This is my garden.
I am the water,
and the soil,
the plant and the light.
I’m not saying I don’t like the love my students and I get online, I’m saying: that was never my intent. All I wanted to do was teach the babies, become a writer, and sell my vintage clothes. I didn’t ask for everything else.
I’ll admit, I cut the rope to my anchor when the wind of fame hit my sails. Once the attention was directed toward our videos, I began to focus on crafting documentaries. I loved that work. I still do. But I had to put it to the side when I realized Instagram became a red herring.
Writing took a back seat to the curation of visuals that I thought would be a means to an end, a way to change the issues my students and I were dealing with—issues that I believed society needed to be made aware of in order for us to redesign the current educational system into one that is truly equitable for all. There were others leading the work of amplifying these issues but I felt I had my own audience that I was responsible for teaching. I took that responsibility seriously, still do. But as the videos continued to take hours of my down time to edit, I was reading less and less. I was pleased with the impact we had on the viewers but in my school and within my classroom, I saw very little increase in learning abilities and emotional intelligence. I also knew there was more work to do because the videos began to feel like a redundant perpetuation of pain, specifically black pain. I inadvertently prescinded from focusing on ideas aligned to an educational-revolution grounded in critical literacy in those 60 second displays of problems, where my words were as effective as temporary bandages, not actual solutions.
The Instagram analytics made it seem like the work was supported and loved but I believe that was because to see what we were doing was refreshing, in comparison to what most folks know about or have experienced in today’s schools.
Going to work with my students, as a teacher for over ten years, and not seeing 100% of them grow academically, socially, or creatively made the success of the online platform void of internal remuneration. To add to that, not reading or writing about reading for so many months left me feeling narrow-minded.
I set out to start curating visuals that could transcend beyond the pain, as a quick way to remedy the posts that were already viral, but they never came out quite right. Some of the frames felt empty as hell; substance-less. Some were a glissando of death ballads, addressing topics such as teen-suicide and Baltimore’s homicide rate. I was not helping my students transform their inner narrative, I was helping them to stay focused on the same one the media heralds. I knew they needed a place to learn about these topics but I could not figure out how to help them keep the same energy for other areas of their academic work. Everything I was doing seemed counterproductive and that furthered my insecurities.
In order to get my mind right, I thought it would be best to observe an independent fast by practicing purposeful silence from social media and public speaking events. Before I could officially start my solace, I was asked to be on the Earn Your Leisure podcast. Best mistake ever! It was ugly. I hated the entire thing because I saw myself. I heard her. In every word, she was super unsure of what to do and say. I wanted to protect her, even though I was not pleased with her. I even argued with one of the hosts shortly after the show because I did not want them to expose the world to my truth. It was frustrating and even though I wanted to allow her to cry and feel as powerless as she did before she learned who she is, I knew I had to humble myself and admit that I had done her wrong. She was who everyone thought she was. She was who they said she was—but I was not. I felt so guilty for neglecting to nourish her craft. I wallowed in this guilt for weeks.
I said many doubtful things to myself like, I am not this educator and activist that people pay to hear speak—but she answered me, agreeing that that is not all that I am but those are significant elements of what makes me me. And it is only me who is in control of how I am seen. I can be viewed as this “pretty” woman who looks really young for her age or I can be viewed as an advocate for intellectual freedom or both. One of those comes natural while the other takes work. I knew I needed to take time to do the work of really reading again, in order to build the consciousness of my content and my speech, for myself first, then my students, and then, the culture. I knew I needed to be quiet and strengthen myself as a listener to do this. But before I began understanding new ideas and concepts that I could use in my professional practice, I had to experience the plight of understanding myself as a learner, intimately and unfiltered. Through many failed attempts to create and produce pieces that have great potential to mobilize my people, I rediscovered something I already knew and needed to be reminded of: Deeply rooted wounds don’t heal without the proper care and treatment. In my case, I had to treat myself before any one else.
Spending time off Instagram was supposed to be shorter than it has become. I don’t know how many months it has been... don’t know when I’ll really be able to “make a comeback.” Every day, since I’ve been off the grid, has come with a totally different lesson about myself. I see so many things that I was saying and doing in the classroom as problematic. That may be what I begin to share next but how that will look, feel, and sound is what I am still figuring out.
Sometimes, I don’t like to look at my old content or at the footage that I have been hoarding in the cloud because I have become so much more critical of it. It’s all good, though. The beauty is, while I stopped publishing classroom content, I never stopped writing, here. Here, I created a place where I can continue to do what I am doing right now: posting my thoughts about myself and my process, as I work my way to one day being able to publish well-developed narratives as research essays.
We all have to study ourselves above and before anything else. And honestly, I beat myself up about not blogging like I used to, too. It was today, while writing this, that I finally realized there is nothing wrong with journaling, free writing, and “just saying” while taking the time to figure out exactly what to say and how to say it.
That, in hindsight, is why this is Valencia’s Garden and not The New Yorker or The Sun or some other publication that I dream of writing with one day...
This is my garden.
I am the water,
and the soil,
the plant and the light.
In reflecting here, I have permission to be all about me, so I can continue to become a better version of me, so that I can prepare myself to be who I am, publicly. I don’t have to rush myself to speak out or publish new videos knowing I still have more to read and still need more time to learn. Neither do you.