Author Archives: aszyper

About aszyper

Writer, Strategist, Globalist, Soccer Mom

Eulogy for Gem

Gem

I found this recently, the eulogy I wrote for my grandmother’s funeral. I miss her, especially as her birthday rolls around. So for posterity, here is how I remembered her…

Losing my grandma is losing a little bit of childhood.

At the playground, who else would have known that wax paper on a hot metal slide makes the slide go faster? Lauren and I passed many summer days at your house, Grandma. We loved those walks to the playground.

Who else would quench my thirst with cream soda over ice, served in a big bright blue aluminum tumbler? I remember sitting on your small porch drinking it. And picking flowers from your colorful garden, so many snapdragons.

Who else will give me cute money? (Anyone?)

Losing my grandma is losing an incredible woman.

Who else would have loved my grandfather so well? You smoothed his rough edges and set his heart aflame. You weathered so much together, and remained true in your love to him through his last long days in the hospital. Please bring him our love now. (Give him a kiss for me.)

Who else could keep up with my Aunt Noreen and Uncle Bob at 500 bid? You were sharp for so long, and always up for adventure. You shared my aunt and uncle’s love of the lake, happy to sit at the bonfire but also game for a golf cart ride to the docks or a pontoon cruise up into your last years. Are there corn roasts in heaven?

Who else could have held my mother through all the trials and triumphs of her long life? You have been a constant source of love and strength for her. And I know you will remain with her for the rest of her days.

Who else could change with the times, understanding and digesting all the complication of the people around her? Who could watch Andy Williams on Youtube with me or observe me on a Skype call, and help me understand how truly miraculous our new technologies are? You are Thoroughly Modern Tillie.

Who else would have inspired me to be a mom? I wasn’t sure I wanted a child until the night you, mom and I sat on my couch in front of the fireplace talking until late in the evening. That night I felt the power of our friendship, and the importance of the generations.

Losing my grandma is losing an anchor.

Who else could hold together our constellation of families? You are the sun around which our holidays revolve. I’ll always remember you quietly holding court on Sharon and Robin’s couch at Christmas, an extra mild mimosa on the table next to you.

Gathering around you in your final days, I felt such love and kinship with my aunt and uncle and cousins. Aside from the love, we really like each other. We are a small but powerful family, and we will remain so.

Who else could have represented your generation so well? You were one of the last, an adopted mother to cousins and family friends. So gracious and unassuming in your role as matriarch.

Who else will drive the red sports car? You are my son’s beloved Gwandma Tillie, and you will remain part of our story time, as he assigns you vehicles to drive in his story books. He always includes you, and you will live on in his memory.

You are a love in all of us.
A gentle kindness and sweetness that informs who we are as your family.
I hope to carry some of your humility and grace with me.
I know you are a part of me and of every one of us who loves you.

Thank you, Grandma. I miss you.

Advertisements

My __________ Valentine

IMG_1295 (1)

Contemporary art isn’t pretty. At least not always.

It need not be beautiful but rather can be judged by its power. Its message. The feelings it stirs. The universal truths it exposes. Any loveliness is fortunate but may be purely incidental.

This is the case I made to Randy, and why I needed to own a piece by Amberella, a Philadelphia street artist who has been wheat-pasting her hearts all over the city’s fringes. Her poignant slogans peek out from their backdrops of graffiti and urban decay, projecting messages that may warm your heart or stop you cold.

Either way, they have impact and connect you to your urban environment in a new and exciting way. Crumbling paint and rusting metal frame heart-shaped messages you’d never find on real candy hearts. Valentines for the human condition. A perfect V Day treat.

So when Amberella expanded her web shop for February, and I was all too happy to open my wallet and own one. But I leapt without thinking…

alone.jpg

I love the irony of this one, the melodrama and implied violins. The delicious nihilism of the thought and the way it mocks the heart that contains it. But even with my tongue in cheek, I feel a real power in this one fueled by a silent fear. Like it is a bad luck charm or curse, something to hide or bury. This one is a powerful work of art, and isn’t that the point?

Even before it was delivered, I knew Randy would overrule it. So I hid it in its frame. And when I finally did have the guts to hang it, just after Valentine’s Day, he objected.

But it was OK, because I had ordered another to hang in its place.

Heart2

This one is loaded, open to a couple interpretations. And that’s how I realize that context is such a critical part of this sort of art. And even in a happy middle class home, this brings some of the street with it. I’ve cut my teeth on Banksy and Shepard Fairey, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Trying to own street art is a fraught thing. 

I want to support an artist. But just like someone who rescues their first stray animal, I am a little overwhelmed by the power of her art in my own home.

Context is everything. Do I want to be drinking coffee with my husband and son with a FOREVER ALONE heart peeking over their shoulder?

ALL I EVER WANTED works well in our breakfast room, feeds a sense of familial contentment. “…all I ever wanted.” But imagine the feeling it would evoke in my office. “All I ever wanted…”

As someone who writes for a living, I should be the last one to be surprised by the power of this artwork. These words are chosen here. Owned. And they don’t fade quite like the ones that wear down or peel in the urban landscape, time and elements slowly reclaiming the public spaces they occupied.

These ideas are captured behind glass in my tidy home, nailed to the wall, domesticated wild things.

FOREVER ALONE now hangs in the quiet solitude of my office, where it better fits the mood.

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.

Good Riddance 2017

img_0083-1

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.

IMG_0541

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.

img_0310-1

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