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.’
Today marks day 60 into my writing journey. This past month was difficult and draining and the last thing on my mind was writing. The idea of not writing was equally devastating. So I tried my best to write. I knew I had a story to tell, another keep worth fighting for, worth writing about, albeit one sentence at a time. Homeschooling was finally getting to me and so was work. There were far more deadlines, far more appointments, far more meetings to attend, all of it tiring. But I knew I had to write about these experiences. Like focusing on the people that matter as I journey through this thing called life. It for them that my writing makes the most sense. My children’s clothes with subtle messages such as radiating kindness or keep being tiny but might, continue to be daily inspiration to me.
Then there was the End SAR movement in Nigeria. Nigerian youth reminded us all why leadership matters. It matters for ending police brutality. It matters for ending corruption. It matters for addressing the trouble with Nigeria which continues till this day. I knew I had to write because I didn’t like what was going on and someone had to put it in words.
But just when I felt like losing hope, I was reminded by my children to always focus on the bright side. Like when my son was kicked out of school at age 2, couldn’t speak even at age 3, but wants to be an astronaut and knows all the planets and their possibilities at age 6. The bright side was better. It helped me write. So I wrote about claiming one’s space in life, spreading love with meal trains, rethinking the possibilities of motherhood, celebrating the audacity of being black and female and why winning for our children matters. The bright side was excellent to me.
My everyday keep, with subjects so dear to me, stories that allow me to be vulnerable, or stories often not described or taken seriously, are the reasons why I write. No one writes about the daily struggles or joys of working mothers. I can’t even think of a book or a magazine dedicated to our lives, our views. Despite this past month being very difficult and draining, I knew I had to write. I wrote so that I can read my own experiences, reflect on it, recharge where I must or release what must go, from my mind, into words, everyday, until everything is clear to me. Reading about these experiences is excellent to me. Though the struggle with writing remains, I approach the next 30 day with confidence, for the bright side, is now always on my mind.
One of the best things about homeschooling for my 3rd grader is her journaling assignments. Every morning, prior to the start of her school work, her teacher provides a prompt and asks the students to reflect on the prompt. For the past several months since school started, my little girl has been writing her heart out. It is the most beautiful thing to watch. One of the prompts at the beginning of the school year focused on what she would like to learn through the year. My daughter, (bless her heart), said she would like to learn how to be a doctor. Not just any doctor, but a pediatrician. She felt that in 3rd grade, she should be exposed to medical science that would allow her to practice medicine. I was in awe.
Warren Berger’s book A more beautiful question, helps me understand the power of journaling among children. Berger emphasizes the power of inquiry even for children as young as my daughter. He suggested that questions, especially when posed to children, can be used to gain information, foster a desire to know more while enhancing an awareness of what they don’t know. One good journaling question posed to a 3rd grader can give rise to several layers of answers, inspire decades-long searches for solutions, prompt changes in entrenched thinking and ultimate generate new fields of inquiry.
Reading my daughters journals this school year have been gratifying. The floodgates of her imagination seem to open up every time she journals. Watching her unlock her potential every time she writes has also been quite stunning. Whether it’s her thoughts on ways to be a good friend or why she would rather live in a tree-house instead of an Igloo or a sandcastle, I see firsthand how crucial it is to ensure that children write. Her curiosity and creativity with every journal entry helps to maintain her propensity to inquire and learn in profound ways even now as a 3rd grader. She would live in a treehouse by they way, as it would have a fun slide and allow her to see or have a good view of everything. That by they way is why writing as a child matters. It fosters inquiry. Keep encouraging it.
I love Toni Morrison. One of my greatest regrets for my life is that we never met. We never had a face to face chat about her brilliant, most sterling mind. We die, that may be the meaning of life, she once eloquently said, but we do language, that may be the measure of our lives, is probably the most poignant thing I have read. It is also my life’s quote. No one personifies this quote better than Ms. Morrison and boy did she do language during her life on earth.
For the past year since her death, I have been devouring any and everything Ms. Morrison has every written. Not her fictional literature that many of us love, whether it’s Beloved or Sula or the first book of hers I ever read, The Bluest eyes. No, her fiction was sterling, awe inspiring and downright brilliant. No, I haven’t been reading her fictional books. I have instead been reading everything non- fictional that this brilliant woman ever wrote. She wrote so many and my go to bible now, her last, ‘The source of self-regard’ is quite simply divine.
But the latest in my possession, a very short acceptance speech she delivered in 1996, on the acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, is by far one of the most brilliant essays I have ever read. This particular essay is a masterclass on brevity as well as the passion, pleasures, difficulties and necessities of the reading/writing life. It is the inspiration for this blog.
In the essay, Ms Morrison speaks about peace, not just peace as a result of war, but the peace that comes with engaging with other’s mind when reading/writing. She described this as the dancing of the mind and asked all of us to become vigilant about preserving this peace from the peril it faces.
‘The real life work of creating and producing and distributing knowledge…the ability for the entitled as well as the dispossessed to experience one’s own mind dancing with another, in essence the real life work of the book world is a serious feat that warrants vigilance.’
When writing and writers 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 Morrison and 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…
There is a childlike innocence I wish as an adult I still possess. It’s in the way they see the world. It’s how the feel the world with clarity and ease. It’s in the simple ideas they have, not abstract, just simple, like abc. It is freedom, this childlike lens, just as free as flying birds in the sky. It is a freedom that I wish I still had.
Yesterday my daughter gave me a copy of the storybook she wrote. She started writing it on Friday and showed me a copy of it then, although not completed. I asked why was she writing a book, she said, because I write all the time. She felt if her mother was writing, so could she. I smiled and walked away. Her freedom with writing was divine.
What she didn’t know was that lately her mother has been struggling to write freely. I have always said to myself that if I didn’t go the route of academia, I would write as freely as I could, with words beautifully put together in a deeply satisfying and profound way. Granted, I have written plenty abstract like publications necessary for my academic journey, but I miss the other style of writing not confined to the pressures of academia. The style free from abstract thoughts, abstract objectives, abstract methods, with abstract results and conclusion. The style, clean and clear with concrete ideas and images that evoke emotions. The style, simple and profound, like proverbs that nourish the soul. The style full of vivid stories like in Antoine de Exupery’s Little Prince or Chinua Achebe’s Chike and the River. The style my daughter had freely.
This style of writing is something I have longed to do for awhile now. It’s the fundamental reason for this blog. I have started the journey to that style of writing in the past but stopped numerous times. So when my daughter shared her completed story yesterday, I was in awe and amazed of what she was able to do in 24 hours. My daughter produced a short and completed story in the style of writing free from abstract thoughts. There was indeed freedom to her writing. A freedom she knew she had. A freedom that allowed her to start and complete her story the way she wanted to. A freedom that she claimed, she owned, all to tell a story with clarity and ease. I have lost that freedom. But we should all keep writing like a child.
The reason why I started and stopped that style of writing is because the freedom to do seems so distant. It’s the reason why I still can’t call myself an author despite all the ideas in my head. My impediment, abstract thinking, abstract writing, with all its demands gets in the way all the time. My hope, the freedom I saw with my daughter’s writing was satisfying and sterling. She was not afraid of being judged or perfect. She was not focused on society’s standard of what writing should entail. She wrote freely. She knew her story. She claimed and owned her story and wrote it as clear as she could. Even naming me her publisher. I am inspired by my daughter’s writing. It’s the freedom that I need these days. It’s the freedom that will set me free on this journey to become an author.