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.

On this 120th day of writing, I am in awe of how I continue to write day by day. The details, the feelings, the mood that seem to flood in my mind and into words one day at a time, is humbling. Is this how those who call themselves writers begin? I really want to know. I am sort of now rooted in this, rooted in the experience of writing things down, no matter how small and even when tired. The most extraordinary thing about this experience is the cohesiveness with the themes. It’s all connected. Whether the need to focus on joy, choosing, keeping it, no matter what, or the idea of simplicity, it’s magnificence, when you keep it in mind. Then there are the daily struggles, something common among most people, most women in particular.

Keeping the up and down of motherhood and work.

Just yesterday I read that of the 140,000 jobs lost in the US, almost all of them were held by women. Let that sink in for a moment. 140,000 women in the US, lost their jobs during a holiday season and in the middle of a pandemic.

Women, all of us have been on a daily assault for as long as I can remember, the past year being especially difficult. If it’s not the low wages, it the unfair laws for example with maternity leave. Imagine having no sleep at night but somehow retuning to work and folks expecting you to work in full capacity mode. And you do. With little sleep and a baby barely few months old, you return. You remain hopeful and find ways to make progress, oftentimes out of nothing. We find ways to make even our struggles seem beautiful, eloquent. The sheer strength of women, in the middle of so many impediments is simply amazing to me.

Like with my writing. The past 150 days have been amazing to me, truly life-giving. This idea of capturing one’s thought however one chooses on one’s own terms, with no limits. It’s liberating to me. The limits I placed on myself seem to dissipate everyday with each keep. I am wide open to live and write as I want in a space I have carved for myself (and my children) with the goal to showcase the true meaning of ‘and.’ The dual roles that make us who we are. Our authentic selves if we truly look inward. This is how I choose to live. One keep at a time, whether hopeful or full of impediments, whether joyful or full of struggles. It’s all mine and they matter and I intend to do all in my power to keep it. So for anyone reading this, here is what I have learnt from the past 120 days. Find that one space, that activity that you engage in wholly for yourself and keep it. Keep it for you. You. And when your 120th day arrives, may you take the time to celebrate doing what matters to you, celebrate how you kept it. Keep celebrating you, especially you, women. Keep what matters to you also, keep it for you, no matter how small.

One of my favorite pictures from homeschooling last year is of my daughter and her brother walking together. My daughter, the artist, describes it as walking their own way, like when we go for walks along Forest Park. I especially love the picture because I see myself in my children, walking my own path, even on this daily blog on parenting and academic productivity. It isn’t ‘or’ for me, but ‘and’. My productivity in academia is very much tied to my role as a mother. And following my path with asking and listening to good questions, make the connection sterling.

My daughter and her brother, walking on their own path.

In the past 15 years I have known my mentor Dr Collins Airhihenbuwa, he has always shared the importance of not only asking good questions but actually questioning the questions asked. To him, we all need to learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable especially when asking tough questions. I started grant writing and studying the sustainability of evidence based research, because, like a true mentee, I wanted to become comfortable asking uncomfortable good questions. Like, why, after decades of spending millions on research in resource limited settings, after decades of collecting data, even decades of collaboration with key stakeholders, do most evidence-based interventions, particularly does deemed effective never, ever last? We the researchers collect our data, publish our findings in the most prestigious journals, present our findings in top conferences, maybe even return to present it to key stakeholders and then we move on to the next problem, the next grant even, maybe on the same topic, but with another group of unsuspecting community eager for our expertise without understanding the cost.

Personally, and if there is anything that I have learnt from the pandemic, the time has come for such research to end. Of course we may never be able to solve every problem, of course we may not have the courage to ask the uncomfortable but good questions necessary, of course when we even ask them, we may fail, but I am committed to following my own path to ask them anyway. I am interested in implementing sustainable evidence based research because they are rare, because the communities I work with deserve them, the participants themselves desperately need them and because it is time we actually plan from the beginning for them. Planing for sustainable research is necessary if lasting is going to be more than just technical, more than another data collection exercise. Do I have the answer on how to implement them? The truth is, that is the beauty of following your path. When you look at the possibilities or even the opportunities we have squandered when we don’t think about sustainability, when we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of those we serve, then it should not come as a surprise why we are still in the middle of this pandemic.

I understand the work ahead. I am prepared to try and even fail on this journey. And it’s my path. Every researcher, every research, every good question asked in the service of people, especially in settings constrained with resources, should have an obligation to last. And when you know that she who ask these questions, however difficult or even different they maybe, however uncomfortable they may be perceived, never misses their way, then why not ask them. Keep following your path.

How many ways can one write about joy? I would like to know. With each passing day, joy for me, is becoming a true devotion, my heart’s desire. To seek and find joy in things that matter to me. My heart is content. Like with my little boy. Every attempt he makes with crawling is joyful. To be able to see the start from the beginning, of one’s walking journey is a joyful thing to behold. Many of us take it for granted, our ability to walk as we like. But not babies. It’s a purposeful driven mission for them. The ability to crawl, walk. Mission becomes more critical when other little people around them, like his siblings are walking, running all around him. So the past couple of days, watching him have been joyful. Every move, every stretch, one hand after the other, one push after another, all on his own is a thing of joy. To see him accomplish the feat makes my heart joyful. We still have a long way to go with crawling. We are nowhere near walking yet too. But one thing I know for sure, is that this experience with him, is joyful. So how many ways can one write about joy? So long as I keep finding it, then I’ll simply keep writing about joy, even if it’s with a baby crawling, one baby step at a time.

Baby learning to crawl.

In my professional bio, I call myself a grant writer. But I have failed with grant writing over 30 times. Not exactly the track record for a successful grant writer some might say. In fact, my success ratio is still very low, at 25%. Still, I call myself a grant writer. Of course every grant writer wants to be successful all the time. I am so impressed with those that have that touch. I call it the Midas touch, where every grant they write is successful. In fact, just muttering their name on a grant leads to a successful grant. That’s not me. Far from it even. I’m sure all grant reviewers when they see my application, are saying to themselves, not again, when will she learn or stop writing. They are in for a rude awakening. I will not stop. Not when perseverance is quite literally my middle name. So why? Why write grants even though you are most likely to fail at it and woefully if I might add, given the current funding cycle. For me, questions. I write grants because I am passionate and committed to questioning. Far from being a grant writer, I am a professional questioner or what Warren Berger would describe as a questionologist.

Why write grants?

I was indeed that preschool child that wondered why the sky was blue. I was also that middle grade child that read mills and boon romance novels and wondered whether love is truly as it seems. I was the high school child that moved to America in my teen years and wondered how do they make Lays potato chips. I never had them growing up so eating them for the first time in my teen years was fascinating. In college, as an undergraduate student, I wondered what it would be like to create my own unique Bachelors degree, in research, or basically conducting research and thanks to Penn State, though the degree is in Human Development and Family Studies, I was an undergraduate researcher. I spent most of my junior and senior year not in typical classrooms, but as a data collector for researchers for example focused on how children interact at an early age or developmental changes among college students as well as research for myself on the right to health for all women as a Ronald McNair scholar.

By the time I got to my doctoral studies, the idea of asking questions went on overdrive. I say publicly that I have failed 30times with grant writing. These failures are with grants I wrote while working as a faculty member. But as a doctoral student, failure was my middle name. Every single grant I wrote to fund my doctoral degree, failed with the exception of one, my NIH predoctoral award to explore child malaria practices in Southwest Nigeria. It failed the first time too. But the experience of revising and resubmitting that grant would change the course of my life quite literally. In fact, it helped me go from a mediocre questioner, to a very structured questioner. It also informed my dissertation and set the stage for my career as a grant writer. Yet, I still fail terribly with grant writing.

I have now come to realize that what I was doing, what I have been doing isn’t only about writing grants, hence my failures. I am still prepared to fail. Every grant writer is. However and thanks to homeschooling, I realized and through the lens of my children, that grantwriting for me, are my attempts with questioning. The reason I love writing grants is because I love asking questions. Grant writing for me is very much about asking questions, pressing global health questions that need innovative and sustainable solutions, more beautiful questions, one failed or successful grant at a time. I realize now that I may not be asking my questions correctly or in ways that make sense to reviewers, hence all my failures. But still, almost like a habit, I wake up the next day in search of the next question. You didn’t like that question. Fine, here is another one, and the questioning goes on and on and on, like a child who asks questions too, over and over again.

I am like a child with grant writing, with a zeal for more beautiful questions to pressing global health issues. Questions are all I know. Questions inform my daily living and interaction with my children. Every grant, even the ones I fail, are my attempt to extend my knowledge. Grant writing provides a structured approach to questioning, discoveries, ideas, with prior questions leading to the next questions, new questions emerging with each failed attempt as inquiry proceeds. Old questions are also reinterpreted in many cases. Everyone loves when old failed questions finally make sense and I have had success there. Still, every grant is my attempt at dialogue with reviewers with questions that move progressively towards deeper levels of explanation of how we can implement sustainable health interventions. Even the ability to interact cooperatively with other colleagues, to ask more beautiful questions are all connected to my agenda with sustainability, one grant at a time. In the end, but from the beginning, it has always been about questions for me. Even this act of thinking about why I write grants, even when I fail, is tied to a question that begins with ‘why.’ Keep knowing your why.

For this past thanksgiving, though a quiet one, we kept happiness in mind. Like the shirt my second son wore, we all choose happiness. With so much going on in the world, so much to be thankful for, happiness is a necessity. The promise of happiness seems more urgent to me these days.

On the evolution of happiness, David Buss in a 2000 article for American Psychologist, once shared that ‘happiness is a common goal many people strive for, yet it is frustratingly out of reach.’ I agree. To improve on happiness, he shared that we should do certain things like increase our closeness with our family members especially those close by and those far away. If there is one thing I have learnt during this pandemic, my family is my happy space. I choose them everyday. Every joy, every peace, every heartfelt desire I possess, even every word spoken or unspoken, every moment, big or small, every significant thing that made me happy, begins with my family in mind and for them, happiness is a keep worth fighting for.

As if that’s not enough, David Buss, mentioned the need to form deep friendships, especially with those who are deeply engaged in your welfare. My dear friends know themselves. They give me joy every time we speak and I am better person because they choose to go on this journey through life with me. I spoke to one of them this past weekend. After catching up on everything, she shared that she had surgery just last month. I was aghast at first because I didn’t know. She didn’t tell me and I could have swore we spoke recently. When I asked what was the surgery for. She said I shouldn’t judge her, then she started to laugh. She noted that she finally got the liposuction she wanted and a butt implant. I couldn’t help but laugh as well. In the middle of a pandemic, I asked. She noted it was what she wanted and she is so happy now to have done it. I couldn’t help but be happy for her as well. It may seem trivial, but life is to short to not choose what makes you happy even if it’s an implant. She choose her own happiness and I support it 100%. Deep friendships are a necessary condition for happiness. Choose friends that make you laugh. Their happiness and yours is a necessity.

So also and according to David Buss, is reducing any distress you maybe experiencing, managing any competitive mechanisms you encounter and best of all, fulfilling whatever your heart desires. Fulfilling desires brings deep joy. And desires could be anything from attaining a health lifestyle especially with eating fresh fruits or helping your children master homeschooling in the middle of a pandemic or helping your friends and families or even feeling the confidence to succeed or fail with things that foster your growth. Success at satisfying whatever desires you may have brings deep happiness.

For me, seeing my baby finally poop after 3 days of no poop, is happiness to me. Listening to my 6 year old read a book with lots of word from the beginning to the end, is happiness to me. Watching my 3 year describe what he is thankful for especially ice-creams and lollipops, is happiness to me. Seeing my 8year old daughter blossom with everything she touches, and how she leads her brothers to be a better version of themselves, is happiness to me. Listening to my husband share a story of a 92 year old woman with stroke, who nearly 20hours after the stroke, came to his operating bed, and was still able to go home yesterday thanks to a successful removal of a blood clot in her brain and in the middle of a pandemic no less, is happiness to me. Every stroke averted and from his lens is pure happiness to me. For myself, making sense of writing, a long held desire, on a daily basis, one keep at a time, is happiness to me. Writing is happiness to me. Like my son’s shirt states, choose happiness. Happiness is all around you. However you define it, whatever way you prefer, choose to keep it in mind. It’s a keep worth spreading. Fill your lives with it.

Choose happiness!

We all know life is too short! It is! Here is another kicker, your tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. It isn’t. So choose to fight for what matters, even if it is risky. Today I had to fight for the right to keep 2 dear colleagues. I took a risk on them last year and it has paid massive dividends even in the middle of a pandemic. So for me, a global health researcher by day, risks is all I know. Risk is all I write about and risks are all I fight about. It is worth it for me. Keep taking risks, another short but apt post, perfect for these times.

I almost missed a day of writing. I was tired. Felt like I was running out of time and still time was standing still. Nothing in the end got done. 24 hours gone. Just like that. So this post is short. Intentionally too. As the year begins to come to an end, this keep is a reminder for me to stay still. Stay alert. A lot maybe going on but remember you matter. I matter. That’s all. I keep reminding myself to stay calm also because 2020 has been a year. Keep staying alert and focused on what really matters.

Nestled towards the end of the book ‘Tar Baby’ by Toni Morrison is a little story about soldier ants. It’s an unforgettable story too. Anyone who has read the book will recall the story with a smile. Not a half smile, but one that comes from the depth of ones soul. A soulful smile. It’s also a masterclass story on the significance of the ‘invisible ink.’ Morrison described the ‘invisible ink’ as ‘what lies under, between, outside the lines, hidden until the right reader discovers it.’ The right reader, she noted, is the one attuned to the ‘invisible ink.’ Motherhood for all its hopes, all its triumphs, even its seductive silence in some cases and its luring survival in other cases is like an ‘invisible ink.’

Like an ‘invisible ink,’ motherhood is not for everyone, not for those who admire what it means, but for those who become emotionally or intellectually involved in what it entails. Take this morning alone, not only did I have to take care of my 3 year old who woke up in the middle of the night three times, vomiting and choking in his sleep, my 4 month old baby was crying also wanting to be breastfed. I changed my son’s clothes, changed his sheets three times in the middle of the night, all tired and with sleepy eyes. After putting him to sleep, I took care of the crying baby until he fell asleep. Then I slept. For about an hour. My baby woke up crying, wanting to be breastfeed again. Motherhood completely invades your being like an invisible ink. Many love to share the beautiful, perfect stories of motherhood and there are plenty, many of them fit for movies. But the gaps, the deliberate gaps or stories we withhold, stories hidden, stories not told, like the early morning sessions with our children, are most divine. And when told by the right mothers, produces aspects of our lives that are living and worthy of praises.

Toni Morrison summons her readers well in invisible ink with writing that is destabilizing, reorienting, forcing her readers to write her books and not merely read the texts. I am on journey to do the same. Let me close with some words from a ‘keep’ I wrote last month to illustrate this. ‘My son cries. For no reason. He cries. He also laughs too. For no reason, he laughs.’