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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


  • I cry as I read this as my husband is palliative for prostate cancer and in slow decline. He currently has pneumonia and has been in and out of hospital for 3 months. It has been a struggle for both of us, especially as we have only been married 5 years. Zentangle as been my saviour. When I have thought I could not take anymore stress, I drew. And I try to remember gratitude as I have a loving, supportive family, a warm house and enough money to keep us fed. Thank you for reminding me. I needed it.

    Deirdre Laforest on

  • Thanks for sharing. You’re so inspiring ❤️. Wishing you continued progress on your full recovery. Thoughts and prayers continue.


  • What a shining example of how powerful the Zentangle method can be and the shining examples of how supportive the Zentangle tribe is!!

    Barb Bradley on

  • Our turn for gratitude – so very happy that you are recovering, and especially that you’re tangling again! All my thanks for sharing. I had a recent ambulance ride too, and can relate to a weird fainting episode that landed me in the ER. Luckily for me, there don’t seem to have been any repercussions, and I got back to my tangling pretty quickly – and very gratefully. I’m admiring your work here, and am reminded again how your bright creative spark never stops inspiring me and so many others, Maria. So much gratitude.

    Peyton on

  • I’m teary and oh-so-grateful you are on the mend, Maria, and for you both sharing this very personal, real-life event. My brother, who was also a buddhist monk, reminded me once that whatever we practice…our habits…will be what the body/mind resorts to in times of adversity…aging, illness, and death. Just think of the gifts we practice as we live the Zentangle principles that you two have so lovingly given us. Gratitude, Appreciation, Anything is possible one stroke at a time, There are no mistakes, More appreciation and gratitude. You two are clearly living these principles as you navigate this challenging time. Thank you for once again sharing the inspiration. With deep Gratitude.

    Molly Siddoway King, CZT36 on

  • Thanks for being so honest about your challenges. I am 87 years old and have a hand tremor. I can no longer write script but need to print one stroke at a time. I just started your Zentangle Primer book and am going back to square I’m so grateful I can still tangle

    Elizabeth Merriman on

  • Dear, dear Maria, Thank you for your continued inspiration and for reminding us how when life sends you lemons – there’s a tangle for that! I hope your healing takes you “one stroke at a time” to a full recovery. AND even with your current challenge, your art is spectacular! And, one more thing, Zentangle HQ family, I hope you are all taking care of yourselves too. When one family member is “hurting” it affects everyone who love her. Sending light and love to you all.

    Daria on

  • Wishing you a full recovery and continued happy tangling.

    Nancy CZT18 on

  • Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story. Sending hugs and prayers for your continued healing.

    Beth Gaughan CZT38 on

  • Thank you for sharing your story and your tiles. Inspirational!

    Paula on

  • An absolutely perfect example of our need to focus on what is important and to remember to have gratitude, not to mention patience, for where we are and how we have to deal with impacts like this. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Cokie Lepinski on

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