Loving this.

Graffiti animation of an entire building!

(via Shifty Rhythms)

Freaking out, a little.

Yesterday I attended “Defensive Driving” to learn how to drive an LA County van. It was great, mainly because of Buzz. This is Buzz, our instructor:

and the schoolhouse rock-ish video we watched:

This is me, anxiously waiting to take my driver’s test: (Note: these “flip-flops” and my jeans would later stop me from entering the County offices – “You’re not up to our dress code,” an unhappy looking but well-dressed woman told me.)

Here is where the freaking out comes in: I met another Vista working at another site of the same organization as me. She confirmed a fear I had been harboring since Day 1 – literally, the first day I came in a month ago, not yesterday – that our job was especially “chill,” with few responsibilities, lots of down time and freedom to Facebook while at work. I immediately got worried. I don’t want to spend a year bored, searching for things to do! (Note: organizations apply to get a 3-year term with AmeriCorps*VISTA – meaning, they get one volunteer per year, for three years, to build specific capacities for their program. I am the third and last Vista at this site – not planning anything new, just “maintaining” their program.) So, in typical Bern fashion, I immediately started checking my other options and possible ways out (fear of committment, anyone?).

I called and spoke with the State Center of CNCS (Center for National Community Service, they run AmeriCorps) just to get some basic questions answered – who do I talk to about this? what are my options if this is not the right placement for me? I found out that there were a few other sites looking for Vistas – and most notably, there was a women’s shelter looking for their first of three Vistas – to do marketing, communications, design, resource development, etc. It sounded amazing! But they are still waiting on getting approval and might not be up and running until Nov. 1 at the earliest. But I immediately got some deep-seated "service envy" - that site is so much better! why can't I work there? I'm more interested in studying these issues!

Naturally, I called Ally, got the typical tough love advice, then called my dad to get sympathy, since Ally doesn't let me complain.

But what struck me most was talking with Miss T, my one and only comrade at this site. She told me all the frustrating aspects of this site that should have pushed me further away – our site gets the lowest amount of funding out of all 4 public housing sites in Los Angeles – why? Because the poor black kids here are shooting each other up and no one wants to invest in them. Seriously. The mayors in the other districts (that still face the issues that come with low-income minorities living in public housing) do a lot of work with their communities – and therefore always make sure they have tons of funding and volunteers. Us? We’re lucky to get 12-15 kids a day into our tutoring center. We’re lucky to get 2 volunteers a week to come tutor. Our employment specialist was laid off a few weeks ago – and now the adults who live in public housing are having a hard time getting motivated to find jobs ... how are people supposed to get out of assisted housing and get jobs if these specialists aren't there to help them?

Crap. Now I'm really confused. I do like my site, I am already starting to fall for our kids there, and I can't imagine bailing to work at a "better" site - how would I explain that to them? ("These other people have cooler issues than you guys! Don't you understand?")

Day 2: First freakout, first struggle of conscience. God, I can't even imagine what day 105 is going to bring.


Last day of orientation: I'm official.

Day 4: 9/25/09

How AmeriCorps found 400 individuals crazy enough to profess an ultra-patriotic oath, swearing themselves to a year of service and a year of poverty, I’ll never know. Buncha hippies.

Here's the sea of luggage after we all checked out of our rooms but were not allowed to leave for 5 more hours:

And here are some shots of the hotel:

And this is the shadow of my former self in the taxi back to LAX: (bahahah)

Today is catchup day: e-mails, freelance design, and canceling anything excessive that costs me money for the next year (i.e. health insurance). But not Netflix.

I got my first work e-mail, which tells me, essentially: "Get ready because on Tuesday we are planning the curriculum for the tutoring program for the whole year and you are facilitating." AGH! Stoked :)



"I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with."

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.” Read it. Immediately.

Orientation, Day 3

Day 3: 9/24/09

Beatrice snores.

Other than that, it was a pretty ok day. Boring by the past 2 days’ standards, actually. Lots of talk about company culture and conflict resolution-type situations. We did go in-depth with our VADs – VISTA Assignment Description – which tells us exactly what we’ll be doing at our specific site over the next year. My biggest duty will be to develop a sustainable volunteer program at the housing site, consisting of 350 total volunteers – students, resident and community members. Obviously there will be some event planning and reporting, but recruiting a stable volunteer force will be my biggest challenge.

I got to meet some more cool people today, and had some great conversations. One young man from Gambia sneak attacked me as I was fiddling with my phone on a break. “I like to mess with people who look ‘too into’ what they’re doing,” he said. Great, I thought. So I acquiesced and asked him the normal getting-to-know-you type questions. After which he said, “You smell great” and “What are you doing tonight?” At which point I found it necessary to excuse myself down to the lobby to attend to some very pressing issues.

I am now in my usual place on the couch with the outlet closest to the bar. Typical. Slowly sending off wedding photos and wasting time online. A few new friends have gone to the mall (the mall?!) but I declined – I’ve heard pretty negative things from those who’ve ventured the 20 miles to downtown Dallas – not worth the time/energy, they say. I’m really not being anti-social, I’m just so mingled-out.

Here are two things I’m missing about LA right about now:

Orientation, Day 2

Day 2: 9/23/09

Big day! First day of training. Up at 730 for breakfast, “class” started at 830. We broke into groups by region - I have a great leader named Bob who is the perfect mix of funny/serious/knowledgeable. He’s been a social worker for 25 years, so I’m excited to talk with him about grad school. We have about 25 people in our class – all from the West coast (There’s about 400 VISTAs here in total, 8,000 in total for the country!). Today was a great big overview of VISTA – starting with the mission (VISTA’s, our organization’s mission, and our own personal mission), then many different sessions on different perspectives on Poverty. And of course … icebreakers and networking ☺

Some interesting facts from today: As VISTAs, we are “capacity-builders.” We are not there to do direct service, or administrative duties. We are there to create/implement programs that can be sustainable for the organization. We serve behind the scenes. We also talked about whether we believe poverty can be eradicated – one VISTA noted, “Poverty is not a natural system, therefore, it can be eliminated.” I’m still doubtful.

So, we’re not officially VISTAs yet. They keep calling us “potentials,” because on Friday we have to go ahead and decide whether this is the right program for us. If it is, we get “sworn into office” after saying a (crazy patriotic) oath. At first, the option of “I can still get out of this?!” appealed to me … but that feeling has since gone away, I am glad to report.

We finished at 430, and I did some photo editing from the wedding until dinner, ate quickly then did 3 more hours of editing in the lobby! I then ransacked the hotel gift shop for quirky souvenirs. Get ready, friends and roommates.

It is now 1100, I have showered and watched some Food Network, and I will soon turn the lights off in hopes of my roommate not having to acknowledge me when she comes in. (I still don’t know her name, although from this point on, I will refer to her as Beatrice.)


AmeriCorps*VISTA Orientation, Day 1

Day 1: 9/22/09

Left LA at 720am, arrived in Dallas at noon.

Got onto the chartered AmeriCorps bus to find awkward nerdy kid trying really really really hard to be loud and outgoing. Sat next to a VISTA who was my age with two kids, she lives in Visalia and this is her first job. She was a great person and it made me happy to be in service in an organization with the likes of her – all of us coming from very different backgrounds, etc.

My roommate has implemented a towel usage system. When she first mentioned this, I giggled, thinking it impossible. But she shot me a nasty look and dragged me to the bathroom, where the hand towel I used to wash my face was folded on the countertop. “Like, what does this mean?” she prodded, and proceeded to explain where we should place our individual towels when they are clean/dirty/used but still useable.

Headed down to dinner, sat at a table with great girls, watched a pre-PSO (Pre-Service Orientation) video that made me forget all my woes I expressed to Ally this morning about regret and “grass is always greener” type feelings. On the video, quotes like “Poverty cannot be allowed in a nation of this wealth,” “I actually feel like I am living in America for the first time in my life,” and “It’s about capacity-building.” Made me stoked.

Befriended Meaghan and Sara at dinner – both serving in Nevada – and had margaritas in the lobby with Meaghan (19 year-old Samoan girl) and laughed over silly, silly stuff. Retired to bed to find said roommate asking me what time I would wake up for 7am breakfast. Apparently, responding “7am” was not cool.

Excited to learn more.



In those days,
we finally chose
to walk like giants
& hold the world
in arms grown strong with love
& there may be many things we forget
in the days to come,
but this will not be one of them.

(From StoryPeople - they supply you with a short story every day, right to your inbox.)


I made it to Germany! With a quick layover in Hell. No really - the fiery, burny place.

All I wanted to do on my first international flight was to sit back with my inflatable neck rest, make a nice cocktail of sleeping pills and $6 wine and read Cosmo ("Bad Girl Sex" edition) until we landed in Frankfurt. Cody made sure this would not be the case.

He sat right down next to me, a decent looking Texan boy of 24, and asked "How long have you been a Christian?" Dangit. He must have seen my tattoo. I proceeded to explain the raised Catholic, explored non-denominational thing, and then he launched into a diatribe of evangelical missionary Christian-ese, which, in order to avoid a painful 13 hour flight, I politely nodded at. I explained my current position, coming from a social work perspective and seeing communities where "accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior" might not necessarily cure gang warfare. This is when he proceeded to tell me that I wouldn't go to Heaven.

"Do you want me to explain why?"

"Not really." And I opened my computer and started to work on some photo editing. At which point he got up and handed out the following brochures to the entire plane:

Now, my opinions on the Christian missionary thing are not the most positive at this point - but I can respect a person doing what he believes in. But hand me a brochure that begins "The world will not soon forget the images of George W. Bush standing atop the wreckage of the Twin Towers ... what a wonderful blessing, this freedom we enjoy, bought with the price of someone's BLOOD."

Oh helllllllll no.

I'm not down with that red, white and blue bullshit - linked up with Christianity?! No. Not down.

Ugh. Cody spent the rest of the flight fasting - and making a clear point of why he was doing so to each stewardess who offered him food/drink - as well as glaring at any sex scene on the movies I watched. I prayed for him - that he would carry on the true message of Jesus, and not some convuluted evangelical propoganda. I'm sure he prayed for my soul too - but in an entirely different way.


A classic, re-recorded.

Ally and Marian sing Shaggy's "Wasn't Me." With a special guest appearance by yours truly.



The largest bag of tea ever, at Borders.

Trying on stripper heels. Complete with zip-up back.

The strong, independent women who made my apartment move possible.

Isaac, who invites himself in when the front door is open to play with our loofahs.

"Storytelling slam." This unflattering picture of the host makes up for her terrible jokes.