Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Few of My Ears; Or, The Ear in Literature and Art

Tobacco Brown
Adam Farmer
Bienvenido Howard Romero
 I was thinking today about the concept of ears. I first really thought about the ear when I read A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. The protagonist of the novel is fascinated by the beauty of a woman's ear:
                    She was twenty-one, with an attractive slender body and a pair of the most bewitching, perfectly formed ears. She was a part-time proofreader for a small publishing house, a commercial model specializing in ear shots, and a call girl in a discreet intimate-friends-only club... Nonetheless,  sizing  up her essential attributes, I would have to say her natural gifts ran to ear modeling. She agreed. Which was well and good until you considered how extremely limited are the opportunities for a  commercial ear model, how abysmal the status and pay.

There's more, of course.
Mary Jo Karimnia
 Until I read that, I never thought much about what ears look like. I considered them basically utilitarian, and avoided drawing or painting them in detail as much as possible. This decision to ignore the ear was driven, I admit, by the difficulty of painting an ear that recognizably belongs to the subject.

 After A Wild Sheep Chase, I found I could no longer ignore the appearance of a person's ear when making a portrait. I don't know if you have ever really looked at a person's ear, and at people's ears in general, but if you do, I think you'll be surprised by the variation you find.

 Another reason I thought of ears today is because I was thinking of Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, which it seems I am always thinking about. In that book, the main character, Cincinnatus, writes to his wife: "I want to write this in such a way that you will cover your ears, your membranaceous, simian ears that you hide under strands of beautiful feminine hair-- but I know them,I see them, I pinch them, the cold little things, I worry them with my fingers to somehow warm them, bring them to life, make them human, force them to hear me."
David Hall
 In the world of Invitation, the only person capable of understanding art, beauty, or truth is Cincinnatus. Some readers may think that this is a sad commentary on the world we live in. However, Nabokov gives us a great clue to interpreting the novel when, in his Lectures on Literature, he says to his class (these are his actual lecture notes in a college-level course):

                             The work with this group has been a particularly pleasant association between the 
                             fountain of my voice and a garden of ears -- some open, others closed, many very receptive, 
                             a few merely ornamental, but all of them human and divine.
 Therefore, according to Nabokov, we do not live in the world of Invitation; we do live among human beings. All of his students, even those who were not listening to him as he lectured, have ears which are human, and have the ability to hear and understand something of the divine.

Meghan Vaziri
 As an artist, since I was very young, I was always obsessed with the way eyes look. That makes sense, I think, because I was interested in understanding beauty through the eye.

Eye from a high school self-portrait

Joel Parsons
Using the same logic, I think it makes sense for a writer to love ears, to love looking at them, to love depicting them with words, since the written word can, after all, be taken in through the ears. I wonder what else this can be extended to. Are perfumers very interested in looking at noses?

Lester Merriweather
 Here are some of the ears I have painted. I am working on a new portrait with a really interesting ear.
The holidays are coming up, so if you would like me to paint a portrait of someone (and that someone's ear) to give as a gift, call me (901) 246-4250 or email me soon at .

David Moore
What do you think? Do you like eyes or ears (or noses) better?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Let's Talk About Books

Once, when she was younger, a friend of my mom's stole her diary. He gave it back to her in disgust saying that there was nothing personal in it, that it was not a diary -- it was a book-list. But I think a book-list can make quite a good diary.

These are the most wonderful books of all time (in no particular order, and I've left my favorite book off this list).

Confederacy of Dunces (1963, published 1980) -- John Kennedy Toole       
Very, very funny book. Astonishingly light-hearted for an author whose personal history is so sad.

Never Let Me Go (2005) -- Kazuo Ishiguro          
Ishiguro's novels always concern moral dilemmas that cause the reader to further refine his or her own philosophy. I don't know of another novelist so adept at this.

The Remains of the Day (1989) -- Kazuo Ishiguro           
I first read this when working an unsatisfying but well-paying job. It makes you reflect on your life's purpose -- a great achievement, because very few things really cause you to do this.

The Sirens of Titan (1959) -- Kurt Vonnegut               
Beautiful imagery, sci-fi (but not very science-y).

Stoner (1965) -- John Williams                                   
Amazing book, about an academic. The pursuit of Truth and all of that.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)-- Audrey Niffenegger
Great imagery, really well-thought-out science fiction (opposite of Vonnegut).

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) -- Madeleine L'Engle            
Great children's book - exciting adventures, questions about ethics, standing up for what you believe.

The Last Vampire Series (1994-1996) -- Christopher Pike                  
This had a profound effect on my life. I re-read it recently, and it was almost as good as I remembered (which is saying a lot). My favorite parts involve Ancient India and Renaissance Italy (probably my first introduction to these epochs).
Rebecca (1938) -- Daphne du Maurier                                        
The language in this book is fantastic: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

The Great Gatsby (1925) -- F. Scott Fitzgerald                          
A perfect book.

Singularity (1985) -- William Sleator                                          
Coming of age novel about sibling rivalry,  solitude, and determination (also time travel, a mysterious uncle, and alien species).

The Night Watch (2006) -- Sarah Waters                                     
This woman can create scenes so realistic you will believe you are there.

Seymour: An Introduction (1959) -- J. D. Salinger                    
It's hard to pick one. I like all the stories about the Glass family. I do not like Catcher in the Rye.

The Last Tycoon (1941) -- F. Scott Fitzgerald                          
Airplane travel in the 1920's is the image that most stuck with me. This is a raw, unfinished novel (maybe The Great Gatsby is too finished?).

Dead Souls (1842) -- Nikolai Gogol                                          
I read one translation that I very much enjoyed -  I look forward to reading the one Nabokov recommended (although I really need to just learn Russian). Gogol is such a strange man. He goes off on strange tangents of extended metaphors that are just delightful -- no one else could learn from him and do it the way he does. He's completely idiosyncratic. Sui generis is a great term for Gogol.

Ablutions (2009) -- Patrick deWitt                                                  
It had a gimmick that I fell for-- it really worked on me, maybe it will on you, too. Instead of feeling guilty when reading it (an astonishing feeling) my husband thought it was hilarious.

This Is How -- M. J. Hyland                                              
When I read this book I read it constantly for two days (I was off work), and when I returned to work I was being very rude. I asked myself why, and realized it was because I thought the world owed me something -- I had completely gotten into the mind set of the first person narrator of this book. Not many authors can do that to you.

Lolita (1955) -- Vladimir Nabokov                                                 
 The language is very beautiful. The moral conundrum Nabokov creates in the mind of the reader is so dense and important that this book is still misunderstood by most. Read Reading Lolita in Tehran to help see how I would interpret it. I have a lot of opinions about this book, but I will withhold them here. Well, I'll give you one: the only person in the whole novel who ever calls the girl "Lolita" is the narrator -- Nabokov does a great job of making you only gradually realize this, even though he draws attention to it in the opening paragraphs of the novel - and, as you might expect, these opening paragraphs are essential to understanding the novel.

In Search of Lost Time (1913-1922) -- Marcel Proust                                 
 I don't have any suggestions for how you could go about finishing all seven volumes, but I encourage you to do it. The last volume is the key to the whole novel, which is about a philosophical idea that could not have been expressed in any other way. You have to read the whole thing to see what I mean.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) -- Leo Tolstoy                                    
Perfect novella about a man's struggle with his impending death and the meaning of his life.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003) -- Azar Nafisi                                                 I only recommend the parts about Nabokov. I read and enjoyed the other sections, but the section on Nabokov is what I'm specifically recommending here.

The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) -- William Styron                             
I don't know how William Styron, a white southerner, got into the head of the leader of a slave rebellion one hundred years previous, but he did. A masterpiece.

Atmospheric Disturbances (2008) -- Rivka Galchen                            
The book is about a man who is going insane in a particular way (Galchen is an MD in psychiatry). It makes you question your sanity, so, a difficult read.

Indignation -- Philip Roth                                                       
 The most amazing twist ending I have ever read. Do NOT read ahead, do NOT read a summary (do not read the wikipedia entry).

Sophie's World
(1991) -- Jostein Gaarder (translated from the Norwegian by Paulette Møller)
Very strange pulp fiction introduction to philosophy for young adults, which was sold in the grocery store (that's where my mom bought it for me). I don't know why this would be sold in a grocery store, but I'm glad it was.

The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story (1989)  -- Mary Downing Hahn                         
Time travel ghost story, ghost cat, friendships of little girls, single motherhood.

Behind the Attic Wall (1983) -- Sylvia Cassedy                                                    
 I think I liked this book because it was very well written, or so I remember. You wouldn't like the plot if I were to put it here.

We Others (2011) -- Steven Millhauser                                          
About magic - it made me want to fly, or I felt like I was flying when I read it.

One Thousand and One Nights (c. 800 C. E.) -- Anonymous                                                  
 Very sexual in nature, these are also of course about magic. There's nothing else in the world like them. Adaptations do not come close, if you have not read the original (at least in translation) you do not know these stories.

Steppenwolf (1927) -- Herman Hesse                                               
 I re-read this recently, and found it to be just as amazing as I thought it was when I was a teenager (it's the reason I took German in college). But I understand it more now.

Don Quixote (1615) -- Miguel de Cervantes                                    
I've read this book many times. I don't know how to explain how wonderful it is. Cervantes creates a world so realistic and so similar to ours, and puts a demented man in it whose fantasy world (in his head) is just as realistic to him. More on this later.

Iliad (900 B.C.E.), translated (1990) by Robert Fagles -- Homer          
 I don't know Greek, so I don't know if this is a good translation of the original. Here is a review of the translation: Whether it is true to the original or not, I deeply enjoyed this book.

The Nose (1835-1836)  -- Nikolai Gogol                                               
Very good story, like his others, something only Gogol could have written.
Women in Love (1920) -- D. H. Lawrence                                
I loved this book when I read it as a teenager, but haven't been able to re-read it.  These lines stuck with me: "To know is human, and in death we do not know, we are not human. And the joy of this compensates for all the bitterness of knowledge and the sordidness of our humanity. In death we shall not be human, and we shall not know. The promise of this is our heritage, we look forward like heirs to their majority." I was very interested in contemplating mortality when I was younger.

Age of Innocence (1920) -- Edith Wharton                                
The most brilliant part of this book is the soaring feeling you get when you speed forward in time.

Caribou Island (2011) -- David Vann                                        
What seems to be an extremely realistic depiction of a very unhappy marriage. The ending is an ecstasy of sadness (if you can imagine that).

Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) -- Thomas Hardy                 
 This was supposed to be "realism" -- it's very interesting to note that what was considered realistic then would not be considered realistic now; so what is "real"? But I really just liked the novel because of the dramatic story and the great imagery.

Wuthering Heights (1846) --  Emily Brontë                            
I already wrote an entry on this.

Herzog (1964) -- Saul Bellow                                                 
I love this book.

Decameron (1353) -- Giovanni Boccaccio                             
It's very easy to fall into this collection of stories, as funny and as interesting now as they were when they were written 700 years ago.

Canterbury Tales (1400) -- Geoffrey Chaucer                       
Chaucer was inspired by the Decameron (and copied many of the Italian stories), so it's not surprising that I have the same review. But try to read them in Middle English, if you can- it's very rewarding to read them out loud in the original.

Gulliver's Travels (1726) -- Jonathan Swift                                  
The mark of a great writer, it occurred to me as I re-read this, is that every aspect is intensely imagined. Who would have thought to write about what an enormous blemish on a wet-nurse's breast would look like? This isn't just an "illustration of ideas," as George Orwell's, Ayn Rand's, and Aldous Huxley's novels are-- it's a new world.

King Jesus (1946) -- Robert Graves

English, August: An Indian Story (1988) -- Upamanyu Chatterjee

The Castle (1926) -- Franz Kafka                                                  
It was one of the first things I ever talked about with the man who became my husband. It inspired me to make this work on tulle.

The Trial (1915) -- Franz Kafka

One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) -- Gabriel García Márquez                
For me, the parts about developing photographs were the best (I was taking a photography class at the time). I wonder if future generations will have any way to visualize these scenes.

All the Pretty Horses (1992) -- Cormac McCarthy                               
There is one part where a character is afraid of lightning. I don't know why I found that so funny.

Beloved (1987) -- Toni Morrison                 
Reading this novel feels like being brutally beaten. That may not be your idea of nice reading material (but you'd be wrong).

Song of Solomon (1977) -- Toni Morrison             
Reading this was the first time I stayed up all night reading a novel (high school).

Satyricon (68) -- Petronius                                    
 I read this after watching the Fellini film of the same name.

The Tragedy of Arthur (2011) -- Arthur Phillips        
Amazing novel. Similar to Pale Fire.

I, Claudius (1934) -- Robert Graves

Lord Vishnu's Love Handles  (2005) -- Will Clarke                           
 I bought at least two copies of this book and lent them to people.

Poems (1542) -- Sir Thomas Wyatt                                            
 Mine Own John Poynz, for instance.

Poems (1529) -- John Skelton                                                    
Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale (and others).

Norwegian Wood (1987) -- Haruki Murakami

Childhood's End (1953) -- Arthur C. Clarke

Songs of Distant Earth (1986) -- Arthur C. Clarke                                       

Love Poems (1615) -- John Donne                                       
 "Go and catch a falling star" is a miniature masterpiece.

Insomniac (2009) -- Gayle Greene                                         
I just realized that my memories of this work of non-fiction have fused with memories of my life at the time that I read it. It's very well-written, but could (I'm told) induce insomnia if you are prone to it.

Insomnia (1994) -- Stephen King                                        
Speaking of insomnia.

The Shining (1977) -- Stephen King

Wind, Sand and Stars (1939) -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995) -- Haruki Murakami

Heart of Darkness (1899) -- Joseph Conrad

An End to Suffering: the Buddha in the World (2004) -- Pankaj Mishra

Bachelors (2000) -- Rosalind Krauss                                   
The chapters on Eva Hesse and Agnes Martin are particularly great.

Invisible Man (1952) -- Ralph Ellison

Family Ties (1960) -- Clarice Lispector                             
The concept of "preciousness."

The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1891) -- Oscar Wilde          

Andrew Lang's Fairy Books (1889-1910) -- Various sources              

I'm trying to find a similarity between all of these books, and most of them create a texture that is very captivating, so that the world of the book seems real.

Data: Of these 72 books, 54 were written after 1900; 18 before 1900.
54 were written by men; only 18 by women.
United States Writers: 29
British Writers: 15
Other Countries: 28

Any books you want to add? Want to discuss some of these?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Art Show - Unchained II

               I was in an art show last month - Unchained II at the Rozelle Warehouse. Mary Jo Karimnia organized it. I loved everything about this show - being invited to it, inviting the next artist, meeting and making friends with the other artists involved, making collaborative drawings in connection with it, helping to hang it, the opening, and especially the art talk. The Vaziri Brothers provided music for the opening reception, which was a fun party.

              For me, the collaborative drawings were a great way to work through what the concept "unchained" in reference to an art exhibition might mean. The gallery talk was the first time I've done any public speaking on the subject of my art, and it helped me to progress in my thinking about it. 

             What I enjoyed most about exhibiting was getting feedback on my art. I was told (in an approving way) that I had descended into insanity, that the man in the painting was very creepy, that the deer was judging us, and that tulle can be treated with heat to melt it and make patterns into it, among other things. 

             I enjoyed the work of the other artists and learning more about their process, as well. Kerri Dugan's affinity for space travel was particularly fascinating.

            Eileen Townsend wrote a review in the Memphis Flyer that discusses Susanna and the Elders. In it, she describes the work as un-photographable, but here are two tries:

Meghan Vaziri 
Susanna and the Elders, 2013
 wool, cotton and silk thread on tulle fabric 
48 in x 48 in

I'm really happy about the review. Here's the image that inspired the painting above:

Gentileschi, Artemisia. Susanna and the Elders. Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden, Germany, 1610.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reading Stories

The last few months of school, I went to my friend's classroom once a week and read stories to her children.  Story time is something I really miss, and I was very thankful to her for letting me read to them. She helped them write thank you letters to give me the last week of school: 

Aren't they wonderful? I brought my monkey puppet, Esmé, with me most of the time, which they really enjoyed. She would ask them if they had any questions about the story when I was done reading it. The last day I read, I suppose they had observed enough to feel more confident, and one of the little boys talked to Esme: 

Esmé: "Yes, what is your question?"
Boy: "I don't have a question, but I have a puppet friend I want you to meet."
Esmé: "Okay! Who is your friend?"
The little boy made his hand move like it was a puppet and spoke in a very high voice: "Hi, I am a puppet. I wanted to say I liked that story."

They had a conversation about the story. We had so much fun! Then another boy did the same thing and said that his hand was also a puppet. All the children started giggling, but they took the kid seriously, too. Childhood is amazing. At the end Esmé hugged everybody, and she made sure to hug the puppet hands. It was a great day. 

I made a sleep mask and a zippered banana purse for my monkey puppet. She obviously needs a sleep mask because she doesn't have any eyelids, but the banana was what I gave her for Christmas. Part of the fun of making these things was watching how insane the children thought I was when I showed them. To make puppetry work in a classroom you have to, on some level, believe in the puppet yourself.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sketches From a Band Concert

Last night, I attended a band concert at St. Francis. It was very good!  

Here is a sketch I attempted to make of the middle school musical at St. Francis, Finian's Rainbow. 

In doing these sketches, I learned that middle-schoolers generally move too fast to sketch.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Trip to Nashville

I had a really fun time on a trip to Nashville with Mary Jo Karimnia this weekend.  We ate at some amazing restaurants that we chose at random, which clearly means that every restaurant in Nashville serves delicious food, has great service, and is reasonably priced.

We saw some really weird awesome art in the Wedgewood Houston area of Nashville. 

But the best part was the tarot reading Mary Jo gave me on the steps of the Parthenon. It inspired me with the words "luminous anger."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I was commissioned to paint this poster for a great musical coming up.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Man Called Destruction

This was a reading at storybooth last night.

That's the author, Holly George-Warren.

You can see me sketching in this photo! I'm the one with the braid.
I kind of felt bad about drawing unsuspecting people... Oh well. This lady kept turning her head to talk to the person she came with, so I decided to work on two sketches of her simultaneously. It was a challenge!
This woman had gray shoes to match her suit. She and her date were very well dressed.
I also had fun bicycling to this event and back. I went even though thunderstorms were predicted... It didn't storm! It's best not to take weather reports literally.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Reading Magic

I was sitting at Otherlands today, and this beautiful woman sat down in front of me, so of course I sketched her. I was looking right at her, and afterwards she told me she knew I was drawing her, but she was nice enough to stay relatively still.
One of the reasons I found her so captivating was her resemblance to the woman in this painting by Eldzier Cortor. This was recently in an exhibition at the Dixon, and I spent a long time looking at it. The painting was made in the 1940s. 

What the woman pictured above was discussing with two other people at Otherlands was literacy education, a topic I love and think about often. Here's a sketch I did of what I consider to be literacy education done right:
This was sketched during the last Urban Sketchers meeting at the Pop-White Station Library. (There's another sketch group this Saturday!) As I sketched it, someone sketched me!
The reason I love what the children's librarian, Michelle Allen, has done here is because it allows children to believe that the animals are reading. This element of play is not just a good thing to have when teaching children to read, I believe it is the most important thing in the education of young children. I have taught kindergarten and first grade, and some of the fondest memories I have of the school year are when I would give them all a puppet, and tell them they must "read" a book with or to their puppet (we would do this every day). This happened after I had just modeled this behavior to them by reading aloud a story to my own puppet, Esme, and asking her questions about it. 

Too often, the bureaucrats try to take this element of play out of the schools. When I hear them use the word "data," I cringe. Why is that word so often spoken by bureaucrats who are involved in schools, but rarely do we hear the words "play," "magic," or "childhood" in connection with teaching literacy? I have a challenge for non-teachers involved in schools: every time you hear yourself use the words "data," or "assessment," create an opportunity for using one of the following words: "joy," "play," "magic." That will go a long way towards making the public schools better.

/end public service announcement

Friday, March 28, 2014

Impossible Language was a Great Success!

This was an interdisciplinary show organized by Ashley Roach-Freiman. It involved poetry, visual art, and music.

 Here is the wonderful poet Jonathan Owen May in center, along with Erica Qualy, Clay Cantrell, and Laressa Dickey.

I was so happy to be able to display my work alongside the work of Mary Jo Karimnia.

 One of the reasons last night was fantastic is because the work on lightboxes doesn't really show up right in photos. It was great to have people look at it in person. Here is a photograph, anyway.

 The musician/writer Clay Cantrell is to the right. I don't think he noticed, but while he was playing one song on his electric guitar, my lightbox displaying Susanna and the Elders was flickering to the music. It was beautiful but nerve-wracking for me! Fortunately, the flickering stopped after the first song.

 Very delicious cookies and cheese wafers were served (made by my amazing mother-in-law, Phyllis Vaziri).

 My sister Halle Kiihnl curated my outfit for this event. Great job, Halle!

 The painter Adam Benet Shaw has been an inspiration to me.

 The Castle, Meghan, Mary Jo, and three of Mary Jo's loveliest seed bead mosaics.

 It was so exciting to be part of an event that got both artists and non-visual-art people out (writers). Ashley has some great ideas!

 I can't tell you how much I needed people to see my work in person so that I could get some real feedback. I also learned a lot about my own work last night. For instance, this work swayed with the winds made by the air-conditioner -- and I loved it!

 Some of the art folks I most respect in Memphis came out to see this show -- here's Sarah Knowles.

And Stephanie Cosby.

This really was a magical event, and I want to thank Ashley Roach-Freiman for putting it on.