I sat and listened as trees sighed this afternoon. It’s the end of October and we are still in a spring-time flow. The grass is no longer green but yellow, with a hint of brown. And trees have leaves falling all around, no longer green but crimson red and brown. They call this the fall season. Everything seems to be falling. Trees, leaves, grass, the earth. Everything but me. Call it grace, call it faith. My souls keeps being plucked from its secret place this fall.
We spent the day outside raking leaves with a make-believe stick. I can’t believe it’s almost the end of October and the weather is acting like the start of Spring. Either way, we are together, resting and thanking God for his grace and mercy. Happy Sunday.
I love these lines. They are from an artist my son listens to on repeat. His name his Phyno and my second son is his biggest fan. Phyno sings and raps in Igbo and has been a tremendous source of comfort for my son when sensory issues get in the way. For example, we got through our vacation in Jamaica, because we put all of Phyno’s music on a mini iPod for music only we purchased on Amazon. I am truly that parent that does not subscribe to IPads or tablets, not on vacation and certainly not at home. My kids have them. In fact they have 2 because I hid the first sets and had no idea where we kept them. So I ended up purchasing new ones thinking they would help my children with play and learning. Let’s just say, even those are hidden now and I have no idea where and intend to not even look for them. I do know we will keep music around and I’m tempted to try kindle only tablets for books only. But till then, music is all we have at home.
To get through the summer vacation, we exposed my second son to all the music he loved, watched as he engaged with some and not the others, and evaluated a changed in his behaviors over time. Of course, it was a mini research for me. I am a trained researcher and conducting researcher has helped me cope with a high functioning son on the spectrum and these days music has a way of making things big and bright for us. Today, on our way to Piano lessons, while listening to Phyno, I was moved by the words: ‘I promise you, I’ll be right back like karma.’ Everything about it is lyrically beautiful, but it’s their intent that I choose to keep today.
The past couple of days have me doing things that many thought I didn’t care of or ignored. I have always said that people ignore me at their own peril. Every single thing I do is for a reason, down to the words I write. Of course they are never clear when I spew them out and these days expressive writing is all I do, another evidence based research with healing properties. Whether writing or music, if you ignore me and all I stand for, I promise you, that you will come back to me like karma. It’s my gift and my curse.
I know my soul and when I set out to do anything, what you won’t get is repetition or cut and paste because old things bore me. It’s the reason why I actually don’t like presentations as I work too hard on them. I also think 60 minute meetings are boring and unproductive. 30 minutes of focused attention does wonders. Fifteen minutes are insane but phenomenal when you have a clear agenda. I share all this to loudly say, ignore me at your peril. What is in me is greater that me and if you do, I promise you that you will be right back to me like karma.
I spent this evening learning about wonder. It was from a philosopher at my institution. We were both attending an evening event and once we were free to mingle, she immediately approached me and we practically ended up spending the evening talking to each other. Initially I was hesitant to say anything to her. In fact what do you say to a philosopher. I had 2 philosophy friends in college. We were all doctoral students at the time, and I was struck by everything they did. One of them, Ronke Oke, has remained a dear friend and I will forever be grateful to her for the invitation to attend one of her classes where they talked about Franz Fanon and his books. I left that class buying the books and holding them for life. So anyone with a philosophy background scares me, hence why I was initially hesitant. But now, I am open to where they lead me.
Then I asked finally, what do you do. She said these words that stuck with me. ‘I study wonder.’ My ears and soul were open. Wonder, is that the same thing as curiosity, I asked? She said no. Wonder actually precedes and sets the foundation for curiosity. It’s like an engine for curiosity. She also mentioned how early philosophers spent time wondering before delving deeply into curiosity. We also display this better in childhood, with stories that seem so far fetching yet open and believable to a child’s mind. It is then no surprise that some child feel like they can fly and well actually proceed to fly never mind that they crash down to the ground.
I was struck and spent the rest of the evening listening to her. I saw myself in everything she said down to why I write grants. She concluded, you almost always begin in the realm of wonder, before curiosity leads you to ultimately write your grant. I was spell bound by this time. Wonder is truly the foundation of my work as a grant writer. I say it always that I have to visualize what I am writing first. I have to paint the full picture in my mind, before then writing it out. I am in the middle of a significance section of a new grant and I have spent close to an entire day on this section, just to have only 2 short paragraphs written. I have imagined what these sections should look like. I see them in my mind. But words are not coming together and so I keep imagining whatever will get that section written out in the way I have visualized it. So I close with the following prayer to this gift of insight called Wonder shared with grace from a philosopher at my institution (She has written it all as a book by the way and it is currently under review and I promise to be the first to purchase it once it becomes ready. I thank her too for offering to give me a copy).
I pray that wonder cracks open your mind. I pray that it forces your eyes to bulge open and once open, may you be drawn into the underside of everything that comes your way. The torture, the pain, the joy, the wonder of it all, may all of them usher you through this maze called life.
I have met the source of my curiosity. It has always been there everytime I grumbled, stumbled, mumbled, and humbled myself through silences unearthing impossible desires within. Some of them were ordinary, but insisted that they become extraordinary in my hands. I cherish the scars left behind better now. All the ways things once indescribable have become describable these days. Everything I write seems possible now that I know my soul. I am content too with failing, knowing that the journey ahead towards what belongs to me has been cleared. I go through now with ease because you call me.
I know this moment is a witness to a struggle, a metamorphosis of sorts, a period of wading through life, until one becomes the butterfly that sees life beyond ourselves and all the ways we come out of shells to become more of ourselves.
I pray that wonder continues to carry you, me through this unavoidable journey. Without withholding, without scolding, but still molding all its range and depths. Still unfolding even as we change and accept, all the things we never thought possible, like death, like anger, like madness through this journey called cancer or things that arrest me now like wonder.
By the way there was another philosopher there who has a book on human suffering. She said to send her an email and she will send it to me. I am on it. I see why I should continue to surround myself with them.
Some thoughts remain like shadows, creeping till sane things become insane, even as you retain, all that keeps you sane. These days some thoughts have been persistent, attacking like cancer, as if life has no hope, wanting instead to leave one helpless, as if on a downward slope to all things inferior. These days too, I choose thoughts that leave me breathless, those that keep me restless, as if life can be extraordinary, as if dreams can be revolutionary, like the momentary madness of falling leaves, or the luminary visions of orange trees, and all things superior, all things possible. I am in a place surrounded by falling leaves. Surrounded too by thoughts that keep me falling deep. Something about Fall and leaves, and visions and dreams, keeps thoughts that never leave, like ending cancer now.
I got some news that helped to crystallize why I do what I do. They say never write grants that keep you so passionate to do extraordinary work. But passion is all I have and these days I am in a space where I only want to do work that keeps me advocating for people. I also know the road ahead is daunting. Cancer is a very tough task to take on. But I’m all in for all things and the moonshot goals to end it as we know it. I am also ready to do the impossible, do things sustainable and equitable so that we prevent unnecessary illness and death. Every Fall season, I am amazed by the changing colors of leaves. They do the impossible in a necessary way and keep me motivated to do so to. I am in a phase where Fall and the changing colors of leaves agree with me. They keep me inspired.
Since the pandemic began, I cut back from a lot of things and people. Cut back from conversations that were unproductive, people too. I focused on things that elevated and forced me to keep anything. Last year, I took it to another level. Death has a way of helping you find your purpose and mine was solidified once cervical cancer came to my home. I share this to say I am not a cancer researcher. I can never pretend to be one. But I value what those that call themselves one do.
I am an implementation science researcher and nothing excites me more that trying to figure out how to make research last. I could speak for hours on this. In the next couple of months and weeks, I will embark on writing the grant of my youth. If you see my failure resume, you will see that it is full of failed grants focused on sustainability. I was ahead of the game then, back in 2015, doing what key leaders said to do with naming and framing my grants as sustainability-related from the beginning.
They all failed, with the exception of my R03 grant on sustainability and I sort of moved on to do what reviewers felt were not so ambitious. Why does all this matter today. Well, my journey seems to be coming full circle and I am back to where I started, with me proposing to sustain our ongoing work in Nigeria. I except this one will be tough. I also expect reviewers may not get it or may frame it still as ambitious. But I will dream. This one will truly be the one to really show the why and how sustainability matters. I am writing this here to mentally prepare for what is ahead, knowing that the journey ahead will be raw, also rough. But I look forward to the journey knowing the following too:
Who will believe that grey skies will not be grey forever.
Or daring daunting dreams of our future will not be dreams forever.
Who will believe that some berries may shine in the morning rain and some may not.
Some gifts are profound. So their grace is the Lord.
Other gifts are a release. Freedom, liberating.
The point is to know the difference.
These days and for this next grant I embark on, win or lose, I do. Sustainability will not be vexing soon, not when I lead the way.
What makes for knowledge? How is it acquired? And how should it be used? I have been grappling with this notion ever since I arrived at the place called home. I came to teach, but I found myself being the student more than the teacher. I found myself asking questions internally and also doing so externally. Is knowledge only knowledge when it comes from the West? What about the rest? Don’t they have knowledge of their own to contribute as well? Who gets to decide when knowledge should be for everyone? Is it those that published it faster or those yet to publish it at all? I ask these questions because the field within which I work in, the one called implementation science is so full of knowledge. So full of power too. But do knowledge and power go hand in hand. Is power even a stable entity?
Take for example a context where research isn’t prioritized? Is this context the same as one where research is prioritized? Are they even on the same playing field as equity would imply or should we level the playing field for everyone. The limits and complexities of knowledge is my keep for today. That and who owns the right to it. I spent the week in a place where many have never heard of implementation science. Yet once shared, resonates with their worldview. I did what was expected with my lessons, stuck to the script like a bee on a honeycomb. I shared all the information that all the powers in the field recommend. I used key resources from key institutions to frame all the information I shared. Yet, when I finished, I felt like we where just beginning. I felt like I needed to now learn how they would do it here. I felt hungry for knowledge for my own sake. Anything that I could digest in the way that my lecture did of how they would do it here.
Here is a place after all that created literature authors wanted to read, or music, musicians wanted to play. Fela Kuti is a household name on his own with his own genre of music the West didn’t have until he arrived. The same goes for Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka or Chris Okigbo and their style of literature. This place birthed it’s own giants unprepared to do what the West prescribed. Not when they knew what would work for their own context.
Of course they knew the script of the West. Knew what it entails to dance to the tune of those who first hunted. But what happens when the empire decides to strike back. What would they bring to the field? I don’t expect lions to watch the hunters forever. They know how the story ends. These days, I look forward to them choosing to fight back on their own terms. And after my lecture, I was prepared to see what they would do. And these lions delivered.
What I learned, in other words, is that knowledge is not a simple process of gathering and dispensing facts or just sharing and eliciting information. I also learnt that knowledge does not lie solely in the acquisition of more facts or information. Rather, knowledge like anything else, art, music, literature, is vast and thus cannot be confined to any one place or person or group or continent in any single method. Not when it belongs to everyone.
Of course we have never heard of this field called implementation science, some said. Yes I am curious to learn more, others said. But what of here? What about what we do here. I smiled. Now they are are prepared for the fight. All I ask is for the hunters to get out of their way. See them roar too. For knowledge after all, is for everyone. That’s the gift I got now that my week has come to an end. The gift of seeing lions prepared to fight their way even in a field they have never heard of until this week. Implementation science should look in the mirror often so as not to be taken by surprise from lions on the prowl. Either way, they are ready to tell the story their way. They expect a struggle. Life is full of struggles after all. At least they would have tried. I have tried and failed many times, still I tried. That to me is the gift worth sharing. The power of struggle. The power too of lions finally telling the story of the hunt, their way. Thank you my hosts for a wonderful week and to all the lions I meet, I look forward to reading your stories.
Zora Neale Hurston described research as a ‘formalized curiosity.’ One that involves poking and prying with a purpose. I have been blessed to call research my job. To engage in this formalized curiosity full time is the best gift I have ever given to myself. Many take it for granted, but I know what I am capable of. Whether it is about remote ischemic conditioning or crowdsourcing youth interventions, if it requires poking and prying with a purpose, I’m all in. Which is why of late, I have been wondering what else can I use my research skills with.
Clearly, it has taken me to the world of literature, black literary scholars to be precise, from the eyes according to Zora, to light according to Audre. There are some books on becoming dreamers, books on why my future depends on me remaining curious and of course books about tracks along dust roads or the fire in my head. I see this phase of my research as intentionally trying to uncover all that I can about the world in which I dwell in. Research now has taken me to places I never imagined, reading words, I never expected. In some instances, I have been carried away, whether is with a list focused on dreams that never end, or a list of why chasing butterflies matter. In other cases, I found myself writing things that seem harmonious in my head, to the point where I recite them to myself, as if on a stage for spoken words only. These dances in my head, unleashed through words in this blog is my attempt at surrendering to chance, surrendering to what I intend to do for me. To research things I want to for my own pleasure. To think I have been on this journey for over 2 years now seems surreal. The future also seems very uncertain. But for today, I’ll rather remain curious, remain compelled to do this formalized curiosity work Ms Hurston described as research.
Tomorrow, I get to teach it for the first time in the place that birthed, named and framed me. I am grateful for everyone that paved the way. Thank you for this opportunity to learn to from you. That small girl many still see as a small girl is surely growing up ooh. I know so many see my motherhood to as a crutch. But know that all that is within me is stronger than anything and what is for me, will always be for me. So if destiny planned that I get to teach this at home one day, then I will say thank you. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for this great invite back to home to give my all to the thing that keeps giving my joy, this formalized curiosity I hope many can call their own too one day.
Off to a place that birthed me. Of to see a land that named and framed me too. They say you never forget the steps that formed you. Never forget the first waters that bathed you too. Whether good or bad, even water has no enemy. Like this place I call home. This place I call love.
I will not be afraid of no. I will not be afraid of how far it may go. Even if it leads to me screaming no. I will yell it whether or not, time is slow. To say yes is to die. I’m learning each day, why. So I will not be afraid of dead ends, be it loose ends or rear ends. Any ends I meet on this journey to no, I will reprimand, until it dies there. I will not be afraid to be involved, will be brave even if any no remains unresolved. The journey to yes these days may take awhile. I’ll keep walking and smiling meanwhile. Like a wild moon and sun. I’ll keep loving this profile. And all the ways saying no leaves me fertile. Seeing that the rhythm of any drum depends on the beating, whether hard or gentle, odd, or monumental. Saying no these days is life.
Gwendolyn Brooks had a poem entitled ‘do not be afraid to say no.’ I read it and the words above came to my spirit. Keep being unafraid to say no.
I see dust coming from the sky. A cloud full of dust. Coming towards me. In it, there is an army with no cowards. They surround me, ready to do battle for me. They will destroy all that ails me in a single night. Destroy them so I feel no pain. Only peace and joy and whatever else my heart desires. I heard once to watch out for people in a flow. Watch out and do not stand in the way. Or their flow may consume you, choke you too if you dare try to get in their way.
Yesterday, someone tried and they failed. Yesterday some one tried to empty my brook, forgetting that a cloud surrounds me. Even my grass cannot be withered. I am always green. My feet is planted by a stream of water. And I have patiently waited for this moment. The time to rise up on wings is here. I rise too, like a eagle. I leave heads spinning and trembling with fear. Some of them saying who is this woman? Who is she with all this shelter from storms?
Tell them, I come from a people rooted like a tree. Tell them, a people with rich harvest and livestocks with plenty of pasture. Tell them they are like birds, hovering over their nests. Tell them only water flows from our sides. Tell them streams of water flow from all the mountains and hills that surround us. Tell them we are like flowers that bloom in the wilderness. Tell them we are strong and never afraid. Tell them how our moons are as bright as the sun and our sun brighter than usual, seven times brighter. Tell them a cloud of dust surrounds us, and in it, our people are prepared always for battle. Tell them we are legions.
If we must survive. If we must do it with our head held up, and our feet planted firmly to the ground, then we must never forget what happened. We must never forget how it made us feel too when it was happening. Achebe once noted that there is danger not in remembering but in forgetting. I am in a phase of my life, where forgetting is not an option. Not when we still have chapters to write. What all this reminds me is that I cannot write all my story in one chapter, one book too. I do not see the story as one story, but a group of stories, like a pile of things to keep, all of them, the sum total, a definition of me. I get that many still tend to see me as a doctoral student. Some even think I am just a mother who somehow works in an academic settings. Of course if you look at all doctoral students, all of them, like me, are alike. I have a never ending desire to write. Treat every subject too like one long dissertation. Still, in reality, it’s been 11 years since my doctoral experience. My journey is beyond that of a student, never mind my age or posture in life. Women like me in academia, often do not reflect on our day to day happenings. Or we may do so, behind closed doors and with plenty of resentment. Not me. I refuse to let silence choke me these days.
I choose instead to offer a glimpse of my life experiences, to use this medium too, to open up all that keeps me going, all that ails me too. I have been in conversations for example with a doctoral student, who went as far as to question my work with storytelling and health, as if she alone had monopoly on using stories for healing. I have also been in a meeting, where I was told to partner with a doctoral student to accomplish my goals. The price a woman, black like me, must be prepared to pay in academia, is submission to all these forms of questioning. I will yield to their ways in so far as I never forget my own. Never forget to fashion out an experience, my own, my way, whether with help or none at all. These days, I choose no help. Not because I don’t value or appreciate help, but because I know what drives me.
I am also looking for an animal whose blood can match the power of my offering. And what I offer, all the things I offer to anyone prepared to let me flow, is truly beyond me. And I have no choice. I have been given a gift and I intend to use it with it or without help. I hope though that there will always be people, prepared to help, always be people unafraid of how the water spreads on the floor, like ant, filling up the floor. There is still much work ahead, still so many lives to save, and my only request is that academia becomes prepared to carry the weight of my story. It will be told one day, my way, in full communion with all the legions that got me this far.
I tell my grant writing class to draw toast today. No be small thing ooh. I tell dem say to draw am with no words. Only pictures. I think say dem no go understand, think say dem go dey wonder, wetin cause toast and grant writing. Wetin toast sef fit do for any grant wey dem wan write. I take dem by surprise. Dem take me by surprise too. All of dem draw like say dem neva draw before and in the end, how you draw toast go matter for how you write your grant, just like how water matter for how you soak garri.
Ok what was the purpose of this exercise. Honestly, joy, pure joy. Grant writing can be joyful and I find activities like drawing toast help to loosen the experience of writing grants a bit. It doesn’t have to be all curriculum focused content all the time. Laughter matters. Drawing too. Many of us have not drawn anything since we were kids. I find that this exercise takes us back to a time when drawing was all we did. It helps to keep us at ease too. I use it to teach my approach section because I want students to love grant writing as much as I do and if drawing toast paves the way, well so help me God. Any one that takes my grant writing course will draw toast and love what they are doing with whatever grants they write.