Month: February 2021

Being an Artist Is an Act of Daring

Withered grass in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
“Is this good enough for my portfolio? Should I try taking more photos tomorrow?”

Being an artist is an act of daring. Daring to bare your soul to the world.  A creative person does his work at home and keeps it at home, away from critical eyes. An artist sends it out in the world for all to see, to enjoy it, and criticize it. This is what separates amateurs from professionals.

You know all those modern art pieces you sneered at, saying, “I could do that!”, “I could do that better!”. Well, why didn’t you? Why don’t you? 

Maybe you could. But that artist didn’t stop at talking about her art, how she was going to create this great piece, how innovative it was. She didn’t dream about creating that beautiful artwork while waiting to have more time or take another course. She acted on it. Intention and follow through. That’s why they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions and roofed with lost opportunities.” 

Good intentions and great plans will get you nowhere very fast. You get an excellent idea and think, “I have something here. This would be a perfect start for a novel.”. And so, you toy with the idea, dream about writing that novel, maybe even find it a catchy title. You can see the cover, with “a splendid debut”-blurb splashed over it. You write the opening lines.

The morning the first undead burst into the city, Mats woke up in a dilapidated garage, his head pulsing with the mother of all headaches. A dog stared at him, tail wagging furiously back and forth. Where the hell was he? What was he doing in this, this…place? With a terrier? If it was a terrier, Mats didn’t know much about dogs and, frankly, didn’t care. Of course, had he known about the undead, his view of things may have been slightly different.

The new genre-renewing zombie novel! And you will write it! As soon as you’ve finished that new book about writing horror, and you have a little more time to think about the plot. Days, weeks, and months go by, and you’re still re-working the first paragraph, slowly turning into Joseph Grand in the process. 

A field of ice. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Field of Ice. Good enough?

The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. (C. S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters).

A true artist dares to send out her imperfect creation in the world. She wasn’t ready to; no artist ever is. But at some point, she’s made her peace with the work. It’s not as brilliant as she can see it in her mind’s eye, but she accepts that this is the best she can do right now. 

There’ll be criticism; there always is, of course. While nobody is ever ready for it, she moves on; she releases her soul’s child to the cold eyes of critics. Her work is done.

Creative people keep their creations close; anguished, they protect them. Artists release them to fend for themselves.


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Meet Gretel, the Little Red Squirrel

Red squirrel with nuts in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

This is Gretel, the little red squirrel, so-called because it took her three tries to find the nuts I had laid out for her: I had to lay them down carefully in a trail that took her from the bird feeders to her own feeding station. The third time, she got it. 

Red squirrel on a bird feeder. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Red squirrel on a bird feeder. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

She still checks the bird feeders and munches on sunflower seeds until she sees me. Then she stops and runs up in the oak tree, but not too high, just the shortest safe distance. One cannot be too careful around giant animals like humans, friendly or not. She’s watching me with those huge dark eyes while I’m laying out the nuts. I retreat to the distance I learned she sees as comfortable for coming down.

Red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I watch her eat, marveling at how tiny and delicate she is. She’s continuously scanning her surroundings, bending her head quickly to grab another nut and then rechecking the perimeter. Always on alert. When the birds sound the alarm, she runs back up in the oak tree without stopping to see what that was about. Be safe first; check source later.

False alarm. She comes down to eat; the birds settle on the various bird feeders. I grab my camera and start watching—time to take some photos.


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The Making of a Snowman

Seashore blanketed in snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

It’s been snowing steadily these past weeks, fluffy snowflakes dancing lazily in the air. And every time it happens, I run to the window, filled with the same wonder as when I was a kid. 

“It’s snowing!” I tell my husband. He looks out, smiles, and goes back to his book. “It’s snowing!” I tell Minette, and she stares back with that sphinx look that cats use to convey how silly humans are. You can almost see the shake of the head, the soft muttering, “Humans.”

I want to run out, make snow angels in the garden and build a snowman. I would have done it too, but for the lack of a carrot. A carrot! A carrot! My kingdom for a carrot! After all, what’s a snowman without a carrot for the nose? 

My husband tells me this snow is no good for building snowmen; it’s too fluffy and powdery. Pity. It would have been such a fine snowman. I have the perfect scarf for it, a mohair thing in bold blocks of color, bright red, buttery yellow, sky blue, green, and orange wool fireworks on a cold man. The orange block would have matched the nose—the one I don’t have.

Close up of plants against a snowy background. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

I shovel the snow around the entry and create a small path to the mailbox. I’m cautious not to step outside it. I love looking at all that pristine white blanket covering the ugliness of the world. 

Maybe that’s why I love freshly fallen snow. I love the purity of the world. I love the silence pierced only by the call of a blackbird or the rhythmic toc-toc-toc of the woodpecker in the back yard. The occasional passing car makes only a muffled sound, dying quickly away. Toc-toc-toc.

Close up of tracks in the snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

The snow continues to fall in a hypnotic rhythm. I’m thinking of marine snow. Such a poetic name for the aquatic detritus slowly falling from the sea surface to the seabed that can be visually likened to snowfall. I’ve read somewhere that fish can produce light in the eternal darkness of deep seas to defend themselves. They’d make this bright flash of light to blind their attackers, and they’d use the ensuing confusion to flee. Nature will find a way. It always does.

I walk to the window and look at the massive oak tree in the backyard. No squirrels. It’s probably too cold for them to venture out. Snow too deep.

I can see deer tracks in the garden, where they have trotted during the night. A hare’s too. They’re quickly fading, covered by white fluffiness. 

Two fawns in the grass. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

There are two fawns born in our backyard last spring. They were minutes old when I found them in the tall grass around the big birch tree, barely able to stand. The mother stood a few meters away, watching me anxiously. The little ones were so trustful, looking big-eyed at this new thing – the world. Imagine feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time. The low buzz of the insects in the grass. The calls of the birds.

I had gone there to check on the compost, and I almost stepped on them, well-hidden in the grass. I backed in surprise, not trusting what my eyes were telling me. I snapped a couple of pictures with my cell phone (the best camera is the one that you have with you) and then went back to the house, leaving the new mother to take care of her babies. They were gone in a few hours.

I guess they’re not fawns anymore; they’ve grown so much this past year! Last night they munched on the remaining pumpkins, leftovers from Halloween. They were completely hidden under the blanket of snow, of course, but they knew where they were and dig them out.

A doe in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A deer in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

And during the time it took me to write this post, they came again, going back and forth in the garden, looking for sunflower seeds. Life.

I return to my desk with a sigh. I have to get back to work. A new chapter awaits. The snowflakes swirl around, racing each other to the ground.

I make a mental note to buy carrots. And more sunflower seeds.


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How to Build a Research Database for a Non-Fiction Book

Library Index Cards Drawer to illustrate a research database. The State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
The State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Of course I visit libraries while on vacation! You don’t?

As mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve started building the research database for my non-fiction book. 

I had looked around on the world wide web earlier and found several good articles on how to do that, all more or less complicated. I’m a gal of simple tastes, so I was looking for something not too complicated or relying too much on technology. I wanted a simple solution, sustainable in the long run. I’m planning on writing more books.

Cal Newport had a great article on building a research database, and I followed that process and kept it simple with an Excel file. Newport’s article focuses on writing an academic paper, but I found it useful for a non-fiction book too.

There are more advanced ways, but I feel an Excel file meets my needs. I don’t want to over-complicate things. Apps come and go; Excel remains. Simplicity is the essence of happiness, as Cedric Bledsoe said.

The only thing that I’ve added is an extra column for Comments. Everyone with whom I worked on a project at Microsoft would recognize it. No project plan of mine would ever miss this column, ha, ha! I simply find it so useful for recording bits of information that you may need, for instance, a link to a relevant site. Once a process improver, always the process improver, I guess.

Here’s the file if you’re interested. Feel free to download it, and let me know if you have any feedback or questions.


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The Great Morning

  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
  21. The Quails
  22. Moon Viewing at an Old Temple
  23. In My Dark Winter
  24. Snow
  25. The Great Morning
Pine trees covered in snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea.

The Great Morning:

Winds of long ago

Blow through the pine-trees.

Uejima Onitsura

By Uejima Onitsura. Onitsura (1660-1738) was, along with Basho, one of the most acclaimed poets of the 17th century.


To read more poems, click here.



Of Squirrels and Woodpeckers

A red squirrel in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The little squirrel, braving the snow and the cold, came visiting again. It was sheer luck that I noticed it because it turned up much earlier than usual. 

A red squirrel in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I was about to open the bedroom window when I noticed two dark tufts by the oak tree. I had a closer look, and yes, it was the little cutie. I jumped in my rubber boots, put on my winter jacket directly over my pajamas (my neighbors are used to much), and grabbed the nuts bowl I had prepared. Out in two minutes and taking photos, ISO still high because there wasn’t enough light.

The birds were annoyed by me being there so early in the morning and told me so in no uncertain terms. They made an awful racket trying to drive me away. I did my best to ignore them; I’d be there for a short time.

Red squirrel standing in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Frozen. What’s happening?

Suddenly – silence; all birds and the squirrel frozen in their places. Something was happening.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker Male. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
The Great Spotted Woodpecker Male

And then I heard it, the staccato drumming of the woodpecker, just above my head. I tilted my head slowly to avoid being detected, and sure enough, a great spotted woodpecker was working the oak tree. I managed a few photos before it discovered me and flew away. It was a male; you can tell by the red spot on its neck, females don’t have it.

The squirrel went back to her nuts. The racket resumed. I went back in for breakfast.


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Just Do It!

Close up of a vintage-style typewriter with the words "Just do it" typed on the page.

Just Do It may or may not be a morbid slogan, but it’s a darn good one. Write every day. Just do it!

By writing every day, painting every day, touching the piano tangents even when we’re not “feeling like it,” we stay attuned to the craft magic, and we learn. Small steps every day build up experience and skills over time.

We learn discipline. We learn patience. We learn that creativity is not inspiration, something that strikes mysteriously one moment, but a habit. The habit of daily practice.

The body is smarter. It has muscle memory. You sit at your desk every day, you take up your pen or your brush, and you start. Small things; a few words, a few sentences. Nothing scary or demanding. The play of shadows and light on the wall. The well-known fragrance of the incense sticks. The hot tea mug in your hand. The body remembers the clues. You’re primed for creating. 

Just do it


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So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

  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
  14. The Zone: No. 14 – Jan 21, 2020
  15. The Zone: No. 15 – Jan 28, 2020
  16. The Zone: No. 16 – Feb 4, 2020
  17. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

The Zone will take a break for some time while I’m working on my book. I found that I cannot afford the distraction of finding the material and compiling these weekly posts, at least not at the quality level I wish.

It’s not really goodbye, because The Zone will be back, maybe sooner than you think. It depends on how much I miss it; it was great fun working on it.


Progress Report. Or Lack Thereof

So much for building my research database. I didn’t make as much progress as I thought with it. I did get started as planned, but it’s slow-moving.

Oh, there are reasons. Of course. There are always reasons.

We had to pick up the artworks we left for framing and pick frames for the next ones. Because of the pandemic, there’s no drop-in, you have to make an appointment, and we cannot always control the timing. It seems everyone is framing pictures on Lidingö these days; the place is bustling.

A framed picture of three drawings by Keith Harrington.
Exhibit no. 1: one of the framed pictures I had to pick up.
It consists of three large Keith Haring postcards from the Haring exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne 2019.

The new desks for the home office were finally delivered, too, and I had to vacate the office to have them assembled, then re-decorate the room.

The cat had her final X-rays for her broken paw, and we had to go to the vet one more time.

We had a lot of home deliveries too.

The deer knocked off the bird feeders.

The dog ate my homework.


Life happens. There’s always something, and if I have to wait until everything is in order to write, the right planets and stars aligned, I will get nothing done.

I have to work through all this. Despite all this.

I’m also plodding, like competing-with-a-tortoise. Once I pick up speed, and I’ve got going, it’s smooth sailing, but I have a long start sequence. Too long.

The smallest disturbance or interruption derails me, and the re-start is slow. I need to work on my attention and my focus. I was spoiled by working at home alone for over ten years, comfortable in my routines, and free to work and take breaks as I pleased.

With my husband working from home too now and sharing an (albeit large) room, I find the smallest interruption disruptive. I need to shift my mindset to allow that I’m no longer working alone instead of trying to recreate those ideal conditions that no longer apply. I realize now that I was set in my ways, trying to force this new life into the mold of my old one.


The last couple of weeks have been better, in fact. I try to compartmentalize things and think, “oh, new compartment,” when there’s an interruption. Then I get back to work by switching to the “work compartment.” It does take a few minutes to shift my focus back to whatever I was doing, but it’s better than the muttered resentment and the longer focus loss. It’s still work in progress, and I think I like the progress, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Anyway. I’ve started building my research database. Yawn. Before I started, I was looking forward to work on the reading list, because, you know, books! But once I started, the boring emerged, and I started to fantasize about reading the books, not merely write a list. Why is the promise of future work more appealing than the work you’re currently doing?

Close up of a vintage-style typewriter with the words "Just do it" typed on the page.

Mindset. It’s all about the mindset. I need to work on the list so that I can read the books. As simple as that. Just do it.


By the way, do you know where that Nike slogan comes from? It’s a pretty morbid story. Facing execution for murdering two people, Gary Gilmore’s last words were, “Let’s do it.” That was 1977. A decade later, Dan Wieden, an advertising executive, pitched the slogan “Just do it” to Nike and, eventually, succeeded. The slogan, inspired by Gilmore’s words, aired in 1988 and, at the time, struggling Nike became the sport and fashion giant we know today.

And here’s another example of me going off on a tangent instead of working on my list. I admit it was far more rewarding checking the internet for a murderer’s last words than working on my Excel file. Now I understand why people kill their internet and delete all the apps on their phones. I’m not sure I could go that far, but I’d better go back to work.

Do you know what happens if you type “go back to work” on Google? You’d see all these Covid-19 related regulations about returning to work after a lockdown.

Results of a Google search

Right, I’ll go back to work. For sure. Right away. Just give me a sec. Any time now.


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Snow

  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
  21. The Quails
  22. Moon Viewing at an Old Temple
  23. In My Dark Winter
  24. Snow
  25. The Great Morning
A lone small dead plant in an expanse of snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

(sent to Etsujin* at the recollection of last year’s journey)

The snow we two beheld – 

Hath it come down again this year?

Matsuo Basho 

* Etsujin, Basho’s favorite pupil.

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


To read more poems, click here.