book by around the fifth page. So in this vein, below are my brief rhyming reviews of current fiction.

I give each book a rating (one eye roll to three, one being mildly hard to digest and three, a grinding torture) or for ones I like, eyes wide open (1 is ok, 2 good and 3 is like total fireworks ). I realize this might be a frontal assault to great literature and a feet over head surrender to TikTok culture. If you’ve read any of these books cover to cover and think I’m a crazed heretic, feel free to let me know. I might read the book until page 10! Oh and I apologize in advance for the bad, let’s call it purposely bad rhyming you may see below.

1) Moms by Yeong-shin Ma 1 eye roll

You may ask, what dolt can’t finish a comic book;

close your eyes, open them and now take a look.

It’s me with a shelf of reviled graphic novels–font too tiny, words too plain–

and on and on in that same vein.

This has a fun, campy cover of two Korean women in a rage;

I’m intrigued as a moody Korean, of menopausal age.

I like the neat font as it’s easy on my eyes

and Korean moms behaving badly is a fun, fresh surprise.

We learn slowly about the men they date

and how their love sours to hate.

By page 5, I grew bored and distracted;

the positive review, now retracted.

Where was the humor and spunk I expected?

Replaced by a humdrum earnestness, I rejected.

2) Anna KA Love Story by Jenny Lee 1 eyes wide open

This reviewer read the original, footnotes and all.

This version set in New York private schools has some gall.

We meet Lolly and her cheating boyfriend at once;

between the two of them, who’s the dunce?

The teen-speak and the low stakes put a thorn in my side.

After too much luxury brand name dropping, I’m not along for the ride.

But it’s got some clever lines and a fast pace that’s fun;

I just wish the titular character could be on page one.

3) Kim Ji Young Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo 2 eyes wide open

The blurb on the front flap…

suggests it could be crap.*

But I gave it a chance for a fellow Korean;

when I say her style is simple, I’m not being Me-an.

The author’s third person voice is intentionally plain-

a patient telling her therapist the A to Zs of her pain.

I forge cautiously past page one,

‘cuz deranged, fraught millennials are fun.

Kim impersonates people to her family’s chagrin;

and the plot only takes until page two to begin.

I’d give it three stars, as it picks up by page two,

but if this turns all sci-fi on me, what would I do?

4) Writers and Lovers by Lily King three eyes wide open

Casey Peabody has a litany or reasons to be pissed.

She’s been jilted by her man and her dead mom is sorely missed.

She’s likeable when she tells the reader of her plight:

she can’t think about money, sex or her mom if she wants to write.

Showing us the narrator’s funny thoughts is what Ms. King does best;

when Casey is anxious she “feels the bees in her chest.”

By page five, seeing Casey crying with the geese,

the reader would not like this book to ever cease.

5) Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump 2 eyes wide open

It’s clear this book is my type;

the funny story of a Black man well worth the hype.

The front flap describes it as “alternatively witty and heartbreaking,” great!

The humor, see page one, does not come late.

We meet the group of swashbuckling men

and the church-going, fearsome, Grandma hen.

Just when I thought the language was Denis Johnson-y but less divine

I’d be silenced by a simple line.**

6) The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett three eyes wide open

This book grabbed me from page one.

Identical twins and racist hicks– fun!

Each twin left the boons to live in two different worlds:

one Black and one white;

there is no use denying, the writing is TIGHT!

One twin returns to town with a Black daughter in tow;

the community, aflame, wants them to go.

If I can’t sit through this read,

a bottle of Vyvanse is what I need.

*Someone says the novel is one that “mesmerizingly diagnoses the endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that is relevant to us all.”

** “And my life went on like that: people coming and going, valuable things left in a hurry.”

Decorated a ramen bowl with sharpies. It says “I love ramen and kdramas” if you are wondering.

Life in Bulletin

I know I’m not the only one drawn to the scenes in movies and TV shows in which detectives analyze “crazy walls” of pinned suspect photos and maps that lay out motive, alibis and all the possibilities. The format seems to facilitate neural synapses. How nice if my sloppily affixed, overlapping collage of sorts pictured above could not solve a crime but answer lingering questions of my life! Could it organize a spastic ADHD mind that is rife with ideas and contradictory priorities? Because a morning Vyvanse pill has given me a lovely bounce of energy (love those stimulants!), but has not made a dent on my ability to multi-task and prioritize.

For those of us who have diagnosed themselves late in life, eg. taken a computer test involving clicking on a space bar when presented with images (a dubious test to me), it feels good to find like minds. On the sly, my tween son wrangled his way into my phone and signed me up for a Facebook group of moms with ADHD; upon first blush, this annoyed me, but now I fully appreciate the level of kinship I feel with my people. A recent post was a photo someone took of a mug with a tea bag string over the rim and inside, coffee. A recent example from home: my 5 year old daughter asked me for milk with her breakfast a few times, only to get handed a glass of water ten minutes later. To my great amusement, she stood behind my chair and started tracing letters on my back while giggling. I slowly recognized her message. “A”…”D”…”H”…”D”. Ah, the origins of snark.

The creative, almost trance-like state that many people with ADHD enjoy is the best gift. Recent ADHD parent posts detailed all the creativity of members from sock art, traditional art mediums, to “creating minis for tabletop gaming (??)”. Like my brethren who can hyper- focus at times, I can stuff K-drama dolls for 24 hours happily and Sculpie in my in laws’ uncarpeted, chilly basement all night. I remember drawing a book about my guinea pig as a young adult and not eating for a day to do so. The only kink is the rest of life that competes with this glorious high.

The question often posed on the Facebook group is whether we’d trade our ADHD to be more balanced people. Usually, I’d say no, as I am proud to be neurodivergent, but there are countless hair-tearing moments that cannot be denied. (Standing in front of my lobby door rooting through my bag for my keys the other day while my therapist neighbor, no joke, flash diagnosed me with ADHD or more seriously, once leaving my 2 year old in a building lobby as I pushed an empty stroller gabbing with my son for a half block before I reared (No one can run like a mother who has lost their kid!).

In typical ADHD style, I recently purchased a book called Attention Deficit Disorder: the Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults by Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D. because I’d hoped to find some solutions for the chaos in my mind and, sigh, predictably, cannot get myself to sincerely read it. (Though I skimmed enough to see there’s a section about the difficulties of starting things when you have ADHD). I have concluded, possibly prematurely, that it’s of little use to me–a list of problems and anecdotes with little celebration of the joys and a dearth of solutions beyond drugs.

How can I make sense of the noise in my head that tells me to write a graphic novel/start a play/try to get an art fellowship based on my Korean identity search and stuffed dolls/ work on my blog/write a screenplay/fill in my health insurance claim forms that are overdue/de-cluttter the apartment/do intakes for work/look into high schools for my son/find activities to do over winter break/call my mother every day and so on.

At Carleton College, I remember internally mocking a student who was very organized and would show off his detailed computer graphs of how he balanced school and fun but now I suspect he might be the one laughing. I expect he’s off somewhere living a very compact, sensible life devoid of anxiety-rearing moments and mess. But. somehow I know graphs and charts are not my destiny.

One piece of my “solution” has been my Wednesday night Zoom with my middle school friend Michelle whom I reconnected with a few years ago. Both of us have ADHD, are adoptees and have a deep appreciation for fun art. We spend our time discussing documentaries, talking about creative projects, working on said projects together, reminiscing about childhood (she reminded me how we once went with our class to the Earth Room that supposedly still exists-a SOHO room piled with dirt and puzzled at how it could possibly be art. She reminded me that I’ve always been creative–drawing cartoons over friends’ notebooks as a kid). Michelle, a talented, unique artist is a voice other than those I’ve grown up with to the contrary, that tells me it’s valuable to be creative and that I could do it full time if I chose. She also has cool ideas. I was making Kdrama dolls weeks ago and on Zoom, she showed me a Kiki Smith flip doll that was an owl on one side and a cat on the other.

“Make Kdrama flip dolls like good mother/bad mother,” she suggested that night. So I did because it is a funny, irreverent idea.

In, what I now realize is very ADHD style, our Wed night Zoom might begin with me talking about the fact that my husband, quite amused, walked in on me the other night staring at donuts on http://www.goldbelly.com and then shift to us watching TikTok videos (there’s much more than dance videos and people looking cute), interrupting that to Google the Museum of Textiles in Philly about fellowships and then maybe breaking out to do 100 arm stretches as demonstrated by YogaGirl2 (guaranteeing super tone arms if done daily). But we also give each other deadlines. I recently told her of my on and off dream of making a semi autobiographical graphic novel and/or writing a novel.( I have maybe 30 notebooks filled with novel outlines and excerpts and a handful of completed short stories. I look like a serial killer with crazed scratched out notes, often of the same material over and over).

“Write 20 life events out on index cards and then put them on your wall by our next Zoom because that’s what works in the movies,” Michelle instructed. “Then, you’ll be able to clearly see what you want to do.

So back to the bulletin board. We’ll see how it works. But I believe that if I ever complete a novel/short story collection/graphic novel/play then I will be her first client–Michelle Morby, Creative Coach/ADHD coach. Now to find a coach to help me organize the rest of my life!!

If anyone reading this has funny ADD/ADHD stories to share, I’d love to hear them and/or if anyone wants to hire coach Michelle, I can give you her info. (I should probably ask her before I offer).

My next related post:

An ADHDer’s flash review of 10 current books (based on reading the first five pages of the book)