Author Archives: aszyper

About aszyper

Writer, Strategist, Globalist, Soccer Mom

The Me Too Tax

Me too.

Many years ago. A stranger passing in a doorway as I exited and he entered a pharmacy on Market Street in the middle of the day on a Saturday. He reached down and grabbed me.

In my shock, I managed to whip kick him, though not hard. As I held the door, he lifted his arm to punch me, but he thought better. Knocking my head through a glass door would be a clear criminal act, but somehow grabbing my crotch wasn’t. And as if to prove him right, I walked away, never reporting the incident. 

And a summer in college, when I got stuck with a job at the pro shop of a public golf course. When I needed to go into the back storage room, a dark and dreary place, to get inventory, my boss would say “Don’t get raped.” It was his joke.

He was a noticeably uneducated man, and I chalked it up to class differences. He wasn’t at all menacing, nor did I feel unsafe. It felt like a cultural disconnect, a small indignity I bore in this rotten minimum wage job.

It’s only in retrospect that I am shocked at how horrendous those words were, how they could have broken me if I actually was a rape survivor.

That’s the thing about Me Too. It’s heavy. In many cases it is a reliving or even a reframing of past events we may have tolerated, borne silently, brushed off, endured. There is a toll on all of us, not just the perpetrators who are identified.

In this awakening, many of us feel a new anger and exhaustion in realizations, a sorrow for not speaking up, or renewed anger in circumstances that would not allow us to.

These are the stories I choose to share but not my only stories. Many of us have other stories we can’t or won’t share, but we are silently, sleeplessly replaying them. It’s the Me Too tax.

I do not enjoy watching powerful men fall. Doesn’t matter their politics or their industry. There may be justice in it, but there is no joy. These stories have really just rekindled a lot of old pain.

If Harvey Weinstein had been outed a year earlier, we would likely have a different president in the White House. Indeed, I have been unable to find empathy for the disaffected Trump voters because their choice endorsed or excused Trump’s mysogeny and sexual predation.

There are no winners. Still, justice and truth are cleansing. I hope women continue to speak up, though I don’t relish the headlines and fallen heroes. 

At the golf course there were groups of arrogant men who would come into the pro shop. They bothered me much more than my hapless boss. That sense of entitlement is the real danger.

I recall a man walking in, looking at me behind the counter, and saying “Tees.” I knew what he meant but responded, “Excuse me sir. What did you call me?” He blanched and stopped for a long minute. When he saw me smile he rephrased. “Sorry. May I have a bag of tees please?”

I hope the re-education takes hold before the backlash. This feels more like a revolution than a movement. There will be victims and sleepless nights on both sides.

I find my pleasure thinking of the men who have not been outed but who realize they could lose their lucrative careers if a woman speaks up. I love that reversal of power. 

I like to imagine them writhing in sweaty sheets, their past offenses haunting their dreams.

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In Gratitude for My Sabbatical

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller, on school truancy

“They’re giving you time off for good behavior?” – A former colleague, upon learning of my plans

A sabbatical. Three weeks off, and then a week away at a work-sponsored conference/retreat. A full four weeks out of the office.

To be sure, I checked my email ten times a week and kept basic marketing functions going, but for no more than a day each week, on my own schedule, as if my employer were my client.

Everyone deserves an extended break in the midst of a loyal, long-term commitment to an employer. Sabbaticals, I am realizing, are a thing outside of academia. Some forward-thinking employers (with more staff and resources than mine) offer paid sabbaticals of 3-4 weeks to employees in addition to their paid vacation, and after only 7 years of employment.

It inspires loyalty while giving staffers space to nurture passion projects, projects that can enhance their skills. There’s space to pursue exciting new ideas and scratch creative itches without needing to leave the company.

It also staves off burnout, kindles creativity and self care, and refreshes an employee’s thinking. I needed a reset for sure, and I was damn lucky to have the vacation time banked up to get paid for this.

So what did I do? Let me get it down quickly, before the bliss evaporates completely.

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Yoga, 3-4 times a week
I found a favorite new teacher at Twisters, stretched with friends, and spent happy hours on the mat at Tara.

Andreasz-communications.com
I set up a website. It ain’t gorgeous, but it is presentable and gathers my portfolio together neatly for those who might hire me for freelance gigs.

Weekly lunch dates in Center City
I miss the life of the city, and I miss dates with Randy. I was able to connect with both, spending my morning writing at Elixr, running Center City errands, and then lunching out with my hubby.

I wrote, a lot
I wrote blog posts for this little rag, for Andrea Sz Communications, for Spotted by Locals, the Untours blog, Private Access Journeys and a couple clients. I banked up content to share throughout fall.

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I volunteered
I worked for Project HOME, writing a profile of a brilliantly inspiring resident of theirs. I helped Weaver’s Way. And I volunteered at Robin’s school for the Book Fair, cashiering for my first time since college.

The beach
It was only for a long weekend, but Strathmere was a wonderful chance to spend time with my family, and to take long sandy walks and think.

I celebrated Septivus
That includes my birthday, Robin’s birthday, and our 15th wedding anniversary. I had space to honor our family milestones, enjoy my favorite month, plan celebrations, and ease us into the school year.

The B Retreat
I capped it off with the B Corp Champions Retreat in Toronto, a party of progressive business thinking, deep and thoughtful conversations, art and ecology, music and wine, and all in a glorious city, in a sane country.

These four weeks gave me time to digest the enormity of this fall’s relentless string of tragedies: natural disasters and man made carnage; I had time to feel the appropriate sadness. To let it sink in.

I also enjoyed long walks, lazy Sundays reading, off-peak errand running, tweeting, beers with friends, stalking paintings on Chairish, and discovering new spots in my city.

I would urge anyone who can to take a sabbatical, and to use it as such: not just as a staycation, but as a time to reset, build skills, nurture your mental and physical health, and take on personal projects that feed your vocation.

Use your talents for good. Reconnect with your gifts and your calling. Revel in the doing.

Paging Heshi Yu


Dear Heshi Yu,

I am a fan of your art. I would like to say I am a collector, but I have only one piece so far. It is this painting, which I picked up for a fair price at a mid century design consignment shop in a suburb of Philadelphia. The shop did not know your name but simply described this gorgeous creation as “signed Yu”.

The price was high enough that I needed to do a little research to justify the expense. I am an art lover but not a real collector as I have a tiny budget.

After a number of false starts tracking younger Yu’s, a deep dive into Google images yielded a familiar aesthetic, your whimsical 70s-80s line-drawn cityscapes, some penned or painted onto brightly colored canvases, some in vivid lithographs and serigraphs, some etched into textured metallic paints like the one I was about to buy.

I was blown away!

With the name Heshi Yu, I was able to find auction records, eBay and Etsy listings, and even a companion piece to the one I was about to own. My eyes and heart were full of your creations: the steeples and houses and squares of town centers, the docks and boats of fishing villages, the firework trees, and the tiny figures you dropped into them walking dogs or skating. They speak to my love of cities and community and to the villages we all create and inhabit. I was drawn to their design but anchored by their simple humanity.

In case you haven’t noticed, this is a love letter.

These images were to me a little reminiscent of the Paul Klee paintings I adore, but with a modern design sensibility and an Asian flair. There is something about the gold leaf and the circles that feel Eastern, the floating borders and medallions. And I wonder if the fishing villages are memories of your childhood in China, before art school in Paris and your move to New York.

What was it like for you to move to Brooklyn in 1969? What was your life like then, and how are you now? I understand you are in your 80s.

The paintings I’ve seen from the late 80s onward are stunning and different than the earlier ones that may be considered your trademark. There is a mother and child that especially moves me. It is done in blues and nods gently to Gustav Klimt but has a look all its own and a sweet tranquility. Its tenderness makes me wonder if you married here. If you had kids. If you still live in New York or even in the US.

Do you ever google your own name?

If so, I hope you find this. Because I google you often and always seem to find the same brief bio, repeated verbatim across auction house sites. It lists schools in Taiwan and Paris but little else. I want to know more about you. 

Are you well? In good health? Do you still paint or draw?

I want to know what motivates you. I want to understand your creative process. I want to know what it was like to leave China, to boldly cross oceans and cultures. To grow in an emerging New York art scene. To move into the printing process and find acclaim. I want to know what meanings you have coded into your paintings.

You are a mystery to me.

And more than anything, I fear sometimes that one of my regular “Heshi Yu” googles will yield an obituary, maybe a small piece in the New York Times that lays out some personal details and context of a life that must be fascinating.

If you ever see this and wish to connect, I would love to learn more about you and to write about you. I would love to help tell your story to the cult of people who collect your work and to those like me who love it and are craving the back story. If you read this and care to, please drop a line! A simple email would blow my mind.

But either way, it would warm my heart just to imagine you somehow found and read these words. If you do, know how much I love your work. And if these words make you smile even momentarily, I will be glad to have in some small measure returned the favor.

I like to imagine the swollen suns of your paintings shining down on me. You are a brilliant artist, and your work continues to shed beauty, light, and human warmth in a world that needs it.

I love Yu,
Andrea in Philadelphia

Heshi info

Sweet & Sour Summer Scrapbook

It was the summer of Charlottesville. Of the steady continuation of political madness. Of spending lots of money and yet somehow not going anywhere interesting. Of piled up work deadlines in a badly understaffed office. Of my best friend moving to a different hemisphere. Of family obligations. Of other people traveling. Of sheetcaking and weight gain.

And yet there were these moments…

New York with the Cousins

When my in-laws, niece, and nephew visited us for the first time ever, we hit the road! Center City, Lancaster, Hershey, and New York. Here’s Rockefeller Center with the gang.

  

I made my pilgrimage to Hamilton (the theater, anyway) and Jessica’s Nintendo Store pilgrimage went well. Randy’s Eataly pilgrimage, not so much. (Turns out there is pizza kids hate, and it is rather expensive!)

Tourist excess and counterfeit heroes in Times Square, a perfect way to introduce Robin to Manhattan.

Chicago with Dena

Hanging with Dena, my dearest friend from college and one of my favorite people on the planet. I got to see her beautiful newish house (a bungalow with a garden and lots of character), drink margaritas, and see a Paul Gauguin show at the Art Institute.

Philadelphia

Sweet city excursions with my boys.

Urban walks with dear friends.

Chill out time on the banks of the Delaware.

Family Time

Weeklong visits from Papap…

…and Granny.

The Eclipse

So nice, in the wake of Charlottesville, to have a massive and monumental, nonpartisan distraction like this one. Science is real, and we all share the same sky!

Art Acquisitions

   

I found a new obsession with street art this summer and an overall renewed interest in art. Plus the purchase of three new paintings and the perilous discovery that you can buy art on eBay, much of it quite affordable.

Grand Camp for Robin

   

Lots of good time with pap and with grandmas: swimming, Birthday date at Eat’n Park, chasing rogue soccer balls, and a preseason Steelers game!

Grand Camp for Us

Drinks up high at the Skygarten. Followed by blissfully sound, uninterrupted sleep.

Lunches and happy hours at cool Center City joints. And lots of housecleaning, overtime, and errands as well.

The Kesters’ 50th Anniversary

We shared quality time together in Milwaukee. Plus a trip up north to Marshfield to attend mass at the church where they were married, 50 years to the day after.

There were pleasant and meaningful visits with extended aging family, roadtrip antics, fresh and squeaky cheese curds, and a little multigen baseball in between.

Glasses

I bought new glasses the same day I got to meet Seth Godin at a conference. I will always associate my new look with my favorite marketing guru in glasses.

Neighbors

Parties and playdates and pizza! Oh my! We enjoyed multiple block parties, spontaneous gatherings, lots of beer drunk curbside with fantastic people. Yoga classes, trips to the pool, corn hole, and other local pleasures.

Baseball

In Philadelphia…

   

…and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Lots and lots of it. Five games in total!

All in all, not a bad summer. The world is still off its axis. As Harvey retreats, Irma approaches, hovering over fall beach plans. The rebuilding begins in Texas, Trump tweets his small-minded hatred, and we write our donation checks. I text my friend in New Zealand, and life carries on…

Lessons from Mt. Airy Baseball


While Mt. Airy is known for its racial diversity, 13 years of living there produced very few cross-race friendships. Tribes hang together and like attracts like. Except in Mt. Airy baseball, which is the most racially integrated experiences we’ve had in our neighborhood. Teams transcend race, economics and zip codes. This is the deepest diversity I have ever experienced, something I have valued enough to drive back to now that we are no longer living in Mt. Airy.

The first year was a no-brainer. Robin was in his second year on his T-ball team, which was coached by a friend of ours and included a number of Robin’s buddies.

But his past year was a harder decision. You see, we live in a new neighborhood with a strong sports culture, lots of athletic and highly engaged dads, and a robust little league of its own. New friends and neighbors are involved and coaching, the same dads who pitch to my son in the street. Naturally they would like him to join the league and play with his neighborhood friends.

I would too. I relish the idea of bonding with the neighborhood moms on the bleachers and cranking hot dogs with them in the concession stand. Everyone is so nice. There’s only one problem. This neighborhood is homogenous and so like its community, the little league is almost completely white and middle class.

It’s no one’s fault, and most people would never notice this all, much less think it a problem. But we’ve seen another way and come to value it! Our time in T ball was enlightening, even as conversations with other parents were sometimes shallow.

When I asked our coach about snacks he confided that not everyone on the team could afford to take a turn buying snacks for everyone. That and other moments were eye opening for me and extremely valuable. They forged a deep loyalty in me to the league, the equality of the baseball diamond, and the rich and diverse experiences these kids bring to the team.

So we signed on for little league again. And this year the more intensive schedule brought use more deeply into the various worlds of the players’ families. What a rich, rich experience, sharing perspectives on schools with a single mom from Germantown. Or hearing about the congregation where our coach was a preacher. Or meeting older siblings who helped coach.

We also got more involved, with Randy assistant coaching and me scoring and helping staff the dugout. There I became a “dugout mama” with Jen, another mom I knew from Robin’s former school. We juggled her son’s needs with other dramas of the batting order. I got to know the kids’ names and their backstories. We heard of family dramas and respected that throughout these ups and downs, the kids made it to practice and games. Baseball was the constant.

We also laughed at one dad and his vivid and creative commentary. we later found out he was a writer for a Netflix series. “Put some mustard on it!” We would laugh and laugh at his expressions. Meanwhile all the practice was turning our team from on of the worst I t he league to one of the better ones. With effort, the kids turned it around.

And some funny notes about race. I realized that the African Americans struggled to tell us white people apart. Robin was mistaken for another white kid ont he team around on, even though they had different hair color. And Jen and I were mistaken for each other, though really calling any white woman my age Jen is a good bet. Half the time you will be right.

And on the flip side, I had my own struggles distinguishing kids. But after long conversations with their moms, I could see traces of them if their kids’ faces. I came to know and recognize them. This exposure and intimacy is rare and so needed in our world.

As we get more entrenched in our new neighborhood and life outside of Mt. Airy, our decision next year will be all the harder. But this type of diversity is so real, organic, and valuable. It is impossible for me to imagine giving it up.

Planet Mrs.

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There are as many differences between urban and suburban culture as there are varieties of each. Endless ways to experience city living, and many varieties of suburban culture, each with its own norms.

Around here, that norm includes calling adults Mr. and Mrs. I tell outsiders I live on Planet Mrs. I try to conform, to ask Robin to show his respect to adults by addressing them as they wish to be addressed. But for over a year now I have been thinking one thing. Wishing to yell it in all caps like a Mo Willems character:

PLEASE DON’T CALL ME MRS. KESTER.
It makes every cell in my body contract when I hear it. It makes me feel less like me.

1. My name is not Kester.

I am only Andrea Kester in Facebook, where I use this false name to hide from creepy old boyfriends and curious clients. This anonymity allows me to post political viewpoints with impunity and dodge potential employers’ searches. But I do realize it is genuinely confusing, especially for new friends and acquaintances.

When I hear Mrs. Kester, the first thing I think of is my mother-in-law, and I cringe. Not because my mother-in-law is disagreeable. To the contrary, she is a delightful woman so unmalicious, my sarcasm genuinely confuses. Rather, it reminds me of the days when I called her Mrs. Kester instead of Barb, when I was too bashful to ask if I could be less formal and she was too embarrassed to invite me to be.

I was Szyper for the first 30 years of my life and never considered changing it when I married. And to hyphenate a name like Szyper would be ridiculous, we can all agree on that. At our wedding I told my father-in-law that though I did not take the name, I was proud to be in his family. He smiled and told me he completely understood. Meanwhile his son liked to tell people “Andea is keeping her name and I am keeping mine.”

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2. I am Ms. not Mrs.

I claim the right to separate my marital status from my identity, as men have been doing since the start of such things. He can be Mr. and I can be Ms. As you get to know us, our status will be revealed to you at our own discretion. Ms. is indeed more than a euphemism for Miss after all.

But at the same time, please do not feel threatened or judged. Understand that I completely respect and honor your wish to be called Mrs. just as I accept your choice to take your husband’s last name as your own. It is a fantastic choice, and I am so excited to live in a world where we have options as women, and where we can follow the path that feels right and natural for each of us.

We need to spend less energy feeling threatened and more energy supporting each other and honoring these choices. There are endless ways to be a woman today, and each deserves respect, even when it isn’t the way we would choose for ourselves. More than anything, we womenfolk have got to stick together and hold each other up.

3. I hate formality.

I bristle at the formality of titles in general. I know this makes us somewhat unique in all sorts of circles. I used to insist Robin call his preschool teachers Ms. Lorna and Ms. Drew. But parents in our old neighborhood went by Heather and Allen and Cheryl. (Still do!)

The Quakers are intrinsically anti-hierarchical, so it should come as no surprise that at Friends school students called their teachers by their first name only. Robin’s teachers included Kathie, Azizah, Lois, and Cornelia.

I never expected this to carry over to a mainstream public school. In that setting, the titles make sense. But what surprises me is when adults identify themselves to me as a Mrs. It creates confusion when Mrs. Smith calls from the school office and she is not Miss/Ms. Smith, Robin’s classroom teacher. Can’t we go by first names, at least among adults?

Poor Robin is confused. When we hang out with closer friends, grown ups are called by first names, but at the bus stop he must jump to the formal. And when I tell Robin’s neighborhood friends to call me Andrea, they say that their parents wouldn’t want them to. I insist Robin call their parents Mr. and Mrs. as they prefer, to show them respect. I get it.

But can I choose too?
How about calling me Ms. Andrea?

(If only I had the guts to just politely ask…)

Uprising, Part I: Washington

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The last two weeks (the first of the Trump administration) have been like dog years, a swift and startling onslaught of executive orders attacking all that is dear to us.

I started this post in the heady afterglow of the Women’s March on Washington. I still feel the buzz of it and am heartened at its momentum. So, about that march…

Representing:
I met marchers from all over the country: A mom from California marching with her 9-year-old son, a group from Atlanta who had slept on an overnight bus to get there, people from Idaho and Kansas. I was texting with a dear friend who drove up from North Carolina. My friend ventured off and met Alaskans. I saw small groups of Canadians marching in solidarity.

We Win: The signs were brilliant: clever, funny, smart, hand-drawn and artistic. If I were undecided, I’d pick our side for the humor. For wit, #trumpbookreports was only the start. Agree with us or not, you’ve gotta admit, we’re sharper.

Favorite Signs:
“Ignore the tweets. Follow the money.”
“I can’t believe I am still marching for this shit!”
“Tweet others like you’d want to be tweeted”
“Resistance is my cardio”
“I’m with her” (8 arrows pointing in all directions)
“I’m with her” (photo of the Statue of Liberty)

Lots of kids and husbands marched. Women of all ages and backgrounds. People in the crowd were so generous to each other at every turn, I cry as I type the words. Nothing but kindness among us.

Marching Moms:
Need a tissue? Some water? Someone offered it before you could ask. I had bandaids and wipes in my clear plastic backpack, and I was surely not alone. After 4 hours of standing at the rally, there were offers of ibuprofen and snacks in the crowd. This is civility. When I offered a new friend a rubber band for her poster, she accepted it with awe. I just laughed. “Yeah. There are hundreds of thousands of moms on the mall right now. If you need anything, just ask.”

Small Acts of Grace:
The mom and her daughter sitting on a curb near JFK with a hand-lettered sign that said WELCOME
The woman in her front yard handing out granola bars to marchers
The church with its doors and bathrooms open to marchers
The National Guard members who looked on with smiles
The police and locals who thanked us for coming
The protesters who thanks the police and guard for their service

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Celebrity Distraction:
Somehow we ended up behind the stage, in front of the speakers’ hospitality tent. It was hard to hear speeches, but we saw all the speakers. Had no idea we were effectively on the march’s informal red carpet until someone yelled “Oh my God! There’s Cher!”
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I did feel old when I had to ask repeatedly who people were. Lots of stars from Orange is the New Black. Katie Couric is tiny! So is Scarlett Johansson. And this nice woman named Emma Watson came by to shake hands…
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Favorite Swoon: Meeting Michael Moore, who went on stage in a baseball cap and returned in a pussy hat. He stopped to talk with the crowd and gushed to us that Alicia Keys has just hugged him; he was as star-struck and real as any of us. His smart speculation is that Trump will not complete his term. The guy’s been right before.
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I was thankful for a comfortable spot to stand with a sightline to the stage, though I was sorry to not be able to hear all the speeches. I heard enough of Angela Davis to cry. And I was lucky enough to miss Madonna completely.

Marching:
We were close enough to the action that organizers actually addressed us, explaining that they had expected a turnout of 200,000 but they were estimating we were over 600,000. Too many people to march! The march route was clogged with people, positively jammed!As we hit the potty line the plan changed (or maybe the organizers worked with police to close more roads?) and we marched down multiple roads to Pennsylvania Rd. We never did make it to the White House, but the fun was in the movement.

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Guilty Pleasure: Marching past the Trump hotel and waving our middle fingers in the air like lighters at a concert. I know, I know, but it just felt so luxuriously fun.

Favorite Chants:
“We need a leader! Not a creepy tweeter.”
“We will not go away! Welcome to your first day!”

The Aftermath:
Over a half a million protestors and not a single arrest. An activist friend marveled at how tidy things were in our wake: very little litter, rubbish stacked neatly next to overflowing trash cans. Compared to the many anti-war protests she has attended, she said the difference was stark.

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Follow Up:
I promised I would not allow myself the indulgence of blogging about this until I did 5 things to follow up. So here is what I have done in the meantime:

  1. Signed White House petitions asking Trump to disclose is tax returns and to put his businesses in a blind trust
  2. Marched in a Philadelphia protest during the GOP joint congressional retreat, attended by the Cheeto himself
  3. Asked Senator Pat Toomey to reject Betsy DeVos’s nomination as Education Secretary
  4. Attended a meeting of local activists to organize follow-up and next steps, for info sharing and midterm election action
  5. Joined the ACLU

The Women’s March set an important precedent. As protesters flocked to airports last weekend, I saw that this is the beginning of a time when ordinary people stand up for what is right, and that is what gives us power.

On this day, oh so long ago, we stood up against all that Trump represented. Now we march onward, in bigger numbers, in cities across the country, to stand against what he is doing: his lies, his policies, his attack on American values and institutions.

Our march has only begun.