January 29, 2019

Words of the Month - Roget's Thesaurus

        Peter Mark Roget was born on January 18, 1779, so I thought it was appropriate to honor (observe, celebrate, commemorate)  his 240th birthday.  Roget’s personal story is rather sad (unfortunate, piteous, doleful) - he lost several close family members and suffered from depression for much of his life.  Indeed, his lifelong habit of collecting words and making lists sprang from his struggles (endeavors, travails, sufferings) as a coping mechanism.  But I always find it inspirational when someone makes something positive out of negative circumstances, and not only can I relate to Roget’s love of collecting words, but I love (adore, cherish, treasure) my thesaurus deeply.
        I can’t remember when I was first introduced to the thesaurus, but it’s been a book I wouldn’t want to live without since at least junior high school.  Specifically, I favor the original format that Roget devised, rather than the newer “dictionary form” thesauruses.  Yes, sometimes it’s handy just to type a quick computer search, but if you really want to find the perfect word, nothing beats Roget’s system organized by categories of meaning.  It may seem ungainly that you have to look up your word in the index first, but already there’s an advantage: if that word has a couple of different meanings, it helps you clarify your thinking, and then go straight to the sense you’re looking for.  Then, once you turn to the correct section, you get more advantages.  All the different parts of speech are together.  Other similar words are nearby.  Antonyms are usually right next door.  This makes it much easier to sift through all the possibilities and really find that perfect word, instead of settling for some random synonym that may or may not actually have the exact shade of meaning I crave.  The only improvements to my thesaurus that I would make if I could would be hyperlinks in my book to go straight from the index to the entries, and to go from any listed word to its dictionary entry.  (Pro tip: never use a synonym - or indeed any word with which you’re not familiar - without checking in the dictionary first.)
        If you, like Roget and I, are a word collector, there are plenty of books (in addition to the thesaurus and the dictionary, of course) to keep you company.  Here are just a few.
        The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet - A picture book biography of Roget, noting how the making of lists of words comforted young Peter, and emphasizing how important and satisfying it is to find the right word.  The mixed-media illustrations by Sweet are a lot of fun, too, incorporating all kinds of extra word lists.  This is a Caldecott Honor book.  I definitely recommend it for any kids who love words.
        The Word Collector, by Sonja Wimmer - About a girl who lives high in the sky and collects "funny words that tickle your palate when you say them, words so beautiful that they make you cry, friendly words that embrace your soul."  When she hears that people are forgetting all the beautiful words, she sets out to give her words away to everyone who needs them, and by the time her words are gone, people have begun making and sharing new words.  It's a nice story, but my main complaint is in the book design.  The letters and words are so mixed up on the page, so mixed in with the exaggerated illustrations, that there is actually a script at the end of the book to tell you what each page is supposed to say. I would have liked the story better if I could have read it more easily.
        A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd - A lovely middle grade novel whose main character is a girl who sees words wherever she goes, “shining above strangers, tucked into church eaves, and tangled up in her dog’s floppy ears.”  The words aren’t really what the book is about, but they’re a fun element.  We loved this one as a read-aloud.
        The Word Collector, by Peter Reynolds - About a boy who collects words on slips of paper and puts them in albums: “Short and sweet words.  Two-syllable treats.  And multi-syllable words that sounded like little songs.”  When he accidentally drops his collection and the words get mixed, he starts making poetry, and finally “emptied his collection of words into the wind.”  Curmudgeonly complaints about littering aside, I wanted to love this one, but didn’t quite.  I can’t put my finger on why, so chances are that you may well adore it.  It’s certainly worth a look.
        I leave you with a handful of delicious words that I’ve collected over the years.  Feel free to look them up yourself, in the dictionary or the thesaurus.
     borborygmus, viridian, cachinnate, squamulous, fid

[Picture: Fine, illustration by Melissa Sweet from The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant, 2014.]

January 25, 2019

Multicultural Children's Book Day

        Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day.  Why?  I like the phrase “windows and mirrors.”  When children read (and probably the rest of us, too) they need to find windows through which to understand and empathize with people who are unlike them, and they need to find mirrors in which to see reflections of their own lives affirmed.  This includes axes of diversity such as race, ethnic background, [dis]abilities, language, religion, family structure, gender identity, and all sorts of other elements of culture.  (Just to clarify, I’m talking about more than one axis, not a bunch of hatchets.)  This multiculturalism can be explicit, as in a book that specifically references an abuela’s traditional cooking, for example, or it can be in the background, as a picture book in which families are shown with a wide range of skin tones despite it never being mentioned in the text.  Both modes are valuable.
        I can certainly attest that as a child I was happy enough to read about boy heroes, but I definitely also craved books with girl heroes.  Yes; it mattered.  So today is a good day to remember how much it matters that all children find themselves reflected in books, and that all children see that other people of other cultural backgrounds are also present in the world of books, where their shoes can be borrowed for a mile or so.  Here’s Charlotte’s Library’s excellent list of Reviews of Multicultural Speculative Fiction for Kids and Teens, and I’m sure a quick search would get you lots of other recommendations, especially for picture books.  So let’s celebrate the wonderful books that are already out, and keep pushing for more!

[Picture: The Family Who Lived in a Shoe, rubber block print by AEGN, 2003.]

January 22, 2019

Award-Winning Artist

        Toot toot!  This is me tooting my own horn: this past weekend at the Arisia con I won the Directors’ Choice Art Show Award for my series of mythical creatures from the in-progress On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.  I’m honored because there is so much amazing art in the Arisia art show, and I’m delighted because I think this makes me an “award-winning artist” for the first time.  My daughter said, “You must have won some prize in middle school or something,” but I can’t think of anything.  I’ve been an “award-winning writer” since elementary school, but I didn’t enter art shows as a child, and I wasn’t even an art student after ninth grade, so I think this is the first.  It’s a very nice pat on the back, and much appreciated.  (I hope it is also an indication that there may actually be some interest in this somewhat strange bestiary project upon which I’ve embarked.)
        Of course Arisia also means block printing workshops, and once again I’m really impressed by the blocks people were able to design, carve, and print in only an hour and a quarter.  I would love to be able to give people two hours to work, but the Arisia schedule is built in 75-minute sessions, so people have to work fast.  They still do an amazing job, though, so I’ve shared a few of them here, and expect to share a few more in later posts.  (I can’t tell you the names of the artists, although if anyone wants to claim their work and be credited, just let me know!)
        Finally, for anyone making their way to this blog from Arisia, I will just remind you that I’ve put the names of the panels on which I participated as Labels in the sidebar to the right.  Click to find the references, links, and my own brilliant insights into the topics.  Also, in four weeks I’ll be at Boskone, another sci fi/fantasy convention, and as they’ve now made their schedule public, I will start adding those panels to the Labels list, as well.
        Thanks to all the authors and artists with whom I shared panels, the art show co-directors and fellow artists there, and audience members with great questions and insights of their own.  See you next year!

[Award-winning Artist AEGN at Arisia Art Show, photo by TPN, 2019;
Sloth, rubber block print by AM;
Black Cat;
Kit Kat, all rubber block prints done at Arisia 2019.]

January 18, 2019

Writing the Future

        Later this afternoon I will be at the Arisia convention, on a panel with four other writers to talk about “Stories to Change the World.”  As any regular reader of this blog knows, this is a topic I get pretty excited about, so I thought I’d slip in one more post before the panel.  This is to direct you to an article by Walidah Imarisha.  Imarisha says “When I tell people I am a prison abolitionist and that I believe in ending all prisons, they often look at me like I rode in on a unicorn sliding down a rainbow.”  That’s understandable, because a world without prisons would be very different from the world we know, and it’s a little hard to get our heads around what that might actually mean.  And that’s exactly Imarisha’s point and mine: speculative fiction is one of the best tools we have for helping us get our heads around ways of being that are different from the ways we currently know.  Imarisha can write stories depicting a world without prisons, showing me what she envisions that might look like, and then I can start to imagine it, too.
        Of course, if Imarisha writes a story in which a prison-less society is a great thing, someone else can write a story depicting all the worst case scenarios of why they imagine this would be a terrible idea.  Neither of these stories would be a True and Accurate Prophecy of what would happen, but that isn’t the point.  Imarisha’s coeditor adrienne maree brown “calls science fiction ‘an exploring ground,’ a laboratory to try new tactics, strategies, and visions without real-world costs.”  The point is simply to break us out of the myth of “realism” to see that other possibilities are possible.  Once we start to imagine what might happen if we made different choices, and what a world could look like if we took other paths, then we are better able to decide which world we want, and what the steps might be that could move us toward it… and what steps we may want to avoid.
        Read Imarisha’s article, Rewriting the Future, and then look to the right of this post in the list of Labels in the sidebar, and click on the Label “Arisia’19: Stories to Change the World” for a selection of other posts that explore this aspect of speculative fiction.

[Picture: Der Gefangene (The Prisoner), woodcut by Christian Rohlfs, 1918 (Image from moma).]

January 15, 2019

Two By Marcks

        What a fun block print this is, by Gerhard Marcks (Germany, 1889-1981).  I just love the simplicity of it: the necks are just lines, the heads are almost hieroglyphic, and the background is such an interesting contrast of very simple geometric pattern.  Four of the ostriches are male, which is a natural for a black and white block print, with one speckled female for variety.  (I’m also appreciating ostriches right now because the block I just designed to be carved next weekend includes an ostrich-inspired alien creature - or struthioform, to coin(?) a fancier word to describe it.)
        Here’s another piece by Marcks with a very different vibe, although you can certainly see a commonality in the extensive use of simple striping.  Instead of being humorous, this is dramatic and quite serious.  One interesting detail is that you can see a bit of wood grain on the under edges of the cloud, which contributes to the shading.  I wonder whether this was a happy accident, or whether Marcks deliberately created the effect, perhaps by sanding the grain slightly in those places, or by inking more lightly there.
        I really like both these pieces, and their different moods.

[Pictures: Laufende Strau├če (Running Ostriches), woodcut by Gerhard Marcks, 1956 (Image from Galerie Nierendorf);
Einsame Pappel (Lone Poplar), woodcut by Marcks, 1960 (Image from Luther College).

January 12, 2019

They Run Again

Beyond the black and naked wood
In frosty gold has set the sun,
And dusk glides forth in cobweb hood...
Sister, tonight the werewolves run!

With white teeth gleaming and eyes aflame
The werewolves gather upon the howe!
Country churl and village dame,
They have forgotten the wheel and plow.

They have forgotten the speech of men;
Their throats are dry with a dreadful thirst;
And woe to the traveler in the glen
Who meets tonight with that band accurst!

Now from the hollows creeps the dark;
The moon like a yellow owl takes flight;
Good people on their house-doors mark
A cross, and hug their hearths in fright.

Sister, listen! . . . The King-Wolf howls!
The pack is running! . . . Drink down the brew,
Don the unearthly, shaggy cowls, —
We must be running too!

        This poem, from 1939, is by Leah Bodine Drake (USA, 1904-1964), who made a name for herself specializing in macabre poetry, winning awards and lots of publication in the mid twentieth century.  I don’t normally get very excited about werewolves, but Drake does some interesting things here.  For one thing, the last verse implies that turning to a wolf is a choice, not an involuntary transformation.  For another, I like the way she simultaneously depicts the werewolves as the horrible, terrifying monsters they are, yet also gives a view of what they feel like from the inside.  As for the specifics of her language, she’s a little freer with exclamation marks than I would be, but I very much like some of her phrases, especially “their throats are dry with a dreadful thirst” and “the moon like a yellow owl takes flight.”

[Picture: Detail from W is for Wolf, wood block print with multiple blocks by C.B. Falls, from ABC Book, 1923.]

January 9, 2019

Boskone Mini-Interview

        This is the first year that I’ll be a program participant at the Boskone science fiction and fantasy convention after being in the art show for the past three years.  I’m not yet allowed to publicize what panels and workshops I’ll be doing because the program is still in draft state, but I will say that I’ve been assigned to stuff that touches on lots of my favorite subjects, and I’m really excited!  I’m also excited to be featured in a mini-interview on the Boskone Blog, along with some amazing authors.  You can read the piece here, and then be sure to go back to see all the other mini-interviews in the series.
        Boskone is held in mid-February, so I actually have the Arisia convention (Jan. 18-21) to worry about first.  I’ve been matting and framing madly for the art show, and for the panels I’ll be on I’m trying something new: I’ve added the panel titles as Labels on the sidebar to the right, and then tagged a variety of my former posts that include relevant content.  I’m hoping this will make it easy for audience members at the panels to access details I might mention, or just to see a little more about how I approach these topics.  (I’ll be doing the same for Boskone, but not until the program is officially released.)  Check out the Labels and see!
        And finally, since I don’t have any pictures of myself on panels or anything else relevant to illustrate this post, I’ve illustrated it with something irrelevant: my recent Jubjub bird.    I hope that I will remain cool, calm, and collected as I prepare for these two big events while simultaneously entering the busiest season of work organizing Needham Open Studios, and will not instead find myself in a perpetual passion like the Jubjub bird.

[Beware the Jubjub Bird!, rubber block print by AEGN, 2018.]

January 4, 2019

Two Worlds

        On Wednesday I hung a show at the Newton Free Library, which will be up for the month of January.  Whenever I do solo shows I think of a theme to guide me in selecting which work to hang.  I enjoy working with a theme because it gets me to display a different cross-section of my work from what I usually show at sales.  In this case, I was slightly constrained by the library’s requirement that all work be made within the past three years.  Therefore, a few of the possible ideas I had for themes were out, because they would have included older work.  So I decided to stick with something relatively simple: my dual focus on the real world and the world of imagination.  Here’s the blurb…
        This show highlights the magic of two worlds: our own real world, and the infinite realms of the imagination.  The everyday world is full of wonderful things that are often unnoticed or unappreciated, while the world of the imagination allows us to let go of preconceptions and open our minds to all kinds of wonderful possibilities.  From the magic of a milkweed seed lifting with the wind to the magic of the mythical hercinia with its glowing feathers to light the way, there is cause for celebration everywhere.  We all need to remember to take the time to notice the beauty in our world and to let it inspire us to imagine worlds more beautiful still.
        I have 35 pieces on display, which is great, and they fill the Main Hall that enters the library, so it’s nice to think that lots of people of all ages will have the opportunity to see them.  (For info on the Newton Library show, here’s their web site.)  However, because I will also be showing a lot of work at the Arisia Art Show in January, and because there’s a fair amount of overlap of pieces due to the “imaginary world” part of the Newton Library theme, I have to do a boatload of extra framing.  I expect to have over 50 pieces at Arisia, which means that in the month of January I’ll have almost 90 pieces framed at once.  Yowza!

[Picture: Two Worlds, Newton Free Library Main Hall, stitched photo by AEGN, 2019.]

January 1, 2019

Happy New Year!

         Here’s a wood engraving by Thomas Bewick showing Father Time with all his traditional attributes: long white beard to show his age, scanty drapes the better to look Classical, wings because Time flies, a scythe because he’s conflated with the Grim Reaper, and an hourglass for the passage of time.  As an allegorical figure, Father Time has been around for centuries, but as a symbol for the year he’s now replaced by Baby New Year.  So, may your new year be full of joy, kindness, surprises, sufficiency, wonder, and love.

[Picture: There’s No Tomorrow, wood engraving by Thomas Bewick from Select Fables, before 1784 (Image from Internet Archive).]