Inside the CSU Summer Arts experience
There is no epidural for personal growth. The first time I ran away from home at 13, my father caught me in the act: painting Maybelline mascara and aqua blue eye shadow onto eyelids heavy handedly. He called me “cheeng-eh-neh,” an Armenian derogatory term meaning gypsy. Forced to scrub off the black and blue makeup until unmasked and naked-faced, I quietly vowed to someday resurrect this other person hiding within.
It is Day One of CSU Summer Arts at Fresno State. This is not new to me. I’ve been taking writing classes since 2008 in an effort to be the best storyteller, memory keeper, columnist and author humanly possible.
Arriving early, finding a patch of shaded grass, I remove jewelry as if some sacred ritual is about to take place. Off comes the silver bracelet cuff, my favorite necklace – a giant untarnished heart, wedding rings, oversized earrings, reading glasses outlined in zebra stripes. Unearthed of worldly props, I make a journal entry that reads: Who am I when nobody is looking?
The Starbucks coffee cup unevenly placed on the ground tips over, its liquid stain sinking into the earth as if running from the scene, disappearing before my eyes. For an instant, I disappear, too, or at least consider rethinking my decision to enroll in yet another memoir writing course. As the brochure underscores, this program pushes students beyond limits, breaks boundaries, and is quite possibly the hardest work you’ll ever do to master your craft, whether it’s writing, dancing, acting, animating, painting, photography or making music.
I have come here to workshop my next book and explore self in a new light – hopeful to unveil this voice keeping me awake at night. She nudges constantly, begging for time, space, presence in the crazed rush hour of life. Somewhat amused by her non-stop harassment, I impulsively order a ceramic gypsy on EBay – in part to placate “the voice” but mostly to see if I might lure her from hiding.
She arrives hermetically sealed in bubble-wrap, sandwiched inside a cardboard box delivered by FedEx – a delicate porcelain replica of the me nobody knows. Holding a tambourine, arms embellished with silver and gold bracelets, her hair runs wild. Untamed. A see-through blouse tied at the waist, her flowing skirt puddles the ground carrying dirt, tiny blades of grass, stray ladybugs. Closing my eyes, I watch her twirl in sunlight wearing bright vibrant, neon shades of lipstick, headbands and scarves made of silk and a skirt crocheted together from tie-dyed handkerchiefs. Full of life, she runs barefooted. I try keeping up with her, the bottoms of her feet soft, calloused. Well-traveled.
I’m ready to run wild, too. Write brave new confessions of life. I will her to be my writing breakthrough. Literary penicillin. The visual prop I resort to each night to deconstruct then reconstruct my life. The journey so far.
Immersed in a sea of talented artists, by Day 3, I sink in despair, nearly drowning in self-doubt, sizing up the usual smorgasbord of excuses: I am too old, too tired, not good enough, not creative enough, too many commitments, not enough time, and finally, I’m an aging has-been in this artistic arena and no match for the creative metabolism flourishing on campus: brave, courageous young adults launching fresh innovative futures.
But that gypsy voice in me, the one who’s at nine and a half centimeters and pushing, on the cusp of rebirth, springboards me into action, promising more breakthroughs than breakdowns during the two-week course.
“It reads well enough,” my husband insists, night after night, cutting me slack, wanting me to press the pause button, granting me permission to come to bed, take a leave of absence from the word salad prepared night after night instead of dinner. The schedule and workload is grueling. Evidence? It’s been five days since I’ve washed my hair, read a newspaper, opened mail, seen grandkids. What I do see are bags under my eyes. But there’s something else. I’m engaged at full throttle. Euphoric. Wide awake.
The presence of magic runs wild through my veins. My brain is on fire. A cohort of writing colleagues encourage, inspire, embrace my work. We’re in this together – writing our hearts out.
I’ve heard it said there is healing power in the arts. Carol Channing once called it “fertilizer for the brain.” It’s more than that. It’s soul food, the kind of nourishment that fuels passion and purpose. A palate cleanser – like frozen gelato on a hot summer night when the thermostat boasts three digits.
Thank you, CSU Summer Arts, for making Fresno your home this summer. You pushed all my creative buttons, outdoing yourself once again – delivering world-class artists for our community to enjoy. Special gratitude to Fresno State for hosting this life-changing and transformative experience for students of all ages and from all walks of life. For this writer, you’ve once again reminded her it’s never too late to chase a dream and live it out loud.
Friends and family ask why I do this? My answer is simple. I’m taking full charge of my own narrative. Savoring and celebrating every word.
Armen Bacon is the author of “Griefland – an intimate portrait of love, loss and unlikely friendship,” and “My Name is Armen,” (Volumes I and II) and currently serves as Chair of the CSU Summer Arts Community Board: email@example.com, @ArmenBacon
CSU Summer Arts
The 2019 season is coming to an end this weekend at Fresno State with student festivals Saturday:
- Theatre for Social Change, 2 p.m., John Wright Theatre
- Acting for the Camera, 4 p.m., John Wright Theatre
- Afro-Caribbean Jazz concert, 7:30 p.m., Concert Hall