Well this has certainly been a busy year for the arts in Bemidji with two new venues opening (Wild Rose Theater and the Sanford Center), the first annual and very successful Bemidji Book Fest, beavers appearing in downtown Bemidji (with a bit of controversy that got us national attention!) and many more grants from Region 2 Arts Council through the legacy funding amendment. Bemidji Area Arts Endowment received recognition from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation for its work in granting awards to local young string musicians along with underwriting of special events in the area. We just passed the 10th anniversary of our momentous move from the east coast to northern Minnesota and I am closing up on finishing up my sixth year at the Bemidji Pioneer. The editorial staff received nice maroon jackets, knit hats and gloves with Bemidji Pioneer logo to wear on our assignments to better recognize us busy bees.
Kevin McColley is a local author Iâ€™ve just discovered on the recommendation of the son of a hospice patient. â€œPraying to a Laughing God,â€ although published over ten years ago, has whet my appetite for more of McColleyâ€™s work. â€œPraying to a Laughing Godâ€ deserves to be up there with such respected works as â€œOf Mice and Menâ€ or actually anything written by John Steinbeck. McColleyâ€™s attention to detail in describing characters, their motivations caused by age (young and old), dementia or just a man who seeks to redeem himself from past experiences and mistakes. His narrator, Clark Holstrom reminds us time and again,
â€œDo not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.â€
That quote also happens to be my own mantra.
Fiction tends to be last on my list of need or want to read, but this story did not have me skipping to the end just to get it finished. The portrayal of a god who is driven to maniacal laughter by human foibles (how can man be so self-destructive and thoughtless), an image that drives and torments Clark. He is beset by memories of war; indiscretions allowed by alcohol; loyalty to an old friend driven by guilt perhaps or just a need for redemption and forgiveness from a laughing god. Does that redemption ever happen to the satisfaction of the reader? I only know that this reader is not satisfied with just one book from McColley.
About a week ago, Big Bird and I had a really nice conversation prior to writing a feature piece on the upcoming show at the Sanford Center. This Big Bird is a young black man from Minneapolis who made it out of the turmoil of inner city life with the support of his â€œvery strictâ€ mother and the pastor of his local Baptist church who wouldnâ€™t let him quit the choir. Stories about the triumph of the human spirit always inspire and enervate me. Perhaps that is why working at an agency back east as director of employment for those who have had reason enough to quit trying, but still strove to make their mark in life was so fulfilling.
Final last thought for this year, thanks to Monte Draper at the Pioneer and a couple of classes with Cal Rice through community education, my photography skills are improving. My favorite picture for this year is that of Bella Drevlow and Delayna Dauner pointing to paintings by local youngsters on the library wall. A close second is a smiling Parker Bruns behind the drum set at First Lutheran Church.
May we enjoy and cherish all that this holiday season promises in love, hope and peace. Thank you to the readers for your loyalty to the arts and artists in this community. Thatâ€™s all she wrote.
P.S. Happy belated birthday to Paul Ericsson manager of the Bemidji Public Library; his big day was last Saturday.