F is for freedom, for all the ways minds focused on it are truly free.
I finished my Dream course today. It taught me my purpose, gave me my joy, helped to craft the story my life, one that I hope to tell soon. I see the vision clearly now. This change with the season was needed. The chaos and all the distractions it brought along too. Where something stand. No matter what, something else will take its stand. Light will be light. It hates darkness after all. Even these storms will pass. And the dawn will withdraw its embrace, so that you arrive at the morning of your sweet break. See that bird. See how it escapes from the hunter’s trap. To soar, despite the trap. So shall your story begin, with those that stand by your side. Welcome to this moment of freedom.
Listen, this is your time, you a seed, you the earth, of a woman, you got the moon of your own, listen, somebody need a binoculars, to see you, somebody need to straighten their lens, to see all of you. Listen you are not Mars, Venus or any other bright evening star, not when he got his hands on somebody as divine as you, as sterling as you, a woman of the moon.
This is what the mirror said to me today. Keeping it here in praise of Lucille Clifton, my forever muse.
I know silence. I have seen it’s power. First they use language to keep you mute. Some are clear in their intent, other are subtle, all of them are designed to keep you silent. They succeed. Or so they think. First you are silent. You observe. You notice. You think. You note. You keep silent because words are few. They keep their ways. They know their ways. They see your silence. They note your pause. They keep their ways still. Knowing power belongs to them. Or so they think. Next you note their ways. All the subtle things they do. Those seen and unseen. Those spoken and unspoken. You learn to read lines. Learn to see the lines between lines written to keep you silent. You stay silent until you remember, you were never meant to survive. So you speak.
If they are going to write you out of history, at least your words will bear witness to your victory. You speak. If they are going to keep you invisible. At least your words will tell of your glory so visible. You speak. If they are going to ignore you, dismiss you, even pretend that you don’t exist. At least your words will uplift you, represent you and celebrate all the ways you persist. You speak. If they are going omit you, unname and misname you. At least your words will name you, rename and rename you, for we are born twice with every naming ceremony we do. You speak. Even if they hoped you would be silent. You speak because you know your silence will never protect you.
Knowing too that this is what it means to be black and woman, to be bright and human, every single part of your being, those sterling and sublime, pregnant with dreams unknown, in full glow, but still unseen, and all day, all night, in the land of troubled waters, where your air is music, where your universe is melody, where the wind sings in perfect harmony, with hawks and stormy weather, there they will find you always, with your disturbing disturbance, with your dream so brightly burning. There they will find you speaking, rustling with thing called life. Now that you speak and speak, in your way, so sublime.
First we accept. All definitions will do. Formats and styles that worked previously too. We accept things as they are. We pray they accept us too. They don’t. We try and try and still we remain unaccepted.
Then we begin to look inwards. We begin the work of looking at ourselves through their lens. A double consciousness of sorts. What do they see in us? What don’t the like about us? Are we too ambitious? How do we stay ambitious without offending them? All the subtle ways to act or not act are part of stage 2.
Then we act. If we are going to remain true to ourselves we might as well be ourselves. Or there will be no self. So we redefine ourselves and them. Choose their language carefully but redefine our own. We unname things that we know won’t work. Unname the process to. We give up parts of self that stand in the way. Give up stories and questions that paved the way. We build nests in windy places. We fill our emptiness with things hollow. Then risk it all for the beginning of truth.
The fourth stage is where we learn to rename ourselves. It’s where we learn the hidden lives of trees, the lessons of the fallen leaves, learn how every leaf too is a hallelujah. We learn the blessings of boat, learn to carry water, learn about the light within, learn all that we carry, learn how to seat at our table, know who prepared it too. This stage is where we reclaim ourselves, begin our dreaming, reclaim our mystery, know our history, so we severe our misery.
Finally, we rename our world. When eyes have seen oceans, lagoons will never do. Rather, we bring all dreams to the ocean, we bring our fears too. We connect the two and dream beyond our fears. We know the force of our lives. We know the source of our lives too. We dance, we love, we work, we dream. The possibilities of a self renamed and reborn, resisting and reimagining all obstacles along the way is rewarding. The freedom too, from being defined is pure joy. All the ways you rise like a bird in flight. All the ways you peel things off like an onion, down to the core of you, is sublime.
These days, I have given my name and my life, freedom, my history and dreams, a new medium, all the misery from things and people, a deep hum, while I press forward to a new dawn. All the trees inside me have moved into the forest. Roots are connecting deeply with other roots, as leaves shout hallelujah. The sun and moon are me, forever hungry, forever sharpened, like the edge where day and night meet. When you know you were never meant to survive. Know too that the battle is on.
There are five stages to becoming a soulful grant-writer. I listed them above. One steeped in storytelling too. These lessons personify how I do more than survive the grant writing process, survive academic setting too. Last week, some things tried to break me but truly failed. From the those who only see what they want, to those who follow without spine, some things tried to hold me back that all they did in the end was remind me of my dreams. Hold on to your dreams. It is a matter of life and death these days. They will come for you in subtle ways, ignore and dismiss you in big ways, but their ways are not your own, you who dream dreams that dream their own dreams. Know this and know peace. You are divine.
We celebrate things we see. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, marriages, even funerals. But the things in life we rarely see, those that leave us breathless or speechless are worthy of praises too.
I have shared previously that for every single visible thing I keep, there are many that remain invisible. Some the world may never see. The aspiration, to remain invisible. Writing in this manner started as an exercise focused on keeping something, my way, and free from any guide. The true value continues to unfold with each day. To keep something may have been the true intent. Yet, the next phase keeps me humble. My spirit had to go through this exercise of purging itself of everything that held me back. In doing so, my eyes opened.
I became the child that was not satisfied with the lagoon, when my eyes have greeted oceans. The unseen things in my life these days are my masterpiece. What you see, the ones celebrated too, are merely byproducts. It has been difficult to dream up the next phase, to summon up the courage to accept what the spirit desires without struggle, even when I would rather hold on to a higher calling. I am who I am after all. Writing freely has indeed woken my mind up, like birds without wings, who still sublimely fly. All the possibilities too, those for change, those for freedom, those focused on lasting, those full of light, and those guided by the spirit, are its many gifts. The sun has moved permanently close. The stars and moon too. I am a child of all, and now prepared to amaze.
It’s women’s history month and let’s just say I’m exhausted. Women, some, can be our own enemies. Women, some, can derail anyone and anything they think they have power over. The past two days at work has been disheartening and to think that I start this month wondering why some women are our own worst enemies is my keep for the day. That and Toni Morrison’s essay on Cinderella and her stepsisters. The feeling she felt for urgency with Cinderella is how I feel now. What is unsettling still is that a workplace full of some women can still be like the story. We contribute to grief even when we ought to be releasing happiness for all. We go out of our way to make things difficult when only light should flow.
So I am going to spend the rest of this month not doing what some may have thought they gained by keeping me down and oppressed/deflated these past two days.
Rather I will focus on my nurturing side, things that move me in the direction of freedom, knowing that only free people can make a free world.
I will dream of what can be, possibilities beyond reach. I will nurture all sorts of pursuits, those that make me grow, and those that keep me joyful. Things of value to you in any workplace seldom are. It is not safe to guard over a place that will replace you in a heartbeat even as you pass your last breath.
So I will dream and uplift the safety and power of all those around me, including my step sisters. I will not enslave them mentally or use words to derail their life goals. I will uplift women, those that hate me and those that love me. I will uplift all those that choose to belittle me too. Those that would rather I clean or wipe their tables, those that would rather I pick their trash too.
Being black and woman in academia is a gift I will always cherish. It’s much more than work as it has enabled me to live beyond my dreams. My name is Isioma and if you know the meaning, then you will know why I choose peace this month as we celebrate women’s history.
If anything I do, in the way of writing grants or whatever I write, isn’t about lasting, or sustainability or the community or villages I belong too, then it’s a waste of time. These days I want to indulge myself in open conversations that allows the collective ‘we’ to dream, which is to say, sustainability, is like air. Everything we do must have that at it’s core.
The best grants I have ever written, those that failed and those that succeeded, have at their rim, a desire to last, a desire to remain, long after the funding ends. We begin always with the end in mind as the end is certain. But what we do from the beginning is unquestionably crucial. When you don’t plan to last, when you don’t even know why you ought to last, you ultimately keep nothing. You are also lost. Which is why I ask always, what will you keep? For me these days, every single thing.
I have been speaking about sustainability for a long time. I woke up to to a phone call this morning that asked if I could speak on it to a group in less than 30 minutes. I said yes ( because I have been thinking about this topic for a long time) and proceeded to create a presentation in 30 minutes. During the presentation, I was mesmerized by the person speaking. Granted it was me, but the words that seem to come to me, came from places I tend to ignore about why this topic truly matters to me. I have written failed grants about it. Dreamt about it. Thought about writing both fiction and non fiction on it and well it is at the heart of why I keep this blog in the first place. The idea of something, anything that lasts. Not for publications or accolades, not even for funding, but because I care deeply about why things should last. I found myself speaking about people now dead who championed this issue. I spoke about papers from 1990 on this issue. I shared my dreams and new ideas soon to be birthed this year about it, but above all I realized why I care deeply about this work.
This urgency to give meaning to sustainment is the source and meaning of my work these days. It continues to help me dream, widens my ambitions with any health issue that remains a persistent source of inequities, reminds me often that I will fail because people don’t understand it, yet still I will rise. I want to believe this fever for all things sustainment will break one day, and I too may end up saying that things never last for a reason. All the things I do these days, all these writing are both my guide and hope. Every single thing I keep is reminder of the very thing I continue to seek. What am I seeing, what is seeing me too, and how I tell it’s story is the reason I know I need to reach beyond myself this year. This work is out of this world, like the very air that I breath. So I close by claiming it, naming it, as I prepare to intensify, what may seem impossible, with my biggest dreams still.
As days become week, and weeks, month, and months year, the angering for your life lingers. As days become week, and weeks, months and months year, memories of you, and echoes of Osodieme, lingers still. Days will be weeks and weeks will be months and months will be years, yet what will become of all this anger, the memories, the echoes of you that continue to draw air on their own, as if life has barely moved, as if death nourishes us still. Your cervix may have won this time, but we are up fighting as nothing else matters.
A womb tells the beginning of your story. Life forgets it’s continuity. Yet, if your stories, instead of theirs, your life, instead of their own. All your gains, instead of defeat. Your pain too, instead of deceit. If your lillies bloomed in any way. Your roses only registered thorns. Your days are as days. Your nights too, like nights.
If only you spoke of all the ways the rain fell on your head. A clear view of your flood. Those that deflated or those that manifested into all the sum of you. If you ever disappeared, even if for a minute, in your thoughts or in reality, all the moments, distant or near, that are simultaneous with your years. If there were no colors in your life, no dash of pink in Spring, or yellow in the summer, if only black and blue, then the telling of that will do. If there were hours unaccounted for. Labor unpaid. Tears unknown, joy undiscovered, desires unfulfilled, even delight unspeakable, only insight may salvage all the residue that remains.
So then tell all the arcs you know. Those that bent all the way to the ground, those that lost the ground or those that flapped up to foreground. Tell all the moments flowers made you smile. Dahlia’s or daffodils will do. Remember the rain, the depths of the fall or floods. Remember too ending hours of your existence, the earth beneath your feet, ideas that persisted, or encounters that made you rise, all before your sun sets.
When the hours of your existence have been accounted for, what will remain? I woke with this need to ask myself this question. Who will tell my story for me, just the way I would want it to be told? We die, that may be the meaning of our lives, said Toni Morrison. But we do language and that maybe the measure of our lives. So when your time is up, how would your life be measured? With the things you did and as told by those behind, or with your own words and as told by you.
I want my words to do the talking. I want it to talk back even when I’m gone. I want it to speak of all the ways I lived, the flowers I kissed, or the storms that persisted. Either way, our memories are all we have and we can keep them now, even as we breathe.
So to those wondering whether it’s worth keeping, these moments of our living, know that your stories are worth it. Keep it.
Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? This question has always haunted my spirit. It’s from Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salteaters. It is also apt for today. That and what does being well mean for the public’s health, from a social justice lens, radical wellness too and not from experts alone, or those who have credentials, but from you the general public and with your fiction or nonfiction?
Who are your go to references for being radically well and how do you even begin to define wellness for yourself? Of course it led me down a rabbit hole, one where I am now obsessed with how people, those in fiction and non fiction, those with expertise and none, define what they mean by wellness.
I have been struck by the myriad of ways people define wellness, especially those focused on people of color. It matters to me these days that for the public, we define what wellness means, not just from what the dominant literature may tell us, but from everyday people who continue to struggle with answering the question: ‘Are you sure, sweetheart, you want to be well.’ So, from what I gathered from the Bettina Love’s profound book ‘We want to do more than survive’ wellness is:
A type of freedom that comes when you let go of your fears and move your anger into a space of healing.
Wisdom and being well is hard work.
Part of social justice work.
An inner life that refuses to be treated less than human.
Finding the roots of your own Black Joy, Black love, and humanity.
Choosing to see ourselves beyond illness or disease.
Having an inner self that can be quiet and enjoy life.
Recognizing the pain of our ancestors knowing the beauty and resilience of that pain lives on in us.
Knowing who you are regardless of what is thrown at you.
Different for different people.
Healing that is unrecognizable to White people and different from them.
Being your best self while fighting injustice.
Fighting racism with life, grace, compassion.
Having mental space and freedom to dream, give hell, and retreat to one’s community of love for support, fulfillment, and nourishment.
Bringing your full self.
Joining others in the fight for humanity and antiracism in love and solidarity.
Confronting internalized White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Isamophobia, fat phobia, classism, ableism, and the rage that comes as a result of these hateful ideas.
Keep doing more than surviving with these radical wellness definitions in mind.