As of August 5th, 2011, I have agreed to serve for one year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, working for a small monthly stipend, with the ultimate goal of combatting poverty and illiteracy in Minnesota. I am operating under the Minnesota Literacy Council, but serving directly at a small nonprofit organization called ThreeSixty Journalism, located at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The program provides mentoring and instruction in journalism skills, specifically for minority and low-income high school students from around the Twin Cities metro area. I will be acting as the Volunteer Coordinator, building sustainable community partnerships and facilitating the use of volunteers at ThreeSixty Journalism. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, I am awarded a monthly stipend that comes out to be right around the national poverty line, which forces me to better understand the clients and communities I will be serving. So far I have served for two weeks.
As I have accepted my commitments as an AmeriCorps VISTA, financially dipped below the poverty line, navigated the bureaucracy of local and national government services, and immersed myself in the uphill battle against poverty and illiteracy, I have taken on a lot to think about. Many of my thoughts and experiences have left me feeling angry, desperate, cynical, and overwhelmed. Without going into much detail, I can say that the transitions from school to service, from the dorms to a Minneapolis duplex, and from a small campus to a daily commute have been difficult. Additionally, I have a constant awareness of the harsh realities of the world around me: infuriating politics and institutionalized poverty, flawed education systems and a flailing economy, shirked environmental responsibilities and systemic violence and conflict the world over. I keep getting lost in the “big picture” of non-profits and money anxiety and career searches and American institutions. So much of my life feels chaotic right now, so much of the world seems ugly and broken.
In the midst of all of this, I have recently found myself nostalgically reflecting on Italy.
The memories I have of my months in Italy are most certainly romanticized–blurred by time and a gelato-induced euphoria–but what Italy consistently evokes within me is a genuine and immediate feeling of happiness. A perception of “la vita buona”. Memories of the awe-inspiring surprises found in the simple aspects of daily life. I remember being entirely overcome by the sunshine on the cobblestone streets, the perfect foam on a cappuccino, the absolute quiet of a museum gallery, and the senseless Italian babble overheard at the morning market. When I am overwhelmed here at home, I remember the daily occasions of joy that I found in Florence, and the immense peace I discovered in that rhythm. As much as I would love to return to the actual streets of Firenze, it has been therapeutic for me to return now only in spirit, so that I can relearn to recognize the beauty in every situation and moment. In the spirit of Italy, I am making a conscious effort to focus–individually and intentionally–on “la bella piccoli pezzi”, the beautiful little pieces, the small things in my life that bring me joy.
While this process will be deeply personal and introspective, I would like to share my passions, revelations, and insights with others. Everything that I write about is a topic that brings me joy and captures my excitement about the world; thus, I hope that this blog provides me the opportunity to share my enthusiasm, even through this whimsical or pseudo-superficial means. If nothing else, I hope that this blog can be a part of my life-long study in happiness, and optimism, and balance, and peace. By compiling a catalogue of “bella piccoli pezzi” (beautiful little pieces), I simply hope to become more whole.