The Origin of My Discontent…and How I’m Saying Goodbye

I’ve been grappling to name a state that I’ve been in for some time.

I finally realized very recently that the state I’m experiencing is appropriately categorized as discontent. 

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discontent

Most days my discontent is centered in the second of the two Merriam Webster definitions above – i.e., I feel a deep sense of “restless aspiration for improvement.”

This restless yearning that I feel for improvement is not just about personal improvement – although I’ll always strive for improving myself. I need – desperately long for – collective and structural improvement for the communities and spaces in which I am imbedded. And as a person who aspires to reciprocity and generosity, I want that same improvement for communities and spaces at large – whether I reside therein or not.

I think I struggled to name my state of discontent because in some ways it’s been a state of productive discontent, whereas generally discontent is disruptive for me.

I’ve been experiencing productive discontent in that – perhaps largely unknowingly – I’ve spent a lot of time in self-reflection to get out of this state because I’m unsettled, unmoored, maybe even agitated.

There is a lot to be agitated about in the world at large, as well as in my professional world of higher education. There are so many tragedies and deaths of Black women in higher education to name – recently Dr. JoAnne A. Epps, Dr. Orinthia T. Montague, Dr. Claudine Gay, Dr. Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, and many more deserving of being named and remembered (For recent commentaries see – Asare, Branch, George; Mitchell, Njoku and Marshall, et al.). And yet, agitation or discontent without appropriate understanding of its origin or cause, as well as its productive purpose or means of dissipation, is problematic for me.

So how am I coming to understand the origin of my discontent and how am/will I dissipate it? Through deep and intentional self-reflection and intentional action.

Self-reflection is often a productive state for me because I grapple with needing to understand, name, and settle in on my feelings, my motivations, my actions. Frequently, I process and understand myself and the world through writing. So, I’ve written profusely in this period – perhaps hoping to write myself out of discontentment. Again, I am centering getting out of the state of discontent understood as “restless aspiration for improvement” and moving away from aspiration and towards a means of intentionally and actively calling into being and contributing to the desired improvement. 

While I haven’t fully achieved that, I have written myself into the knowledge and naming of my state and have also written myself into naming and laying out a path towards reclamation of a state NOT centered in discontent.

I’ve been laser-focused during this period of self-reflection because I’m a steady person. One of the people who knows me best describes me as “solid, settled, spirited.” Sometimes the spirited portion seems at odds with the solid and settled to others – but not at all to me.

So, I’m deeply reorienting myself, my direction, and path to reestablish my steady state of solid, settled, and spirited. This necessarily means unseating myself from some spaces and places, as well as leaving some paths to follow the one that returns me to my settled self. 

The current reseating and redirecting of paths are leading me where I need to be even as my shifts and moves will perhaps have less than desired reverberations on those with whom I was seated and with whom I was traversing a common path. 

Yet, as always, I’ve given myself the freedom to treasure and say farewell to the time and space that led to growth, even as discontent is signaling that “a change is coming.”

I am genuinely excited about the present and coming change…I am authentically motivated to reestablish my preferred state of “solid, settled, spirited.”

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, you can find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

Welcome back, Beronda

I’ve resumed traveling in fits and starts…but am consistently masked and following what I hope are strict safety protocols as the pandemic continues on.

In March, I returned to the last site outside of the U.S. that I had visited before the pandemic grounded me two years earlier.

I visited Puerto Rico to do some mentoring interventions, the same work that took me there in March 2020. Two years earlier I sat in the liminal space of trying to figure out how to live on the planet without the physical presence of my Dad who had passed away in October of 2019.

In March of 2020, I sat in San Juan staring at palm trees and the ocean trying to redefine what it meant to a “dad’s girl” without him.

Balcony overlooking area with palm trees and clouds at dusk overhead. Location: San Juan, PR. (March 2022, Photo credit: Beronda L. Montgomery)

The pandemic ultimately forced me to traverse this space of redefinition sitting in physical isolation with myself while staying safe at home throughout many months of the early pandemic. Fortunately, I had virtual connections with friends and family, as well as an expanded set of personal interactions due to the final editing and launch of Lessons from Plants (Harvard University Press, 2021).

Out of an abundance of caution, I was slow to resume travels and in-person engagements, but ultimately vaxxed and boosted I slowly began to emerge and reengage.

I wrote throughout the period of isolation. I first used this blogging space to reflect on “meaning” of work in a pandemic, the role of leadership and trust in uncertain times, to process changes in my writing in isolation, and more. I also publicly grappled with national issues such as racism and elections through writing here.

As I braved coming out of isolation, I continued to write frequently although not in blog posts. As the pandemic raged on and my first book came out, I spent less time here writing based on my personal reflections and to engage shared community. I instead wrote many short pieces for magazines and public venues inspired by Lessons from Plants. I wrote on lessons from trees on seasonal adaptations and healing. I explored lessons from plants on community and mentoring.

I returned to the blog from time to time to share insights on big events, including a pending career transition.

Being back in Puerto Rico in March of 2022, I was again in a liminal space of emerging from the pandemic—or so I thought. I sat again contemplating how to be on the planet differently. Because though there was a rush to get “back to normal” among many, I knew I had to emerge from the pandemic understanding how to be together again differently.

As I began to reengage more fully in the “in-person” world, I would experience individuals citing work of mine and reflecting back to me words that they had engaged in this blog space—working “from affirmation“, stopping in moments to “process and proceed“, and “the limits of institutional imagination.”

During the Q&A after a recent talk, an assistant professor in their first few years on the tenure-track came to the microphone. While anticipating a question, I was instead given a most gracious thank you for the writing that I have shared through blog posts. They shared that specific posts had been critical to their persistence and advancement. That the writing I share here had been—and is—needed for them. I was nearly speechless—a rare occurrence indeed!

I thanked them for sharing and acknowledged the and is needed. I indicated that I received this as invitation to return to this space. I know the invitation is first for me, because most all of the writing I’ve done here starts as an answer to my own need for self-reflection and growth. I then lean into the concept of public sharing as rec0gnizing “knowledge as communal” which stems from my own upbringing and familial beliefs.

So, here I am to say—Welcome back, Beronda.

While, I’m not sure what fully lies ahead for my writing in this space, I’ve accepted the invitation back (thanks again to the brave soul who shared the importance of the space to them and their work). I am now eagerly looking to the horizon for new insights, new reflections, new inspirations…for me, and hopefully for those still here with me.

Oceanside looking towards the horizon with waves crashing on large rocks in the forefront. Location: San Juan, PR.
(March 2022, Photo credit: Beronda L. Montgomery)

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, you can find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

End note: I wrote and edited this post for sharing prior to the deeply tragic shooting of elementary students in Uvalde, TX. Before what was indeed a tragic week of shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY and a church in Laguna Woods, CA before Uvalde. I have few words of consequence to share in this heavy moment. I debated whether I should even still share this post. The content of the post does not reflect my current conflicted state but is here for you now, if helpful, or in the future when you are ready to engage.

Is there power in “truths laid bare”?

I started blogging here on January 6, 2019.

I planned to post on January 6, 2021 to celebrate two years of thinking aloud in this space.

I planned to speak of the posts turned into commentaries, the posts that paved the way to articles, or those that reverberate in the pages of my forthcoming Lessons from Plants book.

I planned to thank those who have interacted with me on topics raised here for contributing to my ponderings, reflections, the written offerings I’ve attempted to produce therefrom.

Then it was the January 6, 2021.

I like so many others of you watched as white supremacists attempted to (continue to) impose their will at all costs. Many here in America and abroad responded by saying this is not America. Others who know the truth of American history, said and know otherwise.

Many—here in America and around the globe—said that our truths were being laid bare and that now we would deal with these truths. They said we “have to” do so.

Many voiced a similar sentiment about the racial “reckoning” that (purportedly) emerged in the wake of the highly visible murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Some of these same people spoke the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other before and since. Some of us watched this “reckoning” with hopes that it would really live up to the definition rather than being a simple “recognition” that we’ve seen in past instances.

Throughout 2020, we collectively spoke about the truths laid bare concerning the intersection of systemic racism in America and public health as we watched COVID-19 ravage our nation as a whole; yet, having a significantly greater impact on Indigenous, Black and Latine communities across the nation.

I’ve thought a lot about the power of truths laid bare—more so that ever in the past year or more.

Common lore would have us believe that there is SIGNIFICANT power in truths laid bare.

I’m not so certain this alone is true.

Truths laid bare must be accompanied by accountability and consequences for their transgression, and there must be real action to deal with the truths and their impacts once they are laid bare.

In the absence of a real and expeditious trajectory for addressing the truths that have been exposed through tangible and material ways, the baring of truths alone can lead to repeated trauma, eroded trust, depletion of hope.

Truths laid bare in the absence of action and reconciliation are equivalent to continuing to open and close a wound without providing adequate cleansing and treatment after opening and before re-closing.

The thing that I am grappling with—successfully some days and woefully unsuccessfully on others—is where the “cleansing and treatment” are for the multiple wounds that have been opened in the wake of COVID-19, our most recent national encounter with racial “reckoning”, and other gaping wounds that sit unattended or worse yet closed from view and allowed to continue to fester.

Public or solidarity statements are not cleansing nor treatment.

Committees that produce conversation and policies on paper in the absence of real commitment of resources and REAL action are not cleansing nor treatment.

Hiring leaders who espouse commitments to cleansing and treatment, yet have limited evidence of lived commitments to cleansing and treatment are not the answer. Without a commitment to move beyond espoused to a firm-footed existence in lived commitments, we’ll only persist in a different version of inequality and mistruths.

Truths laid bare hold little to no power in isolation.

Truths laid bare must be powerfully coupled to bold values-driven leadership, collective commitment, real accountability, and so much more to hold power.

We need truths laid bare, yet to avoid repetitive trauma to those whose harm, mis-valuing, and proverbial and literal deaths are exposed in the telling of truths, we have to get beyond congratulating ourselves on telling truths and get to work on dealing with—and ultimately cleansing and healing—what’s been exposed by the truths told.

The latter is where the power of “truths laid bare” resides.

If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.