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I like this!

By some SF-commute miracle this (Monday) morning, I walked onto an empty bus.  Unless you also spend your weekday mornings smashed in a crowded, standing-room-barely, sometimes smelly bus – you won’t appreciate the miracle of an empty morning bus ride.  In my 6 years of taking SF Muni to work every day,* this has NEVER happened to me. The bus was empty and quiet and I had a seat.  I was beyond grateful.*every day except for the days I can’t handle it and take a cab.

When we pulled up to the Van Ness bus stop however, a woman was waiting with some type of walker-cart-chair situation, and needed the ramp lowered in order to get onto the bus.  Unhappy with how the bus driver lowered the ramp, walker-woman (we’ll call her) demanded the driver move forward and do it again.  So the bus driver did, and walker-woman climbed aboard.

Several stops later, through the music in my headphones, I heard yelling.  So I take one headphone out and realize it’s walker-woman yelling at the bus driver again for how she’s lowered the ramp.  The bus driver has raised her voice to match walker-woman’s but her patience was evident.  She wasn’t getting upset, she was speaking loudly to walker-woman as if she was speaking to her own stubborn, hard-of-hearing grandma.

Walker-woman finally gets up to get off the bus, clearly thinking she was about to prove the bus driver right – that she was NOT going to be able to get down this way.

When, to no surprise of the bus driver, walker-woman is able to roll herself and her stuff onto the sidewalk, the bus driver responds to the yells that are still being hurled in her direction with “Have a nice day!”

So before I got off at the next stop, I hand the bus driver a be grateful, please sticker and say, “I want to give you this.  I think your patience is incredible.”

She doesn’t have time to respond before I’m off the bus but about two steps away I hear her yell, “I like this!”

I sit in a comfortable chair at work and can listen to my favorite music on repeat while I ignore most of the world and I STILL lose my temper.  Be grateful, please.

Inspired by the inspired.

My sister Katie just called to tell me all about the meeting her 9-year old son Aiden scheduled with his elementary school principal to propose that I come to his school and paint a really big “be grateful” on one of it’s walls.  My sister set up the initial meeting at Aiden’s request and then he did all the rest.

He told his principal that I put be grateful everywhere in all sorts of ways (drawing, painting, writing, stickers), and that I like reminding people that they should be grateful, and that the kids at his school should really be grateful.  She said he remembered so many details and parts of the story that even she’d forgotten.  Our damn determined little Aiden is paying damn attention!

The principal said yes immediately and immediately they starting setting rules and making plans.  The principal went out today to get wood and Aiden declared that it should NOT be in cursive because then some of the little kids wouldn’t be able to read it.  He’d broken that news to me last week anyway, so I was prepared for that 😉

Here’s what my sister left on my voicemail (which I described to her as “the best voicemail I’ve ever received.” Hands down. Ever.):

I just wanted to tell you how amazing and cute Aiden was explaining this to his principal, and how excited he was to bring you into his school and share you with other people.

So I love you, and thank you for inspiring my children, and being awesome.


This has already become one of my favorite projects with my absolute new favorite power trifecta.  Good job sister. High five us.

Home.

I came home for the holidays this year – got here on Christmas Eve and will head back to San Francisco on New Years Day.  Coming home for me means a 45-minute BART ride to the East Bay from San Francisco to the same house I grew up in.

For one reason or another on this trip home, now 5 days into it, I find myself totally and completely at peace. More so than I’ve felt in the recent months.  I don’t know where or when exactly this feeling started; I was definitely NOT zenned out around my relatives on Christmas.  But yesterday, on a cold Sunday afternoon, I was walking around the corner along my mom’s front yard and it hit me, “Wait a minute. I’m happy.”

I LOVE being home.  I’m so aware right now how crazy stupid lucky I am to have this type of home to come home to.  The same house.  The same dining room table.  The same bricks in the front yard that I watched my dad lay.  The same bricks in the backyard that I sat on to wait for my turn on the swing.  And even a few of the same neighbors who knew me before I was born.

On Thanksgiving this year, this is what I said I was grateful for at the dinner table.  To have this home to come home to.

Thanks Mom and Dad.

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Solstice

Twice now I’ve used this sunny theme in my art

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The day after leaving that chalk drawing at my friend’s house I woke up and turned on NPR. Nothing but doom and gloom and it got to me. It left me with a sense of dread that I sensed was not going to be easily shaken. I pulled out a blank canvas and all I could see was darkness. The sun rays from the day before were still there, but they were covered in blacks and grays.

So I painted this to remind myself that the brightness still exists.

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As the day went on I realized it was the winter solstice and latched on to it’s meaning as a way to understand the day’s icy cold tone.

Winter solstice marks the beginning of winter – the darkest day of the year. Sounds depressing if you stop there. But if you don’t stop there, you realize that from the darkest point – it can only get lighter.

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It only gets brighter from here.

regeneration, stability and information

I finally got around to seeing a new spine specialist, made it to UCSF the following week to get new x-rays taken of my spine, and then made it to my second appointment with the spine doctor to review the findings.  All three of those things were daunting tasks at one point or another.  Approaching my injury with the intention of improving my situation used to be too upsetting to consider.  Conversations around it would mostly bring up the traumatized emotions and end up sending me to a nice little emotional breakdown.

And in recent past, if I’d been told by a doctor that I had “disc disease,” “lost 40% of the height between two vertebra” and that my condition was “degenerative,” I would have worn those words like a chain around my ankle and curled into a ball and cried.

Except this time I also heard her say that everything else looks really great.  That my joints are all very healthy, and that I’m doing all the right things.  Those are the words I’m carrying around with me this time.

I’m grateful for western medicine for providing me clear, objective information on my body, and for the rest of my healing practitioners for helping me do something about it.

And I’m mostly grateful to the human body for being so strong and resilient.

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The pic on the left is from right after the accident, after they put the screws and metal rods in that would stay for 8-months to give the broken bone (the one circled) a chance to regenerate to some point of stability. The part that’s circled is my L2, which was crushed by L1 (above it) upon impact of the fall.

The pic on the right is from last week. You can see there’s less space in between L1 and L2 than there is between the other vertebra. That’s where the doctor pointed and said “disc disease” as those spaces between are where the discs live.

Aug 15, 2015 – I just came back to this post and realized it was incomplete.  At some point not long after getting my new x-rays and writing this post, I pulled out my tracing paper and traced along the image – highlighting the part about my spine that I wanted to focus on and appreciate… be grateful for, if you will 😉

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The space in between L1 and L2 is smaller than it used to be, yes. But there’s a space!  Had I not gone to the Stanford ER, Kaiser would have fused my spine without even asking (I assume).  They would have either fused it, or let it fuse on it’s own, which it would have. Because of my doctors at Stanford and those screws you see above, I have that space. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram when I first drew this, I don’t know how else to express my feelings towards it:

I traced a recent x-ray of my spine and am just staring at it thinking of how much the space between those two bones means to me.  It used to be bigger and it may continue getting smaller. For now I’m cherishing it with everything I have and trusting that my Pilates, chiropractor, lumbar support pillows, better conscious posture, positive thoughts and visualizations keep it healthy and strong.  Dear spine, I’m sorry I let you down 7 [now 8] years ago and didn’t support you in all the ways you support me.  I promise to protect you every minute of every day for the rest of our time together.

grateful for garbage

I don’t remember when exactly it started, but for at least a year I’ve been keeping my eye peeled, when walking down any street, for any flat-surfaced object that had been left on the sidewalk and thrown away.

My favorite find was while I was walking to my friend’s house and came upon these big, thick black boards that I imagine were used for a marketing pitch (and not a successful one, they were broken in half).  I had no conceivable reason to have these boards in my life but I just had a feeling someday I might.

So I picked up as many folded boards as I could carry and proceeded to my friend’s front door.  When he opened it I said, “I just picked these up off the sidewalk… and I’m gonna leave them in your house until I can come pick them up with a car.”

And then few months later my friend purchased her first home.  And somewhere in our conversation, she told me there was a main wall in the dining room that she wished she had a big “be grateful” for.  I told her I would LOVE for her to hang one of my “be gratefuls” in her first home, and we started talking about sizes.  I went to my growing pile of garbage next to my dresser and sent her a picture of one of the black boards, and we decided that that would be perfect.

~Angela’s Painting~

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The growing pile of garbage in my room eventually started including any potentially paintable flat surface I came across.  And whenever I was home with no plans, I’d look through the pile and pull out my next canvas.

One Friday night before a beach-day-Saturday I pulled out a little black piece plastic that had been the backing to an oversized necklace I bought from Forever 21.  I decided I was going to paint it, and then leave it at the beach for a stranger.

~the beach leave~

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Lately I’ve found myself in between social lives, as I describe it, and at home with no plans a lot more often.  I just finished my second piece of “trash art” in a week and am so grateful for this hobby I’ve developed.

~these don’t have names yet~

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 ……

My entire intention with the spreading the words “be grateful” and “be grateful please,” has always been to contribute to the cycle of gratitude and abundance I see spinning all around us all the time.

I’m so grateful to have cultivated this hobby.  It provides me with a positive way to spend the hours of my life, and hopefully provides the world with a gentle reminder which they may be needing.

……

don’t ask what the world needs

find what makes you come alive and go do that.

because what the world needs

is people who have come alive.

-howard thurman-

……

** I couldn’t give this post it’s title without giving a shout to my dad.  I’m dedicating this post to him for encouraging me, whether I liked it or not, to see the potential magic available in thrown-out-pieces-of-garbage.

Thanks for being the example you were pops.  I’m still drawing the line at climbing in that dumpster with you, but maybe I won’t hide on the floor of your truck while you’re digging around.  Love you! **

And this is what it looks like when my heart explodes

My friends who run our Burning Man camp asked me to paint a 20-ft by 8-ft piece of canvas to hang over a boring-looking metal storage container that is going to be parked at our camp this year.  While sorting out the logistics of what to paint, and how and where to paint it, I happened to also decide I personally would not be going to Burning Man this year.  At the moment I decided not to go, this mural became much more important.  If I wasn’t going, this painting would go in my place.  Being able to send along such a giant piece of myself, and to contribute to both my camp and the Burning Man community as a whole made everything right in my world.

I’ve put together the following play-by-play of creating this mural because of how many people have asked me how I did it.  And if you know anything about me, you know how much I love documenting my experiences.  This one was a game changer.

So….

I started with a 20-inch by 8-inch piece of paper so I could sketch out ideas… (in the end, I never actually drew on this).

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I’d been thinking through ideas for about a week, and one day, all of a sudden, all the ideas I’d been thinking of separately came rushing together in my head so I grabbed the first piece of paper I could find and watched this image take shape.

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Once in LA (where most of my friends and Burning Man family live), we had to have two separate pieces of canvas drop cloths sewn together to get something that was the same size as the storage container.

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When I got the canvas back from the tailor, my first step was to measure 1/3 of the way up, and 1/2-way across.  I had my friend sit at that mark (halfway across, 3rd of the way up) and hold one end of a chalk-line while I moved around the top of the canvas with the other end, creating the edges of the sun rays.

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After much deliberation about where and how to hang the canvas in the warehouse so I could paint it, we decided not to hang it at all.  It was going to be a project-and-a-half just to hang it and no one had any time for that.  I protested the idea to paint it on the ground for the pain and suffering that would cause my body, so the guys came up with a plan for me to be upstairs using a table.

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I’d pull a piece of the canvas up on the table, paint it, pull it over farther, paint that part, and again and again and again until I reached the other end.  Took me probably 7 hours spread across two nights.

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Once the sun rays were complete, I wanted to “take a step back” and look at it before I started the next phase.  When you’re working with a 20-foot piece of canvas, “taking a step back” becomes a bit tricky.  So with this one, I had to wait until the shop was relatively empty and carry the folded up canvas downstairs, lay it out flat, and go back upstairs to stare at it and take a picture.

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The bottom of the canvas was originally planned to be blank except for the reflection of the equalizer (the squares).  After a minute in a steel shop though, the bottom was so covered in dirt that I knew the whole thing would need to be painted.  I tried to buy silver paint and ended up with Rustoleum that didn’t act like paint at all.  And at this moment I start to question covering up those awesome sun rays with those blue squares at all.  So I painted a “mini mural” to test a few things out.

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Even less sure of the silver paint after trying it out, I decided to just move ahead with the blue square plan, hope for the best, and figure out the bottom later.  If I ended up hating it, I could paint over it.

To paint the blue squares, my plan was to use painter’s tape and tape-off squares every where I wanted them.  But the canvas wasn’t smooth, it was sweaty hot in the warehose, the tape wouldn’t stick so I knew pretty quickly that I needed to take a different approach. I got the bright idea to rip off the cover of a small notebook I had and used it as a stencil to draw squares with a pencil and fill them in with my “spongey paint brush things” (their official name) that do really well with straight lines.

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After all the EQ levels had been added to the top (not all pictured), I whined about the silver I bought to anyone who would listen, and then unsuccessfully tried to buy different “better” silver paint. Left with no better option or other idea that felt right, I decided to just try the silver I had again on a scrap piece of fabric… and decided it would work just fine.

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The silver paint went on unevenly (as you can see) and I knew I could fix that with a second coat, but decided the unevenness was exactly how it should be.

Then I knew how I was going to add the lighter squares on the bottom (of course still not 100% sure it would end up looking like a reflection… or if it would end up looking stupid), and that was my next step, but it was at this point that I really started questioning where to put the “be grateful.”  Looking at all the squares laying over the sun rays, I was starting to be fairly certain that I didn’t want to try and put my words over all that action.  And with that unknown gnawing at me, I started worrying when no other idea came to mind.  I did know however, that I wanted the words to be white.

So before going to the paint store again for the third time to get white paint, I had two friends hold up the canvas so I could see it upright for the first time- amazed at what I saw!

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I started thinking I wanted to write “be grateful, please.” in the top left corner as opposed to in the center over the squares. The top left corner is where you’d write the start of a paragraph and it is a short sentence, after all.  But something in me wouldn’t let me be sure.

I got started on the lower squares, hoping that soon, something would tell me where “the right” place was to put my “be grateful.”

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To get the lighter look on the bottom, I just dipped the “spongey paint brush thing” in the paint, dabbed it off on the unused canvas and lightly brushed it on the mural.  It ended up painting the raised pieces of the canvas darker, but I loved the shady way it was showing up on it’s own.

The steel shop was alive and running at this point, hence these headphones.

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To get a better look at this point, I laid the canvas out on the floor of the shop, stood on the welding table, and took a panoramic picture on my phone.

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I was in love.  The more I fell in love with it though, the less sure I started feeling about where to put the words.  I was having a hard time imagining putting any additional paint over any piece of this painting, because I liked every piece of it so much.

I took the little mini mural I’d created and tried it in the original spot.  Hated it.

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After I confirmed for myself that I definitely did NOT want to go with my original idea, I sat in the kitchen and texted a friend that maybe I wasn’t going to add “be grateful” at all. As I processed that thought, I found myself in tears.  After letting myself be upset for about 20 minutes, my best friend reminded me that “not adding be grateful is not an option.”  So I took a few deep breaths and tried my other idea on the mini mural.  I knew right after painting this – that this second idea was THE idea.

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Creating art is such an interesting process.  When it came to the most personal part of this mural for me, I became frozen in uncertainty and thought about maybe leaving myself off the mural all together for fear of ruining it.  Instead of believing in my idea, I spent a good 40 minutes refusing to trust myself.

After seeing it like the picture above, I felt like the life was breathed back into me and I found an entirely new decisive energy to keep painting.  So I got started on the final phase of the mural.

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I hopped up on the welding table again to take a look at the whole piece, thinking I’d see how and where I wanted to make the letters bigger, but then realized… I was done!

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Ok so I wasn’t done completely.  I knew I wanted to add a mustache (mustache’s are kind of the camp’s “thing” aside from music, so I wanted to have one on there somewhere)… Standing on the welding table together, my friend Cameron and I decided to hide a mustache in the music.

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The only things left then, were to add silver lines in between the sun rays, around the letters, and to put my “artist signature” at the bottom.

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It was Monday night by the time I was putting these final touches on, and I was leaving LA Tuesday evening.  I still had to do my “day job” all day on Tuesday and the shop was going to be getting dirty again, so I wanted the mural to be done-DONE before I went to bed Monday night… which ended up being around 5 in the morning.  “How is Sarah staying up?” … “Red bull and art.”

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Putting my initials down…

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Collapsing in the best possible way, for the best possible reason.  Me and my mural.  Done.

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..and this is what it looks like when my heart explodes..

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Replace it with gratitude.

I recently repainted a table that my sister bought for her 6th grade class.  She loved being able to let her students sit outside sometimes, to work on whatever they were working on.  But then one night a local kid decided to tag up her school with bright orange spray paint, and leave this message on her table:

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For those of you that don’t recognize the pre-pubescent artwork, that’s a representation of the artist’s penis, to-scale I’m sure. He loves it!

Anyway, obviously my sister’s table had to go live in the custodian’s storage closet after this, and my sister was bummed.

She’s always been a big fan and supporter of the “be grateful (please)” project and so one night I offered (or she asked me.. who can remember) to paint over it with “be grateful.”

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Much better 🙂

be gentle, please.

Last night I found myself experiencing second-hand, a very concrete example of why I added and will forever keep the please at the end of my be grateful.

Last night some of my close friends found themselves overworked, exhausted, and in the end, defeated by an enormous challenge they were brave enough to take on.

….

So the reason I say please after I say be grateful, is because I’m asking you to be grateful when life has just broken you in two.  I’m asking you to be grateful BECAUSE you’re broken in two.  I’m asking you to be grateful when it feels like you have no right to be, so I’m going to ask you nicely.

When someone you love is broken in two, you would never demand they do something.  You would gently whisper reminders of life’s goodness, and ask them to remember, please.

find the grateful. then it’ll find you.

It’s about a 5-block walk from my bus stop to my office, and some days I take this empty little alley to get away from the rat race for a second.  Yesterday when I turned into the alley,  I walked upon someone sleeping on the sidewalk.

I’ve seen him sleeping in this spot before, and in a certain spot on 2nd Street on my walk home from work some days.

He’s smart because these two spots are vents that blow out warm air.

The vent on 2nd shoots hot air up from the sewer and he lays there in a straight line on top of it in the middle of the busy sidewalk at 5pm.  Warm and sound asleep.  The vent in the alley, where I walked by him today, is on the side of a building, about 15-ft across and blows clean-smelling warm air out of a gym’s laundry room.

Usually I find him in the alley sitting against the wall but yesterday morning he was laying in front of the vent on his back, on the sidewalk, with his legs resting on the wall, feet spread wide.  I had to chuckle a little as I realized how warm his ass must be feeling.  “You know what? Good for him for finding such a slick way to warm up that ass.”

The homeless population in San Francisco has broken my heart ever since the first time I came here as a kid.  Since I live here now, I had to come up with ways to emotionally handle seeing it every day (I’m “highly sensitive.” Google it).

So what I often do is, instead of feeling SO sad for the constant struggle they must go through, I spot the thing that the person DOES have and I send out a pulse of gratitude for it, for them.  “I’m so glad he has that blanket.”  “I’m so glad she’s not getting wet from the rain sitting there.”

As I walked past the vent-sleeper yesterday, I walked away feeling grateful that he found this genius way to warm his body and find some likely hard-to-come-by sleep.

As I came to the end of the alley, I walked upon this sign on the ground and stood frozen staring at it with goosebumps up my spine.

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There could not have been a more accurate description of the thoughts I was JUST having, laid out right there on a piece of trash on my walk into work.

be grateful.. for anything…  please.