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One Stroke at a Time . . .

One Stroke at a Time . . .

Maria writes:

A couple days ago, Rick and I spoke online to a Zentangle gathering in Wales. Just before the end, one of the facilitators asked if anyone wanted to tell us how practicing the Zentangle Method had changed their life. One woman raised her hand and she told her story. She described how, after a serious accident and an extended coma, a friend gave her one of our Zentangle books and encouraged her to try it. She did. And she proceeded to tell us how tangling helped her to recover, to move through her pain, and to regain her passion for life.

I was moved to tears. I thought, if she could tell us her story, surely I should be willing to tell mine. Though my story is much different than hers, I want her to know how much she inspired me to share my story.

A few weeks ago, I was shopping for dinner guests. Just an ordinary day, nothing special. As I rounded the bend of the last aisle in the grocery store, I felt a bit fuzzy. I have never passed out in my 70+ years, so I soldiered on. Next thing I know, I am speaking to a very nice EMT, doing what seemed like 90 mph in an ambulance with questionable shock absorbers. One thing led to another, and within a few hours I had a pacemaker implanted in my chest.   

I know this may sound scary and all, but getting the pacemaker didn’t bother me in the least. What really bothered me was that in the crazy kerfuffle at the super market, I injured my right arm and hand.  I kept telling the EMTs and nurses and doctors that my arm was broken. It was really painful. And you know how important that arm and hand are to me! 

It turned out that I did not break my arm. But in the fall, I whacked it hard enough to cause some nerve damage.  When I first returned home, I couldn’t fully use either hand . . . I was told not to move my left hand much and my right (and dominant) hand hardly worked at all. Hmmmm. I sat around for a few weeks, reading and polishing up my left-handed writing and tangling.  All the doctors told me that nerves heal slowly and I would eventually get my hand back . . . not to worry.

I like to think I’m a patient patient, but I gotta say, those days were long!  Then, one bright sunny morning (and there weren’t many of those during that time), I awoke with a glowing attitude of gratitude. I went immediately to my studio and there, perched on my desk was a tan Opus tile. I secretly felt that Rick (with all love and inspiration) strategically placed it there, thinking it would get me to try something, anything. 

So, I grabbed a few 05 and 08 Microns and “attached” a pen to my hand with my “handy” Zentangle blue-green elastic bands I always (God knows why) keep on my desk. I now believe it was part of His grand plan.

It wasn’t the perfect solution, but it was a start. The tangling was quite shaky, but consistently shaky, like I had WAY too much of Rick’s amaZing coffee. The elastic bands were uncomfortable, like using crutches when you break a leg. It was a slow process. 

I worked big, which I have done in the past, and slow (something I haven’t done in the past!) in 10-15 minute intervals. I was unable to use the small graphite and chalk pencils, but I figured, one stroke at a time, right?  

We have a virtual seminar coming up soon. I will decide closer to that day whether or not to draw on camera. But, my dear tanglers, I can talk. So I will accompany Rick, Martha, Molly, Julie and others in a commentary position, adding my 2 cents when inspired.  

So . . . thank you all for your patience and good thoughts to keep me on the straight and narrow, or should I say, the curvy and exuberantly creative? 

Yup. No mistakes.


Rick adds,

When I got to the hospital and Maria said she couldn’t move her right arm, perhaps you can imagine the thoughts and emotions that flooded through me at that time.

But, fast forward a few weeks to now and I can say that we have been granted a focused opportunity to put our Zentangle philosophy into real life practice . . . particularly “gratitude” and “Anything is possible one stroke at a time.”

Maria’s response during this saga is an inspiration. Throughout it all, I never heard her complain or give voice to any worries about the future. Perhaps she did that for the benefit of all of us around her, but then, all the more respect and admiration! She took to enthusiastically imagining all the things she could do without the full function of fine motor skills . . . like painting on big canvases which she so enjoyed when she painted the clouds for our photo booth at seminars.

And I can report that every day continues to show improvement. Maria’s response and spirit is an inspiration to us all. No matter what happens, we each always have choices of what to do next. And some of those choices are to choose to be grateful (or not) and to create something beautiful (or not).

Maria and I are so grateful for each other, for our family, for our friends in our amazing and wonderful Zentangle community . . . and for our angels.

Rick Roberts


  • Dear Maria, I was looking at the day 7 video of the Project and I thought “oh dear, what has happened to Maria’s hand?’. So now I read your story and I’m thinking of how a brave woman you are! Wishing you (all) the best! 🥰

    Brigitte Maas on

  • MARIA IS A ROCKSTAR!!!!! Sending you love and healing thoughts! AND don’t forget to take your B vitamins!!! They help with nerve repair. Hugs!!!

    Tracy on

  • What an inspiring story! When life handed you a bunch of lemons you sure made some sweet lemonade. You live up to what zentangle is really all about. I hope you will continue on the path of healing and wish you the best! Thank you for all you do.

    Melissa on

  • Hi Maria, I just attended the CZT41 seminar virtually and I had no idea that this had happened. As a former educator I was so impressed with how well the seminar was planned and thoughtfully carried out. I was impressed when you did offer to draw for us. I have always LOVED your drawings and letterings! I have tremendous respect for all you are going through and wish you the very best for a full recovery one stroke at a time!

    Betsy Finley on

  • Hello, Maria and Rick,

    Thank you for sharing your story and your inspirations. Maria, your tile is beautiful, as all of yours are. I loved hanging out with you both at the CZT41 seminar and was so glad that you tangled a little bit, Maria. Sending you all love and mighty blessing for full recovery.

    Elizabeth Sofish on

  • Hello, Maria and Rick,

    Thank you for sharing your story and your inspirations. Maria, your tile is beautiful, as all of yours are. I loved hanging out with you both at the CZT41 seminar and was so glad that you tangled a little bit, Maria. Sending you all love and mighty blessing for full recovery.

    Betsy Sofish on

  • Thank you for being who you are! Thank you for sharing your story and your philosophy as well as your art. I’m participating in the CZT41 training and had no idea about your specific situation until I just read this. Thank you for all the wisdom and inspiration you have shared with me/us thus fair in the training.

    I really appreciate you, Rick, the team and the Zentangle method. Thank you for creating it and I’m glad it found me and I’m now here.

    Hugs, Deb

    Dear, Dear Maria on

  • Thank you for sharing your story and how Tracy’s journey inspired you. Sending healing hugs for a full recovery, Maria!

    Lynda Sherer on

  • Maria, As with all the others who have posted, I too send my love, prayers and heart felt gratitude for you and this amazing box of new colors that you, Rick and your family have created. I dip my pen into the well of designs and magical things happen, one stroke at a time. May God bless you with complete healing.

    Patty Duffy CZT 40 on

  • Oh my! Both these shared stories are inspirational! I’m so glad you were able to get the pacemaker so promptly. You never quit and that’s a shining example to us all. You rock Maria Thomas!

    Sandy Kelley-Jones CZT on

  • Oh my! Both these shared stories are inspirational! I’m so glad you were able to get the pacemaker so promptly. You never quit and that’s a shining example to us all. You rock Maria Thomas!

    Sandy Kelley-Jones CZT on

  • Dear Maria

    Your sharing touched me deeply! Thank you for risking to do so! Zentangle has over and over helped me and others I work with to heal and trust its philosophy of one stroke at a time.
    May you continue to heal. Wishing you peace!

    Martha Fauteux on

  • Maria – Thank you so much for sharing your story, your processes, your inspiration and your positivity. You and Rick bring so much more than your art to the practice of Zentangle and your story is just such an example. Your humor is just a bonus. This past year I had both carpal tunnel and trigger thumb surgery on my right dominant hand. It’s hard to not overdo using your hand/arm but nerve damage has its own timetable and you do definitely do not want to aggravate the healing! But you will get there! Bonus: good time to develop new triple Ps (plans, projects and patterns)! Looking forward to your healing.

    Sue Brubaker on

  • Dear Maria, my very best wishes for your full recovery are flying over the ocean to you! Thank you so much for sharing your story. It‘s a little more than one year now that I discovered Zentangle and its wonderful power. And it‘s a little less than nine months now that I broke my dominant left arm. I can‘t even begin to tell you how much you and your dear ones and Zentangle helped me to recover and heal – one stroke at a time. You‘re a bright, inspiring light! Love, Ulrike

    Ulrike on

  • Thank you for sharing. I love the fact there are no mistakes even in your shakiness there is beauty.

    Samara Purvis on

  • Dear Maria. You has given me great inspiration and courage. I appreciate the miracle of discovering Zentangle. I wish you a full recovery and continued good health.

    Kanade Hiromi Yamamoto on

  • Thank you for sharing, I do hope you feel better very soon.I broke my (right!) arm at the beginning of August and have been feeling really frustrated not to be able to tangle, it has become a part of me, of my inner balance and even if I can type with my left hand, I can’t write, or draw. With nothing I can do, apart from reading or watching tv I was back in dark thoughts , the ones I have since my daughter’s death and that tangling has helped me overcome.Reading your story has really boosted me, I am going to try,one stroke at a time, to tangle ! Thank you for your positivity!

    Dominique Martin-Proveux on

  • Dear Maria You taught me that no matter where you are or what your situation is, you can find happiness through painting. I am now able to live my life powerfully. Zentangle Method is always by your side. I wish you all the best at this time with your family and this community

    Ikuko Noiri on

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Maria. Yes, everything is possible ‘one step at a time.’

    I found the picture of your hand wrapped with the elastic band to be useful. I hadn’t been tangling as much as I had been previously since I developed some shakiness and neuropathy in my hands. Looking forward to digging in to tangling again with a steadier hand.

    Linda Dochter on

  • Maria, when i heard the news of your injury it was like a shock one gets when a family member and/or close friend is ill. You naturally want to help and protect them because of all the wonderful things they provided you. I can’t begin to tell you all the wonderful things you provided to me personally through Zentangle. All i can say is that you have a caring community who wants the best for you and your health is the top priority. We are all here for you with our prayers and support.

    Matt Wieczkowski on

  • Sending all kinds of bright love and hugs your way, Maria. So much love.

    Becky Ruiz Jenab on

  • Maria, as you look at your latest work that you are sharing with us, you may see imperfections, but we see only strength, resilience, determination, and love! This year I am struggling with bouts of depression, and it is only daily tangling that lifts me out of it. Your willingness to tell your story and your optimism helps me to view my own issue in a different light. You means so much more to us than perfectly drawn tangles. Prayers for God’s healing presence in your life. We love you.💗

    Bonnie Johnson/CZT36 on

  • Thanks for sharing Maria. Time along with art will heal. It will be 9 years this October when I had open heart surgery and Zentangle came into my life shortly after. Just a book, but the more I did the better I felt the more I wanted to do. And it eventually lead me to become a CZT as this health setback took away a lot of my prior life and work. But so glad I took the leap and did it. Zentangle has been my rock since. And now I’d like to share with you a story of a lady who had her hand shot (she was in police work). She wanted to try Zentangle but didn’t think she could as the nerves and strength in her hand wouldn’t let her hold a pencil/pen. But I said lets try and started playing with ways to help her from rubber bands etc. The thing we found that helped the most was to make the pen/pencil bigger around by using some foam pencil/brush holders I had. Even just tapping a bit of foam around the pen with medical stretch type tape worked. Hope this idea can help you or others with hand issues. It helped my friend and she still does a bit of Zentangle tho her hand has gotten better after 5 years. Here’s to you healing quickly and being back to the things you love soon.

    Sue Lesle on

  • How wonderful to put your philosophy into practice and provide the much needed slow process to allow time for recovery. I am pleased you have also been able to share your experience as that is also part of recovery from this trauma. Great to know there is a steady beat in your heart again. I am actively advocating zentangle with my clients who have had concussions and even though they have not known it before, that one stroke at a time is integrated into every part of their life. Such a wonderful gift to give others. So lovely to see what you produced and how it grew. So inspirational as always.

    Roslyn Badcock on

  • Thank you for sharing your story Maria.
    May you go from strength to strength.
    Zentangle has been my saving Grace too on so many levels.
    I feel it has changed my life immensely.

    Terry on

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