Month: January 2021

The Zone: No. 13 – Jan 14, 2020

  1. Welcome To The Zone!
  2. The Zone: No. 2 – Oct 22, 2020
  3. The Zone: No. 3 – Oct 29, 2020
  4. The Zone: No.4 – Nov 5, 2020
  5. The Zone: No. 5 – Nov 12, 2021
  6. The Zone: No. 6 – Nov 19, 2020
  7. The Zone: No. 7 – Nov 26, 2020
  8. The Zone: No. 8 – Dec 3, 2020
  9. The Zone: No. 9 – Dec 10, 2020
  10. The Zone: No. 10 – Dec 17, 2020
  11. The Zone: No. 11, Dec 31, 2020 – Special Edition
  12. The Zone: No. 12 – Jan 7, 2020
  13. The Zone: No. 13 – Jan 14, 2020

Creativity as a simple three-step formula, a free streamable Hayao Miyazaki documentary, the importance of music in movies, and much more in The Zone No. 13.

We finally got some snow, yay! It’s colder now, and it seems that the fine weather will continue if you’ll forgive me the pun. (I love Pink Panther, see it if you haven’t). Anyway, SNOW!

A red squirrel hiding nuts in the snow.  Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A red squirrel in my garden, hiding nuts in the snow.
  • The Key to Creativity? Jootsing, meaning “jumping out of the system.” (Douglas Hofstadter coined the term). Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett breaks down creativity into a simple three-step formula:
    • Understand a particular system and its rules, for instance, painting.
    • Step outside the system and look for something that undermines those rules.
    • Create something new based on the findings.

For example, Picasso had started learning drawing and oil painting as a seven-year-old, tutored by his father, and studied at prominent art schools in Barcelona and Madrid. Then he broke the rules and created Cubism.

Creativity, that ardently sought but only rarely found virtue, often is a heretofore unimagined violation of the rules of the system from which it springs.”

Daniel C. Dennett, Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking
  • Pablo Picassos complete name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Mártir Patricio Ruiz y Picasso. That’s a mouthful (23 words).
View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’ by  Johannes Vermeer, 1658.
View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1658.
Stars in the outskirts of the dwarf galaxy Caldwell 18 (NGC 185) as well as distant background galaxies (which appear as extended patches of light). Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Ferguson (University of Edinburgh, Institute for Astronomy); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)
The dwarf galaxy Caldwell 18 (NGC 185) and distant background galaxies (which appear as extended patches of light). Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Ferguson (University of Edinburgh, Institute for Astronomy); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)
  • NASA has released 30 new space photos to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hubble telescope’s launch, and they are awesome.
  • The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a site and YouTube channel (and a forthcoming book from Simon & Schuster) that “defines neologisms for emotions that do not have a descriptive term.” The site’s creator, John Koenig, makes up the words but partly bases them on “research on etymologies and meanings of used prefixes, suffixes, and word roots.” A few examples:
    • aftersome adj. astonished to think back on the bizarre sequence of accidents that brought you to where you are today—as if you’d spent years bouncing down a Plinko pegboard, passing through a million harmless decision points, any one of which might’ve changed everything—which makes your long and winding path feel fated from the start, yet so unlikely as to be virtually impossible.
    • flashover n. the moment a conversation becomes real and alive, which occurs when a spark of trust shorts out the delicate circuits you keep insulated under layers of irony, momentarily grounding the static emotional charge you’ve built up through decades of friction with the world.
    • exulansis n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.
  • Jack Pierce is a musician and movie and TV composer based in London. His video about how music affects characters or scenes in movies is short and to the point. Very educational.

My Zone

A Quote I’m Pondering

There is only one time that is important— Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.

Leo Tolstoy, What Men Live By and Other Tales 

From My Photo Archives

Close up of deep blue sea. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Deep Blue Sea

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To read more The Zone posts, click here.



Ray Bradbury’s Writing Advice For Writers To Be

In one of his lectures collected in the slim volume titled “Ray Bradbury: On Writing,” Bradbury talks about young people dreaming of writing a novel. His advice? Start small. Don’t start with a novel, which will take a long time to write, only to find out at the end it wasn’t good enough.

On Writing

Practice your skills, learn how to write by writing short stories. Write one short story a week. You’ll have the satisfaction of completing something in a relatively short period of time, and you’ll learn a lot. You’ll learn to compact things; to look for ideas; to see a metaphor, and how to write it. At the end of the year, there should be at least one good story. And you’re learning the craft.

Write What You Want to Read

Write what you want to read. Write about what you love, what you hate; write about what you fear; write with joy and abandon. Writing should be fun, not a chore.

Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun at it. (…) I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy my joy.

Close up of book shelves, two of them dedicated to writing. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

On Reading

As a writer, you should write a lot, and read a lot, too. The library is your school of writing, as it was his. Ray Bradbury never went to college; he couldn’t afford it. But he went to the library several times a week and, in his words, “graduated from the library”.

I want you to live the fever pitch. I want you to go to the library. The great thing about libraries is surprise, isn’t it? To pull books off the shelf and not know what they are (…).

What Should You Read?

Read and learn from the best. Every night, before going to bed, read one short story, one poem, one essay from various fields. Do this for a thousand nights, and you’ll have a solid education.

Ray Bradbury’s Recommended Reading

Short Stories

Short Stories

  • Roald Dahl
  • Guy De Maupassant
  • John Cheever
  • Richard Matheson
  • John Collier
  • Edith Wharton
  • Katherine Anne Porter
  • Eudora Welty
  • Washington Irving
  • Melville
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

Essays

Poems

  • Aldous Huxley
  • Loren Eiseley
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • G. K. Chesterton

Go back and read the classics.

  • Shakespeare
  • Alexander Pope
  • Robert Frost

My Reading Education

I grew up in a home where there weren’t many books, but the ones we had were all classics. There was a book series collecting the classic works of both Romanian and foreign authors of all time. That was a gold mine for a child with an inquisitive mind, thirsting for knowledge, curious about everything. My parents didn’t forbid me to read any books; thankfully, they didn’t practice age-appropriate reading.

So I grew up reading Jules Verne, Daniel Defoe, and Mark Twain’s children’s books. In fact, my sister read them to me before I could read them myself. You could say I was primed for reading (thank you, sis!).

But I also read Balzac, Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, W. M. Thackeray, Emily Brontë, and Charlotte Brontë. I probably read Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre a dozen times before I went to university.

Book Cover of Anton Chekhov Stories. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
My edition of Chekhov’s Stories.

At the university, we were required to read the classics. I was one of the few students who actually read the whole list.

They’re classic for a reason: they’re well written and show us the universal in people, humanity, our world. They endured hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Which best-sellers of today would still be best-sellers in fifty years?

Long story short, reading classic works is a good, free education. I would add Anton Chekhov, Sake, and Katherine Mansfield to Bradbury’s list of short stories.


I leave you with the best quote from this lecture (The Hygiene of Writing).

Don’t live on your god damned computers and the internet and all that crap. Go to the library.


To read more writing advice posts, click here.



Lightning

  1. The Rising Moon
  2. Tonight’s Moon
  3. Cicadas’ Voices
  4. At Yamei’s House
  5. The Bleak Wind
  6. Beads Of Dew
  7. Moon-Viewing At My Hut
  8. Fallen Leaves
  9. An Old Tree Was Felled …
  10. The Autumn Tempest
  11. Autumn Is Advanced
  12. To Ransetsu
  13. In Imitation of Kaku’s Haiku on Knotgrass and a Firefly
  14. On the Death of Issho
  15. Ice and Water
  16. The Lark
  17. The First Snow
  18. The Moon Of Tonight
  19. The Chanting of Buddhist Prayers
  20. Lightning
A view of Mount Fuji from the fifth station, photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Mount Fuji (view from the fifth station)

How noble he who realizes not,

From lightning-flashes, life is wain!

Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694) was the most famous Edo period poet and a haiku master.


To read more poems, click here.



Rainy Days and Purring Cats

Burning logs in a fireplace. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The snow of yesterday turned to snowy rain today. And it’s dark. Again.

I’m sitting by the fire with a good book, a cup of hot chocolate, and a purring cat. What can be better than this? 

Oh, I know! More chocolate. I’d better get going!



The Zone: No. 12 – Jan 7, 2020

  1. Welcome To The Zone!
  2. The Zone: No. 2 – Oct 22, 2020
  3. The Zone: No. 3 – Oct 29, 2020
  4. The Zone: No.4 – Nov 5, 2020
  5. The Zone: No. 5 – Nov 12, 2021
  6. The Zone: No. 6 – Nov 19, 2020
  7. The Zone: No. 7 – Nov 26, 2020
  8. The Zone: No. 8 – Dec 3, 2020
  9. The Zone: No. 9 – Dec 10, 2020
  10. The Zone: No. 10 – Dec 17, 2020
  11. The Zone: No. 11, Dec 31, 2020 – Special Edition
  12. The Zone: No. 12 – Jan 7, 2020
  13. The Zone: No. 13 – Jan 14, 2020

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first edition of The Zone this year! New Year’s Resolutions, Adam Grant on procrastination, new books & movies, the ultimate e-mail structure, and more in The Zone No. 12.

  • Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned in 2020 is so interesting! Some of my favorites:
    • When Ibn Battuta visited China in 1345, facial recognition was already in use. All visiting foreigners had their portraits discreetly painted and posted on the walls of the bazaar. “If a stranger commits any offence… they send his portrait far and wide” [Ibn Battuta]
    • Euro English is an evolving pidgin English used by EU administrators, for example: using ‘Handy’ to mean mobile phone (from German), ‘Non?’ to turn any sentence into a question and unusual plurals like ‘expertises”. [Lindsey Johnstone]
    • In Warsaw’s Gruba Kaśka water plant there are eight clams with sensors attached to their shells. If the clams close because they don’t like the taste of the water, the city’s supply is automatically shut off. [Judita K]
Coffee mugs and cinnamon rolls on a wooden table. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
Take a break!

Dear Person I am Writing To,

This is an optional sentence introducing who I am and work for, included if the addressee has never corresponded with me before. The second optional sentence reminds the person where we met, if relevant. This sentence states the purpose of the email.

This optional paragraph describes in more detail what’s needed. This sentence discusses relevant information like how soon an answer is needed, what kind of answer is needed, and any information that the other person might find useful. If there’s a lot of information, it’s a good idea to separate this paragraph into two or three paragraphs to avoid having a Wall of Text.

If a description paragraph was used, close with a restatement of the initial request, in case the addressee ignored the opening paragraph.

This sentence is just a platitude (usually thanking them for their time) because people think I am standoffish, unreasonably demanding, or cold if it’s not included.

Closing salutation, Signature


My Zone

A Quote I’m Pondering

Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.

Elizabeth Gilbert

From My Photo Archives

A horned ghost crab on the beach at sunrise, Fregate Island, Seychelles. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A horned ghost crab on the beach at sunrise, Fregate Island, Seychelles.

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To read more The Zone posts, click here.



A Highly Personal List Of Best Dystopian Novels

An abandoned car under a tarpaulin in the woods, an illustration for dystopian novels. Black and white photo by Mihaela Limberea.

It’s no secret I love a good dystopian novel, and if it’s science-fiction, even better. It seems that I’m not alone: almost all of these novels have been turned into movies or TV series. Although, after living through 2020, I’m not sure how popular dystopian books or movies would be. But who knows? Maybe we’ll still watch them and find solace in their misery; our world is still better. (Is it? Here you have some food for thought to last you a while).

Ranting done, here’s my highly personal list of best dystopian novels.


I’ve been a longtime fan of Stephen KIng’s novels (and his On Writing is my writing bible). I like all his books, but some I love a bit more, and The Stand remains my favorite; the best Sci-Fi/Horror and the ultimate Stephen King book. It’s huge (around 1.400 pages, and I love to lose myself in long books) and spellbinding, sucking you in and never letting go. If you haven’t read it, I envy you that first reading.

I’m looking forward to watching the new series, although the reviews have been lukewarm. It seems Stephen Kind doesn’t have any luck with the film adaptation of his novels. The Shining is the exception that proves the rule. Cell was…decent, but that’s about it; unfortunately, because King’s novels are made to be brought to the screen. Bonus: Stephen King ranks the best and the worst adaptations of his books.

Station Eleven is a deeply melancholy haunting book, a page-turner and a poem at once, set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse. Think Cormac McCarthy meets Joan Didion. 

Twenty years after a flu pandemic that wiped out most of humanity, a small group of actors and musicians – The Traveling Symphony – travel in a caravan to various communities to play music and perform Shakespeare plays in a post-apocalyptic world. “Because survival is insufficient.” says on the side of their caravan—storytelling as a means of spiritual survival, hope, and connection.

A mini-series based on the book is in production. In an eerie coincidence, it began filming in Chicago in mid-January, the same week the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the U.S.

  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road.  A deeply unsettling, post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son’s fight to survive, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a simple and short melancholic book, with a raw emotional pull that offers nothing to comfort.

A father and his son walk alone in a post-apocalyptic, devastated America, where nothing moves but the gray ashes of the snow and the unforgivingly cold wind. Sustained only by their unconditional love, they move slowly and cautiously towards the coast, a beacon of hope in a land that lost all hope.

Starring Viggo Mortensen in one of his best roles, the 2009 movie is an excellent adaptation; visually compelling, grim and desolate and terrible as you’d expect from the book. Depressing too, I won’t lie; The Road is not one of those end-of-the-world movies with lucky escapes, unlikely action scenes, and a happy end.

  • Marlen Haushofer, The Wall, written in a stream of conscious style that never becomes monotonous, is a haunting survival story, disturbing and beautiful, by the Austrian author Marlen Haushofer (1920 – 1970).

The book is a journal kept by a never-named narrator, a middle-aged woman, the only survivor of an unknown event that killed everyone and sealed her off by a transparent and impenetrable wall somewhere in the Austrian Alps.

It’s a reflective book, going very slowly, and if you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-filled end-of-the-world novel, this is not it. It’s more like The Road, terrible things happening in an unforgiving world, narrated in a slow and desolate way, to become unsettling and heart-breaking stories.

There’s an Austrian movie based on the book, Die Wand (2012), but it’s not largely available outside Austria and Germany. It’s on Amazon Prime in some locations; sadly, not in Sweden. Here’s the trailer. And an interview with the director, Julian Pölsler, talking about the book and challenges in making the movie.

The hero, Robert Neville, seems to be the only human left in the world, the rest being killed or turned into vampires. He spends his nights barricaded indoors, praying for dawn; and his days, killing as many vampires as he can while they’re sleeping.

Matheson combines science-fiction and horror (including vampires, decades before vampires became fashionable) into a fundamental piece about humanity; about loneliness, survival, and prejudice in a plague devastated world.

The movie is fine but has little to do with the book. It’s good to know if you’ve seen the movie and want to read the book.

I don’t want to spoil your discovery of this gem of a book. Suffice to say that there’s indeed a dog (in danger), a loving human desperate to save the said dog, all in the background of a post-apocalyptic world.

It’s a young-adult book, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a thrilling and heartwarming book, and I didn’t want it to end. And when it did, I hoped Fletcher would come back to this world and give us more.


To read more posts about books, click here.

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The Chanting of Buddhist Prayers

  1. The Rising Moon
  2. Tonight’s Moon
  3. Cicadas’ Voices
  4. At Yamei’s House
  5. The Bleak Wind
  6. Beads Of Dew
  7. Moon-Viewing At My Hut
  8. Fallen Leaves
  9. An Old Tree Was Felled …
  10. The Autumn Tempest
  11. Autumn Is Advanced
  12. To Ransetsu
  13. In Imitation of Kaku’s Haiku on Knotgrass and a Firefly
  14. On the Death of Issho
  15. Ice and Water
  16. The Lark
  17. The First Snow
  18. The Moon Of Tonight
  19. The Chanting of Buddhist Prayers
  20. Lightning
Close up of a cairn with Gornergrat glacier surrounded by mountains in the background, Switzerland. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

The chanting of the prayers fills

The field and mountain with cool air.

Mukai Kyorai 

Mukai Kyorai (1651 – 1704) was a Japanese poet of the early Tokugawa period (1603–1867) and one of the first disciples of the haiku master Matsuo Bashō.


To read more poems, click here.



Acquainted With The Night

Sunset colors, photo by Mihaela Limberea.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. 

I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963), American poet and winner of four Pulitzer Prizes, is most known for The Road Not Taken (a poem often read the graduation ceremonies), Fire and IceMending Wall, Nothing Gold Can Stay, and Home Burial.


To read more poems by Robert Frost, click here.



The Most Popular Blog Posts in 2020

Close up of a tabby kitten sleeping on a pillow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.
“I’m Minette, three months old, and need my sleep.” Our tabby kitten is now almost nine years old.

2020 (finally!) over, I had a look at what people read here on the blog. These are the top ten most popular blog posts, an interesting mix of topics.

As expected, major life changes are always reader magnets – the top three posts are about me, leaving Microsoft after 20+ years to become an artist, and what we now call Covid-19.

The rest is evenly spread on popular culture, life, and photography; basically, what I usually write about on the blog.

This year has been horrible in many ways for the whole world (this planetary scale is mind-bending), but I’m glad that I managed to balance writing about Covid-19 and its widespread consequences and normal topics.

Covid-19 has affected everyone, and it would be strange if this wouldn’t be reflected on the blog. I wouldn’t allow it to dominate the blog, though, as hard as it’s been to go about my life as usual – when nothing was as usual.

Now, without further ado, here’s the top ten most popular blog posts list.



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