English teacher/poet got her start at VMT


The Magnet Tribune: Courtesy photo

Cynthia Dougherty-Bernal, an English teacher at Nixon High School, got her start as a poet at VMT.

Kevin Garcia, Staff Writer

Her journey as a writer started at The Magnet Tribune. She is now an English teacher and a published poet.

Cynthia Dougherty-Bernal has published three books of poetry so far in her career as a poet.

She discussed how she started out to become a poetic writer and about her journey to become an inspiration to others.

Dougherty-Bernal, who now teaches English at Nixon High, explained how she describes herself as a writer.

“As a writer, I feel that I’m anti-romantic. I’m more based as a realist and I feel that I try at least to touch upon darker or emotional topics involved in daily living. Once it’s focused, it’s dealing with transiting from being identified as a girl, versus a woman, versus a mother and trying to not get locked into that. A lot of my writing centers around what I like to call, ‘The Divine Goddess’ and how god can be good and bad. I embrace the full spectrum of that,” Dougherty-Bernal said.

She described the genre her own poetry would fall into.

“I know that being called a feminist is a loaded word but I do connect with the feminist ideology. I can’t pretend that I’m an expert in it. I also describe my poetry as dark, partially because my influences are Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath. It’s kind of an inner mingle quite a bit so feminist and liberal,” she explained.

Dougherty-Bernal stated how she developed the passion to become a poetic writer.

“When you’re shy, when you’re quiet, when you’re scared of your own shadow, your only voice is what you can write down on paper because sometimes you’re too scared to say it out loud. At least that’s where I started. Nobody really believes it now when they meet me but I was above and beyond shy and my surroundings, my soul, was found in books. One of the first books given to me by my elementary librarian Mrs. Diaz was a poetry book. You wouldn’t think to give a second grader a poetry book but she did and I feel like that’s the biggest turning point for me. I really was connected to it and I just started to read everything in poetry that I could get my hands on,” Dougherty-Bernal said.

When you’re shy, when you’re quiet, when you’re scared of your own shadow, your only voice is what you can write down on paper because sometimes you’re too scared to say it out loud.”

— Cynthia Dougherty-Bernal

She explained how librarian Diaz inspired her.

“She was the first in a line of people who inspired me and she just had such confidence in me. Like, I feel, how can you possibly give a second grader a poetry book and feel like you connected to it, and she would give me books like that. She would give me an illustrated copy of ‘Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Later on, when I wanted to read longer and bigger things like chapter books, things like that, she gave me ‘Scary Stories to tell in the Dark,’” she said.

Dougherty-Bernal described the inspiration for her writing.

“Living, daily life, conversation. I’ve been told I’m rather sympathetic or empathetic. I try my best not to but I tend to absorb what people share with me. I have really close friends that have told me I have that face that allows people to talk to me. A lot of people and others might categorize it as oversharing,” she explained.

“A lot of people share with me and the way I process it, the way I try to get it out of me so I don’t internalize so much as I’ll basically put it all out on paper, whether it’s something they have gone through. I take what they express or it’s something I went through and there’s no other way for me to express it. So then I need to get it out so I won’t have to carry it with me all day long. I’ve written about being judged, on my miscarriage and depression. I’ve written on so many topics and I don’t beautify them. I just think it is what it is,” Dougherty-Bernal said.

She explained some of the challenges she faced when starting out as a writer.

“Being taken too seriously. I was very hesitant to share what I wrote after a few bad experiences where I kind of felt dismissed or brushed aside but that changed when I went to VMT,” she said.

During her time in VMT journalism classes, she had help from her friend Daniela and from the instructor.

“Mr. (Mark) Webber is a unique personality and I didn’t think he noticed me. I was one of many (students) but he did. He was one of the ones who helped me put together (a poetry collection) and allowed me to use the resources there in the classroom, both him and my friend Daniela. They helped look over my materials and when I was there I put my whole collection together there in Mr. Webber’s class,” Dougherty-Bernal said.

She said her poetry collection came in handy when interviewing for a scholarship.

“Nobody really tells you why or how you get a scholarship, but when I went to get it at the end of my senior year I had my collection in my hand printed, folded, a self-designed cover, everything made by myself with feedback from Mr. Webber and my friend Daniela,” she said. “I remember walking in for my interview for that scholarship and I had three copies in my hand. I gave one to each of the adults who were there.

“So two or more years down the line, we were invited to (then-TAMIU president) Dr. (Ray) Keck’s home with the honor kids. We were looking around his house and he had a library in his home. He pulled me aside; he went to this shelf in his library and took out one of my copies of my collection and I was like ‘yay, validation,’ but this all started because I felt like VMT gave me my voice, it gave me a bit more confidence in myself,” Dougherty-Bernal added.

I’ve written on so many topics and I don’t beautify it. I just think it is what it is.”

— Cynthia Dougherty-Bernal

She explained how writing will never become obsolete, and how it is now enhanced by technology.

“I feel like it was becoming obsolete. Now you get a little spark of interest. I think that it won’t die because technology has a hand in it where you have all these people who can express themselves by blogs, vlogs, and even YouTube channels, even on social media like Instagram, Facebook, etc.,” she said.

She said aspiring writers and other artists should not let others get in their way.

“I would say that for any and all aspiring writers or any talent, don’t let others’ judgment stop you,” Dougherty-Bernal said. “Don’t let others’ ‘good advice’ restrict you. It could be coming from a good place and a good heart, but it’s not easy to pursue a passion. Nothing in life is easy that is worth doing. I feel like if you feel this that shows a way into your inner depths, your soul, then express it. If it’s singing, dancing, I don’t know, competitive jumping, whatever it may be, if it connects to you from the inside then nobody should dictate to you who you are.”