Category Archives: Angels Among Us

One on One with Musician, Artivist & Force Behind the BUST School for Creative Living, Janeth Gonda

Espejismo
Photo by Amanda Lynn

 

Emotionally speaking, I was not in the best place when I ventured out of my hot apartment — only to step onto an even hotter street— on a sunny day in August. My stepfather had died only a few months before, the very notion of grief enveloped me like a deadly hug, and I couldn’t escape the stench of death no matter how fast I ran.

I had no desire to honor the plans I made to meet an old college friend in the Village and only begrudgingly deleted every fake excuse I had at the ready to cancel said outing from the center of my mind.

As the light of day hit my face for the first time in what felt like ages, I shook off the wave of sadness that had been my oldest friend. I was determined to greet the day head on, feeling slightly ashamed by the fact that the person I was meeting had just gotten back from a hiking trip and was probably one of the busiest women I knew…and I was not.

A quick trip on the downtown A and a 10 minute walk later, I saw her sitting on the steps near Babbo, the restaurant where we agreed to meet. She was a stunning creature who managed to maintain a pretty face of makeup and perfect hair despite the fact that it was a sweltering 95 degrees outside. Janeth Gonda embraced me like a long-lost sister immediately, despite the fact we hadn’t seen each other in more than two years. That is just who she is.

I reached out to Janeth because I thought she would make a great story. She has a great story… but more on that another time. Her posts on social media captivated me. She was in New York sharing her gift with the world— and at the age of 25, clearly living her best life.

A talented musician, Janeth is lead vocalist of the band Espejismo; which translates to “mirage” in English. Soon after catching up with her, I learned that she and her band have travelled with their art— performing on tour in Colombia for a short time in the years since she graduated from Hofstra University… and returned to engage in additional projects.

How did she do it all? I wanted to know. Maybe if I knew the secret to her hustle, I could apply some of it to my own life.

Further into our conversation we found ourselves atop the roof of a bar, sitting in directly in the sun with a couple of drinks. She was candid about her life and her ambition, which include her business, Barranquilla Studios and a full-time job at BUST magazine.

As the Events and Promotions Manager for BUST, Janeth deals with all aspects of the magazine’s promotional happenings.

“I would say the most exciting part of the job is getting an empty space and filling it up with an eclectic variety of people who together create a positive and powerful atmosphere. Having an idea and making it turn it into reality is really fun for me,” she said.

Janeth is currently working on BUST’s Craftacular, a holiday event at the Brooklyn Expo Center which will feature more than 200 different companies, business owners and musicians. Janeth went on to explain just what a labor of love the occasion is; meant “to provide a space for badass female identifying ladies to be able to showcase their work and speak their minds.”

This year the extravaganza is actually three events in one: The BUST Craftacular, BUST School for Creative Living, and a female-fronted music festival.

In attendance will be powerful women such as actress and activist Amber Tamblyn, author Kristen Sollee, sexpert Sophie St. Thomas, New York Times writer Lindy West, Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean, and many others.

 I listened, rapt by her endeavors.

I also had my answer. Her work was not solely about herself or promoting her brand… a dangerous trap all of us millennials tend to fall into. It’s how we get stuck sometimes. It’s how we feel worthless— especially when we don’t feel like we’re connecting with others.

Janeth is an artist. She creates beauty and she collaborates with others in a way where everyone shines. After several hours in her company I returned home with new understanding. I felt a new light, though the sun was no longer shining on my face.

***

READ MY Q&A WITH JANETH BELOW!

Inside Brooklyn-based Barranquilla Studios

JMR: You are largely self-employed, right? You make your own music, book your own gigs and invite fellow musicians to play in your own space, which you call barranquilla studios…?

JG: Well at this point I work full time at BUST, but I also work full-time for myself. Outside of working at BUST I am writing music and preparing to record my first album with my project, Espejismo. I am also working for this really cool project called Brooklyn Gypsies, throwing shows, and seeing good music.

JMR: Tell me more about yourself as an artist and why are events like the BUST Magazine Craftacular and School for Creative Living important to you.

JG: I am an Afro-Colombian artist with a lot on my mind. My passion is with my project Espejismo. We describe ourselves as dark gypsy witch rock, pulling aspects from some of our greatest influences such as Tool, Portishead, and Massive Attack. The project is a blend of Middle Eastern and Western sounds that create an ethereal dark experience. The lyrics of my music are rather heavy, dealing with the dark issues that I have had to go through in my life. I sing about topics such as mental health which can often be ignored, or belittled. It is important for me to speak and sing about the truth. That is definitely the same kind of vibe that I hope to bring to any event that I do. At the BUST Holiday event, we are offering workshops on topics that simply can no longer be ignored. We are here to raise our voices.

JMR: The event you’re organizing is clearly geared toward empowering women. Why is this is so important in today’s political climate?

JG: Well, as we all know the current state of our country is crap. To me, this event is important because we are attempting to bring this issues to the forefront. We are providing safe, closed off areas during the event where people can have a discussion and work with professionals to deal with issues that are important to them and BUST. If we are able to help even one person, then for me the entire event will be a success. If 20 people come together and discuss, they will each go and discuss with another person— and so on and so forth. Before you know it, touching 20 people turned into touching 300. I want to pay attention, take action and organizing an event such at this is a start. There are a number of FREE workshops regarding safe sexual reproductive health, mental trauma, consent and political education.

JMR: What do you want those who attend the Craftacular and the BUST School for Creative Living to walk away with?

JG: I want people to walk away with new knowledge, a stronger sense of community, and a bag of unique and handcrafted gifts. But more importantly, I want to get the conversation started in everyone’s minds off of Facebook status and prayers. I want help start a movement of not only words but action.

80 Hours And A Medical Advocate

“If you want something badly enough you will get it. If you don’t, you won’t.”

It was eight o’clock on a Friday evening during the summer of 2014 and Anna Marie Nass had just finished the day after working over 60 hours this week — 80 when accounting for travel time. She has seen somewhere between 30 and 50 patients in the past 12 hours… and that was a “good” day, a “slow” day.

It is that mantra she holds dear to her heart on weeks like this one — the same mantra that got her through ten years of schooling.

What may seem like a lot of work is actually more, because for this Advanced Practicing Nurse, the job doesn’t simply end with the patient. However many people her line of work sends her way, Anna Marie always sees what the average person doesn’t in an ill person: their entire family dynamic.

Just a few hours earlier she felt obligated to educate the parents of three preteen boys on the importance of using antibiotics. Two of the three boys had come to be examined at her place of employment — Riverside Pediatrics in Secaucus — both complaining of throat pains.

A series of tests concluded the two had been suffering from strep throat, but neither of them were thrilled with the idea of taking medicine and their parents were seemingly nonchalant about that. Whether the boys want to take the medicine not, untreated infections can have lasting effects. Anna Marie cautioned them of the potential heart damage that can occur when “infection is just left sitting in someone’s throat.”

“We just hope our middle child doesn’t catch it,” both parents were in agreement.

Anna Marie’s defenses went up.
“You have another son? How is he doing, is he showing similar symptoms?”

“No, but he has lung and thyroid cancer.”

That only enhances the urgency for their other two sons to be on antibiotics. Their infections need to be completely eradicated because bringing that home with them could potentially kill their immuno-compromised brother.

Anna Marie had no scruples about stating that firmly. While coercion has no place in a medical institution, her entire reason for entering the medical profession was to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. She wouldn’t change a thing about this exchange in her medical room.

The next day, she woke up to do it all over again.

Well respected at Riverside Pediatrics, she has been employed there for less than a year, though she is no novice as a nurse and certainly not as a medical advocate. Anna Marie was offered the job this past November after finally crossing the finish line of ten years of schooling, clinical hours and board certifying exams.

Thank goodness for the support of her family, but had she not had it, that wouldn’t have stopped her.

“Nothing was stopping me,” she said. “Not the birth of my kids, my marriage, nothing.”

As a pediatric nurse practitioner, her days are more fulfilling as she has more freedom to use her medical expertise, something that is not permitted for an RN. Anna Marie is able to give an official diagnosis for ailing children and prescribe medicine.

Driven though she was, achieving this long-term goal was not without sacrifice.

Unlike many who decide to change careers, Anna Marie was unable to work full time and go to school part time — or vice versa. She charged on ahead making the transition from paralegal to nurse, working full time and attending school full time.

Her family relies on her as the sole income provider. Unemployed to a physical disability, Anna Marie’s husband John assumed full parenting responsibilities in their home. For these ten years she barely saw her children. A hug and a kiss n in the morning before school, then she would not see them until the next day.

There is no resentment, only love and admiration.

Her oldest son Chuck, 14 at the time, understands the importance of what his mom does and feels both he and his younger brother — Austin, 10 — appreciate education that much more.

“We both will go to college; we know how necessary it is to be independent,” Chuck says.

All of Austin’s life (Anna Marie went to school directly after he was born), he has witnessed his mother working and attending school nonstop, save for a three week break at Christmas. And, notes Anna Marie, nine out of ten final exams she took over that time period were on Christmas Eve. After January 15, the hectic schedule resumed.

The best piece of advice she ever received in the midst of it all was from one Dr. Joel . “Follow your heart,” he said. “Don’t stop until you get what you want.”

Her family knew they were only benefiting from their mom/wife’s driven personality—a job with an established medical group led to a higher income. For Anna Marie, it was about that and so much more.

While in school for her last set of board exams, Anna Marie worked at as a hospice nurse for the New Jersey Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) and was quick to call her patients’ doctors should anything be amiss.

“She told it like it was,” says Sara Organic, a medical social worker for VNA. Organic regards Anna Marie as a “fireball” who genuinely advocates for her patients.

She knows her patients better than her own family, and Anna Marie is not ashamed to admit that.

“Every day, I learn something from each and every patients and/or family member that I encounter,” she says. “That enables me to become more well-rounded and educated in respect to my nursing career; I hold that near to my heart in turn and use it to help someone else.”

My Valorous Grandmother, the ‘C’ Word, and Me

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Cancer.

It truly is the ugliest, most contemptible word in the English language.

If you don’t agree with me, quickly (within the next 60 seconds) try to think of ten other words synonymous with body-and-mind-devouring-pain. I’ll wait.

In the meantime I can address another ‘C’ word, a good word seldom used when contemplating someone with a life threatening illness: caretaker. Yet there we are. Right by the invalid’s side without complaint, because who are we to gripe about life in the face of someone who may be dying?

It was five in the morning the day when I discovered the cold truth about cancer. My mom, a primary caretaker, had already left for work and I was alone in the apartment with her.

This was unlike other times—whenever I had to be with her (which was all the time, really), there had always been at least one other person there. My uncle was with me the day she needed assistance using the bathroom; feeling a strong sense of urgency coming from the patient we lifted the night shirt over her head.

“Hurry up,” he implored.

I did my best, but the mass of her body (albeit emaciated due to a drastically diminished appetite) was far too much for me to support. After wrestling for several minutes, we were able to get her on the commode at her bedside and my uncle immediately left her for privacy.

For some reason he thought I would be able to get the ailing woman back into bed by myself—despite the fact that the two of us had a hard time getting her out in the first place. Struggling to pull an extra absorbent diaper over her legs, I panicked for fear of being rushed again.

Trying not to lose my composure—but failing—I called my uncle back to the room. I know he (out of respect) did not want to be there to see this woman naked if possible.

He asked why I hadn’t called him sooner. I didn’t know that I could, quite honestly.

Within minutes, she was back in bed. All that was left was to wait for the visiting nurse to arrive. Too tired to even guess what the brown substance was on the bottom of her feet, I reached for the bottle of spray on body wash most commonly used on infants.

Maybe that is exactly how I have to treat her. It would certainly make things easier. The substance was gone, but the scent lingered. That must be the disease. I didn’t say anything.

“What’s that smell?” My mom had returned from work, her nose sensitive as ever.

I looked down. There was poop on the floor.

“JEANINE!”

The sound of my name snapped me out of my flashback. I looked at my iphone; five-fifteen. Though I was lying in bed right next to her, she screamed my name as if I were in the living room. The sadness induced by my reverie had to take a back seat.

I popped up and went to her side. Still, the screaming did not stop.

“I’m right here, don’t worry. What do you need?”

“I need change.”

Checking her clothes to make sure she didn’t need to be changed, she insisted that I give her coins. I decided to play along. What else can you do with someone whose mind is slowly being destroyed by something so awful?

Not herself—as she hadn’t been for a few weeks—she resisted every attempt I made to give her anti-agitation medicine. But she had always been there for me, I wanted to be there for her then. She has been gone a little over two years now.

Even after it’s over, that monstrosity, the ‘C’ word still manages to find you.

If I have one more dream about being diagnosed with cancer, I just might go out of my mind.

At least I know why these dreams keep coming to me at night…it is not so hard to figure out after watching someone you love take their final breaths after an arduous year of battling the cell-consuming illness.

For two years, that someone had been my grandmother, or “Memom,” as I affectionately called her. As the disease ran its course, her final stages of life left her a shadow of the high quality person she truly was. Though her brain cells had been ravaged by the sickness, she never ceased to make it clear how much she loved me.

“I believe you, Jeanine,” She would say after a bout of narcotic-induced uncooperativeness. She would put an arm around me or hold my hand.

That was just the type of woman she was.