Octavia Butler once shared the following: ‘Forget talent! If you have it fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.’
As I begin to slowly wrap up this year, I am making sense of all I did this year. Talent didn’t get me far. I barely have any as some may say. Inspiration was plenty. But they can only take you so far as well. Reading these lines by the great Ms Butler is the necessary reminder that habit was all I needed. When I say I am okay with not getting a grant, though I continue to write, it’s because of habit. I would rather write a grant and fail than never even attempt to write one. Years of writing and failing, with many even writing me off, meant that eventually habit became my portion and this year, the grants written so far keeps me on my knees.
I am still not talented. I am also still prepared to fail. And habit will lead me all the way. The habit of writing and writing, and learning and learning whether I succeed or fail, is the lesson for this year worth keeping. Keep your habits. For me, it’s writing grants and learning how to write them, whether win or lose. It’s my self-care routine these days, one that I am prepared to fully safe guard from whatever storms I face. As this habit is always ready to burst from its own intensity, worrying and fascinating, probing and enlightening, while casting a spell, that keeps me grounded in the path ordained for me. It’s not a gift, but a habit I treasure completely and will treasure for as long as time permits.
Every now and then, I come across poetry that is arch and precise.
Some focused on the sublime that is our sublime, like the earth that is our earth.
And when I seat and mediate on the words, reflect too on the light they carry, I am pushed to carry this light too.
Knowing there is light in the light that is out there.
Certain words I read, stay with me, like notes to black women, moving and free.
Toni Morrison’s letter ‘A knowing so deep’ is one. Gwendolyn Brooks musings to Black women, is another.
I especially love these lines: ‘where there is cold silence.’ Think about it for a moment.
If you are Black and woman, moving and free, whether in academic settings or medical settings, in politics or any other setting, silence will be your companion.
Yet, despite it, prevail. My second favorite word in Gwendolyn Brooks’s musing.
Prevail. Black woman. Prevail.
I hear these words in Brook’s voice, and the voice of my mother, my grandmother and a generation of other women, a long line of them, I met and never met. They keep reminding me each day to prevail.
I was born around the same time a dearly beloved older woman in my family passed. Reincarnated to fulfill her previous life desires. Her full story remains unknown but when days get dark or dreary and work seems insurmountable, I hear her voice, which sound like mine, reminding me always to prevail. So I do.
I prevail. Through days full of polished tears. I prevail. Through hollow days with no rest. I prevail. Across a room full of questioning stares. I prevail. And even when they pry without care. I prevail.
Where there is cold silence. I’ll prevail. Through brilliant clouds. I’ll prevail. Through vigorous moon. I’ll prevail. And when nothing else matters. I’ll still prevail. Knowing that their silence will still be cold. Yet, I’ll prevail. When confrontations are startling and many. I’ll prevail. Even where there are no hurrays or handshakes or smiling faces. I’ll still prevail. All because large countries remain in eyes that still long to create and train flowers. For this reason, we shall continue to prevail in a light that is our light. See the sun, see it there shining in all it’s glory. There, exactly there, lies a Black woman who has learnt how to prevail. When they come for her and they will come in a silence that is cold. Prevail, you shrewd sun. Prevail and still prevail.
That’s the message Gwendolyn Brooks wants all Black women to know written years ago but still so poignant and relevant. It was a joy to rewrite this for today’s Black women. Keep prevailing wherever you are. And see the original piece below.
When I speak of power, I’m speaking not only of the stuff we keep to ourselves, the ones we keep from blowing up, the ones we keep from starving to death. I am speaking of the ones we ought to let go, cut like an umbilical cord, so it has a life on its own. Poetry is power. Poetry is also not a luxury. When we have a vision, it is poetry that fuels that vision, whether we write it, whether we dance it, whether we dream it. It fuels the future. It also fuels our work for the future. Keep poetry.
These words above are from Audre Lorde. I have been reading her Cancer Journals and they truly have relevance for how we disseminate evidence based information as poetry. It is keeping me motivated to with the work we are doing with LIGHT. Keep poetry.
We entered the month of November in silence. Death has a way of keeping people mute. Last night, there was a rumor that the son of a Nigerian musician was dead. We prayed it was a bad dream and all would be right with the morning sun. Only that it wasn’t a bad dream and a little boy who recently turned 3 years old in October was indeed dead. So we started this month in silence. Started this month knowing that silence can have multiple meanings, whether for survival or exercising our fundamental human right. But then I am reminded by the words of bell hooks that when we end our silence, when we speak in a liberated voice, our words connect us to one another. So let me share the following, protect your kids at all times. That’s is it.
I walked through the halls of our school of medicine today. Something about history moved me. There were things about the school’s history that I didn’t know. Like a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1943 to Dr. Edward Doisy for his discovery of vitamin K. When I started this blog, legacy was the impetus. I imagined that one day I will leave this earth, but I wanted my kids to have something that characterized my life story. I also wanted to share it my way, not as told or remembered by others, with the caveat too that I was a born dreamer and a storyteller and that in the end, I did it my way. This caveat would keep me happy no matter where I end in the next life.
Seeing all the work of Dr. Doisy make me glad I’m on this journey for myself. It also made me realized that what I keep with each single day, no matter how small, is for that legacy and myself. The past couple of days have tried to keep these words hidden from the world, tried to keep me down, as if to say I have no right to rise. But in the words of Maya Angelou, I rise. I rise. I do so knowing that What I Keep, is the life story of a life lived in prayer and thanksgiving and joy and love for all the ways I am guided to do more than I could ever imagine with this thing called life.
The journey of a lifetime begins the day we are all born and continues long after we are gone. Some may have a history that tell their story eloquently with a library that displays all they achieved. Some may never have their story told, not even a notable achievement or joy or struggles. Ije Uwa as my dear friends father would say, is a gift, one that I intend to keep for history. So I ask you today, what are you keeping for yourself, from yesterday, for today, and for tomorrow. For me, everything. My history, my story, my way. It’s a gift that keeps giving. One I am grateful for.
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.
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.
Beyond the tears, beyond the sighs, beyond the frustrations born out of nothing, something, everything, there is a child, waiting to be seen, hoping to be heard, wishing to be held. See them, hear them, hold them. Something must yield. Your hope, your flesh, your future, dwells too in this child. Dwell in them. We are in a space where we know how the roots hold the tree. We keep holding too.
We spent our Sunday in somber reflection on what it means to follow Jesus like St. Matthews the tax collector. The Archbishop of St Louis paid our small church a visit and we learnt first hand that following Jesus was for everyone, tax collectors, mothers, all of us fighting never ending battles of wanting to pull your hair. Sunday’s are tough in our home. The in between a great weekend and back to school mode can be tough. But I still choose to tough it out, knowing these are my roots and they must dwell in me.