shil Jon jou -respecting others dislikes

Our Durian pet. The stinky fruit is something we uniformly find unappealing to eat.

I live in a family of people who do not like condiments on their hot dogs. No mustard. No ketchup. Though I’ve lived with this fact for years, it is still unfathomable. A dry bun??? I still ask them sometimes if they want a condiment, hoping for a sea change. But, hey, props to the Koreans for having an expression about respecting others dislikes. I am, as my son tells me, often intolerant of the dislikes of others. One example, my five year old (and my husband) yell when I bring anything with kimchi into the house as their noses wither at the odor. My daughter’s protests caused me, a kimchi devotee, to buy her a book about a Korean cat who hates kimchi only to be teased by her brother for not liking kimchi and in the end, surrendering to the joys of kimchi (abeit in a pancake form only). I am relentless.

The charming picture book by Aram Kim

The other day a friend and I popped into a supermarket and she waxed poetic about cottage cheese of all things. I wrinkled my nose in disbelief and my friend said “seriously? you have a problem with cottage cheese?” She, like me, must learn a new mantra—shil jon jou!

As a parent, it’s a challenge to one’s narcissism to have independent minded children who have gasp, very different interests and personalities. Things I have responded to with a raised brow and a “surely you jest” stare include 1) my son’s insistence he’s not that into movies right now, 2) son’s rejection of any band I might like; 3) son’s newfound rejection of my Korean-identity obsession/korean dramas. Instead, he’s wanting to be more Jewish now, springing the idea of having a bar mitzvah pretty late in the game. (Thank The Lord, he’s still into Korean food. I can’t be the lone wolf in that front).

Whereas my natural impulse is to launch into a Pitchfork mission to find bands we share in common, force him to watch Korean dramas and implement family movie night to introduce him to my favorites, I will practice the art of shil Jon jou. Can you join me?

Life in Bulletin

My inspirational board. Letter of recommendation by a writing teacher I admire, a “good” rejection with handwritten note that is supposedly better than just a typewritten one, photo of the police station I was left infront of as a baby in Seoul, Trump the scorpion shadow puppet I made, photo of my me and great friend Lisa during my due date week for my son. I unwisely took a train to Philly to see a treehouse exhibit like two days before my due date, photo of mom and two dear friends, my daughter in my grandmas hat.

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 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)

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

vixen, part two

I used to covet my sister in law’s Atlanta cul de sac where she lived with her husband and two kids. Visiting her most Julys for the past twelve years, I revered what unfolded before me on her street— a mecca of multicultural bon homie. There were the two Indian families, a Black family, a Korean one, a gay white couple, a Jewish family (my SIL) and others. I envied this community–not the sulpher ditch that bordered my SIL’s home and not the thin, afterthought trees that lined the front yards–but the festivity at the close of any given workday; front doors open to careening children, cold beers passed among the fathers and the waiving Indian mother across the road on her front step painting neighbor girls’ nails–a row of pastel polish lining her bottom step.

My own experience with communal living in NYC apartment buildings consisted of one neighbor who would allow her toddler to visit us unannounced but when we tried the same, her husband would edge us out, explaining it was mealtime regardless of the hour. Speaking to friends in other cities, this disconnect between t.v sitcom city living and actual relations with neighbors, is often profoundly lonely. In my current NYC building, my neighbor, a therapist in her sixties, once asked me to complain to our landlord about the fact the other family on our floor leaves cardboard boxes in the hall from time to time; (I refused). On another floor of our building, two youngish roommates who’ve recently moved in have campaigned to try to evict a lovely elderly man who allegedly (to their bat-ears only) listened to his television too loudly. Yesterday, he passed away after having a stroke on the floor of his apartment. RIP Patrick. That’s the extent of our community.

So did I smile to myself over the phone when my sister in law reported the gradual and complete disintegration of cul de sac bliss? Maybe. It made a good story. With each phoned update, with my SIL or sometimes my MIL I was like a kid with a holiday advent calendar-the passage of time revealing new, exciting morsels.

Central to this drama was the Korean mother, an attorney, whose husband allegedly had an affair with a Korean stripper. Apparently, this life event opened the door for the Korean mom to go to Korea and leave her two tween children with her parents for more than a year in order to have head to toe plastic surgery. Fast forward and this Korean mother returned to the neighborhood wondrously lithe–the neighborhood vixen.

Doll of the character in Birth of a Beauty, a kdrama I did not actually watch about a frumpy woman who gets a head to toe makeover to become a five alarm beauty. I just wanted to make a flip doll representing the before and after and it made me laugh to make post plastic surgery bandages you could take off. Above is the woman before she gets plastic surgery. and below of course the after.
This doll didn’t work out for me but in concept it was funny.

The Vixen’s return was cinematic. As my MIL recounted, “She suddenly had a red sports car. I saw her once when she zoomed right by me, the roof opened up. I had no idea who she was.” (My quotes here are not exact because they were from a while ago but are the gist of what was told to me). Another sighting described to me in so many words: “One day she emerged from her house on a busy fall evening–families propped on their porches–wearing a neat white apron and balancing what looked like a homemade pie in one hand.” A vision of domesticity. Yet, confoundingly, another time the Vixen called SIL on the phone and asked her how to mop her kitchen floor. “I dumped my bucket of water and soap on the floor and then couldn’t mop it up.” My patient SIL had to explain the mechanics of dipping the mop into the soapy water when IN THE BUCKET.

Perhaps encouraged by the cleaning tutorial that SIL had provided without guffawing, Vixen invited SIL to grab a coffee; in the Starbucks din, Vixen asked SIL to testify against her husband in her ongoing child custody dispute. As SIL politely explained, she could do no such thing as she only knew one thing–the year the Vixen left her daughter in Atlanta, the daughter could be seen on the sidewalk watching the neighborhood kids race down the sloped street, perfectly still.

During one trip to Atlanta, SIL hurried me outside to her front porch so I could finally meet the Vixen. Sitting on my SIL’s throne-like Adirondeck chair, I gawked at the woman standing a car length away on the road. I could see her in profile, a slim middle aged woman in cigarette black pants and a subdued voice that did not carry to the front porch. She could be a slighter me. Where was the flamboyance and narcissistic sheen I had expected? Maybe it was disappointment that froze me that day. Was it possible that she was not the villainous figure I’d been imagining? Could someone almost “normal” abandon their kids for a year by choice? My interest in this one thread of a complicated neighborhood dynamic was apparently obvious to everyone but me. As my therapist noted, for someone like me who was abandoned at a Seoul police station and left in a basket as a baby, I am of course interested in why women leave their families. Do not get me started on any movie that involves foster kids/orphans. Wet Shar Pei face every time.

MY SIL told me of the evening the Vixen’s quiet daughter willingly entered her house’s basement with a group of neighborhood boys to enjoy a carefree pillow fight, only to emerge crying and complaining she was hit. After my brother in law, a physician, gave her a cursory check for damage that revealed no injury, she went home. A day or so later, the Vixen emailed the entire cul de sac of 35 plus neighbors what can only be described as a rant against my brother in law for daring to dismiss her daughter’s complaints of pain after the pillow fight. (and this was before the sensibilities of the Metoo movement). Was this a sign of her unraveling as many of us believed or had she, albeit in an unconventional way, recharged her maternal battery to focus on protecting her daughter as a mother ought? Soon after, the rest of the neighbors succumbed to the joyful disintegration—complete with angry shouting at each other across lawns, front doors closed to spontaneous playdates and comically, one irate father flipping the bird at another on the street.

I no longer envy my sister in law’s cul de sac. (She recently left it behind for a new neighborhood.) I’m fine with my disgruntled therapist neighbor who once pointed to a yellow star decoration my other neighbor affixed to our hallway wall and angrily shouted “see it’s a Wiccan symbol. A Wiccan symbol.” (It’s not, it’s just a star). But I occasionally still wonder about the Vixen. Was she deeply disturbed or someone brave enough to put herself first in order to be stronger later? I’ve never been dumped for a stripper as far as I know but I can imagine the inner turmoil and self doubt that would cause! I’ve also been at times, the depleted parent, no good to anyone. Though I’ve no plans to “refresh” my look in Korea, I dream of taking a treehouse of the world tour someday, partly alone and part with my husband and kids. Maybe what I can take from this all is that I not only can but MUST do things that are for me alone–whether it be my riotously enjoyable Wed night “creative zoom” with my middle school bestie Michelle and other artist friends of hers, going to see art like David Hockney’s drawings at the Morgan library at my own leisurely pace, “jogging” around the Reservoir with a friend or re-learning how to drive so I can rent a summer house without knocking down the mailbox while reversing out of the driveway. (True story).

Friends, take care of yourselves. xoxo

Dr. Phile

My charismatic doctor who is on his third wife informed me on Friday that I was pre-diabetic and had to make sacrifices- perhaps foregoing my COVID-era evening pairing of Marriage du Frere tea and a chocolate chip cookie that has the circumference of a newborn’s head. Then, this sage man, whom I’ve trusted as my go-to physician for almost two decades, looked at me and said “I remember that little innocent, hot Korean woman you were years ago.” I paused to consider this, saddened by the wistful expression on his face and no doubt the disconnect between that past me in his head and the 47-year-old cookie fiend in his office. Most of all, I thought, crap-in-a-basket, another man caught up with the Asian girl archetype. Ew.

With visions of my birth mother’s imagined demise from diabetes, and thus my own similar fate, days later I’d scheduled two weeks of morning “runs” with friends around the Reservoir- a place I haven’t associated with my physical exertion for more than a decade. Don’t be too impressed. My rendition of “speed walking” has been described as “meditative” or “trailing” by my friend Deb, who, despite being shorter than me, walks furlongs ahead of me, all the time.

Tomorrow morning, the lanes of the Reservoir will host a formidable trio- myself, my glamorous friend Erin who has been earnestly called Uma (as in Thurman) for her blonde, long-limbed looks and overall grace. She has regaled me with stories of her youth working incognito for an NYC private eye. Then there’s Erin’s friend, a Korean woman I have never met, who is a well-known talk show host in Korea. Could she be my third Korean friend and/or the ultimate guide to all things Korean? The upcoming morning run fills me with questions–will we balance my quest for exercise with the quest for Korean knowledge? See us clocking great speeds, despite our masks, while discussing great Korean literature and art? Or will we be a glorified coffee clutch, my sneakers a moot point?

Stay tuned.

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!

My Korean zombie drawing. I took photos while watching tons of zombie shows and then started putting them together in a big drawing.
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)