Creativity–how to find it and keep it going (without being stuck in a bathroom) and other musings

Today, I woke my teen son by holding the below draft of a life-sized doll up to my own face and doing a jig before his full length mirror. It garnered a smile so perhaps my Natsumi doll will be the bad cop to my good, and I’ll bring her out to deliver any unwelcome news/herald my son with nagging reminders for the day. In our home, monster-like dolls are the natural consequence of living with an ADHD parent who is overflowing with odd impulses to make things. Life can indeed be joyous and full of madcap adventures when you have ADHD or, in my son’s case, have a parent with it. (I have elsewhere written about the considerable drawbacks of said parentage, i.e, believing your mother has typed Daniel Moynihan train station into the Uber app to catch a train but discovering too late that she’s, in fact, selected the Daniel Moynihan courthouse, located miles away. Curses to those responsible for naming two nyc landmarks after the same man!(Relatedly, curses to the imp who decided to name one New Jersey train station, Penn Station! Some ADHR-er has surely fallen prey to this trap)

The start of my strange, monster-like large doll of Riverdale classmate Natsumi Yamada, my only friend in the fifth grade. My long-term goal is to have a pop up exhibit about my efforts to be more Korean, featuring many large dolls in different settings, Korean food for the audience to eat and a full sensory experience. That is right now competing with my blog and of course writing a comic mystery novel set at my private high school in the 1990’s. How does one have time to do everything in one life?

These past two weeks, I’ve noticed a marked withering of my pre-frontal cortex (the brain’s center of imaginative thought), no doubt explained by my scheduled monthly detox from Vyvanse. During my Vyvanse break, which seems necessary because there’s a study showing that long term use can lead to cognitive defects, I am impotent, seemingly only capable of tapping at my keyboard, deleting my words and bitch-slapping myself for wasting precious evening time. How I pine for the sensations the drug gives me–the heat of a tightly wound brain and its steady beam of creative thought (instead of the usual strobe lights inside my head). As Nick Cave, an artist/musician I admire, has said, creativity is a battle, not something passive where ideas just fall on you as you sit comfy on a cushion; he’s spot on; after a night of writer’s block, I feel angry and depleted.

How I feel when I have writer’s block (drawn in ball point pen a while ago).

I didn’t grow up surrounded by creative people so they hold an undeniable mystique. My mother is a child therapist who likes to read non-fiction mostly and discuss politics 24/7. She can’t draw, play an instrument, dance, write stories or do crafty things, which admittedly disappoints me. (But she has other strengths, xoxo). Her greatest fear is that one day I will give up my law job and become a mealy, dependent writer or artist. If I tell her, even now, that I am spending my evening drawing paper dolls of Koreans or sewing dolls, she grunts “whatever happened to reading?” In the past, when I’ve expressed regret at not doing something with my writing other than draft demand letters to derelict employers she will tell me the same story about her best friend’s daughter who works at a major publishing house but has almost lost her job once or twice, even at her high level. Her anti-Arts stance can lead to ridiculous show downs on occasion, i.e, the time not that long ago that I bomb-texted her 50 drawings I had done to see if she’d make one comment. (She ignored them). I am such a child still.

When I first married my husband, I was intrigued by his extended family who lived in a place that seemed about as exotic as it gets–Winnipeg, Canada (“the coldest big city in North America” my husband likes to tell people). Uncle George, a cheerful, winking man with a thick Hungarian accent impressed me with his frenetic presence and diverse skills. His basement was his idea hub where you might find him expertly sewing fabric bags to sell, bending his own metal keychains and/or fashioning a unique large yurt in his backyard for bug-free outdoor dining. At the time I thought, what a zany, outside of the box character like Belle’s harried inventor father in Beauty in the Beast. Decades later, tinkering around my quiet apartment as my family dozes, I realize the only things distinguishing George and I are age, gender, ethnicity and a spacious carpeted basement. I like to imagine that somewhere in the dark recesses of Korea, there’s a black haired, almond-eyed version of George who shares my DNA. If we are truly kin, he’s wearing dweeby goggles, carrying a blow torch and looking a touch touched by creative impulse.

I’ve spent a large chunk of my life trying to find my “people”–first by going to Seoul before I had children to meet my foster family who took care of me when I was a baby and more recently spitting into a vial for Ancestry.com. Ancestry let me down. Where I had imagined connecting with a herd of creative, quirky Korean birth relatives, I found nothing but a list of possible fourth cousins who live in Korea and the big reveal–I’m 100% Korean. Excuse me Ancestry? This is the best my $70 can do? My hair is like EXTRA wavy for a straight-out Korean. (See the photo of me as a little girl below. No perm involved!). I’m obvi proud of being Korean but throw one Translyvania or something into the mix. I’m nothing but an homogeneous sack! And more disappointingly, fourth cousins?!! You, my reader, are probably a fourth cousin!

me with my grandma Libby

The other ways I’ve tried to find my people is through enrolling in countless writers workshops, creating play-reading club or, least fruitfully, every very few years creating a Facebook/Meet up group for creative writing/art making that often heeds no responses or incites a lone stranger to share a killer-clown short story with me that FREAKS ME OUT.

Last year, my son found me a Facebook group for ADHDers; I sometimes read their posts and wonder: are these truly my people? (it’s hard for me not to be reminded of the classic children’s book Are you My Mother? See a cartoon image of myself wandering from a group of ADHD people, Korean people, Jewish people et al and asking them “Are you my People?). The question of creativity and its tie with ADHD is often discussed in this ADHD Facebook group as well as the pros and cons of taking drugs like Vyvanse. For those of us loving the creative focus Vyvanse brings, we wonder are there natural, less invasive cures for writers/creativity block that will not leave us addled seniors one day? What leads to creativity in general?

My latest passing fancy–drawing Koreans so that I can put them on vinyl and make them Colorforms. It would be fun to make settings based on popular Korean movies and shows, like that memorable modern house in Parasite. Endless fun.
I made a little cut out of my head and can place it on drawings of glamorous Koreans. Fun!
New craft project anyone? Air fresheners. You can paint and/or embroider images and then add scent. Your car will never be the same! Can’t wait to do this.

Picasso supposedly once said “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” The surge in arts and crafts during COVID lock downs/quarantine certainly suggests this is true. Boredom does, indeed, bring creativity. I remember a month that my mother and I had to lived in the Sheraton hotel in the West 50’s of Manhattan when I was a young kid, thanks to the generosity of a wealthy distant cousin who paid our tab during a time of need. My mother, a child therapist, would on occasion see a patient in one room while I hid in the bathroom and played in the empty bathtub. In the days before iphones and ipads, I was left to my own devices–a few colored pencils, a roll of tape and a few sheets of paper. It is in that tub that I completed over a few weeks a fleet of standing 3-D horse figurines with my limited supplies, toilet paper (to stuff them) and found pennies for their hooves that allowed them to stand. (My mother still has these figurines in a closet and they are remarkably in tact). But when I’m in a creative rut, how can I emulate this very specific scenario that encouraged me to not only be creative but complete a long term project–two great feats for someone with ADHD.

It is a known fact that isolation and removing oneself from one’s daily obligations/surroundings is helpful for creativity. See all the writer’s retreats/colonies that seek to draw artists and writers into the quiet of nature. (MetroNorth certainly agrees with the boredom theory of creativity as they have or used to have a great sounding writer’s fellowship where they’d pay you to take long train rides and write). However, this kind of get away to the sticks is rarely possible for me as a parent of two and a part time attorney etc. The closest thing I can probably achieve is writing in a quiet room of my apartment after the kids are asleep but that’s a poor substitute for being barricaded in a hotel bathroom! (My “quiet” room contains a t.v, drawers of art supplies, two baskets of fabric and is for me, anything but boring). I once briefly considered buying a Freewrite machine, that is basically an overpriced mini typewriter that has no ability to connect to internet, thereby ensuring “boredom” but more than one person marveled that I would blow money this way). But I am grateful I have a closet of a room in which to hide.

I recently turned to Netflix’s The Creative Brain, a one-hour show about how to spark creativity, hoping to gain some insights. Enter the show’s host, Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, who tells us that humans have evolved so that we have a large space between the part of the brain that receives input and the part responsible for output. He explains that humans unlike let’s say dogs, can see food and not just eat it but can react to it by drawing it or using it to make sculptures etc.(Clearly, this Dr. hasn’t seen that elephant that paints masterpieces with its trunk and a brush). Unfortunately for you and and I, Dr. Eagleman is a pretty lazy, “basic” interviewer; he landed an impressive roster of guests (e.g., musicians Grimes, Nick Cave, Robert Glasper, author Michael Chabon, architects, scientists, animators, etc) and fails to ask them questions pertinent to my life! For example, Mr. Cave throws our host a morsel, saying that creativity is a battle, but does the brain doctor host do the requisite follow up? (e.g., ask “do you ever have periods of inactivity and what’s your war plan?”). No, he does not. Dear man, don’t you want to know how Nick Cave steels himself against rejection? How does he balance mundane life tasks/obligations with his art making? What does he snack on/wear/listen to while he creates? How did he jump from music to making his gorgeous fabric sculptures? Did his family encourage the Arts or did he have to ignore their rantings of disapproval?

My drawing of a photo of Nick Cave and his cat

The best part of the show was seeing the “idea generator” that animator Phil Tippet shows off—scrapbooks with photos of objects he collected over the years, which elicit different feelings in him and inspire him to make monsters and other creatures for film. (Several other artists interviewed agreed that surrounding oneself with a broad array of stimuli-smells, textures, visuals, sounds–was good for creativity). I shall devote myself to making scrapbooks for each of my creative projects. Increase my inputs to increase my output!

At some point, Grimes opines that we must force ourselves to do things that feel wrong/makes us feel badly/uncomfortable in order to heighten our creativity. She’s surely not ADHD, because our kind tend to have a poor ability to stick with activities that are hard. Hark back to my sewing class in the garment district years ago where I quit after a grueling day one; wrestling with thread, that wicked bobbin and a spray of tiny pins left me mad, mad, mad.(My sad, lopsided, elastic-waist skirt wound up in a city garbage bin).

The show’s concluding tip that one must not be afraid of rejection, made me snort in derision. Fear of rejection is my life mantra. It probably makes sense that I became an attorney because it’s not full of the same overt rejection one faces in the Arts. Certainly my self esteem has always been paltry, which makes rejection hard to overcome. My therapist often reads my posts and uses them to springboard our conversations. She believes that the key to unlocking my writer’s block is to learn to accept and like myself more. What an interesting theory!

Me, finding the words of adoptee, Olivier Rousteing very relatable. I think I messed up the quote as he may have said “The more I know who I am, the more I need to know where I came from.”

Her theory does not work for Oliver Rousteing of the Netflix documentary Wonder Boy, for the young creative director of Balmain fashion house, an adoptee himself, appears focused and uber creative and capable of creating gorgeous, feted collections season after season despite his admission that he has trouble loving himself. As an adoptee, I watched particularly riveted as the film shows us this talented, successful young man surrounded by glamorous “friends” like Jennifer Lopez . How pre-maturely self-assured he seemed. Soon, this facade drops and we see he’s awfully lonely and unsettled despite the accolades and accomplishments. We learn, straight from him, that his self-esteem is tenuous. In scenes where he speaks about his search for his birth mother, the main plot of the film, he says (not exact quotes):”When you don’t know anything about your past, it’s hard to love yourself.” So he’s an example of someone with low self esteem who is a fountain of creative ideas. (But I still like my therapist’s hypothesis and hope she’s right that the more I accept myself, the more I’ll be able to finish my projects).

Watching Olivier, all restless limbs, finally review his adoption file after some hurdles, I related to his anxiety. In my twenties, I had the same chance to view a glimpse of my mysterious history–seated with a social worker in a small room at the Spence Chapin adoption agency in nyc. I’ll never forget the moment I opened my folder file and read the faded typewritten words (over and over); in my Korean foster mother’s (translated) words: “Soomee is shy, scared of men and does not like to share her rice.” One pretty adorable sentence that distilled my essence. Fourteen words to unpack in therapy and ponder endlessly. A gasp of information that made me feel sad and happy at the same time. (I was shy so much of my life, including around men and I do love my carbs!)

Wish me luck in this lifetime battle to be creative. I wish you an arsenal of tools in this war that must be waged! xoxo

I

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.

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.

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.

Crafty gift idea #1 (for the long winter break etc)

I tried decorating mugs. Kids liked it too. It’s so easy and fun to do. Buy some cheap white mugs and some Sharpie oil based paint pens. Draw and then put in your oven for 30 minutes at 350. Important not to pre-heat the oven. Just stick them in and then after the thirty minutes, leave in oven for a little bit before taking out into the cold air. Of course you can do it on plates, trays. I think I’m addicted. Try it!

Kdrama mug done with oil based Sharpies. The Penthouse is so good. Watch it on Viki as it’ s not on Netflix yet.
Start-Up mug

No More Banana

drawing of me years ago volunteering to hold a baby at a Korean social services agency.

As a Korean-American adoptee raised by a single Jewish woman in Manhattan, I can’t speak Korean. It’s a stretch to say I have three Korean friends. My reasonable fear is that I’m a “banana” (a derogatory term for Asians who look Asian on the outside but are white inside).

There is evidence I’m on Team Banana; see me, the middle-aged mother planning a Korean New Year’s party– grilling my weary friend Jin Sun on what Koreans eat, play and otherwise do on said occasion. See me in the strange position of reminding my five year old daughter that we are Korean only to be told “but I want to be Chinese.”

Then occasionally something happens that shakes my certainty that I am in fact, even Asian at all. Take the time I was seated in my progressive legal services office minding my business, only to be accosted by a Chinese coworker bearing a box of primly wrapped rice cakes. She peered into my office to offer a treat to me for the New Year. Before I had a chance to respond, she stopped a few steps from my chair and asked “are you Asian?”

This caused me to laugh so riotously and unceremoniously, I had to press my stomach with one hand so as not to tip out of my chair. In my politically correct office, was she worried I, of the round-faced, narrow-eyed and black-haired variety, would not identify as Asian and would take offense? At the time the incident made a good story about my unique workplace. But deep down, I was unsettled. Had I lost my Asian-ness? Was it something that needed to be nurtured and could fade at any moment if it was not?

So what gives me, at age 47, the audacity to start a blog celebrating all things Korean- drama, music, food, stationary, clothing and beauty trends? Consider my exuberant, galloping love of Korean pop culture and my sometimes weird, outsider perspective. As a witch of a classmate from my snotty high school once said, “Elissa is an enigma.” Enigmas, Liz, DOMINATE.

Aside from the K-pop and K-dramas, which we devour as a family, there’s so much to admire in terms of Korean artists, writers and directors, and I want to unroot it all. For fun and quite possibly ego’s sake, I’ll post my art, drawings and homemade dolls/figurines mostly of Koreans (as shown in below photos). As a family, we’ll try making Korean street food and food from our favorite K-dramas, watching Korean films we’re not familiar with, interviewing Koreans we admire and hope this culminates in a triumphant trip to Korea once COVID has faded.

What else can this site offer? My 11.5 year old son who is trans, autistic and loves to write wants to unpack Korean identity and other topics. No doubt his posts will lend some weight/seriousness to this blog to counter my disjointed levity. I’m hoping my cousin Leah will share her Korean recipes on this site. We eventually aim to sell wonderful things made by Koreans. I hope you’ll bear with me if I digress; I have an overflowing barrel of ADHD interests (e.g., treehouses/mini homes, creative writing, collecting journals, drawing, making stuff, art history, war movies, politics, making creative parties and starting activity clubs). Finally, this blog is a tribute to my therapist who always encourages me to develop my creative side because that’s where I am most at peace.

Maybe by loving Korea, rolling around, and blindly snorting my way through the culture, I can reach this mantel of Korean-hood and at the same time amuse and inform others. No more Banana!

Geum Jandi and Gu Jun Pyo, Boys over Flowers dolls made by my hands and very homemade looking. I hope to get better over time!
Kpop BlackPink’s Rose in Ice Cream video
Sculpies of some of the Kim’s Convenience characters

Bruce Lee the D.J (no, he’s not Korean i know)