Author Archives: aszyper

About aszyper

Writer, Strategist, Globalist, Soccer Mom

Requiem for Joy

After my big bummer of a 2017 recap, here’s a happy little family holiday album, my own little meditation on all that is right and good. I’ve thrown myself into the Christmas spirit this year with untarnished abandon and have chosen to be unapologetically happy. Turns out, I am ravenous.

When in early December I found myself feeling mocked by the tissue box in my bathroom that proclaimed “Joy!” to me in some very swirly font, I knew it was time for a reboot. Is joy dead? Only if we let the stupid orange man with the small hands and bad hair kill it.

Anyone who knows me and reads this blog knows that I am a big fan and practitioner of reframing. So no more moping. In truth, this year was pretty good for me personally, though my heart has broken a thousand times. I’m sending 2017 out with a festive bang!

Here’s to family and friends, to neighbors and community, to cioppino and other meals, to cookies, to snow, to parties and bubbly toasts, to candle light, to pets and children, to Center City traditions, to the glorious innocence of that unshakeable belief in Jesus, Santa, and the future.

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Good Riddance 2017

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Good riddance 2017. Scram. Beat it. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

So much happened this year, I feel the need to jot it all down. Like so many, I’ve felt a  that started with Trump’s bellicose inauguration speech and hasn’t let up since. This year has felt like 10, simply exhausting.

Though so little of it has touched me personally, I know my country will be digging out and rebuilding and repairing for generations.
Let’s recap, just the public stuff.

Trump

  • Comey firing and the absurd dishonesty of Jeff Sessions’ congressional testimony
  • The travel ban for Muslims (and Venezuela)
  • Strategic un- or underfunding of Obamacare to hurt the most vulnerable
  • The alienation of allies in Germany, France, China and the U.K.
  • ICE raids, deportations, and mass fear in the immigrant community
  • Nuclear brinksmanship with North Korea
  • The massive tax reform that gives it away to corporations and the wealthy

RIP

  • The Paris Climate Accord
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA, shmacka. Bye bye, dreamers!)
  • Net Neutrality
  • Tel Aviv as capital (and any hope of Middle East peace)
  • Fetus, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based (and our faith in government)
  • Vital sub-cabinet posts and government advisory staff
  • The individual health insurance mandate that supported affordable healthcare for all
  • Frederick Douglass (no doubt rolling in his grave)

Mother Nature

  • Hurricane Harvey floods in TX
  • Hurricanes Irma and then Maria devastation in the Caribbean and Florida
  • Puerto Rico, an act of God made 500 times worse by government incompetence and neglect
  • The earthquake in Mexico City
  • Massive, historic wildfires all over California

Trump Nation

  • Charlottesville and neo-Nazi rallies
  • White nationalism as a rebrand of white supremacy
  • Mass shootings like the Texas church shooting and the one in Las Vegas
  • The rise of cyber bullying, personal attacks, and partisan news
  • Whataboutism hit its prime

Me Too

  • The fall of Al Franken…
  • …Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Louis C.K., Mario Batali, Garrison Keillor, George HW Bush…
  • Half the population over age 20 revisiting some sort of painful memory
  • Oh yeah, and Harvey Weinstein

Farewell 2017. You’ve overstayed your welcome and left us with very few bright spots.

Silver Linings

  • The firing of Steve Bannon
  • Roy Moore’s narrow defeat by Doug Jones
  • The Silence Breakers and a brighter day for working women
  • The arrest of Paul Manafort and Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation
  • SNL and John Oliver are crushing it
  • Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa is here, reminding us to embrace joy and be good to each other (photos to follow)

What did I forget? In a shit storm as epic as 2017 there were bound to be other big things. My next entry will be brighter.

Keep the faith, and cheers to a happy and healthy and sane 2018! It can only get better.

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.

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.