Creative Bones

The Zen for your Tangled Life

Magaret McKerihan is a tangle of a creature with intricate patterns. She is not easily squeezed into a blog post not much bigger than a Zentangle square. I’m not even touching on the memoirs, her writing, or the textiles she does. I will make room for her stories though, not linear, well planned, journeys through artistic upbringings and university paths. No, these stories are about accidental discoveries in creativity. Art woven so closely into the fabric of her everyday existence it seems a natural part of her. Margaret is natural, and funny. We are sitting in Fast Eddys. It’s a pretend American diner, caught in a make-believe time capsule of the 1950s, behind a Morley shopping centre. A surreal setting for our conversation, but it’s a surreal conversation. Margaret moves the ice around her glass as she talks.

“One of my friends died and I had a strange dream about him. He came to see me and asked me if I would like to go to heaven for a look around. I said, “Is that allowed?” He laughed and said “sure!” So off we went. In heaven, we went to a huge Mc Donald’s and I decided I wanted an ice cream from the machine, but I was anxious because I realized I didn’t have any money. My friend laughed “Don’t worry about it, the man will give you an ice cream for free. This is how it works up here. See, the man working the ice cream machine, all his life on earth, that’s what he wanted to do, to work the Mc Donald’s ice cream machine. It was his dream to load up great dollops of vanilla stuff with sprinkles and see people’s faces light up. He’s doing what he always wanted to do, so he is fulfilling his purpose, he doesn’t need paying, and you get your ice cream. Everyone in heaven does the thing that make them feel complete. See that man over there? He wanted to work with wood and now he gets to be a carpenter. That girl always wished she could be a tattoo artist and that old lady with her always wanted tattoos, So, everyone wins. What a wonderful thing that would be, if we all got to do something that gave us purpose and joy and then we got to give someone else that same feeling in return, Wouldn’t that be amazing?”

I agree. Ice cream utopia sounds like my idea of heaven. We know in real life its harder. Even glimpsing that idea for some people is impossible, especially when you are stuck somewhere that feels like limbo. When finding something to just remove yourself from destructive thoughts, anxiety and doubts seems a hard task. Margaret’s life hasn’t been all free heavenly ice cream and sprinkles though. “A long time ago I suffered from depression. I was going through the motions, I lost my mojo, doing all the mum stuff. Thankfully my best friend recognized my fragile state, that I wasn’t coping, and she mentioned me to her Art therapist friend, who was completing her finals. She offered to give me some free sessions, if in return I became a sort of guinea pig for her case study. It felt hard at first. I wasn’t engaged, I would turn up and she would stick a paint brush in my hand and just encourage me do something, anything. I would just dab about with a paintbrush, or whatever else she gave me to do. It was a process, being apathetic about what I made, not caring. Over time it began to change and evolve. Into little glimmers of light, until I cared more, felt more human again.”

Tell me about the Zentangle?
“I saw it and I just loved it. It seemed to draw me in. The designs were beautiful, so complex and perfect. So I decided first I would read all about it. How it had been created, its founders and its philosophy, and look into the courses you could do. Then learn to practice the method. Then when I had finished reading. I decided to completely disregard all that and do my own thing! In my rebellious way, I was like, I don’t want to be bothered with all that, I just want to make my work look as amazing as all these designs I was seeing on line. So, I just set about doing things my own way, trying to copy the techniques, but, to me, my work never did look as good as everyone else’s and it frustrated the hell out of me. I stopped and started, and found myself getting really critical with my designs. Then I stopped resisting, took a breath and started to actually learn what I was trying to do.”

Zentangle is not just about drawing or the art. It’s not just about creating a pattern on a piece of paper. It’s about bringing a meditative state to a medium to produce something beautiful. There is a rhythm you are honoring when you Zentangle and an idea behind what you’re doing, its peaceful and flowing. She laughs. It’s not about copying the design, or comparing it to someone else, it’s about your internal process and stillness. That’s the Zen part.
The Zentangle square you are working on is small. As with mediation, you are bringing the focus inwards and allowing the external thoughts, excess noise and distractions to float away. It starts with the paper, the feeling of it, a mindful appreciation of its presence and weight. Then your take your pencil to place four dots, lightly on it. When she talks there is a deeper sense to that phrase as if the ‘lightly’ she means, is brought from somewhere inside. Next, she says you put down a line on the square, a mark, just as if it was a piece of thread thrown gently over the paper. I love that, a pencil line thrown as carelessly as a thread. These things form the foundations on which a myriad of different patterns and techniques are built. Zentangle is practiced all over the world. There is such a massive community of Tanglers, and it is so connected. People who are just starting out and then these amazing masters who are producing mind blowing art. We have been working to strengthen the links within the Australian Zentangle community to try to create our own Austangle event in Brisbane of May next year and its incredibly exciting to be involved in something new that is nurturing our own Australian hub.
So, what does creativity mean to you? “Creativity to me, is the very essence of life itself. we create in our own life, and if we’re lucky in the lives of others. Creativity is the place I remember, a place of freedom where I experience flow, without limits, a place of beauty.” I have to admit that sounds pretty Zen to me.

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