I saw a post on LinkedIn that made me pause for moment. So many things are insightful there. But this one by Nekasha Pratt, a marketing guru made me reflect for a moment. It was about Shonda Rhimes and her departure from DisneyAbc. I have written about this in the past but this post was a reflection on Shonda’s success at Netflix. Shonda’s new show Bridgeton has garnered 63 millions viewers in December. The highest and record breaking viewership for the streaming channel. Ms. Nekasha shared a lesson: ‘Treat your employees well (especially top performers) or else they will leave you and break records at a company that does. Also, know your worth and be willing to walk away when a company doesn’t value you.’

This lesson made me pause and reflect on myself and which path I belong. I firmly believe that we should all treat people we work with well. Otherwise they will leave and go elsewhere. And when they do, especially if they were your top performers they will break records. I will continue to do my best with this for my team. But you, whoever is reading this, know your worth. That’s all. Walk away if you are not valued. Walk away if you know you deserve better. Walk away even if it means starting over. Walk away even if the unknown is frightening. See once you know your worth, anything is possible even starting all over. Once you know your worth, like in the novel Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, the universe will conspire to help you because it’s you.

Knowing your worth forces you to understand your value. It’s the most significant thing we can do for ourselves and I would argue that it our primary task in life. There is only one you amongst 7 billion people on this earth. Think about it for a moment. No other person on earth looks like you. You are the only original copy that exist hence why you should know or learn to discover why you matter. Because you do. All of you is significant once you know your worth. This is my keep for the day, the week, even the year. Thank you Ms. Nekasha for sharing this lesson. And may lessons like this force you to pause for a moment and reflect on which side you belong. For me, not only do I plan to continue to treat people well, but I will keep knowing my worth.

I gave a talk this week, my first for the year to a small group of Masters in Public Health students. It was on sustainability and why we need more public health interventions that last. I started by asking them to suspend all they know about the topic and go with me on a journey to Sesame Street. Yea, I took them there and let’s just say it was one of the best lectures I have ever given in a while. It came from my soul and helped me articulate for the first time to a public audience what I mean by the how to do it literature on sustainability. Of course the ideas are still evolving and in due time I will share, but if you can, keep Sesame Street in mind. They have a lot to teach on how to make programs last.

In reading Bell Hooks article on ‘choosing the margin…’ I was struck by two sentences. The first, ‘our presence is a disruption.’ The next, ‘invent spaces of radical openness.’ The idea that your presence may disrupt the status quo is one of the key reasons she asks that we do our part to simultaneously seek new knowledge, new experience. And when we do, in the spaces we create for ourselves, we will survive. In the new year, silence is one space that I intend to keep eloquently, where I intend to plan. But survival, the radical possibilities and openness of it, a site that nourishes my capacity to see, to create, even to build, is the other space I am keeping this year. I am keeping survival blazing, all it’s possibilities, all it’s openness, even it’s resistance, will burn fiercely for me.

A surviving castle

In survival, I am like my daughter’s playtime activity pictured above, where she uses magnetic shapes to build anything including castles that are brilliant to her. Carefully and with one piece after another, she builds and builds and the castle keeps growing and growing brighter. Every addition is a test of survival. And when her castle survives intact, she is happy and everyone cheers. The construction is sterling and a delight to watch. So to is survival. It’s possibilities are transforming. Also sterling when you navigate it’s many landscapes.

Survival, like the Bob Marley song, Bell Hooks quoted in her piece, ‘allows me to refuse to be what you want me to be.’ Instead, I am who I am because I choose to survive and that’s the gift of it’s possibilities. I choose to survive despite whatever challenges I experience. I understand that my daughter’s castle may topple anytime and the idea of it remaining intact is minimal. But here is the truth and gift of survival and why choosing is blazing: ‘you know that it may unravel.’ The knowledge of the unraveling is survival at it’s finest. We are able to survive because we know. Survival is knowing. Survival is reality. In survival, I know reality. I am able to articulate my reality to the world because I choose to survive. I know about my survival. For in survival, my perspective, all of it remains sustained. My perspective burns fiercely for me. It’s my story after all and I I’ll tell it however I choose. That’s what survival entails. And I am firmly keeping it blazing in the new year.

Building the castle.

I learnt the other day, the importance of being silent, eloquently. It’s mesmerizing, the audacity of silence. Coming from someone known to be a talkative, being silent is divine. I am learning this day by day. Even my husband would be proud. True story, I remember being whipped in primary school in Nigeria because I talked to much. In other words, talking and nonstop about things I know and may not know is how I have lived this thing called life to date. I have been whipped so bad for it. But I am learning now that there is power with being silent. Power in choosing it, framing it as you like but ultimately, being it. I will be silent.

The prolific author, Bell Hooks, once wrote that ‘we all need to choose or identify spaces where we begin our process of revision…where we push our boundaries…where transformation is possible. This choice is crucial because it shapes and determines our response. Also informs how we speak about the issues we choose.’ I choose silence. It forces me to move out of the familiar. Silence is uncomfortable for me. It’s my space of radical openness, where my mind dances, the site of my anthills and nests. Silence is wisdom for me. Not because I don’t have much to say, Lord knows I can still talk up a storm if need be. I will be silent because the moment needs it, no demands that I share nothing, not a word or even an opinion. Just my silence. If not for anything, then at least for me. I will be silent so I see. In silence, I see reality. In silence, I am sustained. All my hopes and impediments become clear.

And so the hardest thing I will ever do, the hardest I have ever done will be to remain silent. It is harder than giving birth. In labor you scream even in the most difficult pain. The most unbearable pain, demands a response whether audible or not. Not silence. It demands nothing. Except only that you practice it. Say these words if you must; I will be silent. And for me. I seldom take me, my feelings, my thoughts into consideration. But the moment demands that I do. Not because I don’t have much to say. On the contrary. But because my silence, my eloquent silence is the only power that I own. They can’t take what they don’t know. I and not them, choose silence.

In silence, I am able to reflect. In silence, I am able to plan with the right people. In silence I am also able to learn or reflect, to adapt or change if I must or nurture or keep what truly matters to me. In silence, I plan. The next move, the next adventure, the next question, whatever the journey, for I won’t miss my way, when silent. It’s a mesmerizing thing when you practice it intently, when you channel all your talkative energy to being silent, to seeing it as a plan. I am also learning that it demands that I am still and know. I am still as I bask in what I know for sure. They can’t take what they don’t know and I can’t give myself to anyone or anything when I am silent. It is a powerful realization, this thing called silence when you practice it for yourself and I intend to fully keep, eloquently in 2021. For if I can be silent, long enough, effectively, even eloquently, then silence would become me. So, I will be silent. Not because I don’t have much to say, but because in silence, I plan. Keep silence eloquently.

The enterprise of being you, a complete individual, unique in your own way and in your own thoughts starts with being complete. I am complete on my own and in my own terms. This is the lesson for today. Keep being complete. It’s a lesson I learnt after looking at an assignment my daughter completed for school. Her teacher asked her to make a coat of arms, something to illustrate what makes her completely unique, in her own way. My daughter focused on four words: Be True, Be You. I smiled. She is indeed my child.

Not only does she love her home and ice-cream and her tablet and bunnies, she reminded herself about the significance of being true to her complete being. The significance of being whatever she wants, so long as she stays true to herself. I am learning even from my daughter how to keep being true to myself, the power of being me. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. Focusing on my parenting and productivity requires a shift in priorities. A shift even with when to stay silent and when to survive. The point of every keep is to never solve a problem. But instead, they are big reminders to myself to do as my daughter suggests and keep being true, keep being me, on my own terms. I am complete when I am me. I hope you would learn from this bright 8 year old and do the same.

We stopped by our old house to clean up. The past couple of days since we moved have been emotional. This was the first home we bought and literally built from the ground up when we first moved to Saint Louis. It will forever hold a special place in my heart especially given the pandemic. It was here after-all that we encountered our beautiful struggle with homeschooling. When we got to my daughters room where all her homeschooling occurred, I couldn’t help but feel emotional. This room got us through some tough times and the hand drawn pictures on the wall were my favorite.

I recall choosing joy when homeschooling in the room started in the fall. As we cleaned the house up, my daughter and I, one room after the other, our emotions were joyful. Joy for every corner swept. Joy for every room cleaned. Joy for every box filled, every trash picked. Joy for this home, our first. When we stopped cleaning for the day, and packed our belongings to head to the new home, our joy remained. Though the days in this old house are numbered, we still choose and keep joy, for it will always be the first home we bought.

2021 started with icy rain. The intensity of the rain seemed to have it’s greatest impact on the the trees around our house. They were full of ice. Almost all the tree crown turned into ice. As I looked at them, I couldn’t help but imagine how trees survive freezing, icy rain. It’s probably the same way I survived being a working mother to three homeschooled children in the middle of a pandemic. We were all covered with ice.

An icy tree.

On any given day, trees that are healthy prior to the start of winter are more likely to survive freezing or icy rain and recover more quickly compared to unhealthy trees. These trees also have to be prepared to acquire or mobilize sufficient resources especially following injuries such as from freezing icy rain, otherwise they may literally die. Let me repeat the again, for myself too. Without resources at hand, resources mobilized or gathered before, maybe during, and after the experience of any stressful events, trees may literally die.

Motherhood for me in 2020 was an accumulation of all sorts of resources, mobilized to help me sustain and survive the silence, the stress, even the stillness of being a working parent in the middle of a pandemic. Books, all sorts of books helped as well as active participation in homeschooling. This was a huge priority given my children are under 8 years of age. Then there were prayers, all sorts of prayers, but especially psalm 91 and 121. Isaiah 43 made me stand in awe of my maker. The idea that when I pass through deep waters, he would be there, made me feel so deeply loved and precious. That and giving up Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba (maybe present day Eritrea) to save me, got me through a very tough year.

Now and because of their size and in preparation for winter, most trees accumulate most of their resources ahead of time and mobilize them during periods of stress. The probability of survival depends on a trees’ access to resources. So to was motherhood for me. That I survived 2020 intact, is because I know whose I am, come freezing ice or rain. Nikki Giovanni once stated that ‘once you know who you are, you don’t have to worry any more.’ Like trees who survive freezing, icy rain, 2020 reminded me of the author of my life, the one who started the journey, whose I am. It helped me mobilize the resources necessary to survive the most crucial test and struggle of a lifetime, being a mother, a homeschool teacher, all while working in academia. That I survived intact is because like trees, I focused on my resources, especially what mattered the most to me. In the New Year, keep being like trees, especially and during icy rainy days. Begin to mobilize the resources that matter to you, accumulate all of them and prepare to survive whatever the year has in store for you on your own terms, in your own way.

Imagine seeing the world from the lens of children, seeing what they see, feeling what they feel or even listening to what they listen to. I have been doing so for the past couple of days with my children. There have been screaming with tablets that won’t load or are dead. Watching intently whether snow flurries will actually stick to the ground. Bouncing up and down on a bouncer over and over again. Playing, lots of it, from hide and go seek to just running around for the fun of it, all with laughter, lots of it too, that comes from some special reservoir.

My bouncing baby.

To be a child, during this pandemic of a lifetime is inspiring to me. Not only are they stuck at home, practicing social distancing, but these kids have endured so much this past year alone. I want to learn more from them in the New Year. To focus on what really matters to them and from their lens. All the ways they have been resilient through this pandemic, I have to understand. Homeschooling alone was a burden. But they persevered with school now at home and home now school. My kids and I even moved from our old house to the new one 2-3 days before Christmas. They only got their Christmas tree, the day before Christmas and still they were understanding, showed empathy even, on Christmas morning, when they saw no gifts under the tree. That I managed to wrap all their gifts and place it under the tree on Christmas morning after they woke up was no small feat. Still they understood. Everyone did. 2020 had many challenges, many impediments, even many fears and unexpected endings that still leave me speechless. But it also has many blessings, brilliant ones too that I would love to savor in the New Year. Ones that begin with my children. Imagine seeing the world through their lens, see what they see, feel what they feel or listen to what they listen too. It’s a small ask but one that I hope to bask in beyond 2020 for myself. I hope you keep the lens of children in mind.

We kept things simple today. Kids woke early, took their bath and wore their Christmas pjs. We all wore our pjs. Since the pandemic, my middle son has been wearing only his pjs. It’s the only thing that makes sense to him since we were home all day anyways. I used to plead with him to wear regular clothes. He did at first. But after maybe the first month he was back to his pjs. So for today, we kept things simple and emulated him. We wore our pjs all day and all I can say is that today was full of light, full of love, full of comfort, definitely blissful and may this ease come your way especially when you keep things simple.

Merry Christmas.

In the process of moving things around my house, I came across some masks in my collection. It got me thinking about today’s keep. I wear masks. Maybe for self-preservation, self-protection and out of an abundance of caution. But I wear masks. My innermost thoughts, of how I feel, how I act, how I even speak are reserved for very few privileged people that get to see me in all my nakedness, all my flaws, all my imperfections. For them, I am maskless. They see me. They see my fears, imagine my dreams, listen to my hidden ideas, or help to soothe my pain. For them, I am maskless, able to freely love and be loved, freely give and receive, and through them, with treasured moments and memorable memories, I live. When I am maskless, I live. My best life. Every keep is my own unique attempt at being maskless, my attempt to live.

My mask collection.

I contemplated being maskless with some colleagues the other day, but I couldn’t. I put on my mask. I wore it intently. I didn’t want their judgement. I didn’t want to be misunderstood, misinterpreted or even misconstrued. All the mis-beginning words came to mind. So I wore my mask, kept my thoughts to myself and listened intently. I heard the pauses, caught the sighs, the uncertainties and even genuine desire for more, but I couldn’t remove my mask. I kept it on. The more they asked, the more I fixed my mask, intently and listened deeply. They cannot get to you when you protect yourself. Sometimes how you choose to wear your mask is necessary. That in so many ways our lives are hidden, tangled with different masks, is of interest to me lately. It is both what I yearn for, ‘to uncover my mask,’ and what I fear, ‘to keep it on indefinitely for self-protection.’ The tension between my yearnings and fear is powerful to me. For it’s my choice after all, to wear a mask. My own powerful choice. Some may say isn’t it a burden, to wear a mask. If your mouth is full of blood, if your thoughts often provoke, both old and young alike, if your presence is brilliant, like salt or light, or like a lone eagle that soars, then wearing a mask becomes a necessity. As far as my future is concerned, until you earn the privilege, I’ll keep wearing masks.

My mask collection.