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Leny Mendoza Strobel's "Zen of Doodles" and "Glimpses"

By Jean Vengua

In 2016, Leny M. Strobel began using Zentangle to create drawings; some of these drawings went on the cover of her book, Glimpses: A Poetic Memoir (Through the MDR Generator) in 2019. Similar to how I’ve just been starting to focus on basic line and shape in my agimat drawings, she said she found it useful for “getting my mind out of my way.” Part of my own project is also to let the drawing tell me something, and to reduce my “plans” for any one drawing to a minimum.

It’s interesting how, when you focus on the most basic elements of drawing and line, each person’s creation carries, seedlike, their individual expression; in this case Leny’s spidery lines naturally dance and evolve into patterns that reach out to the boundaries, touching those tender edges. Eileen Tabios’ installation of her drawings in North Fork Arts Projects seem to recognize that quality; the drawings are mounted in a kind of dance across the wall “as if they were in flight.”

Glimpses, which plays off Tabios’ MDR (Murder Death Resurrection) Project, joins MDR’s trajectory of letting go, embracing change — perhaps to and beyond those “boundaries” I mentioned earlier. In using MDR as a touchstone, Strobel’s “Poetic Memoir” becomes quite personal and sometimes painful. For example, in this excerpt based on Tabios’ #841:


841 I forgot darkness was the key, not the lock.

“In hindsight, the darkness that came to symbolize so many moments in my life as a Filipina—the childhood trauma of sexual abuse; the elopement at 17; the break down of a teen marriage; the disappointment and shame I brought home to my mother who had hoped there would no repeat of her children bringing home white men while the neighbors raised their eyebrows in mocking condescension; the hiding of trysts with lovers—were all keys that unlocked bits and pieces of that inner life searching for liberation. Only to find and finally be able to name the shame and guilt that isn’t only personal but historical and civilizational.

“Only our understanding of the dark side of history can unlock and liberate the insecure and fearful child.

“The story is cruel, you see. We have all been conned by a story because it was afraid of the Dark.

The fear of Dark as Other To be banished To be excised To be denied To be untold

Is also named Woman Filipina Brown Monkey Servant of Globalization Prostitute Comfort Woman Imeldific

It may be the nature of the poetic process to veer off on its own from wherever point you begin (even when inspired by a line from someone else’s work) and to subvert your plans, taking you to unexpected territory. Often, that means into the “personal” realm, which becomes something larger once you begin writing, and perhaps making it also personally challenging to publish.

“The question of Belonging changes over a lifetime. In the beginning of my sojourn to the U.S., belonging was a longing that can only be filled with returns to the homeland. Belonging happened only in glimpses of encounters with kapwa; with letters and emails from home.

“Belonging slowly shifting from belonging to an ethnic and cultural group to a feeling you cultivate in yourself — a resolve to understand the roots of alienation. Finding a story big enough to contain your multitudes and paradoxes.”

The “diary tracks” of this book (as noted by Jurgen W. Kremer) reflect the repeated, yet always changing, patterns emerging in the line drawings of her “doodles.” Despite the “letting go and embracing change” noted earlier, patterns speak of the past even as they merge with a future; they join in and embrace the patterns woven, drawn, written, sculpted, and otherwise created by others, even while containing their creator’s very own, individual stamp — the line or gathering of words that acknowledge grief and/or pay homage to a certain body, place, time, network of relationships and histories.

Drawing or writing can be a solitary activity that brings you face to face with your self. In my experience, it can be surprisingly difficult to start a line drawing — especially when the requirements of a mundane work day constantly interrupt the process and you must bring yourself back to a listening/seeing place on your own time; but it’s also a given of contemporary life under scrutiny and monetized at every possible point (especially if you engage in social networking on the internet). Zen practice reminds you that the act of “attention” should occupy all tasks big and small, important and mundane — but that can be difficult for most people who aren’t living in a regular retreat situation and unhooked from society’s distractions.


849 I forgot the difficulty of writing a poem, then turning it physical — I forgot its opposite is equally arduous. . . and lyrical.

“Either way, Poetry with words is difficult but Poetics as a way of Being is what I claim.”

Leny Mendoza Strobel’s Glimpses and Eileen R. Tabios’ MDR Generator Project express creative processes that return again and again to meeting places of minds and conditions — even when those conditions are arduous — curious and willing to really listen and see what is at that edge, and willing to let go when necessary; I think this is what I most appreciate about this work.


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