February 28, 2024

Words of the Month - Petting our Pets

         The word pet, referring to a domestic animal kept primarily for companionship, is quite a new one in English.  Originally a Scottish and northern English dialect word in the sixteenth century, and not appearing in other English dialects until the mid-eighteenth century, its origin is unknown.  The best assumption is that it is related in some way to petty meaning “small,” which in turn comes from French petit.  The usage of the word pet for a favorite, spoiled child is attested slightly earlier than its use for an animal, but it seems equally likely that animals were the primary usage and the record is simply not complete.
        For me the burning question this raises is, what did people call their pets before they had the word pet?  And I can’t find this answer at all, much to my frustration.  (I did discover the word cade, which is a new one for me.  It means “a pet or tame animal, especially a lamb raised by hand.”  This dates to the late fifteenth century, so it’s quite a bit earlier than pet in most English dialects, but I have no idea how widespread it was.  I also don’t know whether it’s still in use at all today, seeing as I’ve never heard or seen it before.)  My best guess is that people didn’t really refer to pets as a class, but simply named the specific creature in a particular circumstance, such as spaniel, cat, goldfinch, ermine, monkey, etc.
        So let’s look at the two most popular of those pets.  The word cat is quite ancient, dating back to Old English, and its various forms are nearly universal in European languages.  Although I always think of the Latin word for cat as feles, in the first century this was generally replaced by catta.  This, in turn, probably comes from Afro-Asiatic roots, since after all, cats had been domestic pets in Egypt since about 2000 BCE, while they were not particularly familiar as pets in classical Greece and Rome.
        Dog, on the other hand, has a slightly twistier path.  It does date back to late Old English, but seems originally to have referred to a specific large, powerful breed.  No one knows why it pushed aside the original Old English general term hund, essentially trading places so that now hound refers to specific breeds, while dog is the general term.  Oddly, Spanish perro and Polish pies are also of unknown origin.  Why are cats universally cats, but dogs are called a whole variety of often-unexplained words?  Is it because cats are all pretty universally similar while there’s an enormously wide array of different dog breeds?  I don’t know.
        It’s also worth noting that while people have enjoyed domestic animals for companionship for millenia, throughout most of history, most domestic animals had other purposes which (except perhaps for the very wealthy) were primary.  Most dogs and cats were working animals.  That’s another reason that I’m guessing that there may not really have been a word for “pet” before the word pet.  Still, if anyone has further information on this, I’d love to see it!
        Finally, the verb pet first meant “to treat as a pet,” and arrived about a century after the noun.  The meaning “to stroke” isn’t attested until 1818, well after the noun had gained currency throughout English.  So yes, we pet our cats because they’re our pets, and not the other way around!  On the other hand, we could pat the bunny about a hundred years earlier.  That word seems to be unrelated, coming from a noun that originally meant “a blow or stroke” (so yes, we can also stroke our pets), and eventually came to be specifically “a light tap.”  I can’t help suspecting that the verb meaning of pet was helped along in its shift to “stroke” by the similarity with pat.
        Do you have a pet or pets?  And do you like to pet them?

[Pictures: Puppy Love, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2012;

Cat in a Box, rubber block print by AEGN, 1999;

Coy, rubber block print by AEGN, 2023;

Old English Sheepdog, rubber block print by AEGN, 2013.]

February 21, 2024

Tiny Doodle Blocks

         In the past few months I’ve been playing with a handful of tiny doodle blocks.  I carved these little scraps of rubber doodlewise, without any particular plan to their design, but for at least some, I did plan to make them combinable.  To that end, some of them were cut (more or less carefully) into tessellating shapes.  Then I learned about @PrinterSolstice on Instagram, which is giving a theme per week for block print experimentation.  This year the themes are all different color schemes, and (given the title of this blog) you can guess that isn’t always my thing when it comes to block printing - but it worked particularly well to use my doodle blocks to play with the color schemes, because it was all just fooling around anyway.
        As it happened, some of the results were quite ugly, but others please me a great deal.  Today I share a range of the little designs I came up with — far from a comprehensive record, but a sampling to demonstrate some of the various combinations I came up with.
        First up, here are some designs without color, so you can see more clearly what the blocks were, and how they combine.  I made a diamond with 60° points, so it could be turned into a six-pointed star.  In fact, as you can see, it could be turned into several different six-pointed stars, depending on which points are in the middle.  (It could also be turned into a complete tiled field, but I haven’t played with that yet.)  I also had a skinny little scrap that could be fit into half of that same diamond, so that’s block 2.  Block 3 was actually made last summer, I think, and is a little scalene right triangle.  Block 4 is a heart.  Later I cut the diamond block apart so that the two parts could be inked separately, and that’s what you can see in the upper right and bottom left designs in black and white.
        As I said, the Printer Solstice themes were all about color schemes, and here are a bunch of stars I made for some of their prompts.  They’re cool colors, primary colors, analogous colors, and triadic colors.  Then the pale blue one is just being a snowflake, because that’s what the block pattern suggested to me.  And the final star is one that I used as the base for an illustration that’s going to be in my upcoming book.
        Not all the playing was just stars, though.  Here are a few more designs, using other blocks and combinations.  The triangle is a split complementary color scheme, printed with block 2 and half of block 1.  The square diamond is analogous/warm colors, made with block 3.  The flower circle is a full spectrum printed with the heart.  You can see that I intended the heart to have a 60° angle also, but obviously didn’t get it quite accurate.  (That’s okay - I plan to print it as a little free-standing block anyway.)  And that final thing, which is cool colors, is an even scrappier scrap just carved with a few stripes and swirls, plus the tiny butterfly I chopped out of a larger block that got abandoned.
        These are all printed with stamp pads, some of which are higher quality than others, mostly on scrap paper of various sorts.  They’re not intended for show or sale, but thanks, @PrinterSolstice, for giving me a push to spend some time playing around with them.  And in the end I’m pleased enough with a few of them that I’m considering making a set of notecards with an assortment of colorful star designs.  What do you think?

[Pictures: all rubber block prints by AEGN, 2024.

You can see "Tiny Doodle" and "Sing from the Heart" here.]

February 16, 2024

Year of the Wood(block) Dragon

         Now that we’ve embarked on a new lunar year, of course we have to celebrate with some block prints of dragons.  But since I’ve been blogging long enough to have celebrated the last dragon year, you can start by going back and seeing the examples I found in 2012.

        As for 2024, I’ll start out with a New Year greeting that’s up-to-the-minute - and with a Texas twist.  This linocut print includes some other auspicious symbols in addition to the dragon (and of course the color red), but I can’t help thinking there’s just a touch of arid lizard in the look of this one!
        We’ll turn now to something more traditional: a dragon with a sage.  This dragon seems like a reasonable size to be a pet or a familiar, and I like how sage and dragon are both grinning.  The artist Gakutei specialized in pieces combining illustrations with poetry, which was often light verse or clever aphorisms.  Unfortunately, I don’t know what poem this piece is illustrating, although I’m curious!  It certainly seems like some interesting stories could be told about these two.
        Back to the lunar zodiac, but with once again a very different look, here’s another quite modern dragon.  The face looks a little cartoonish, the colors look wild and bright, and the sky looks rather stormy.  This is not your traditional dragon, and it’s certainly got plenty of verve, but I have to confess that it’s not my favorite.  Which of these dragons do you like best?  And does your answer change depending whether you’re thinking of the dragon as art, as a companion, or as a protector of the new year?

[Pictures: Year of the Dragon, two-color linocut by Jackdaw Russell, 2024 (Image from the artist’s Etsy shop JackdawFolkArt);

Sage and Dragon, woodblock print by Gakutei, c. 1825 (Image from Ronin Gallery);

The Year of the Dragon: Like the Wind, woodblock print by Gashu Fukami, 2015 (Image from Ronin Gallery).]

February 12, 2024

A Desperate Little Exhortation About (Bitter)Sweetness and Light

         Hooray!  My Kickstarter campaign is fully funded, and my book Bittersweetness & Light will really be happening!  I’m so glad and grateful that this project will be shared with the world… And yet… let me share a couple of recent conversations that gave me pause…
        During a reading I was explaining that my book was meant to give hope and joy, and that my stories are always guaranteed to offer some sort of “happy ending.”  A lovely and well-meaning person responded eagerly, “Oh yes!  Sometimes you just need a fluffy beach-read!  And other times you need something with more depth to really engage in, so it’s so important to have both kinds of books.”  In another conversation a couple of days later I suggested that movies and other media that are nothing but unrelieved doom and gloom, misery and blame, don’t necessarily motivate people to work for good.  The immediate reply was a disparaging, “Right, Ignorance is bliss.”  The automatic assumption I keep facing is that anything that isn’t dark and painful must be shallow and mindless; that happiness is “fluffy;” and that only violence and misery are “real” or worthy of serious engagement.
        Well, I’m serious about joy.  I absolutely believe that joy and hope are real, important, engaging, and worthy of deep consideration.  I have no problem with “fluffy beach-reads” and the occasional escapism (and indeed, some of the stories to be included in my book are certainly “fluffier” than others!)  But it drives me crazy and breaks my heart that people can’t even imagine that a “happy ending” could have substance.  It doesn’t even cross their minds that anyone serious, intelligent, well-informed, and rational could share causes for joy or reasons to hope; if you’re not wallowing in misery, you must be burying your head in the sand.
        Let’s break down these assumptions.  For some time now the whole world (and certainly myself) have been suffering from unhealthy levels of stress, trauma, and anxiety.  Obviously this is partly because there are so many real, serious things going on that of course cause stress — but it’s also because we are so immersed in the bad news that we never get a chance to focus on the good things.  It’s because there are forces in this world that actually benefit by keeping us too depressed and cynical to stand up against injustice.  It’s because our species is actually hard-wired to be hyper alert to every possible danger and focus more on the things that might go wrong.  It’s because even when we try to fight injustice, we just end up beating ourselves up and burning ourselves out.  In the face of all these reasons, it is actually an act of fierce defiance to acknowledge joy.  To stand up and claim that Goodness does exist, that Love is powerful, that Joy is possible, and that we all need to work harder at finding that joy, and sharing it with each other.
        I keep trying to spread that message, but honestly, these conversations coming one after another gave me a bit of a crisis of confidence.  Clearly whatever I’m saying doesn’t seem to communicate the point I’m trying to make: that one can look at a world that is broken, full of suffering, and feeling ever more precarious, and yet still see that there also exists infinite beauty, capacity for love, and possibility of redemption – and more than that, we need to take a long, hard, serious look at all that beauty, love, and possibility if we’re going to have any chance of surviving these threats and making things better.  Maybe I’m not the right person to be the messenger, if apparently I don’t seem to be very effective at expressing the message.  Still, I have to keep trying – because I do still have hope - and Bittersweetness & Light is part of how I’m still trying, as one small person with just a small voice.
        So, I’m serious about joy, but that absolutely does not mean that I’m now turning “joy,” too, into something drearily dutiful.  This collection of stories, poems, and art is serious in the sense that I hope it will engage you, make you think, and reach somewhere deep in your heart – but that doesn’t mean it has to be serious in the sense of somber, dark, and depressing.  I hope this book will be make you happy and lift your spirits!  I hope it will be entertaining to read, fun to look at, and delightful to your mind, heart, and soul.
        I suggest you try a little exercise: pay attention as you go through your day and start noticing how often you encounter those assumptions that only the bad, mad, sad stuff is worthy of serious consideration – or tend to make such assumptions yourself!  Start pushing back against them, and keep reminding others (and yourself) that joy is real and that we need to share it with each other.  Let me know how it goes, because I need all the help I can get!  And if you do want to join in the Kickstarter campaign for Bittersweetness & Light, you have just one more day!  The campaign ends just before the stroke of midnight on February 13, so procrastinate no longer, but come share my joy in this!

February 7, 2024

Resources for Boskone Panels

        This weekend I will once again be at the Boskone sci fi/fantasy convention in Boston.  As usual I’ll have work in the Art Show (63 pieces, which I think is an all-time high!); I’ll be participating in the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading (sharing a preview of something from Bittersweetness & Light) and taking shifts at our book-selling table; and I’ll also be participating in four panels on a variety of writing topics.  It’s that last facet that’s providing the reason for this post.  This is a map and guide to various previous posts likely to be of interest to anyone attending those panels and looking for more details about anything I might reference.

A Protagonist Walks Into a Bar…  
…what does it look like? Who's in the room? How is it decorated? What does it smell like? How loud is it? We discuss just how much detail you really need.”
I’m in the pro-description camp, as a reader and therefore also as a writer.  The following posts are arguments in favor of plenty of lush description:
Here are a couple posts that have to do a little more loosely with how to choose words and description to express more than just bare bones of plot:
And something on balancing how much information to share in world-building:

Uncommon Creatures from Fairy Tales  “What about the creatures we don't hear so 
much about? Who are they and what role do they play in the realm of the fair folk? Are they getting short shrift in the literary realm in favor of their more common cousins? Let's scan the globe for other instances of curious creatures with poor PR.”
If you click the Label “mythical creatures” in the sidebar, you’ll find over 200 posts on all manner of creatures, but for the posts which give information specifically about various creatures from fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, here are some categories that pare it down (slightly):
     26 alphabetical posts on collected creatures here: A-Z Challenge ’16
     26 more regarding the creatures in my own bestiary On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination: A-Z Challenge ’19
     And 26 posts on creatures arranged according to particular traits, with lots and lots of examples from all around the world: A-Z Challenge ’22

If what you’re looking for is resources to do more research of your own, the following posts include lists and reviews of encyclopedias and other reference books that feature magical creatures:

     Creature Collections: Encyclopedias

     Creature Collections: The More the Merrier

     Creature Collections: For Young and Old

     Creature Collections: a Touch of Science

     Creature Collections: Artists’ Edition

     Field Guides to the Creatures of Fantasy

     More Field Guides

Plus, a great on-line resource can be found here: A Book of Creatures

Language in SFF
  “From The Languages of Pao to Embassytown, authors from all eras have explored the limits of humankind's greatest invention: language. In this panel, linguists and language experts discuss what works and what doesn't, and where one draws the line between science and science-fiction with respect to language.”
     My posts on this topic tend to be a little more tangential, but a few stories and issues related to SFF exploration of language are mentioned in the post L is for Language
     One facet of the use of fantasy languages appears in Poetry for Worldbuilding
     And some of the issues around using made-up languages in your fiction are the same as those involved in Character Names in Fantasy
     (Since it came up during the panel) a post about writing swearwords as Grawlixes and Other Maledicta
(Plus, if you’re interested in linguistics more generally, and especially in etymology, just click the Label in the sidebar for “words” and find all my monthly posts on tidbits of language.

Alternative Publishing 
     I haven’t written so much about this, but we’ll start with an essay on Why I Chose to Self-Publish
     You can see my current Kickstarter campaign here: Bittersweetness & Light
     And you can also still visit the page for my first Kickstarter campaign, if you want to see what that looked like: On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.
     If you have any questions about any of this stuff, I’m always happy to do my best to help, so feel free to contact me.

[Pictures: Barmaid, lithograph based on linocut by William Nicholson from London Types, 1898 (Image from Cleveland Museum of Art);

Polypodrollery, rubber block print by AEGN, 2019 (details here);

Two scholars discussing books, illumination on parchment from Brevicum ex artibus Raimundi Lulli electum - Codex St. Peter, 14th century (Image from Badische Landesbibliothek).]