Those who have lived in Fresno for any amount of time undoubtedly know the name Armen Bacon, but it’s likely that no two people know it from the same place. Whether from her time on various boards of directors, from her work with the Fresno County Office of Education, from her pieces in the Valley Voices section of The Fresno Bee, or from any one of her “Live, Laugh, Love” spots on KJWL , Armen Bacon is a beacon of awesome for intelligent women everywhere. If you don’t know her yet, we are honored to formally introduce you to her.
What inspired you to be a writer?
I had an accidental run-in with William Saroyan when I was about 10 years old at the downtown library and ever since, I’ve fantasized he anointed me with a passion for writing. I was carrying a huge stack of books; he was riding his bike and we collided. I was mesmerized by his bigger-than-life persona plus his book My Name is Aram was one of my favorites.
Fast forward, years later, in 2002, when Fresno hosted its first Saroyan Festival. I was asked to serve on the steering committee and decided to go back and reread some of his works. I fell madly in love with his style of writing — so honest, raw, authentic, human. He could make words dance on the page. His writing went straight to my heart and soul, and as a reader, I visualized every single detail. I worked closely with one of his best friends and confidants, Robert Setrakian, who loved my writing and encouraged me to trail Saroyan’s footsteps — become a story teller, a memory keeper. During his exhibition at the Fresno Art Museum, I discovered we had something quirky in common — he collected hotel stationary from his travels and wrote stories on them. So did I. By now, I was completely enchanted. I’m in the process of publishing my Fresno Bee columns, and the working title of the book is My Name is Armen, a Life in Column Inches. It’s a Saroyan thing. He wrote about the human condition and I’d like to think that my stories also share that connective tissue that makes us all more human.
Where do you find your inspiration in general?
I try to live by Saroyan’s famed words, “In the time of your life, live — so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite variety and mystery of it.”
You clearly have moxie. Where does that come from?
I think it comes from three distinct areas. First, I credit my ethnic and cultural heritage — my Armenian roots run deep with passion, a lust for life and an instinct for survival. I’m big on living out loud, breathing it all in, savoring every delicious moment. I learned the hard way that life can change in an instant. I don’t take anything for granted. I try to digest the nutrients of even the most outrageous moments. I was also born with the spirit of a gypsy — I love to travel. Maybe it’s because I’m an identical twin, an embryo split in two, always searching for my other half. I’m at my best at 30,000 feet or when walking on foreign soil.
When I was 20, I moved to France to study abroad for a year. I made the trek solo and it was a chance to test my own personal limits, take a few risks (well, maybe more than a few). I learned a lot about stretching myself, coloring outside the lines, exploring new possibilities, adapting to new circumstances. I grew wings that year.
Speaking of wings, I’m also surrounded by an incredible band of angels — the women in my life — a collection of let’s see, how shall I describe them — daring, stunning, courageous, gutsy, savvy women who always show up to cheer me on. They’re my back-up singers. The list starts with my mom, sisters and daughter, and extends out to an extraordinary collection of females whose moxie could fill these pages for the rest of eternity.
What’s the best part of your day?
I relish my early morning ritual of coffee and newspaper in bed with my husband, Dan. You should see us Sunday mornings. The Fresno Bee and New York Times scattered all over the bed, coffee refills everywhere, I’m usually in one of my oversized Broadway tees (right now I’m wearing Billy Elliott but in a few weeks, I’m seeing Porgy and Bess, so look out). It’s romantic, cozy, intimate, relaxing … and we have this rule about not answering the phone.
When my son, Alex, died in 2004, I began writing like a mad woman. I wrote columns, editorials, essays about navigating my personal grief journey. The bookstores had very few books that told the truth about what it was like to lose a child. I felt like an alien, a stranger in my own skin. No one was saying his name. There was this brief grace period but then everyone expected me to return to normal. Only I felt like I was missing body parts.
One day, I had a speaking engagement and someone in the audience asked me why I hadn’t written a book about my experience. It was a question I couldn’t answer. Something was holding me back. In the meantime, I was frantically writing columns about everyday life, family, friends, literally clinging to these stories and memories in order to remind myself I was still alive. Four years later, out of the clear blue, I received a call from a friend/colleague at Fresno State saying an English instructor’s daughter, Rachel, had died. No one knew what to do or say. Would I contact her? Well, of course I would.
Nancy and I met at Uncle Harry’s and the chemistry was magnificent, extraordinary. Since both of us were writers, we decided to chronicle the journey, word for word, for one entire year. We spent all of 2009 meeting in the dark of a computer screen, composing words and exchanging e-mails that became the genesis of our book, Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss, and Unlikely Friendship. Writing this book literally saved our lives. During our year of writing, we encountered a vast sea of others who, like us, were looking for answers. Many of them had lost children; others had lost aging parents, partners, friends, jobs, and hope. But unlike us, they had no place to turn — no safe haven for their grief or a way of seeing it as transformational. We, gratefully, had each other. It is our hope to welcome others to join this community, one that offers comfort and permission to grieve out loud, as well as to introduce a view of loss as ultimately life-affirming for those who have survived. We believe our book can create a movement toward hope and survival for those experiencing even the most searing of losses. We’re about to launch our website (www.griefland.com) but our new e-mail addresses are up and running, so anyone wanting to make contact can write to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. And one last thing: we’ll be at the Central California Women’s Conference on September 18 doing a session titled, “Surviving the Unthinkable.” Hope to see you there!
How do you unwind after a tough day at work?
My drive home is a musical extravaganza. I listen to Satellite Radio — the Broadway station — and am instantly transported to the New York stage, which I love. Whether it’s the score from Wicked, Porgy and Bess, Next to Normal, Les Misérables, or a Sondheim medley, I sing my head off, let off steam, cry a few tears, belt out the lyrics. My car is my sanctuary. By the time I arrive home, I’m ready to lower the velvet curtain, enjoy a glass of wine, dinner and conversation with Dan, and then, off I go to write — usually with a few memorable lyrics still buzzing around my head that I can use as writing prompts.
Which would you rather have right now: chocolate or a cocktail?
My palate would welcome either, but here’s my confession: I devoured a huge chocolate lava cake last weekend. I’ll take the cocktail, please. Cheers!