Sunday, February 18, 2007

Smile for the Cameras!

Some recent pictures in Jammie's World....Enjoy!

I think this one may go in the portfolio...whenever I decide to make one, lol.

Taken on New Years after much wine and champagne!

My first ballroom experience. Taken with Father Taz Ultra-Omni. This man is FINE!

The L.A. Blacks and I at the ball...where are the sex sirens!?

Testing out my new digital. The slightly unkempt look...

The customary mirror picture

Taken at the MTPCCR Summer Institute

My university's representatives at the institute...minus Tiffany :( Love these folks!

A few of my students at the end of our class. I'm such a damn fool lol.

I swear, having a digital camera is like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Expect more candid shots in the future!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My List of Blessings

Here's a few items on my list...

1. I am blessed to know what true friendship feels like. I mean that I'll bail you out of jail, cuss you out when you need it, listen to your problems until you're done talking, give you love anytime anyplace i don't give a damn who's watching kind of friendship. Deliberately and consequentially, my friends have been put to the test...and they have passed with flying colors. I've learned to honor and appreciate my true friendships, and I thank God everyday that my friends tolerate my complex behind :)

2. I am blessed because I do what I love everyday. Although I may complain about how demanding my education and budding career may be, I don't bitch too loud. Everyday, I have an opportunity to directly impact the minds and health of hundreds of people. My passions are health promotion, fitness, food, and teaching, and I get to do all three on a daily basis. Just the other day, a student of mine came to me in tears because she was recently injured and couldn't participate in my class. Do you know how great it felt to be able to give her a hug, reassure her that she would pull through everything ok, and even arrange to have her injury assessed and treated by some of the best physical therapists in the area? I received an e-mail that she got a final verdict on the injury (badly sprained ACL), will be receiving an excellent rehab program, and she is no longer depressed about her situation, but empowered and determined to heal quickly.

Now THAT'S why I feel blessed. I was able to give this girl hope and turn a crappy situation into an optimistic one.

I wake up every morning and look forward to my job. That's a blessing.

3. I am blessed to be in good health. When I say health I mean physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I consider it a blessing to be able to exercise and move around everyday. I receive so much joy from movement and exercise, and I don't know what I would do if that was some day taken away from me. Although I have a nagging knee condition that restricts me from going too hardcore, it's slowly getting better and I'm confident that I will be 100% again. Mentally, I am blessed to have all of my faculties and not have the burden of mental illness unlike so many of my family members. Emotionally, I am blessed to have command of my emotions and have little fear or reservations about expressing them freely. Spiritually, I am divinely favored to have found faith in God. My faith in Him has gotten me through the hardest times in my life, and I'd be a fool not to consider that a blessing.

4. My family is a blessing. Okay, these negroes can be a straight HOT ASS MESS at times and work my reserve nerve but they are still a blessing. More than anything, my family keeps me grounded. If it wasn't for them, I'd probably be some stuck up, Uncle Tom, saddity, excessively bourgeosie Black man desperate to assimilate and acculturate to European-Anglo societal norms. Which could very easily happen considering how culturally dry and conservative many aspects of academia and health science can be.

Also, my family has taught me how to get ETHNIC at the drop of a hat if somebody attempts to severely disrespect me. I will turn ghetto in a hot minute if somebody crosses too far over the line, and I owe that almost entirely to my family.

5. My openness is a blessing. I have no problem sharing my past or present experiences with others. Ever since I cleaned out the last few skeletons in my closet, I can communicate with anybody about any aspect of my life without shame, insecurity, or fear.

This is not to be confused with being completely transparent. Sure, my personality has many layers and I have a facade just like everybody else. However, I can become transparent quite easily.

If a person respects who I am, is willing to be honest and forthright about their own life, and is willing to dedicate time to observe and listen, my life is an OPEN BOOK. And I LOVE THAT about myself. I want people to KNOW who I am, just like I want to know who they are.

Those were a few of the things on my list of blessed. In what ways do you feel blessed?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Have You Counted Your Blessings Lately?

Have you ever just sat down and thought about your life, as a collective whole? Would you consider yourself BLESSED? Sometimes in the midst of all of our trivial and not so trivial dramas, daily challenges, grief, past heartaches, and chronic frustrations we forget to keep the GOOD things in our lives at the forefront of our minds. I am definitely guilty of this. When things are not going the way I WANT them to go, or different from how I FEEL they should go, I can be one pessimistic mofo. I'm learning how destructive dwelling on the negative can be, and how LIBERATING it is to just LET THAT GO and focus on something POSITIVE.

The events I experienced last weekend and throughout this week have encouraged me to focus more on what I consider my 'blessings'. When I think clearly about it, I can say that I am TRULY BLESSED.

Last weekend was one of the best weekends for me in months. After a long day of paying bills, chores, resolving family issues, and studying, I treated myself to a little fun. My collegue and friend Ricardo was hosting a 27th birthday party. I was given fair warning that his party are a MUST ATTEND event, so I was super juiced about going. Now I don't know how many of you out there have ever been to a REAL Latino party...but if you haven't you betta get with the program! Guaranteed good food, all the drinks you could want, and enough dancing make you sore the next that's what I'm talkin' about! Anyways, as I expected, the party surpassed my expectations. Ricardo and his family were so warm and inviting, spending time with each person at the party and taking shots and dancing with whomever was interested. Although my Latin dance skills are a bit suspect, I was still pulled on the dance floor and worked over until I was sweaty and parched.

I could rave on and on about other details, but I'll just skip to the relevant stuff. At one point during the party, Ricardo and his mother were seated along with a few of us that go to school together. I was touched by how close and loving they are to each other. Well they both were a bit tipsy but their display was hardly alcohol-driven. You could see the love there. Ms. Lopez went on to tell us about the struggle she and her husband had raising Ricardo and 2 other sons as immigrant workers. She expressed so much pride in her family and her son excelling in higher education. Ricardo countered by saying "there is no damn way I would have any of those degrees on the wall if I didn't my parents and my family. We all have NO OPTION but to work our asses off and rise to the top, because our parents worked so hard to even give us half a chance to have a better life." Those words really hit home for me. Ricardo then told his mother about how I recently lost my mother. This woman, whom I had met only one previous time, came over to me, brought me into her arms, and held me as if she were my own mother.

At that point, I just lost it. The swell of emotion in me crashed, and I lost it right there in front of everybody at the party. People I had never known before that night saw me at my weakest. Ricardo's entire immediate family, from his father to his girlfriend, came to me and consoled me. No questions asked, no weird looks, no disgusted faces, just an outpouring of sympathy and love.

And after i was done crying my eyes out, I took a shot with everybody and danced some cumbia ;). Good times.

The next day was 'family day'. After church, my sister and I managed to get a small gathering of our family together for sunday dinner and to celebrate my Dad's birthday. I wanted this day to be special, so I spoiled him with these FIERCE Kenneth Cole shoes, handmade candles, and a collection of about 15 of his favorite artists' albums (still in progress). The dinner was great, and it almost felt like old times again.

Those two events made me realize how good God has been to me. Since that weekend, I've been thinking of my blessings. I've found that creating this list lifts my spirits and makes even the shittiest of circumstances not so bad. I urge you all, especially those of you holding onto more negativity than you know is necessary, to count your blessings and make a list.

The list is soon to come...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Our Deepest Fear

After I calmed down from my bad dream I thought watching a DVD would help me fall back asleep. I popped in "Akeelah and the Bee", a title I picked up on an impulse trip to Tar-get. It was such a GREAT movie, i ended up watching the whole thing. It was exactly the positive and affirming message I needed to move past my turbulent night of sleep.

As much as I found the entire plot and storyline enjoyable and relevant, one scene took the cake for me. Upon the urging of her new spelling coach, Dr. Larabee, Akeelah reads this quote, which sets the tone for the entire movie:

Our Deepest Fear
by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are

powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We

ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who

are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the

world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel

insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make

manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in

everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people

permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence

automatically liberates others.”

Ms. Williamson's words help me face the doubt and insecurity I hold concerning my academic future and my growing responsibility within this family.

I found these words so powerful, they are posted on my wall. Everytime I wake up, I'll be reminded of the importance of affirming your greatness by embracing it and expecting success.

I hope this brilliant poem, along with "Akeelah and the Bee" finds its way into your homes and hearts.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Death haunt me.

On Tuesday night I couldn't sleep. After a long day of classes, teaching, and training clients, I came home and promptly fell out on my bed, completely exhausted. At about 2 am, I woke up startled, shaken, and horribly upset. I started crying and I couldn't stop.

For the last few months I've had several of these bad dreams. For some reason, I keep replaying the last 4 days of my mother's life. Living through those days felt like a blur, but in these dreams they are replaying in SLOW MOTION. And it hurts...a lot.

I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd ever have to stare death in the eye, let alone with my own mother. The last time I saw my mother while she was responsive was on Friday, July 7th, 2006. It was about 6:00 am, and I was on my way to UCLA for my internship. By this point Mom was too tired to deal with keeping track of the bills, so I offered my help. That morning, she reviewed all of the bills and checks I wrote out, signing them when she was satisfied. I tell ya, she was about the business all the way until the end...Anyway, I remember jumping in the bed between her and my dad, giving her a hug and kiss, and telling her "I love you" and "Make sure you eat something good today". She responded with..."I love you too", and "i'll try to get something down". With that, I was off.

On that Friday, my mother was strong enough to sit up, pay some bills, read me the way only a black mother could, and kiss me goodbye.

At about 11 that morning, I started having another one of my 'eye headaches'. Ever since my senior year of high school, I have these irritating headaches whenever I'm stressed out or overworked. Refusing to ignore this episode, I head down to the Medical Center to get myself checked out. 8 hours in the ER later, I'm seen by a doctor and admitted to the hospital for observation and tests. I spent Friday Night in the hospital.

Bright and early Saturday morning I decide to call the house to check in. My dad answered the phone in HYSTERICS.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Jammie where are you! Your mama is not doing well! I helped her to the bathroom and she fell! When she was in there she fell again! Man I'm going crazy I can't deal with all this!!".

After having a mini-anxiety attack, I refocus and tell my dad to call our neighbor who happens to be a head nurse at County USC. He calms down, and I become the dispatcher. I call up all the brothers and sister to get their asses over there and stop playing games. I get a call from our neighbor, and she lets me know she had everything under control. I am relieved, but unsettled. I had to get the hell out of this hospital and QUICK.

I finally was released (all test negative) late Saturday afternoon. The doctors relate my symptoms to stress and tell me to "calm down". What a fucking joke that was. As I'm driving home, everything got eerily quiet. This has happened before, so I knew what was up. This is how God gets my attention. The message I received was "Get ready, and be strong". I drive up to my house. It looks as if there's a damn block party on my street with all the cars. "What the hell is going on?", I'm thinking. I walk in, and I see all my siblings, some aunts and nieces, a few cousins, the neighbors, and a nurse. I immediately start to tear up and ask "What is this?".

The nurse takes my hand and leads me to my brother's old room. In there, I find my Dad sobbing over this nearly lifeless shell of a woman. My mother. One of my best friends and source of strength. I walk forward, and almost faint from what I saw. Pale, still, skin warm and sweaty. Face screwed into a grimace. Breathing tubes, catheters, IV's. A desperate gasp for air every 10 seconds or so. This was my fucking MOTHER, Annie Mae Hopkins, a bad ass black woman from Pasadena, sitting here with both feet in the grave. I was two seconds away from a core meltdown before I remembered God's instructions. "Get ready, and be strong". I got myself together, and let God take over.

First were the instructions. The family had made a choice...Mom was in so much pain they decided to sedate her with coma-inducing morphine. Along with the IV drugs, a single pill of 'breakthrough' morphine every 4 hours to keep the sedation strong. No food allowed, only water. Food would easily choke her, and solid food would not digest anyway. The fan had to be left on at all times, or else she may overhead. She had to be turned every 2 hours to prevent bedsores. Every 30 minutes or so, a few drops of citrus juice to keep her mouth moist.

When people say death is a process, they are NOT lying. It IS. For the next 2 days, I saw my mother's vital signs gradually wittle away. Less and less natural's a process of death, and the morphine depresses the respiratory system. Very little fidgeting and moving around...the body is conserving energy to support the vital organs. Intelligible whispers and moans slowly start to fade away to silence. Except when we attempt to turn her. When we lift her delicate head and limbs, she suddenly comes alive and winces and cries loud enough for people in the front room to hear. Her face twisted in a severe grimace tears my heart to shreds. But it must be done. She made me promise that we would all go the distance. And we did.

Monday, July 10th 2006. Noon. The breathing stops. Ventilator placed to 100%. The hospice nurses call the "palliative care team". They are the end of road. They come and do the rounds this day. Vitals, medication check, bathing, and new bedding, a family meeting, and they are off.

2pm. Susan, the social worker, visits. She was great. She broke down the entire process. The imminent signs of death. Who to call. How long it will take them to come. Do we want last rites assigned? The preparation of the body for removal from the house. "In many cases, seeing the body leave is worse than the actual death" she says. She was right.

4pm. Medication and a turn. I placed the tiny pill inside her cheek, where it would dissolve. A small portion of water goes in the mouth. Half of it spills out. A small inhilation turns into a slurp as the water and pills washes down. As we turn her, she fights us. We leave her be.

6:09pm. I'm on this very computer, typing an IM to Reginald I believe. My dad calls out to me in a mournful tone "Jammie, come in here. I think it's time". I rush into the room.

6:15pm. After saying my final goodbyes and gathering up my remaining strength, I put on my professional hat. Somebody needed to check the vitals one last time, and I was the one to do it. Breathing...nothing. Skin...cold and clammy. Shit. Pulse...nothing. Heartbeat...nothing. Response to pain...not a flinch. As I pull out my mini-flashlight, I pray there is something there. I open her eyes and shine the light. Looking back at me were two large brown pupils. Refusing to contract. Fixed and dilated.

6:21pm. I check everything again. Nothing. It's over. My dad utters the saddest, most desperate wail I've ever heard. I can still hear it. I never want to hear something like that again.

11:30. The funeral home arrives, ready to take my mother away. They remove the remaining hospital equipment. They delicately wrap her in a clean white sheet before pulling out a clear body bag. They offer their condolences before they leave. As the van door closes and they drive away, a ball of grief begins to swell within me. Five minutes later, I suffer a meltdown.

On five separate occasions i've suffered from flashbacks of one or several of these events over that 4 day period. I don't know what they mean, but I know for certain that I DON'T LIKE THEM.

This past Tuesday was different, though......

Monday, February 05, 2007

I should be writing my thesis proposal...

I know it's been a minute since i last contributed to blogopia, but don't worry! I'm almost ready to resurface. My schedule has been BUSY since the semester started, and I should be back in commission and acclimated to this hot mess of a schedule by Wednesday. Just so you all know, all is well, my spirits are HIGH, and I'm takin' care of business!

But before I go...i just gotta put this out there...

I'm listening to Justin Timberlake's newest album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. I had the opportunity to see him in concert a few weeks back, and was pleasantly surprised by his musicianship and showmanship.

After experiencing Justin live, and now finally settling down to listen to his latest creation, I can't help but say...this is about the GAYEST album I've ever listened to. From "Summer Love" to "SexyBack"(ohh lawd ESPECIALLY SexyBack), I keep hearing in the back of my head Wendy Williams chanting an oh so clever "HOW UUUU DOIN??" Every time I hear Sexy Back, I want dip, twirl, and do a runway walk ballroom rockstar style :) And EVERY TIME I hear something from this album played at a gathering or club, the KIDS queen out and act a plumb fool!

Now I won't make any claims or accusations of JT's sexuality (like it really matters), but I must say he was definitely giving it to the children on this one! Every time I hear "girl" uttered, it makes me wanna giggle and say "boy please!"

Needless to say, I LOVE the CD, in all of its gay-lite delight! GO IN JUSTIN, LET HAVE!