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"The Zen of Doodles"

Leny M. Strobel

September 2019

After sharing her "doodles" from her Zentangle project, Eileen Tabios

asked Leny M. Strobel some questions about her process:

EILEEN (ET): Please share the background to these doodles or sketches. How did you come to start making them?

LENY (LS): I started these doodles in 2015 around the time that Zentangle was trending. I have a relative who was into it and she got me interested. I was also in recovery from a medical condition that required me to slow down and be quiet. These doodles were my way of getting my mind out of the way.

ET: You've introduced me to something new: Zentangle! It seems like a lovely approach. I'm sharing below the eight steps that its creators Rick and Maria describe from their Zentangle website. I'm struck by the first and last steps--how one must begin with "Gratitude and Appreciation" and end with "Appreciat[ing" what one has created. What were the significance of these steps for you?

LS: I was already familiar with the Zen practice when I was introduced to Zentangle. “Begin with Gratitude”—Yes! But I had a hard time appreciating my doodles at the end because, somehow, I felt that I could/should have done better. In hindsight, I was being made aware of this shadowy part of myself but it was difficult to process at that time.

ET: Do you have any art background?

LS: No!! Once, I worked with an art therapist and as we played with clay, drawing, crayons and pastels and other artsy medium she gave up and said "I think you are a writer! Write!"

ET: Any particular inspiration to these doodles?

LS: There was a basic structure that I picked up from zentangle but eventually I learned to play with it and allowed my unconscious to do what it wanted to do. I always did this before bedtime as a form of meditation. My sister gifted me with 3x3x3-inch notepad and every night I would do a doodle until I ran out of paper.

ET: When did you do these particular doodles? Are you still making them?

LS: No, sadly I don't anymore. These doodles were done around 2016. They have been sitting in a corner of my headboard and sometimes I'd use them as bookmarks.

ET: You must not have anticipated they’d end up being cover art for one of your books--in this case, GLIMPSES: A Poetic Memoir (Paloma Press, 2019)? What do you think of this result?

LS: No, I didn't!! But there is a kind of magic to the synchronistic coming together of your Poetry, my responses, and Omehra's artistic eye. I thought I'd recommend the doodles for the cover because they represent glimpses into my life that I've not shared in my other books. As the doodles came out of hiding, so am I in this memoir.

ET: I thank you again for using my poetry project, "MDR", as scaffolding for writing your memoir. And it certainly seems synchronistic now that you are storing the doodles in a book box, as they ended up helping create a book!

I also asked GLIMPSES' book designer, Omehra Sigahne, for her thought process in choosing and then highlighting four of the sketches for your cover. This is what she said:

I chose the four that to me seemed whole and complete. And I wanted a variety. Some had organic shapes like stems, leaves and flowers. Others were abstract. I also think the doodles are like glimpses into our unconscious.

How would you respond to Omehra's thoughts? And if doodles are glimpses into our unconscious, what do you think they're revealing about you?

LS: I agree that the doodles may have been emanations from my unconscious but I wasn't consciously asking my unconscious to speak. I don't think that's how it works. The unconscious reveals itself in spite of our conscious self. What Omehra sees makes sense because she has the artist's eye and probably is more attuned to the symbolic meaning of shapes and lines. I wasn't thinking of this as I doodled. I was just letting my hand go where it wanted to go within the confines of the space. In hindsight, what these doodles now reveal to me is that I must trust this creative/artistic side of me. I am also thinking that the confines of the page points to the boundaries imposed by my academic world so that the doodles are my way of playing within that space to create Beauty. Having shared the doodles now with you and other viewers, including on the cover of my book, that space has broken open. The Wild has escaped the collander of imagination (your words!)

ET: When I first saw your stack of sketches and thought about installing them for the purpose of an exhibit, I immediately thought of the idea of placing them across the wall as if they were in flight. I actually didn't want them to float against the wall but have some sort of upward momentum as if they were flying.

What do you think of how they were installed?

LS: Wow, thank you for engaging the doodles, Eileen! I wouldn’t have thought of “flying doodles” but it makes sense if these doodles are murmurations from the unconscious. Come to think of it, when I was doing these doodles I was actually “grounded” by the body due to illness but perhaps I was longing to fly, to soar above my limitation. And isn’t that what inspires us to heal!!

ET: As well, as I installed your works I was moved to start considering space--as manifested by the white wall--as something that wasn't just backdrop. It's like considering caesuras in a poem--the amount of space in between words, in between each of your doodles, became important. I like that effect for melding background with foreground--as the differentiation between the two can be one of privileging and I, and I believe you as well, are not interested in the proactive act of privileging.

LS: Yes, the concept of “privilege” has always been a trickster for me. Looking at the placement of the doodles -- the straight vertical ones; the uneven line below with one doodle tumbling off the line; the upward but seemingly random placements above -- I see you playing with space and disrupting the concept of “privilege”. Often, in looking at an art piece, I am drawn to the painting or sculpture without “seeing” the space around the installation. It makes me think of Toni Morrison and bell hooks who disrupt the taken-for-granted Whiteness as the ground of creation or creativity.

ET: What was also interesting about the installation process was that in paying attention to each doodle (in order to determine its placement on the wall), I did get a sense of a flow being triggered--that at some point during doodling you arrived into a (suspended) space where you created these doodles. As well, I sensed after putting up the last doodle that you also had arrived at some end or pause where you organically could stop doodling and go on to other things. What do you think? LS: I ran out of paper. Lol. But seriously, these doodles were my meditation beads as I tended Breath and Heart. As I returned to a sense of Ginhawa (Wellness/Well-being), I also resolved to learn how to let the Body release heartbreak, disappointments, frustrations, anxiety, etc. I wasn’t good at this because my sense of Kapwa (the Self in the Other) didn’t allow me to detach easily from other peoples’ projections onto me. I am still learning.

ET: What have you learned from this process of Zentangle doodles?

LS: Kapwa poetics! There is this quiet voice that, for the longest time, has been whispering and she was asking me to reveal more of my personal life. I became aware that I needed to speak from my Heart more but I also knew that in doing so I would be shedding my public persona. It was time for the academic to take a back seat to the Heart's prompting.

ET: What do you mean? Please expand.

LS: In the academe, I felt I had to develop some skills that would establish my credentials, e.g., don't smile too much; don't talk about personal stuff; be polite and civil to colleagues without getting personal; maintain objectivity when writing etc. Of course, to some extent, I disobeyed all of these norms but still was careful enough to do my work just below the surveilling gaze of authoritarian regimes. An indigenous elder who lives in Hawaii once told me: "Leny someday you will no longer be an academic; you will be a culture-bearer. What is your cultural practice?" I didn't know why I blurted, "I cook!" But that was my Heart speaking.

ET: Is there anything else you want to share about these doodles?

Sometimes when I look at these doodles, I become critical of my artistic (in)abilities; my self-judgment, over the years, has been a form of gatekeeping and boundary-making for me. I no longer feel this way. I am grateful for the way you encourage me to engage with Poetry. These days I'm working with the Witness in the Convex Mirror as my daily meditation.

ET: Thanks for your continued receptivity to poetry and for sharing your doodles with us!


Some close-ups of Leny's "doodles":


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