Slice of Life – We the Peoples?

Today’s Slice of Life at TwoWritingTeachers.org, 6 July 2021

Last Monday Kate Messner sent out the first week’s #teacherswrite summer camp prompt. We were to go outside and breathe intentionally and write. It was a hot day, but I did go out and breathe and write. I wrote a post about that here.  I had yet to take this challenge though: “think about a time when you were growing up and you felt peaceful and whole.” So for my Slice of Life today, I wrote this…

We the Peoples?

When I was a little girl, I spent most weekends
in the land of the peoples of
the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla.
We worked hard to clean up the place
homesteaded by Grandpa thirty years earlier.
It had been sitting empty
except for the birds and other creatures
who found shelter through the broken windows.
Weekends of hiking, exploring, and collecting memories,
along with picking up stuff abandoned long ago
by homesteaders who bought five acres of land
in baby homesteading grants,
many sight unseen. They
built 12 x 16-foot shacks
on parcels without water
or situated in a wash.
Most didn’t stay.

When I was a little girl, I spent most weekends
in the land of the peoples of
the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla.
The homesteaders who came and built
were not native peoples who in centuries before
ate and survived in this rich Mohave desert.
Most homesteaders wanted
a vacation getaway from Los Angeles.
Some were like my grandfather
who left his work in policing
because of his emphysema,
and came for better air to breathe.
After we cleaned up the “cabin” (we called it),
my grandma eventually moved in
to live the rest of her years. After she died,
my mother lived her last thirty years
in that same cabin.

When I was a little girl, I spent most weekends
in the land of the peoples of
the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla.
I felt peaceful and whole
growing on weekends in this place
that held my family’s history.
Free to be wild and roam in safety far away
from the busyness of the suburbs,
away from the L.A. smog,
which ravaged the air back then.

When I was a little girl, I spent most weekends
in the land of the peoples of
the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla,
though I don’t remember ever knowing
anyone from these people groups.
Most of the people I saw were white.
I was a person full of privileges–
a car and the means to travel two-and-a-half
hours to get away every weekend,
generations of loving family surrounding me,
skin that didn’t get questioned by police,
skin that was never stopped from
going anywhere we wanted,
but instead gently warned
to be wise for our own safety,

When I was a little girl, I spent most weekends
in the land of the peoples of
the Serrano, the Chemehuevi, and the Cahuilla.
I felt peaceful and whole in this place,
Full of the privileges afforded
white people in a system made by and for them.
I lived in a nation of we the people,
not we the peoples.
Though I felt peaceful and whole,
how many peoples around me
did not feel the same?

The following is a check-in for the #teacherswrite Week 1 with Jen Vincent.

What are your goals for Teachers Write?
I participated in Kate’s #teacherswrite summer camp in the past in 2012 and 2017. I also dabbled in the summers between those two years. I did not participate at all in 2018-2020. Now, here I am again. I have been writing more than ever since the pandemic started, mostly poems and blog posts. So when I saw the tweets about #teacherswrite, I was excited and wanted to try again. Funny though, I didn’t even make a goal this year. I have other kinds of goals that include writing. Here is my summer list of goals. However, I am not writing a children’s novel like I tried to and never finished in 2017. (Maybe next year I’ll come back to that children’s novel.) This July, I think I will just follow the prompts. The one goal I have is to be more descriptive and take more time with the writing on my blog posts. (I sometimes write too much, and it’s boring, as you can see here.) Also, now that I’ve seen Kate Messner’s Week 2 prompt where she takes us on an adventure of picture book writing about ourselves, I will take that challenge–I wonder what I will learn about the child that became this adult.

How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
Because I didn’t have any writing goals, I just watched for Kate’s email and thought I would let that inspire me. I am already behind, but getting back on track now!

What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the non-fun part?)
The pit of my week was not about writing, but I’ve had to say goodbye to some special people who are leaving Bahrain this week. I will be leaving myself in six months. That has been hard to say goodbye, but also being reminded that I will be saying goodbye soon.

What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-fun part?)
I’m going to go back to last week because I’m behind on the check-ins and another is coming up in a couple days. On the last weekend of June I participated in The Poetry Marathon, which was writing 24 poems in 24 hours. It was very rewarding and lots of fun. I wrote about it on Friday.

Did you see Kate Messner’s new picture book about Dr. Anthony Fauci? Beautiful!

10 thoughts on “Slice of Life – We the Peoples?

  1. Denise – that subtle change of adding one letter, changing “we the people” to “we the peoples” is mighty. How beautifully you render the images of this place where you felt whole as a child, with the freedoms and safety, the love and family history that surrounded you, and even in the work, from the eyes of a child who had yet to fully realize the experience wasn’t the same for “the peoples around me.” Wholeness at a cost to others…I am struck by the imagery of “better air to breathe” not just in the obvious air quality but the luxury of doing so in comfort and peace. Deeply stirring on multiple levels. I am pondering a time I felt whole during my own growing up years, and why…. thank you for this and so much more inspiration from Messner. That Poetry Marathon sounds fascinating and so does the Fauci biography (just saw this a couple of days ago). And – those bittersweet goodbyes – my thoughts are with you as you prepare to leave Bahrain, and as you savor the time remaining.

  2. I really enjoyed the breathing of the piece here, if not the peace of your breathing, as centered on these lines of insight:

    “I lived in a nation of we the people,
    not we the peoples.”

    The repetition was effective, grounding us in place.

    Kevin

    1. Thank you, Kevin. I felt a need to keep repeating those names. I am not familiar with them even having many family members who live in this area. I need to learn more and do better.

  3. Your use of repetition here really drew me in and as Fran noted your change of just one letter told so much. Kate’s prompts so far this summer have really engaged me. I read week two but have not written to it yet and know there is more for me to write about the week one prompt too.

  4. Thanks for sharing your writing from Kate’s writing camp. I loved learning about where you grew up and your reflections on privilege. How telling, that one letter difference.

  5. As I read your memory I thought about the conclusion you arrive at in the last stanza. Like you I’ve participated in Teachers Write i’m the past but decided I couldn’t give it the time it deserves this summer. I did see and have Kate’s new book and love it. She’s a generous teacher-writer.

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