Friday, March 11, 2016



 I can’t remember the last time I took an evening class. I think it was back in the late ‘60s, when I signed up for a typing class after I realized I’d gone all through high school without even seeing a typewriter, and I figured if I wanted to fulfill my aspirations to be a famous writer, it might be a good idea to learn how to type.

So a couple weeks ago when my sister-in-law sent me an email with information about a free class she thought I might be interested in, I was both surprised and intrigued. I also was confused…because I had no clue what the subject of the class – Zentangle – was.

The name conjured up images of everything from group yoga with people twisted together like a pile of pasta, to some type of intricate puzzle maze.  So I searched for Zentangle on my computer and discovered it’s an art form that creates beautiful images from repetitive patterns that “flow” from the hand – no thinking, no pre-planning, no copying an object or scene – just free-flowing drawing, one stroke at a time. This method, it said, transports the artist into a relaxed, calming, and even a meditative state.

Well, after the week I’d had, with two separate trees falling on my fence, a flop on my face while walking my dogs, and a gas leak in my kitchen, I was more than ready for something calming and meditative. So I decided I’d give this Zentangle thing a try.

The class was held on a weeknight at the Hooksett Library, a building high up on a hill I’d driven past over a zillion times. I’d never, however, actually driven up to the library.

The night of the class, I soon learned that trying to find the front door to the library in the dark wasn’t as simple as it had looked from down on the main road. The minute I turned onto the road up the hill to the building, my car seemed to be magnetically attracted to every “wrong way” sign in the vicinity. I think I might even have driven across someone’s lawn, but everything still was snow-covered back then, so I can’t be sure. I finally entered the library parking lot, but I honestly have no idea how I got there.

Once inside the library, I found myself in the midst of a maze of rooms, doors and staircases. I began to suspect the “tangle” in Zentangle actually applied to finding the class.

I must have looked as lost as I felt because two women walking by me stopped and asked, “Are you here for the Zentangle class?”  When I nodded, they said, “Follow us!”

Had it not been for them, I’m pretty sure I’d still be roaming around aimlessly somewhere in the library.

I finally made it to the class and actually found a seat at a table in the front row.

All I can say is it’s a good thing I did sit in front because Diane, the certified Zentangle instructor, turned out to be very soft-spoken. At first, I thought maybe it was just my hearing, because my ears aren’t as sharp as they used to be, but the lady seated next to me kept leaning over and asking me, “What did she say?” 

The poor woman was asking the wrong person. I mean, half the time, I couldn’t tell if the instructor was talking about “stress reduction” or “dress seduction.”

Diane explained that simple forms and shapes, such as circles, curves, straight lines and dots, were all that were needed to create Zentangle art. Symmetry, exact pattern duplication and ruler-straight lines were not a part of it. Everything in Zentangle was supposed to be natural, free-handed, flowing. To demonstrate, Diane said she was going to spend about 15 minutes drawing for us, using the Zentangle technique. She turned on some music – a soft, pan-flute tune – then, holding a black marker, stepped up to an easel and began to draw lines and circles.

As I watched her, the pattern emerging reminded me of a coloring book I’d recently bought called, “Zendalas.” The patterns in the coloring book had confused me because they were so uneven and asymmetrical. As I’d colored them, I’d honestly wondered if the artist had been guzzling wine while designing them. But suddenly, those uneven patterns were beginning to make sense to me. They must have been done in the same free-flowing method as Zentangle. So I asked Diane if Zentangle and Zendalas were based on the same techniques.

The minute the words came out of my mouth, I knew I’d made a huge mistake. I had disrupted the calm – interrupted the meditative state of the instructor. I had single-handedly turned Zentangle into Zen-mangle.

Diane crisply explained she would answer questions later because she didn’t want her concentration or her flow to be interrupted. 

I wanted to hide under the table, I felt so embarrassed. But then, something happened to ease my feelings of shame and guilt. Two seats down from me, a woman’s cell phone started to ring – a peppy little tune that didn’t blend well at all with the pan-flute music. I watched in empathy as she nervously fumbled to open her purse and turn off the phone, her face growing redder with every passing second. I hate to say it, but the longer it took her to silence her phone, the less embarrassed I felt about my own mistake.

Finally, we each were given paper tiles and black pens. Diane told us she was going to teach us how to use the crescent-moon pattern to create our own Zentangle design.  I carefully followed each step, hoping to make my tile a work of art worthy of being displayed in the Currier Gallery.

After we were finished, Diane told us to share our drawings with everyone else in the class. That’s when I noticed everyone else’s crescent moons had formed what looked like 3-D tunnels, while mine resembled a big spider web (which made me worry that my eyesight also was failing, right along with my hearing).

But I did have fun in the class, so when I got home, I was eager to try what I had learned – but on a larger scale. I grabbed a notebook and a black permanent-ink pen, sat down on the sofa, got comfy and then started to draw, allowing my pen to flow in circles as I relaxed and tried to achieve a meditative state.

Unfortunately, I relaxed a little too much. When I woke up an hour later, the spot on the paper where my pen had stopped when I dozed off had absorbed the ink and left a huge black blob.  I was pretty sure ink blobs weren’t part of the Zentangle method.

On the other hand, I think I might have created a new test for Rorschach.



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