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.

If I can stand and smile next to the king of the jungle, may I figure this thing called sustainability then. Leaving this here as inspiration. Watch me roar with this thing called sustainability.

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.

Penn State days circa 2010. Days when saying no was expected. Saving this here as a reminder.

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.

A swarm of insects stroll in perfect stride,

one after the other,

all heading somewhere,

any where, no where.

The skies above them,

stretch out like curtains,

something reduces them to nothing,

something leaves them light as dust.

Something in the wind.

Lord, it’s coming for us.

Finding my voice is the best feeling. I’m alert to those coming for it too.

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.

As strong as the woman/girl/legacy next to me!

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.

One example
Another example.
Another example.

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.

We were told we were obstacles. Something like impossible. For how are we possible, when all we seem are never clear like a dream. So we lived like a dream. Like a difficult stream with no beams for barricades, only palisades as blockades and surrounded with stockades that leave you with no accolades. Confined now to roadblocks that clog, obstacles that block, and stop, we became more like stumbling blocks. We suffered through more flops, that seem like shocks, every time we saw an opening out of luck.

See every time some path seemed to open from nowhere, every time it seemed all our stumbling blocks were finally going somewhere, all the loads, finally unloading, we were met with more obstructions, ditches with no instructions on how to snag out of complications turned limitations, and impediments, turned frustrations. No instructions too on how to dig out of enclosures that seemed more like restrictions, delays that seemed like hindrances or setbacks for life constantly dealing with a barrier.

Now, it may seem like this is a book of barriers. Maybe, but we write to share that all we faced, all the hurdles, that seemed like turtles in a chortle, every single manacle, and shackle, all the restraints that seemed like a life full of deterrent, none of it was a detriment in the end. For we are warriors. Something like warrior women. And this, this is a book of warriors.

I watched The Woman King. Nothing else to say except what came out of my spirit above and well, go watch it.

Ezi-okwu. Truth. We were told we are light. Something like a book of light, with pages that emit rays, with words that stream, gleam and beam, like the sun. Truth. We were told we are like the sun. Our glow, like our flicker shines lucid, with a spark, a scintilla, that flashes, and sets us a blaze, like a flame or fire. Ezi-Okwu. We were told we are like fire. Forever serene, truly luciferous, and built like a lighting blot. We never lack luster. Truth. We always shimmer, glisten and gloss everything till our brightness emits brilliance. Ezi-okwu. We were told we emit brilliance. In full splendor, our sheen, like our sparkle, dazzle, in a luminous reflection, the kind that kindles, illuminates, brightens, air, days, so we stay glorious as we radiate this radiant splendid life we choose to clarify and make clear in every single way, about how we are like light. A book of light. Ezi-okwu. Truth.

Something about this light, Lucille, something about all the rays it emits, both short and long, something about its glimmer, it’s glow, it’s everlasting shine, has me wishing for days when truth is life. Ezi-okwu bu ndu. You are truth, Lucille. You are.

Dedicated the above to Lucille Clifton.

I started my day early. I set out with a goal too. I was supposed to finish the approach section of a new grant we are working on. Yes, it’s the only thing I do these days. Anyways, I was done with aims 1 and heading to aims 2 when I did the unthinkable, I didn’t hit save as I closed the document by accident. I literally felt like pulling my head once I figured out my mistake. Crying was not enough. I felt so helpless that I literally went to my bed and just wailed out loud to myself. I was overwhelmed and tired as this grant is so painful to write and I am in that uncomfortable space of deciding whether it is worth it or not. It feels like it isn’t these days and it scares me. I never want to stop writing grants. I hate that I can write and make costly mistakes like this. When I summoned courage to get back to my laptop, I looked up and say all the rays emitting from my little light fixture in my room. They were speaking to me in ways that made me feel, almost instantly, that everything would be worth it in the end. The mistakes are still painful, but when you are a book of light, even these mistakes have lessons the emit rays so brilliant. I am leaning on light.

My son tried to carry an orange box bigger than himself today. I tried to help. He shoved my hands away, choosing to carry it alone. Until he couldn’t. He stopped trying, opting instead to sit right next to the box, fully content. Looking at him, I realized that I have been observing him wrongly. He didn’t need my help because he was capable of doing the work all by himself. His way. Most children are. I smiled. He smiled back, content with his box on the floor next to him. His way. I am reminded of writers whose words become sharp, all because they wrote their way. I see them in my little boy and his orange box

My son! Love him

Words are living. I am leaning on this every day. Their hold can be strong. Forcing you to dig deeper than the surface of what they seem. I am making sense of words these days. Making sense of all the ways they burn like fire, then blow like wind, touching everything until you become one with the wind or fire and anything else that words choose to become when you let them flow on their own. These days they are flowing and I am living more like fire. Their hold on me is as strong as fire. Their breathe too, as gentle as the wind at times and as wild as fire at other times. I keep coming back to fire, keep referring back to winds, as if all the words I know are as fierce or as tender as they seem. Still I know this to be the power of words. Nothing is as it seems. And anyone who dwells in these words like flies, may end up in their grave.

The love I have for words is my motivation these days.

So long as the road experiences a journey, so long as that journey is rough or smooth, so long as it takes turns up or down, and goes through paths windy and narrow, those lighted and dark, with frogs leaping or children stomping, so long as every single thing happens on the road, darkness, light, leaping, stomping, windy, narrow, up, down, rough , smooth, but constant motion, not even a single moss will ever grow on it.

We say this tiny frog leaping along the way and it was motivation enough, with my children stomping in excitement, to keep leaping forward.

I am learning the significance of a journey. Learning too that all I do these days are part of the journey, smooth or as rough as it maybe. Whether with tiny frogs leaping or children stomping, keep moving. We had a guest speaker in class today. She reminded us, me in particular that everything is a journey. Keep moving no matter how tough the journey maybe. The fact that you are on the road, you are walking still, means you are alert and the road is in motion. You will get to your destination one day and nothing will surprise you then. These days I am learning too that so long as I dwell in the one who began this journey, then nothing, nothing, would be against me. I am dwelling in him too, knowing that nothing would ever be able to separate me from his love, so long as I remain on the road he already set for me.