beneath the surface

Refresh, North Beach Canon Digital Rebel

After a photoshoot I did last weekend, I wandered into North Beach and saw construction going on and this sign emerging from the wall. Apparently it had been there for a hundred years or so, an old corner store buried under layers of paint and sheetrock and wood. I had passed by this corner thousands of times, but never would have known what was there beneath the surface.

An old man who I recognized from the neighborhood stopped and asked why I was taking photos of it. “It’s beautiful, don’t you think?” and he nodded in agreement. For a moment we imagined what beauty lived behind every wall in the neighborhood and every wall in the city.

It made me think of something Oprah once said on her show. She said that when we pass by folks on the street we have no idea what private battles they are waging. We see people doing annoying things like yelling at their kids or driving too fast or grumpily handing us our double cappuccinos and we are human which means we want to judge them and hate them, but Oprah reminded me that part of compassion is remembering this one small truth, that we have no idea what private battles they are fighting.

When I am flipping through People magazine (guilty, guilty pleausure) and looking at the celebrities with their shiny hair and perfect teeth holding their brand new babies, I start to feel really bad about myself. I start to wonder if I would be happier if I was on the Atkins diet or if I started wearing high heels and getting bikini waxes.

Why is it so satisfying when we read about the fall of one of these celebrities? Why do we love those photos of Jennifer Aniston when she’s just woken up and is on her way to a cafe in her jogging suit? We love this because she looks so human, she looks more like us, imperfect and puffy with coffee breath and stringy hair, and this makes us like her more.

We think other peoples’ lives must be better than ours, that everyone else has it together, that we are the only ones who are flailing and wondering and not at all sure. But really we’re not seeing the whole picture, and if we did, we would probably see that we are more alike than we are different. Beneath the surface there is always something else, something we couldn’t have imagined.

Only three days after this shot, the wall was built over again and painted. I was sad to see it go, hoping for a few more glimpses of its bones. It was like having X-ray vision for a little while, and reminded me of everything we don’t see when we’re all painted over.

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Hi, I’m Andrea

On this blog you’ll be learning with me how to use our voices, share our creative superpowers and live life in full color.

As an artist, photographer, life coach + mentor, I’m redefining what it means to be a SUPERHERO — ‘cause in my world, it’s got nothing to do with capes, spandex or sidekicks and everything to do with tenderness, intuition & baby steps of bravery.



  1. Rachel

    I love this entry Andrea. It also reminds me of how we turn that judgment on ourselves, how we see ourselves and everything around us varies so much depending on our particular attitude and lens that we look through in that particular moment, that the same situation arising the next day would be looked at differently depending on which lens we choose that day.

  2. Hazel

    Thank you for writing this. Today I needed some reassurance, and it came in the form of this. Thank you.

  3. blackbird

    Today you are a prophet.
    You are so right — no one knows the truths of the people all around them –and all of us think only our problems/happiness/situations are real. But all around us people are worried or happy or sad or proud -and it only takes one second to recognize that their feelings are valid.
    I thank you too today for this. I am weighted with worry and forgot that other people are afraid too.

  4. Kymberlee

    Oh Andrea! This is so insightful and such a good reminder to us all. I was just writing this morning about authenticity in children. You have given us a healthy dose of your own vulnerable, transparent self. We don’t need x-ray vision with you because you bare yourself here and we all benefit from it. Thank you for your soulful expression and for the beauty you share so freely! (((HUG)))

  5. Kate

    Once the judgment of ourselves stops, the judgment of others will stop as well ’cause we are all in the same boat, fighting the waves and beating off the flesh-eating fish. I think, with regards to these private battles, if we let them out a little, they wouldn’t tear up our insides so much and we’d then be able to ask for comfort and ask for help. I was, sometimes, a grumpy barista, and I am, most of the time, a grumpy secretary – because I have to put on a game face in order to appear functional in society. How quickly, tho, does that mask we wear distort from the pressure of our battles waging in our hearts and minds and souls. Do you ever notice how sometimes, when you ask someone you don’t know very well, how they are – it’s almost as if their tension is deflated? I am also that person who practically bursts into tears – of relief and realization – if you ask me how I am. Whew. Thank you for your words. They have become a daily reassurance and guide through the messy day.

  6. Anja

    I really love that shot. You’re always so good at seeing the symbolic value of things around you – a photographer’s eye with a heart behind it. It’s good to be allowed to see with you.

  7. kat

    the picture reminds me of a rauchenberg painting. it’s so nice that you can see the beauty in the funky, unusual stuff. it reminds me of the beauty i see when someone cracks open and shows their true self momentarily, flaws and all. And like your sign, it’s usually covered up the next day, but the peek in is lovely.
    i remember oprah saying that about private battles and it’s so true. i try to remind myself when i find myself judging people for the bizarre things they do. and i hope that occasionally people are paying me the same courtesy.

  8. Ali

    Holy mackeral. LOVE the photo and your words…and the whole sentiment behind this post Andrea. So glad you are here.

  9. Arin

    Strange, even though I watch Oprah only once in a great while, I too saw that episode where she spoke about not knowing people’s private battles–and it’s an idea that I return to again and again. I think of all the times that I’ve been fighting my own private interior wars and have been too absorbed in them to stop and chat with a neighbor or interact with the person serving my bagel, and I remember that quote and resolve to never take anyone’s behavior at face value. Thank you, Andrea, for reminding us that we all have spots of dark–and of beautiful light–inside of us.

  10. Nadine

    So happy you captured this photo. It was also on the news last night, fully revealed. The man in charge of the construction work was so amazed and excited about the find, he spent $5000 of his own money to carefully remove it, and save it. I believe he wants to donate it to a museum. It’s nice that people care about such random treasures.
    and thank you for such a lovely and insightful blog!

  11. stef

    I too saw this wall and wondered just how long it had been underneath…it was so beautiful and also sad to see it go.
    It’s good to remind ourselves that everyone has their personal battles and to show compassion more and more..
    as always…thanks for reminding us that we’re all human and we’re all closer than we think

  12. Sue

    This post reminds me of a quote that I try to live by. ?Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.? ?Plato
    And also, “Speak, only if you can improve the silence.” – A Buddhist axiom

  13. Susi

    I have been reading your journal regularly and it has been awakening the creative fire. Your writing makes me feel alive. Your entries make me want to persist with my own writing. I think you should publish a book. I definitely think you should win a prize for your blog. And, you make delicious jewelry.

  14. Jamie

    The sentiment (both behind the picture and the way expressed within the text) is just awesome. (new reader – looking forward to reading more)

  15. mark

    After I read this piece I said out loud, “You’re good, man.” And you are. I agree with another person. You should gather up your best writings and photos and put together a book.

  16. kristal

    “we are more alike than we are different”
    I love that… it is one of the reasons I love blogging so much. The internet is the great equalizer. Every day I find common ground with people I might never have the opportunity to meet in real life.
    Thank you for being you. Because [in the words of my daughter] You ROCK!

  17. David

    Andrea… you would love some of the ‘ghost sign’ sites that are out there on the web. Ghost signs (in case you didn’t know) are those faded remnants of ads that remain on the sides of buildings around the world. Here are a few of the better ones I’ve discovered:
    There are dozens of others that are equaly good… but I’ll leave you to the joy of discovery.

  18. erika

    Andrea, your response of “It’s beautiful, don’t you think?”, is much better than my responses. It gets on my nerves when people ask me why I’m taking pictures of this and that. I was taking pictures of a parking meter yesterday and this one guy thought it was hilarious.
    He was sitting in his car with someone else and he goes, “I’m sorry but can I ask you a question?” I was thinking, “here it comes”, and started to grit my teeth. Through chuckles he says, “Why are taking pictures of a PARKING METER?”.
    I said, “Because I can”. Not as nice as yours but he pissed me off. I think it was the laughing that did it.

  19. Laura

    Even if it’s painted and plastered over again, it’s still there. 🙂 That makes me happy.
    I often look at people on the street and wonder about their lives (and hope that they are good). I guess I have always done that. It helps to work in retail at a young age and experience that side of things — now when I am at restaurants and at grocery stores and bookstores I already have a built-in level of empathy for the folks that are behind the counter. Sometimes I’m grouchy but it generally takes quite a bit to get to me. It also helps to be a writer; because of that I wonder about their stories. I like stories.
    Feels good to hear it from other people. Thanks, Andrea.

  20. Beastmomma

    What a good reminder. I think that is why it is important to extend compassion and kindess to people we meet throughout our day. A little tenderness can go a long way with helping people carry their burdens.

  21. katie

    all I want to say is: word. excellent writing today, andrea.

  22. Cari

    This is a lovely post! The picture, the story behind it, and your unique way of tying it into the world are truly amazing and inspiring. Thank you for sharing it. I was also a bit relieved to read that the sign has been saved and not built or painted over.

  23. m

    I love seeing old shop facias when they are being renovated. Several I’ve seen from the bus failed to photograph and regret – lots.

  24. jolene

    thank you for the truth that spills from you.

  25. Jennifer

    So on target as always! I often think that I’m the only one that doesn’t have it ‘together’ and that everyone else has it going on, but it’s nice to be reminded that others probably think that too. So thanks…

  26. btezra

    ~why have I never stumbled in here before…your image and commentary are XLNT, hope you don’t mind a few return visits…~

  27. hungaro

    this is a bit funny, but before I stumbled upon your blog, I took and posted a picture of the same wall and sign last week:
    it is a bit more exposed than when you took the picture
    I like your blog a lot, by the way, especially the lightness with which you are presenting things (and yourself)

  28. jack

    i always wonder about other people. what they’re carrying around on the insides.
    thanks for putting it so beautifully.
    i love this so much.

  29. blu

    i read your blog a lot..hardly ever comment. but i feel compelled to comment today. i absolutely love this post. and im so glad you share this. because it is a comfort that other people think the same “whacky” things i think of. i also want to let you know that you have a beautiful spirit. i am currently working on my own, and remember you and your words from time to time. i want to be more like you. 🙂

  30. amanda

    Hi, Andrea. I love this photo – and your insight relating to it. If you have not read “Soul Prints” by Rabbi Marc Gafni, I enthusiastically recommend it to you. It was my first foray into the “self help” genre at a low point in my life (taking the bar exam, living in a chi-chi L.A. neighborhood, far away from my mother who was struggling with cancer and many new challenges). This book, along with A.J. Heschel’s “I Asked for Wonder” (given to my by a devout Catholic friend seriously considering joining a convent – she is now a nun) lifted my spirits and helped me see the horizon through the fogginess of that time.
    Anyways, I sought out “My Grandfather’s Blessings” as a result of one of your entries (thank you for introducing me to that book) and in return, I recommend the above.
    P.S. Congratulations to you and your best kept secret blog!

  31. Angi B

    you are a gifted artist,photographer,writer. you were just born to do these things. thanks for sahring all the layers of your creativity.

  32. tali

    You have such a way with words, and this entry really spoke to me. I love the photo..and I love that you captured that moment..especially now that it is gone.

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