A couple of days ago, my daughter shared a drawing of all the things she loved. She call it her tree of love. Her name was nestled in the middle of a big green tree and surrounded by all the things that matter to her like playing music, writing, sleeping, swimming and doing somersaults. This image, though simple, is my question for today for all of us in academia. What do you love and how do you intend to keep it?
For me these days, it’s writing as the spirit moves me. The words of the late bell hooks provides some food for thought: ‘if we fail to privilege critical writing about work that emerges from a progressive standpoint, we will not see a change in how that work is critically received.’
I value critical writing whether as a grant or story or anything else. I started this blog to do so with my parenting and productivity in academia. The idea of centering the public, even our lives in all we do, needs our critical attention and regard. Needs also to be witnessed. I’m in a phase of my life where witnessing academia as I see it is all that matters. The ability to courageously speak my mind, to talk about my work, my life, as the spirit moves me, is the point of this blog. I don’t do this for impact factors or references. I do it to call attention to all that moves me at whatever time I like and in whatever format I choose, knowing no one owns any monopoly on anything, not storytelling, not poetry, not art, not even grants, my medium for real, equitable change that impacts lives. Learning to see is the foundation of my work here.
Within academia, we have all been taught to value papers. We were taught that no matter what, publish or perish and ensure that whatever you publish ends up in a journal with high impact. If the spirit has given one the ability to write, then don’t write one or two, try 6 or 10 or whatever the spirit ordains that exemplifies plenty. Many of us listened and proceeded with the onerous and laborious process of writing papers that no one in the public reads.
I’m in a phase where this task, while still important, isn’t the only thing I do anymore. Very few have been taught that the engine that moves our field, lies in the funding you bring. Few have been taught about ways to interrogate this other form of life in academia. The form focused on creating spaces for the affirmation of critical grant writing about all that ails our people. If you want to make a change, real sustained changed in people’s health and well-being, don’t write another paper. Instead, get a grant.
The system will want to exploit and oppress you and remind you that you need papers for tenure. Agree with them, then work for your grant. The system will count your papers, tell you that you don’t have enough in high impact journals. Tell them you are working on it, and focus on your grants. The system will judge you harshly if you are a woman, Black like me and within a child-bearing age. Accept their judgments, even when it comes from women like you, and still work on your grants. They can remind you, count for you and even judge you. But, they can never take what belongs to you and that is the idea in your head that birthed the grant in the first place. Not the money. That too will pass and you will be judged whether it’s $10k or $3million. Nothing is ever enough.
I am learning that everyday. Imagine sitting in a meeting where folks are talking about clinical trials and you share your opinion and you are told your trial doesn’t count because it’s a population based trial. That’s what the system will do. And when it’s comes for you (it will, in due time) just remember the words of Bessie Head, ‘ we tolerate strangers because the things we love cannot be touched by them.’ Remember the things you love about your work. It comes natural to me in the grants I write. Hold on to them, care for them, as they are all that matter in the ends, like this blog I keep, to remind me to keep what matters to me.