Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Zentangling Toward Victory

Speaking of projects that don't go the way you think they will...



When my brother started his stem cell transplant, I was still here in Canada, and I knew I'd be joining him for part of his recovery time in the U.S. To help myself prepare, I started a project.

Basically, I did a daily zentangle. A zentangle is an image made from drawing repetitive patterns. This link takes you to the site of those who originated the term and have built a cadre of followers.

BTW, it's worth going there to browse awhile -- people do amazing things in this form.

For me, zentangling is more like conscious doodling. That sound you just heard is the upswell of voices from thousands of serious practitioners shrieking, "NO! Tangling is not doodling!" (Note: Each pattern is properly called a "tangle." We are not to use "zentangle" as a verb [even when it's noun-ified]. Both of which rules I have broken in this post. Because I'm rebellious like that.)

Regardless, my practice with zentangles is about the sitting. I'm not "into" following rules (surprise!) about shading and life lines and whatnot. I don't create works of art (at this time, in this medium, caveat caveat). I sit with pens and paper, and I draw, and I try to remember to breathe, and I exercise my patience, and something appears on the page before too much time has elapsed. The end.

Basically, I had two reasons for choosing this form for this project.

First, I couldn't do something related to reading. Reading is one of my primary joys, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it. I might not have time, I might not have the concentration, and I might not feel like reading what I brought (which is why I bought the e-reader and remembered my library card). As it turned out, I was able to read. Also write, revise, and work a little. But I didn't know that going in.

Second, this is something I can sorta do. I don't have a lot of "hobbies." I read; I write. I work out in various ways. I eat. I take showers (nothing like a good warm [not hot!] shower after working out). For this project, I wanted to do something different. (I did also take a shower every day but that doesn't have the same feeling of "special project.") My sister (who is much more the visual artist and creates beautiful things) and I spent our summer vacation together in the "parallel play" of drawing zentangles. I knew their ability to make me sit down, calm down, chill out, focus. I've learned a lot from this form of drawing. (You'll likely hear more about that some future week.)

So I bought a special notebook and did a drawing for my brother's transplant days, starting with Day -4 because that's the day I bought the book. Also, that day they were pretty clear on the actual transplant day (Day Zero).

I stopped on Day 94 (last week), also for two reasons: My brother has gone home to upstate New York; his next doctor's appointment isn't for a month. And I ran out of pages in the book.

So I declared it done, as Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project suggests. I even declared victory, as Seth Godin suggests.

Done! Victory? Well, yes. I struggled a little when I defined this project. I decided I had to keep the parameters simple. So I did. I drew a tangle in the shape of the number of The Day, every day. Sure, I could have blogged the process. I could have tried a different tangle every day. I could have done a lot of things. But I kept the parameters simple.

As it turned out, even doing a tangle every single day didn't always work. Some days I drew none; some days I therefore had to draw two. And I decided early on that that was OK, too. In fact, one of the ways in which I knew I was "done" with the project was that I lost track of days. Toward the end (after day 85), I had to draw four pages on one day. Yep. I was done; the project was done. And I am framing it as a victory. (And as I said last week, hooray!)

Every "done" declaration, much less a declaration of "victory" or "failure," is an artificial construct. Life continues. My brother is figuring out what his "new normal" is. I'm back to drawing in front of the TV or when I need to switch gears or when I'm spinning and need to settle down.

And I'm back home. Writing, editing. And yes, planning -- even though I know that projects sometimes don't go the way you expect them to. Because sometimes, they do, or close enough. And you can declare a victory.