Aunt Maud’s Fusty Victorian Stole November 2014
This is supposed to be a blog, and blogs are supposed to be like diaries, and “bloggers,” (ugly word) are supposed to blog once or twice a day or something ridiculous like that, with the plan of selling an actual book to our “followers” some day.
Whoever invented this definition, did not have children. Though I have not been blogging, I have been writing, finishing a novel for the second time, in spite of the broken legs, dental disasters, and stomach parasites that have been out to get my family in the last eleven months.
And I’ve been sewing very little, just enough to finish something. It’s so nice to think of only the next stitch, instead of thinking about how to make all the words in a novel roar and grumble perfectly to each other. So much of the writing of the past can be accused of being light and merely entertaining because life was pretty dark before the invention of antibiotics and anesthesia. So nice to think of something merely nice.
I’m having difficulty coming up with a better name for this fur and velvet stole. It was the damndest thing to photograph, with the glare off the gold brocade and the furry blackness.
It looks like the kind of dark and elaborate thing that would be getting fusty in great Aunt Maud’s trunk. Its genesis was in the Red Velvet Waterfall or Vagina Scarf, which didn’t keep me warm enough at one particular writers conference. But what could keep you warm enough in a hotel basement that was itself wrapped in a thousand miles of Saskatchewan winter?
Not even Aunt Maud would know.
This stole was made from leftovers. I had to do something with all the black and purple roses that didn’t fit on my Poem Coat (not digitally revealed yet). I had to do something with the scraps from my Ukrainian Baba’s Persian lamb. Excuses, I know, from a compulsive maker of stuff.
And hoarder of stuff, too. I bought the fuchsia brocade East Indian camise and blue-green velvet dress just for the material. When you work in collage, you have to first have material at hand. I save crazy things like the buckles and straps off of sandals I’ve revised, later to rivet them to some other article of clothing.
But what exactly am I going to do with the white mink pillbox hat I got for five dollars?
I’ll wear Aunt Maud to the choir Christmas party after we sing Halleluiah.
Toronto Globe and Mail,
“Bernice Friesen’s art is finely honed and gracefully wielded, her darkly beautiful images inseparable from her thematic purpose.”
“It’s said of some novels that they beg to be filmed. The pictures Friesen makes are a cinematographer’s dream.”
The Winnipeg Free Press,
“wholly convincing leaps of the imagination”
“a great success”
Pages and Patches
“Friesen is a master.”
Buy From Coteau Books
And The Book of Beasts is now in French Translation from Québec Amerique:
Le Bestiaire des anges
Translated by Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné, 2011.
God was a little black-haired bastard named Charlie with wet sheet skin, bleeding gums, and fists full of iron oxide pebbles which he flung in James’s face, each sting becoming a freckle. His mother told him it was God who’d given him the freckles, and it was true because he couldn’t remember having freckles before Charlie started throwing stones. If freckles were so bad, at least they weren’t his fault. He convinced himself they were caused by wounds, like the blood he saw on Jesus’ side, flowing down the plaster of his mother’s crucifix like bubbled spit. It was easier to look at Jesus’ blood than at his own, and after he realized freckles were ugly -- except on his beautiful mother -- it wasn’t easy to look at himself at all.
Skinny, big ears, red hair messed like the knots of hay sticking out of a cow’s mouth. These were the things he heard about himself after he got into the habit of listening, when being seen and not heard became too boring. He told himself he didn’t care, began scratching his face. Get rid of the spots. Even if his mother said she liked them, that they were delicious, especially when she was a dog, and licked them off his nose -- see the freckles on her tongue? They tasted salty, she said, were delicate and crunchy like little potato crisps. Sometimes he was a dog, too, and so he scratched anyway. And then his father told him to stop that scratching, sit still, and he would, almost, until every adult eye was averted, and then his hand would strike like the tongue of a frog, and he would stuff another jaffa cake in his mouth.
Everything was alive to him. Not just the neighbor's cat and his grandfather's King-Charles' spaniel, not just the ladybirds and dragonflies and earthworms, but the turnips wincing as they were pulled from the ground in his mother's garden. He made little playful screams whenever his mother tore lettuce apart for a salad, said ouch, ouch, when she chopped onions, misinterpreting her tears as sympathy for the poor vegetables. He refused to eat the tiniest grape from the vine, even though his father told him it would perish anyway. He kept it in a little baby-food jar in the fridge, and took it out to hold it in the palm of his hand and pet it like a kitten.
His first word, as a baby, had been meow, and he was a cat-sneak behind doors and beneath the tablecloth. His grandfather called his father a senseless dreamer -- that acting, way back then, for God’s sake -- who should never have married a child who was such a harpy, whatever that meant. It seemed to mean an Irish woman who wore her red hair too loose, her blouses too tight, and who didn’t care what she said in polite company -- and Oxford was nothing if not polite in the late 1950’s....
Awards -Fiction Award, Saskatchewan Book Awards
-Globe and Mail’s top 100 and top 5 first fictions
-Longlisted, Rogers Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize
Prairie Fire, Tom Schmidt:
“reads like a freight train bearing down on you”
“ferocious feminist verse that chews up the patriarchs of western
civilization from Freud to Plato to the Pope and spits them out.”
CV2, Tanis MacDonald:
“intelligent and hilarious”
“not for anyone who wishes to keep their dogma chained up
in their mental backyard.”
“Friesen is a stand-up comic”
“uproariously, ribaldly funny”
“she has merged with the goddess Kali”
from “Bernice Friesen, Winner of the Vicky Metcalf Award for Best Young Adult Short Story in Canada:”
“Bernice Friesen calls it luck, but anyone who’s read her work could only call it talent.”
“clear, pared down, yet richly expressive prose.”
Quill and Quire, Maria Campbell:
“I thoroughly enjoyed and applaud”
“there are no cheap shots here, no easy observations, nothing that appears in uncrystallized form.”
“Friesen writes with the confidence of someone who knows she’s taken full advantage of hindsight, yet her narratives read as thought they’ve been written from ‘the inside,’ from the confines of a high school’s narrow halls.”
Purchase from Thistledown Press:
It sits on my desk in a sour cream container, in a nest of white and pink Kleenex. On it is a happy face, slightly screwy, and a squiggle of yellow marker on top for hair. The assignment is to carry an egg around for a week, pretending it’s your kid. Dad could hardly believe it when I told him Mrs. Bowman makes the Family Life class do this every year. He told me to do what I want - even scramble it and lose the ten marks if it would make me feel better. I don’t know why I’m taking this stupid class anyway. Just because Stephanie’s here and everyone else is doing it, I guess.
“...and at this point, the sperm meets the egg.”
Mrs. Bowman’s flabby cheeks get redder and splotchy. Reproduction embarrasses her almost as much as it embarrasses Stephanie. Stephanie’s only 16 like me, so it’s forgivable. Mrs. Bowman has three kids, so it’s not.
“Can you imagine Mrs. B. having sex?” I whisper, and point out Mrs. B.’s bulgy panty line. Stephanie once told me I was the funniest person in the world. She’s weird with jokes. She laughs the hardest at the dirty ones, but won’t tell them ; she absorbs them but then won’t let them escape.
“Shh, Lori,” Stephanie always blushes when she laughs.
“Our next topic is motherhood, the most important part of the Home Economics course,” Mrs. Bowman says, right after she skims over the pregnancy handouts with us. She’d been sick, so we were way behind in our notes. I think she got sick on purpose, just so she could skip over the sex part.
I squash the new heading under the scrawled notes on my last page, and wish I hadn’t been late for class so I could have gotten paper from my locker. I’d seen Stephanie, Lill and Faith whispering at the locked door, and when I’d got there, they’d stopped, guilty looks on their faces, especially Stephanie. At first I’d thought they were talking about me, but Mrs. Bowman was walking right behind me jangling her keys, so I couldn’t be sure....
The Vicky Metcalf Award for Best Young Adult Short Story in Canada.
(Title Story, The Seasons Are Horses, won, from the Book of the same name)
BERNICE FRIESEN was born in Rosthern, Sask. The life of her grandmother’s family has been published in The Mulberry Tree by Victor Carl Friesen and Anna Friesen.
She trained as a printmaker at the University of Saskatchewan, ending up with a B.F.A in visual art and a B.Ed. by 1990. She took creative writing courses with Elizabeth Brewster, Guy Vanderhaegue and Tim Lilburn, and attended the Banff Writing Studio. She has been an art studio lab assistant, art gallery educator, and has taught Sage Hill Writing Experience for teens, and Fiction Freefall through the Saskatoon Writers Coop.
Her writing and art has been published in Canada and Europe, and has twice been short-listed for the CBC Radio Literary Awards. Her writing has been included in two League of Canadian Poets winners anthologies, and Best Short Stories, 2002, (Oberon).
She has lived in England, New Zealand and British Columbia, has taught herself to read French and Italian, and is currently trying to understand quantum physics. Blame her for the art and design of this website.
She is the girl at the blackboard.
View the Shaw Cable interview of Bernice Friesen at