I am not quick to describe for myself whether life is this or that.

There are so many different ways to live life. Many different ways to make it your own out of something much deeper than anything that you can describe.

Sometimes you will fail. Sometimes you will succeed.

But life keeps going, almost like the dew on grass which no one knows where it comes from or what to do with it except to cut it off.

To deal with life, to stand one day naked, and look at yourself in the mirror is the real challenge in life.

I have looked at myself, looked at my face, full of dark freckles and dimples that always know when to reappear. I have paid homage to the gap between my teeth, and the moles at the back of my neck where my daddy too once had the same. Deep are the roots between us.

I have seen the flow from my hair follicles to the sole of my feet. Marveled too at the body that birthed three kings and a queen.

I remain in awe of the excess fold, all of it in the right place, all the curves too, in a way I choose to never change.

I have seen too the large mole on the top of my breast, felt a lump once that made me cry, until it wasn’t what I thought it was.

I have known deep love in this skin again, bathed it too with pink rose and vanilla again and again, that it could only be love.

I love this skin I’m in. Love too the curves of my back, the scars on my back, one the shape of a crescent moon, whose pain I’ll never forget.

I seem to forget other scars though, like the one from a broken glass on my right arm, or the one nestled on the side of my left index finger. They call it a birthmark. I call it a kiss from God.

To me, every inch of my being is a miracle. Every fold, every curve, every dark spot here and there, is truly a miracle. My legs are thick and strong, bones too, strong as a bronze. If this is what it means to be made in his image, then I am truly loved, beyond these words I use to speak of life as this or that.

My mood this morning!

When my children say your name, Lucille Clifton, I smile.

How to carry water comes to mind. How to sail through this to that too.

I often wonder how you lived. Lived even beyond your own understanding. A good woman, an ordinary woman, a woman whose voice is light too.

I’ll never forget your Black BC’s, some of the days of Everett Anderson, moments where good-byes are not enough.

I too miss my dad, through and through and the hurt is still too deep.

But then your book of light, the notion that silence of God, is God, is the grace I need to reach beyond stars.

You for whom your blackness is like a star.

If I should ever find myself lost, if I should ever find myself in a garden of regret, I will settle against the bark of trees, hide within the fierce protection of falling leaves, and begin always with you.

I listened to Lucille Clifton’s children, Sidney, Alexia and Gillian today as they reflected on their mothers legacy with the Enoch Pratt Library. It’s was on the occasion of their mom’s death as she passed away today, 12 years ago. From them, I heard these words which I have kept here for myself and you all.

With Lucille’s daughter celebrating her legacy with Enoch Pratt Library.

Freedom, creativity, courage. The world needs the spirit, the light that moved in her. The world needs Lucille. She was a wellspring of strength, a mother, an extraordinary woman with a brilliant message. That creativity and art are necessary. Normal too and an outpouring of ourselves, our humanity, our strong foundation, for the ways of the world. The flow of life, like flow of a home should begin with creativity, begin with normalizing that which we all are, creative. Let your words speak your power, whether in joy or pain, sorrow or laughter. It’s okay to be sorrowful and joyful, all of that is part of life, being resilient, honoring and accepting all these things. That and reclaiming all that was once lost so generations never forget the stories and doing everything in life with a purpose.

Lucille lives on.

I love reflecting on the lives of Black authors and poets. My favorite being Lucille Clifton always. Her ways are God’s ways to me for he used her to minister to me. I am fascinated by the way she extended and enhanced her life as a writer, a mother, and a poet. Her love for all things Black and motherhood had sheer clarity. She knew how to use words to help you live beyond yourself. She used words to reflect on the past, the present and what generations after generations in the future needed to value and treasure, beginning with themselves, their legacy too.

There is a smooth evenness and passion in the ways she used words to reclaim her sense of light, reclaim history and make all we do, domestic, motherhood, even writing, seem extraordinary. She was extraordinary. Her words help make my world today coherent. She helped me remember and recover all sorts of stories from my life through words. She helped me assert agency as a storyteller, my way, however I choose to define it even with no model. She helps me accept my life as a mother and a scholar honestly. She helps me remain mindful of my purpose, my shared struggle with others, along this journey through life. She helps me experience community, yearn for it too. A community of like-minded people on a quest to find their light through the darkness of life. Those committed to becoming extraordinary in their own way. That’s what Lucille does to me. That she died today in 2010 is another reminder that so many of our great ones are gone and we are left to pick up where they left off. Lucille would want that. I intend to celebrate her always. Something tried to kill this, and has failed terribly.

So this is what it means,

to be a woman full of lists,

of things to keep,

in a time of a pandemic,

every single thought,

sound and insane.

Mother to a girl named Belle and boys who never met the one for whom anger never met his soul.

Daughter to the one for whom destiny was almost denied.

Spinning deeply in love with a Chi born in a land where crocodiles roam free

All day long, I to sit in the land of the free,

listening to the blissful sounds of cardinals, red and blue jaybirds,

unable to tell them why I begin,

I begin.

It has been a week and let’s just say, this one is short and a reminder to never forget to keep something, a thought, sound or insane, it’s my lost after all, and every single word or thought that comes to mind will always be worthy of praises this season I keep turning into my own.

Perhaps the lessons from falling snow,

is that every fall brings disruption.

Every disruption brings change.

Every change brings power.

Every power brings insight.

Every insight brings abundance.

Every abundance brings grace.

Every grace is sublime.

I agree with the snow.

What if anything can we learn from snow? The past 2 days my family and I have been stuck inside as Saint Louis became perpetually covered in snow. Luckily, we knew the snow was coming so I dashed to the market and stocked up the house with food. Day 1 was quiet as it felt like a hoax at first. There were no snow for most of the early morning and we began to wonder whether it was all a fluke. Then as if on cue, snow started to fall and it came down fast and furious. We watched as the snow fell through out the day and into the next. Every where we looked as far as our eyes could see was covered in snow. Beautiful snow too if I might add. We took the time to play games, watched movies and well simply enjoyed being around each other.

Until this morning. I was launched back into homeschooling this morning as one of my child’s school decided that 2 days of doing nothing was a lot. I agree, but homeschooling. I am still tormented by the experience from 2020 and 2021 that the thought of it gives me anxiety. When it was time, I prayed our internet would go out. It didn’t. My son was not in the mood for it. I wasn’t either. We both summoned enough courage and went on it. He managed to do some language which he did not like. I got to see once more why I hated homeschooling. We both had no patience for it. He was disruptive in class. I saw again that he can’t seem to emotionally regulate himself when frustrated with work. I was equally frustrated watching him struggle. All the anxiety from homeschooling kept creeping back for the two of us. I asked if we could do the work on our own. We did. He sat through the work and finished it on his own. Then we returned for Math. They had to prepare for some tests. He once again had no patience. I didn’t either. We took the work, logged out and struggled but finished it on our own.

Then we came back for reading. They had to read a story about Bats. I opened the book and told him to start reading. I expected him to become frustrated. He wasn’t. I also expected that he would log out as he did with the other 2 classes. He didn’t. Rather he sat and read through the entire work. I looked at him perplexed. Here was a kid who refused to sit through other classes earlier and now he was looking forward to reading and actually reading along. I left him alone to go to my work. He stayed on to read with the class. When he was done he came to look for me. I asked if he was done, he said, yes. I said, ok we can take a break now. Then he asked whether he could go out to the snow now that it is time for recess. I said recess? Confused.

It turns out that they only reason he loved reading is that it’s the last class before recess. He said his teacher told him that he could go outside and play in the snow after reading and so he would like to go play. I looked at him in awe. So the only reason he sat through reading was because he was looking forward to the snow. We both looked outside the window. And I kept wondering what if anything can I take from the snow today. It helped to calm my son. What are the lessons from the snow for me, following my anxious morning with homeschooling. That’s when I realize that though every snow fall can lead to disruptions, every disruption change, every change can still be powerful, if only we discern for ourselves the lessons from the snow, it’s abundance and grace. I am learning. Keep this for you.

And in full disclosure, the poetry above was inspired by the work of Lucille Clifton, the second black author I honor this Black history month. In case you are just following, I plan to honor a black author/artist every day I write this month. Yesterday, was bell hooks. Today the indomitable Lucille Clifton, one of my most favorite poet and one I highly recommend you learn about. She is my muse through writing poetry and her work, the lessons of the falling leaves, inspired today’s poem.

Lucille Clifton

I imagine

undoing,

ending,

the woman

killing

memories

of girlhood,

in me,

unafraid,

believing,

in nothing,

just loosening,

trouble,

rustling

pain,

embracing,

love,

all buried

within,

like snow,

falling

rain,

liberating

my mind

Loving

this day,

I begin,

opening,

to you,

only you,

see

only you

can

begin this

I imagine,

undoing.

Memories of my girlhood.

The bits and pieces of my heart are slowly coming together through words. The prolific writer, bell hooks is my muse and guide through this process of undoing as well as so many other writers. But Ms. hooks speaks to my heart. I have been reading a lot about bell hooks of late. I began dancing in her words more when the pandemic began. She was the perfect salve for healing in a time of uncertainty. I buried myself deeply into everything she wrote. Her death took it to another level and well, not a day goes by these days that I am not pouring into anything she has ever written. She was a rare breed. My sister, my mother, my confidant, my friend, all in my head of course. She is the writer I long and dream to become. One unafraid to simply write. With no fear of sanctions or anything. I began reading about why she wrote her memoir “Bone Black,” which mostly focused on memories of her childhood. One thing I remember was her struggle to even begin. She once shared that when she made the decision to write about her journey to becoming a writer, there were no words.

Secrecy and silence for example, initially blocked her ability to write. To write about one’s life, to leave a trace of it, was frightening for her. Writing for her though became something to hold on to, to keep close. Writing ultimately helped her see the world clearly. These days, for me, writing has become a way of looking and seeing, a way to of undoing all that keeps holding me back from telling the stories I want to tell. I too have stared and continue to stare at blank screens, holding back for fear of breaking whatever bond, I have for keeping my thoughts hidden. Becoming bell hooks, choosing that named helped her kill Gloria Jean Watkins, her real name, and real self. To Ms. hooks, telling one’s story, even the process of telling, is tied to a longing to recover the past in such a way that one experiences both a sense of reunion and release. This longing for release compelled writing but concurrently fostered reunion, one that enabled her to write about her life in a way that allowed her to find herself. Like a living memory writing about the past can shape and inform the present, can foster self-growth and change in a practical way. One that I am truly looking forward to now that I am slowly delve into my undoing.

At the end of his book Health and Culture beyond the Western Paradigm, my doctoral advisor ended with these words: ‘To engage in a healthy culture project is to question one’s location constantly, always remembering that wherever something stand, another thing will stand beside it.’ It’s from Chinua Achebe and to him, it meant that there was no one way to doing anything. If there is one point of view, fine, there will be others as well. This to me is at the heart of the problem with they way we write in academia.

By Collins Airhihenbuwa

We have all been trained to use a one dimensional style and form to anything we seek to publish. If we dare to deviate from that style, no matter the topic, then the odds of being rejected are high. In this next phase of my career, I am prepared to offend many Emperors. If your goal is to end racism in health, to decolonize the field as we know, while advocating for those that look like me, many who remain voiceless, then you too would be prepared to offend the Emperor. I want to spend whatever time I have writing from a place of liberation. See when you join the ranks of those whose minds see clearly how what we do actually perpetuates the problem, then you would be infuriated.

The opportunities we have squandered with the public’s health are enormous. They keep looking to us for solutions and we keep giving them papers they can’t read. They keep asking for our interventions and we keep saying wait for the results after the intervention ends. They keep seeking for clarity on what they should do, and we keep drafting protocols. So much assistance could have been given to the public. So much time spent truly elevating their lives, yet all of us in our field spend countless energies writing papers the public will never read. We have been blessed as a field to have resources many dream to have, yet it doesn’t translate to much for people who need this the most.

It’s for them and only them, that I seek to chart a different course. Of course we cannot write in this manner within our journals. We cannot say to any of our editors too that writing as we do is racist and only serves the Emperor and not the people it actually doesn’t represent in his research. If our field is inundated right now with falsehoods and so many misinformation, it’s the bed we unfortunately made. If our writing has only been in service to ourselves, then it should not come as a surprise that folks with their own disingenuous motives will speak to them to the public we have neglected for too long. This isn’t the first time we have experienced a pandemic. There was one over 100 years ago and what if anything did we learn then? The researcher in me has perused through the articles we wrote back then. I have also written about it too here in the past. We remain blinded and weighed down by so much knowledge that serves no one. Too many experts want to speak and speak about what they think the public ought to be doing that they too now sound like a broken record.

These days the only thing keeping me sane are my family, my children and their love for all things that fly, including dogs like paw patrol with skills to save the world and not humans as the world expects. Don’t blame me, paw patrol has a new movie and my kids have ensured that I sit through it as well. I am glad I did. The ability and flexibility of dogs reminded me of why I choose to become a public health researcher and it’s to first serve the public through tough times, through good times and when all seems impossible. I have always know this to be the true calling of our field, one we have neglected for so long.

We are failing the public by not bringing them around to speak in a language they understand. We are failing the public by not telling our stories too of the struggles inherent in our field. We are failing the public by not creating spaces for dialogue, spaces too for radical openness on ways we have actually failed them. We are failing the public by not listening to them. We are failing the public by not looking out for them. The public needs us and we cannot keep neglecting them. The least we can do is be there. I started out by questioning my location within scientific writing. But now, I know where I stand.

I have been writing and thinking about why we write. This time, my daughter and my son are my muse. I listened intently as she told me during dinner about her desire to start her own company, one where she would simply write and illustrate all the books she wanted to write. Currently she is working on a fourth grade diary series. She has 11 chapters of a short book she called The Golden Sapphire. There is also Kayla and the Little Foot and a host of others in the works too. I marveled at her thinking today and wondered out loud to myself, when does it stop. In other words, I was once like her and I dreamt too of a world where I would simply just tell stories, write them too and some how call it life.

I have always loved books. My father instilled that in me early. I have always loved stories too. I thank the Nigerian Television Authority for their ground breaking show in the 80’s-90’s called Tales by Moonlight. Together, books and that show, taught me the significance of storytelling. Along the way though, life got in the way. Reality check too in college when I was asked to declare a major. I wanted to go for the arts but some how I had great grades and it landed me in the world of pre-medicine and eventually research. I have no regrets there either. Doing the kinds of research I do keeps me full. I am eternally grateful and thankful that I get to study anything simply because I am a researcher. Even better, a grant writer. Writing grants as I do changed my life. But yet still, I look at my daughter and wonder out loud to myself, where did it go. Where did my love for stories go and is it too late to resurrect it. Plus if I would truly develop the style of stories I want to tell, who is my audience and why. For starters, my children. All four of them are as different as night and day with one on the spectrum.

Following dinner, I had a parent teacher conference with my son’s teachers and all of them mentioned how he was at grade level academically. Here is my son for whom everything else is a chore, eye contact, conversations, behaviors, crying, meltdowns, but even with that, the sweet brain of his can be kind, and friendly to strangers, and create an entire puppet show all on his own with two pencils during class. That gift, of being creative is what keeps his brain on overdrive. It’s what even makes me wonder when I’m on the spectrum too. We are so similar it crazy. I can jump from one paper to a full NIH R01 grant and then a picture book all in a week. This is why my posting has been erratic all week. Not only did I complete a full academic paper with references, I worked on a grant going out next week, then completed a potential story for a picture. Like my son, my imaginations are on overdrive these days and all I can say is writing as I do here, on anything that comes to mind, continues to open doors to other things I never knew I had space for in my head. I keep thinking about writing, but truly I want to keep imaginations like this for life.

Today, I dwelled among some fine people. Poets, storytellers, researchers, humans committed to the light, the beauty of our humanity. And they all glistened, smiled as they glistened. Finer than silver moons. Oozing words, delicious words, as juicy as the sweetest berries. Of ways humanity will flourish because we loved us, loved our coming together too, loved our light too. Today I dwelled among some fine people. But truly, they dwelled in me.

Imagine taking seven days to frame the entire world. The kind of patience it would take to ensure that the stars and the moon are in the right place. All sorts of fishes or sea monsters swim the oceans. Mountains and hills are perfectly framed with volcanoes ready to erupt as they please. Having such a patience with fine details would be sterling. Something that only the universe can accomplish on their own without any interruptions. Well I’m no universe and it’s taken me nine years to finally make sense of this dance I have been dancing with words. One that only fully came to reality in 1.5 years. So for close to 7-8 years, this dream that I had to simply write, was dormant. In fact, dead. Of course I wrote. But for others, not myself. Of course I will always write. But again for others, not myself. The dance with the mind, the communion between the writer and the reader is one that we must all guard at all cost. When I noted earlier that I was writing, truth is I was writing in the way others told me to write. I wrote in a manner that was pleasing for the scientific community. A style that required us to have sections that we called introductions or methods or results or discussions. Master this style and you have a career. I have made a career out of this style.

This year, I’m am 2 papers away in this style with earning my 100th paper. I discovered that just the other day as I finalized my performance review for last year. Many scholars would be thrilled to say that have 100 scientific papers, yet I felt truly sad for myself. Not that none of the work isn’t important but more so, because i have been dancing this scientific dance to the detriment of the minds I would rather serve. What I mean by this is that, in science, in science writing in particular, there is no communion with the average community. Of course, we dance with other researchers, many who themselves are prepared to dance like you. But honestly, I would rather that anything I write be in service of you. Anyone and not just researchers in the scientific community. I would rather that I dance with words for people who would never think to download any scientific paper but are curious about ways to stay healthy. It has taken a pandemic for me to get here. But now, I want my writing to be in service of humanity. I want to use words to change the world. It sounds like a dream and well, I am prepared to dream and work to make it come true.

When writers and readers manage to touch another’s mind through reading, the intimate, sustained surrender that is felt, without fear or interference, this dance of an open mind, fosters a particular kind of peace that requires vigilance. Securing that peace, the peace of a dancing mind, is our work. ‘There isn’t anybody else’ said Ms Toni Morrison in her little book ‘The Dancing Mind.’ I totally agree. She may be gone, but her words, are my source of inspiration. I hope to use this blog to help you experience your own mind dancing with my own. Securing this peace, the peace of the dancing mind, is now my life’s work. Rest In Peace Ms. Morrison. The dance continues…

I imagine when we meet. When our hearts and minds connect our steps will move to the rhythm of the beat. Our minds may wander. Your beauty is like thunder. The sound of cars beeping will bring us back to the reason for our meeting. If I must confess, you make me dream. You make me soar to high points through words that allow me to dream. Clouds maybe grey. Sunrise distant. But your brilliance, your ability to outshine grey clouds, is the reason life doesn’t frighten me at all. The reason I want to keep dancing with you. For these are unpredictable times and only our furious dancing will do.

Isioma,

You come gliding through this Saint Louis blues, on a cold Sunday morning, frigid and clear.

You come walking through icy paths patiently gliding through forests deep as your walk fearlessly to the unknown.

You come tested by fire like gold and silver and all precious jewel formed by fire.

You come leaning not on your own understanding but listening to the voice in the desert.

You come on the shoulders of ancestors, unbroken, unknown, but impossible to ignore.

You come with birds flying from as far as Onicha, with tidings that will frame you, guide you as you follow the bird within.

You come with the gallop of horses, the jolt of chariots, with power, fierce and restless.

You come with words like wisdom, deep and like oceans and fresh like flowing streams.

You come not on your own, but with divine favor as pleasing as rain.

You come with grace as numberless as grains of sand, as fruitful as fields of grapes.

You come with these words in writing. Time is coming quickly and what you will be will come true.

You come knowing too that it may seem slow on coming. Yet you will wait for it, as it will certainly take place and not be delayed.

You come filled with awe and full of praise for what he will do.

Finally you come, despite everything, you come with the brightness of lighting, with a gleam strong enough to make the sun and moon stand still.

I saw this art by Tomi Anttila and I was moved to write the piece above. In 2022, I intend to keep coming back to light despite everything dark/cold around.