Jeffery Oliver

Working through art and life, often on a bicycle.

These Things: Octopi, the Denver Airport, and Celebrating Those Around Us

Night photo of North Concord BART station parking lot

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”—Hans Hofmann

Hofmann is talking about art process here, but I’m wondering if I can’t learn to apply this idea toward this holiday season?

The People Around Us

Travel Season

Holidays on Ice

  • My sister gave me a copy of David Sedaris’s book, “Holidays on Ice,” a million years ago. It’s a fun read this time of year if you’re looking for some affirmation of the mix of emotions associated with friends, family, and the beginning of winter holidays.

Happiness is happiness,

Jeff O.

If you want “These Things” delivered to your inbox, you can sign up here. It’s an email I send out every other week–no spam and no selling your email address. Just things that inspire me.

These Things: Gourds, Gratitude, and Surrealist Cookbooks

Combining the Separations

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.”

– Gertrude Stein

I love this quote from Ms Stein and accept it as a reminder to tell at least one person today how much I appreciate them. And so:

A Practice of Gratitude

The Table is Set

  • It’s Decorative Gourd Season Motherfuckers!” That’s the tone of this super short essaymerical rant. If you’re captivated by the title, you’ll likely enjoy this short read on McSweeny’s website.
  • For the day where many of us traditionally celebrate food: Salvador Dali always wanted to be a chef and published a surrealist cookbook, “Les Diners de Gala,” in 1973. The recipes are as exotic as his paintings and often include ingredients from opposite ends of the planet. He followed up in 1978 with an eccentric treatise on wine he wrote for his wife titled, “The Wines of Gala.”

And Then After Dinner

  • The Life-changing Magic of Taking Long Walks” This covers it from sleeping better, to having great ideas, to help against Alzheimer’s. “It’s the process that’s doing the work.”
  • Film Fest Forty-Seven (FF47). I like to call these curated film lists tiny film festivals. FF47 includes the comedy of Andre Hyland, stop-motion animation from Spain, some exquisite underwater cinematography, and more stories of living as a human.

Have a lovely day of Thanksgiving,

Jeff O.

If you want “These Things” delivered to your inbox, you can sign up here. It’s an email I send out every other week–no spam and no selling your email address. Just things that inspire me.

Film Fest Forty-Seven (FF47)

Film Festival Forty-Seven (FF47)

Last weekend Jennifer and I hosted Film Fest Forty-Seven (FF47) at Sunset Grove. It was a lot of fun showing some of our favorite short films and hanging out with some friends here in Boise. If you’re interested to watch (or host) FF47, check out the films here on my website.

These Things: Persimmons and Chanterelles

Molly testing for her black belt in karate

I gave him the persimmons, / swelled, heavy as sadness, / and sweet as love.

– from Li-Young Lee’s “Persimmons”

We’ve just passed that time of year when the spirit world and what we perceive as “reality” are at their closest–when persimmons and chanterelles are ready to be harvested–when time slows and the electricity in the air becomes more precise in its nature. Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, El Dia de los Muertos. This fascinates me–to know, and sometimes feel, so close to this reality I’m learning to accept rather than believe. I love autumn. It is for me what the poet Charles Wright describes as, “the silence that turns the silence off.”

Elsewhere: My niece Molly tested for her black belt in karate last weekend in Davis, California and it was truly inspiring to watch this 15-year-old woman do sit ups, spar hand to hand, and defend against various attacks for three hours without any real break on Friday night. And then again on Saturday afternoon. The photo above was taken on Saturday after she had run a few miles and done a couple hundred sit ups and then she was still able to stand up and kick the bag so hard an instructor had to eventually come over to help hold Will steady. It’s not what we believe, it’s what we do that inspires others.

But you’re here:

I sincerely hope you find something today that reminds you that you’re beautiful.

If you want “These Things” delivered to your inbox, you can sign up here. It’s an email I send out every other week–no spam and no selling your email address. Just things that inspire me.

These Things: The Perfect Silence of Stars

looked up in perfect silence at the stars - What Whitman

“….reading about the stars, / How they afford to spend centuries / Traveling our way on a glint of light.” – from Charles Simic’s “My Noiseless Entourage” recorded here.

Here are five things that inspired wonder in me recently.

Let Me Sum Up

  1. “We are now so humble that we would not claim to occupy any special position,” from Stephen Hawking’s 1966 thesis, “Properties of the Expanding Universe (PDF),” which was published online as a PDF this week by Cambridge University. It’s very scientific but the introduction inspired wonder.
  2. Richard Feynman, another theoretical physicist, wrote a beautiful love letter to his wife Arline–488 days after her death.
  3. Bode’s Astronomical Law is the basis for Michael Harrison’s “Just Ancient Loops,” a composition for solo cello written for cellist Maya Beiser and set to video by artist Bill Morrison. Kevin Berger’s article with interviews and sound recordings explains this really beautiful re-interpretation of an idea from 18th century astronomy.
  4. This is the illustrated story of the science fiction writer who fell out of the sky (via The Oatmeal).
  5. To Do: Look up in silence at stars. Walt Whitman’s poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” on YouTube:
    1. recited in the TV show Breaking Bad (no, seriously);
    2. read by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson;
    3. interpreted as a videopoem;
    4. as an art song for voice, cello, and piano;
    5. recited and enacted by Mandy Chan (who appears to be a junior high school student somewhere warm).

Let Me Explain

1) Stephen Hawking Humbled by Our Average Sun

Cambridge University, the one in England, published Stephen Hawking’s 1966 thesis, “Properties of the Expanding Universe (PDF)” in PDF format this week! The abstract is very scientific (appropriately so), but I was inspired to wonder in his introduction:

“The early cosmologies naturally placed man at or near the centre of the universe, but, since the time of Copernicus we have been demoted to a medium sized planet going round a medium sized star somewhere near the edge of a fairly average galaxy. We are now so humble that we would not claim to occupy any special position.”

2) Love Letters to Loved Ones We’ve Lost

I was also reminded this week of Richard Feynman’s loving letter to his beloved wife, Arline–written 488 days after her death. You can read the full text (and hear Oscar Issac read it).

Aside 1: Mathematics is Only One Way of Describing the Universe

I’m going to take a moment and go on a (hopefully brief) rant here: the universe is not made of math as some scientist stated but rather many things within the universe may be expressed as mathematics. I prefer Bertrand Russell’s definition of mathematics which is that “Mathematics is Symbolic Logic.” Mathematics is a system for describing certain phenomena–it is not phenomena itself.

As violinist and theoretical physicist Albert Einstein explains, “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.”

Aside 2: How Math Describes Our Solar System

I love Johannes Kepler’s description of the music of the spheres (and wrote an essay-poem about it called “Bodies of Sound: An Essay on Vibration“)–that the relationship among the distances of planets in our solar system correspond to the notes of a major scale which Pythagoras described when he discovered the same relationships among notes of a single string of an instrument. Or rather, it’s that the music in our solar system sounds the way it does because of the relationships among physical phenomena and space within our solar system. So fucking cool.

3) Music as the Sound of Our Solar System

As humans, we have, since (and literally) before we can remember, been peering into the universe with wonder. An 18th century German astronomer, Johann Elert Bode, described “Bode’s Law” which is basically that heavenly bodies orbit their hosts at mathematically predictable distances. This idea still works, but we’ve discovered since that it’s not consistent in all galaxies.

Composer Michael Harrison used this idea as the structure for “Just Ancient Loops.”

The work was composed for cellist Maya Beiser who has experimented with live-recorded-and-looped music for several years. Visual artist Bill Morrison set one recording of the performance to video and “Just Ancient Loops” has become a beautiful multi-media experience.

Kevin Berger’s article with interviews and sound recordings explains this really beautiful re-interpretation of an idea from 18th century astronomy.

4) Make It So

This is the illustrated story of the science fiction writer who fell out of the sky (via The Oatmeal). And, to add anything else would spoil the story, so…you can read it here.

5) To Do: Look up in Silence at the Stars

As fascinated as I become with the juxtaposition and interstice of our universe, mathematics, music, and art, it’s good to remember that, as the Biblical teacher wrote, “without love I am nothing.” Here’s Walt Whitman’s poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

And other reimaginings of this poem on YouTube:

Thank you,

Thanks for hanging out with me today. We are so fortunate to live in such a universe. I hope you have a fantastic day.

Jeff O.

These Things: Gotta Build Your Own Bridge

These Things - gotta build your own bridge

“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.” – Mr. Nietzche

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” – E.E. Cummings

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

It’s cool and fall now so this edition ended up heavy on the poetry and music because…it’s cool and fall.

But, last week was crush in southwest Idaho and that means it’s red wine season. So, pour yourself a glass of red wine and sit back and enjoy the Beethoven Late Quartets or listening to some poems. Or just delete this email and enjoy the red wine. But only after your midday walk a la Beethoven.

Oh, and, it’s my partner Jennifer’s birthday today. She’s the most original person I know. This edition is dedicated to her distinct and beautiful way of being.

Good luck being yourself. See you in two weeks.

Jeff O.

These Things: Learning to Walk it Off

Chihuly glass sculpture at Crystal Bridges Museum

Learning to Walk it Off

I am not one of those who neglect the body in order to make of it a sacrificial offering for the soul, since my soul would thoroughly dislike being served in such a fashion. Rainer Maria Rilke via Brainpickings

Let Me Explain

I was just in Arkansas for a week and got to hang out with the parents and experience again the Crystal Bridges Museum (the photo is a Chihuly sculpture they installed in the woods near the museum along with several other lighted Chihuly sculptures. Yep, just put them in the woods.), George Dombek’s amazing art studio, fry bread vegan tacos, Bike Rack Brewing, tour the Brightwater kitchen (Northwest Arkansas Community College culinary program), and get in some epic mountain biking that reminded what is single track riding.

It was a great week, but I always seem to get sick when I fly so I’ve pretty much been in bed for two days. Wake me before the next movie starts…

These Things: Everything You Can Imagine Is Real

These Things - Summer Evening 2017
“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up…”
– Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride”

Let Me Sum Up

  1. Vemodalen: The Fear That Everything Has Already Been Done(video) – Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
  2. It’s Saturday – spoken-word song by King Missile (explicit lyrics)
  3. What you shouldn’t waste – video essay based on a quote by Annie Dillard produced by Mango Street Lab
  4. To Come up with a good idea, start by imagining the the worst idea possible – Harvard Business Review
  5. Everything you can imagine is real.” – Pablo Picasso

Let Me Explain

It’s easy to rationalize that the story of a woman playing cello in the forest has been told a million times which is like what the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows describes as vemodalen–the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos of the thing already exist. And this doesn’t help except to describe my frustration which only makes it more acute.

I become cynical and think of King Missile’s spoken-word song, “It’s Saturday,” where John Hall says, “I want to be different, like everybody else I want to be like.” This takes the edge off. A little. At least it reminds me that I’m a human with my own feelings.

As a creative professional and artist, I want to figure how to make it through this life and express that in my way. Not “my way” in an ego sense, but I mean through an integrity.

In “The Princess Bride,” at a moment when they were running short on time, Vizzini tells Fezzik to “Finish him, your way.” Fezzik replies, “Thank you Vizzini…what’s my way?”

What You Shouldn’t Waste,” brings me out of the depressing thought of vemodalen or the cynical-and-self-effacing It’s Saturday.

This short video essay by Mango Street Labs is based around an Annie Dillard quote, “what you shouldn’t waste,” which places me in a scene on the World’s stage as if I were a giant with a task which is ultimately to discover “what’s my way?”

(ASIDE: If you’re like me and are looking to improve your photography, I highly recommend checking out the Mango Street Lab YouTube channel.)

So, which is my way? Sometimes, to come up with a good idea, we have to start by imagining the worst idea possible. This is especially useful for creative problem solving no matter who you are or what your problem.

In Pablo Picasso’s painting “Girl Before a Mirror,” we clearly see a woman on the left as very beautiful. But in the mirror on the right, we see her seeing herself as darker and misshaped–she’s imagined herself as less beautiful that she is. I’m guilty of this.

Pablo Picasso famously stated that, “Everything you can imagine is real.”

If we imagine we’re beautiful.

So then,

Jeff O.

My Noiseless Entourage [poem by Charles Simic read by Jeff O.]

My Noiseless Entourage poem by Charles Simic read by Jeffery Oliver

My Noiseless Entourage

We were never formally introduced.
I had no idea of their number.
It was like a discreet entourage
Of homegrown angels and demons
All of whom I had met before
And had since largely forgotten.

In time of danger, they made themselves scarce.
Where did they all vanish to?
I asked some felon one night
While he held a knife to my throat,
But he was spooked too,
Letting me go without a word.

It was disconcerting, downright frightening
To be reminded of one’s solitude,
Like opening a children’s book—
With nothing better to do—reading about the stars,
How they afford to spend centuries
Traveling our way on a glint of light.

Remember [poem by Joy Harjo read by Jeff O.]

“Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled…”

Read the full poem on the Academy of American Poets website (

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