Armen Bacon

Armen Bacon: Swing on the monkey bars of life

A few days before starting the new school year, Amy Zuniga, a first-grade teacher at Fugman Elementary School, handed my granddaughter, Ani, a tiny bag filled with confetti.

"Just in case you are nervous about starting first grade," she said, "here's a little something to open right before you go to bed Sunday night — to help you with the jitters." Attached was a verse instructing Ani to sprinkle the colorful shred under her pillow to help her sleep through the night, with a poetic promise she would wake up fresh and bright — all ready to start school.

At any age, the night before "a first day" of anything big always scares the daylights out of me. Will I find a parking place? Will my hair be too curly? Will I know anyone? Will I do and say the right thing? Are my eyebrows too thick? Easily overcome with self-doubt, obscure insecurities escape from every possible crevice.

Late in my fifth decade, I returned to school, first to finish my master's degree, then once again to take a series of writing courses. I'll never forget walking through the darkened hallway in the Fresno State Speech Arts building, entering a classroom surrounded by students half my age. Eyes zeroing in on a series of oversized letters, my flesh turned the same chalky shade as the whiteboard in front of me.

RISK MAKING A FOOL OF YOURSELF. BE UNAFRAID AND FEARLESS.

Both were tall orders directed right to my inner critic — the one constantly editing and silencing me, telling me to erase and delete. Thankfully, the instructor walked in a few beats later and read the words out loud — emphatically adding a caveat. Everyone had to BE KIND, he said.

The class turned out to be less about writing and more about life and the value of being vulnerable, curious, and in a continuous state of learning — something most of us want not just for ourselves but also for our children and grandchildren. Feeling safe enough to risk failure and then inspired and motivated enough to keep trying — isn't that what school and education are all about?

I love September. Forever a student, it marks a new beginning, an opportunity to press the restart/refresh button, and seems a perfect time to make the most of our beautiful brains. We dream and create better when the thermostat drops, don't you think?

I go on a spree at the bookstore and fill my nightstand with new titles. Make lists and timelines. The jumping-off place isn't always obvious. I'm never quite sure where to start, but eventually the tip of my pen or pencil hits paper. I stumble and trip, but getting it right the first time is over-rated if you ask me. A friend of mine calls it "failing forward."

Striving to dig deep and write close to the nerves, sometimes I pick up my pen and draw a complete blank. This forces me to start with something mundane like a grocery list: eggs, butter, cheese, and yes, yes, of course — bacon. The paper slides into my purse and then I'll be driving and some lyrical sentence or childhood memory shows up unexpectedly, causing me to pull over to the side of the road, reach down to the floorboard and into my purse.

A grocery list morphs into the next installment of my life's story or an idea for a newspaper column. Sometimes I hit the mark. Other times, readers throw tomatoes. But every word search, every rewrite and edit, every leg of the journey is important. By the end of the day when my head hits the pillow, I close my eyes visualizing those daunting words once written on that whiteboard. I assess my day's effort. Did I risk? Was I bold and daring? Or did I merely get by?

This morning, I want all the little ones in my world and yours to have a chance at the beauty of self-discovery. I wish them "Bulldog Boldness" with time left over to swing on the monkey bars of life. More than anything, I hope they have all landed in dynamic classrooms with teachers who welcome their curious minds and understand the power of making eye contact — really looking into their souls to invite ideas and dreams to jump out and make their presence known.

Teaching courage, bravery and self-discovery is hard work. But there are great teachers in this Valley. I hope they have all sprinkled confetti under their own pillows and are anxious to give our students a magical year of learning.

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