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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


  • Oh what inspiring stories. And what an apt testimony to the zentangle philosophy that we all love. You have been such an inspiration to us dearest Maria. Through your drawing ofcourse and now , through the actual “ living of the principles.” Which I have always tried to communicate to my “ students” are way more important than what comes on to the tile. Living them is actually making your life a masterpiece. Wish you a full speedy recovery Maria and while you’re getting the inculcation of whatever is in your highest good. Love you all so much. Keep shining!

    Rohini Chopra on

  • Your work, attitude and words are always so inspiring, Maria! Thank you for sharing the story. I was wondering what was going on after I heard the PP21 Intro video. Glad to see you doing so well and sending healing vibes and love. ❤️

    Anica on

  • Thank you ever so much for sharing your story. You are such an inspiration and a mentor to all of us.

    Anonymous on

  • Sending healing vibes to you for a speedy recovery. Had no idea you injury was this serious when I made my feathered Zia for you.

    Maria Vennekens on

  • Dear Maria

    I have been worried about you since Project Pack 21. But I could not imagine how hard things were happened. Because you gave me your usual laugh and charming chatter, so ….

    And now I am fascinated and encouraged by your opus tile. I really love this 💜
    I wish you a speedy recovery from the bottom of my heart.
    I am sure all zentangle lovers in Japan 🇯🇵 feel the same way. (we are not used to sending messages in English)

    Mika Shiohara on

  • Spoedig herstel gewenst ……. met of zonder elastiekje om de hand, veel tangelgenot Maria. Liefs uit Belgie XXXXX

    Lisette on

  • Well done Maria, on your ingenuity with the rubber band, and your patient / impatient perseverance. Your Opus tile is a treasure – and probably even more than many with smoother lines, because it tells such a story. As someone who has had to go without tangling at times of injury I know the feeling of loss, and the wonder and light when it returns. Best wishes for your ongoing recovery.

    Jem Miller on

  • Thank you for sharing. Wish you a speediest recovery! ❤️

    Anu Singh on

  • I got quite a shock reading of your recent “happening”. Although I am now 81, I remember back to when I was your age and still working as a professional Calligrapher….. I had the bad luck to be bitten by a scared, cat and his teeth in part went through one of the main tendons in my right hand! Yes, I am right handed! I had commissions lined up so I had to work out another way of still being able to do my lettering. My solution was to place the pen in my hand and then I wrapped masking tape around it all to hold it in place. As I am sure you are more than aware of the fact, with Calligraphy at least, a lot of the hard work is done with your arm as well as the fingers. I got through, and with practice, my hand eventually was able to cast the masking tape into the bin! In a couple of weeks I hope to fly up to Cairns, where Yvonne Rein is holding another Zentangle Seminar. It will be my second jaunt up there, as I went two years ago, to her first one. But I natter too much! I am thinking of you and I KNOW you and your hand will recover and fulfil you as more and more inspiration strikes, while you are “taking it easy”. I send vibes and hugs…..

    Sue Zanker…from Queensland, Australia on

  • Blessings and prayers for a full and speedy recovery Maria. You and all the family are an inspiration to us all. My Mum had a pacemaker and much earlier than you now, so I know it can be such a blessing. With your gorgeous … or is that gourgeous (? lol) family, support and love, I am sure you will progress daily … yes one blessing at a time. Your Opus tile is wiggly super-dooper. Enjoy your rest while you have to! Sharing stories and the valued of Zentangle is what I love about it all, our purpose to help others heal and go with the process. The outcomes are wonderful art, skills we never knew were there and the ability and wonder to go the full distance with it and many other creative ways of living our lives, all from one stroke of a pen and following the process. Thanks and healing blessings to all xo

    Veronica Hodges on

  • Dear Maria
    I pray for you… I send lot of love!

    Noriko Kikuchi on

  • When you didn’t team up with Rick during the recent Project Pack 21 days, I feared some permanent injury to your hand had come upon you. I felt relieved by your sharing about your collapse and trauma to nerves, especially your right hand, and ongoing rehabilitation. I know many dear people who have had pace makers and did fine after that, so now I am still keeping alive my dream to meet you in person at a Zentangle workshop in R.I. some day after I get back to the States from many years in Tokyo. Blessings!

    Rachel Lauze on

  • Wow! This brought me to tears. I am so sorry you had to go through this but thank you for sharing your story and how you went through gratitude, one stroke at a time and no mistakes to create beauty in this difficult stituation. Puts it all in a new light I will never forget. Sending you love and prayers for a speedy recovery.

    Carol Sheridan, CZT19 on

  • Wow Maria, what a story! I have to say looking at your work here, it still so shows the soul of an artist and is so beautiful and “Zenny”. I hope for a full recovery, which it sounds as though you’ll have (nerves take a while, they’re temperamental little things) and it sounds as though this experience, whilst frightening and sad, has enriched your life. Way to go!

    Liane Margis on

  • Oh Maria, thank you for sharing your story. I wish you a full recovery! So much about the Zentangle process teaches us about how to handle life as it happens. Gratitude for your positive spirit and prayers for healing.

    Diane Harpster on

  • Dear Maria, Rick and family, I sobbed when I read your message today. I feel I was overcome with emotion because of all the amazing beautiful people I have met being a CZT. I am not at liberty to share their stories, but they’re all my heroes so humble, kind, talented and generous. No matter how hard my life sometimes seems I have noticed in my practice hardships unimaginably overcome by their positive attitude towards themselves and others. I love you all to Mars and Beyond

    Anita M. Jones on

  • Thank you Maria for sharing your experience and reminding us to see the good in whatever happens in our lives. Your Opus is full of delightful strokes and heartfelt moments. Sending love and hugs for a full recovery.

    Michele Beauchamp on

  • María eres una guerrera, eres inspiración, tomate tu tiempo y espero sea más breve de lo que esperas. Ahora te toca RESPIRAR y dejarte fluir. Igualmente quiero transmitirte mis buenos deseos para tú pronta mejoría y que nos sigas inspirando en este hermoso camino de cualquier manera. Todos los que te amamos aún sin conocerte personalmnete estaremos orando por ti, seguramente.

    Mucho ánimo y hasta siempre!

    Eglee Torres on

  • Oh, Maria! Your openness about your recent challenges is so inspiring and full of hope! Actually, no one should be surprised by your can-do and grateful attitude in the face of adversity. There cannot be anyone who has come into contact with you and Rick in their own personal journey who will not react to your frankness and choice to find joy in what most certainly took you to such scary developments. Bless you, bless you! We will keep your spirit in our hearts and follow your example as best we can. Love to you! ❤️

    Mary Lindeblad on

  • Dear Maria and Rick,

    Thanks for sharing your scary experience with all of us. It is so good to know you are on the mend. Thanks too, for the inspiration of the pen and the elastic band! I have arthritis in both hands, as well as peripheral neuropathy. Sometimes the numbness comes out of nowhere, and I drop my pen. But the photo of your little blue band has shown me a possible solution. Today has been quite the Zentangle Day for me! I went to my regular Tuesday class at the Senior Center. Came home to find a new Zentangle book in my mailbox. And then I sat down to read my email and found your scary, heartrenching, but joyful tale of “Zentangle to the rescue!” As well as the inspiration of similar shared experiences of other tanglers around the globe. What a gift Zentangle has brought to my life! My heart is full of Gratitude and Appreciation for this wonderful, supportive, worldwide community that you both created and continue to nurture! Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery, “one stroke at a time!”

    Jessica L DykesCZT on

  • Dear Maria,

    Your belief in yourself and your creativity is truly inspiring to anyone who has felt like they were in a deep hole. I am so sorry for the trauma you went through, but feel relieved and grateful for your resilience, and the result is simply beautiful. May you, along with Rick, Molly, Martha and all the Zentangle team continue to bring your empowering creativity to all of us who appreciate what you do.

    Gouri on

  • Thank goodness you are healing! Best wishes to you! Could you give us some idea about the size of the elastic band…already have tanglers who could use the idea to help hold onto the pen

    June Stevens CZT on

  • Oh my – the pull of the blue moon month? Something in the air ? So glad you are on the mend and liking these larger tangles although the one shown just looks like you drew the same size on a bigger tile and filled it to the brink! Love & hugs with gratitude

    MaryEllen Ziegler Czt 33 on

  • Dear Maria,

    I am so happy you are recovering so quickly. It’s so scary when something like this happens and threatens your creativity. I had 2 strokes 30 years ago and retraining my brain was quite a task. You will get there, just patience and definitely take one stroke at a time! You’ve got this!

    Robin Steinbeck on

  • Maria, thank you so much for sharing your story. You are a positive and wonderful role model. Your will to move forward and not be thwarted are awe inspiring. I bet this is why you were not drawing with Rick, Martha and Molly during the videoing of Project Pack #21. But you were there adding your wonderful comments. You will be back full steam ahead. You go for it. Many prayers for you and your whole family.

    Karen Bunnelle on

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