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.

From the very beginning, you have watched me. You have seen too, how long I have cried in confusion. How long will I cry for help? Tell me, tell me why, fishes fare better than me, swarm of insects too.

You neither raise your hand nor turn us away, you neither ride horses from a distance nor swoop down like eagles attacking their prey. You say nothing too, when our heart is broken into pieces as numerous as grains of sand.

Still, I will wait to see what you will do. Still and knowing what is known, I will write down clearly, all the vision cupped in my heart, write them down so that when they burst through, when they burst out like waters from a mother, waters from me, I will know your grace and time.

For I know this vision still has its time. I know it presses on to fulfillment. I know too that it will not disappoint. I know that if it delays, I will wait for it. I will wait, knowing it will surely come, it will not be late, this vision I still have for a life beyond broken spirits.

Image from Lucille Clifton’s EA series.

It’s impossible not to have your spirit broken once or twice or more as a mother with children under 10. My spirit was broken today. In the middle of listening to the word of God. I knew the day would be chaotic. Didn’t know it would end in chaos. My baby started with crying. Just as we got to the entrance of church. He wanted a toy torch and we have a rule, no toys in church. So I left it in the car and he started to cry. Tears streamed down his eyes and nothing could console him. So I let him cry, held him close until he calmed himself down. We were in front of church through this and the service had begun. Kids were ushered to Sunday School and I proceeded to let the word of God flow in. First reading was from Habakkuk, one of my favorite verses in the whole of the Bible. The inspiration for todays musing. I asked how long, how much should I have to wait until this thing called motherhood makes sense. He said write your vision for it, wait for it and in due time, all you hope for it will come to pass.

I did and well my spirit was broken before I could seal the vision in my soul. My middle son came out of Sunday school crying. He ripped his paper and didn’t get another one. A kind lady in church saw he was in dire need of a brain break and brought over some stress balls. I rarely carry them around as we never really need them and well this time I made a mental note to always have some around. She only had 2 and I have three boys who have a hard time with this thing called sharing. I pleaded with son number 2, pleaded with him to share with baby, he did, until he ran out of patience. Then he started to cry, insisting that we go get ice cream after church of which I said no and never by the way.

It turned into the worst thing ever as he began to wail and scream to no avail. The music in church helped to drown his tears, but not enough for all of church to feel sorry for me. I was tired and helpless, dealing with son number one struggling with sensory issues and baby clinging to me and here comes son number 2 crying because he wouldn’t get any icecream after church. So I let him cry, let him have the last word until we got to the car. I let my spirit go and made it crystal clear that I refuse to ever use my own money to buy him ice-cream. Ooh that I know my roots. I know where I am coming from and from this day, if he will ever pull that stunt ever in church or anywhere else, then he will let the world know too the roots that formed me.

Needless to say my spirit was broken today and I feel like a mother running out gas, running of being nice and kind too. In the end, they will always come first, always be loved and adored, but I know my roots. We did not hail all the way from Onicha Ugbo to raise children who have no idea where they are going to. I concluded by reminding him of his name. Olisa. It means God and he did not bring us this far, just for us to stain his name. My vision for motherhood is still clear and I will still wait for the opportune time, but until then keep mothers in mind, especially on days when our spirits are broken.

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.