Making as Cheap Therapy

By Dave Zentner

image-1-dave-zentnerI’ve spent my entire life making stuff when I should be doing other things.

As an energetic child, I was constantly getting sent to my room . . . which was fine with me because I had markers and a ream of office paper there (my most treasured birthday present each year). My mom recently shared her frustration with how I looked forward to the next Time Out.

I also possess fond memories of spending a good chunk of fifth grade out in the hallway for getting caught doodling in class . . . which was also fine with me because I always had a stubby pencil and a wad of folded-up paper in my back pocket.

Doodling has always served me well as an outlet. My progress through college could be charted by the growing number of chemistry notebooks, margins filled with drawings of hobbits and sports cars (but never hobbits in sports cars . . . I did have standards).

image-2-dave-zentnerEventually, doodling led me to My Very Own Vocational Theory: When choosing a career, one should ask oneself, “What is it that I do when I should be doing something else . . . and can I somehow make a living at it?” For me that was doodling.

This has further led me to My Very Own Theory of Keeping It Together: “What is it that I do that if I stopped doing it I’d come unhinged?”

We all have things we do every day—or at least should do–to keep us from losing it. For my wife, it’s sitting with coloring books and dogs on the couch. For me it’s sitting in the comfy chair next to her, drawing. (Shhh, don’t tell . . . she thinks I’m watching TV with her, but I’m actually concentrating on my sketchbook.)

Unfortunately, many of us engage in less benign coping strategies. I have a friend who hits the local tavern to deal with his child’s health issues. As I sit next to him and we talk, I scribble in my little notebook—which is a lot cheaper than his single malt Scotch and scratch-off lottery tickets.

image-3-dave-zentnerFor me, doodling is not only a legitimate pastime, but a productive, positive, and portable means of self-therapy—not just something to do when I have a spare ten minutes between errands but an activity I make time to do. I’ve even arranged my teaching schedule to have my mornings off so I can build in time most days to spend an hour at the local coffee shop drawing. (If you spot me and say hi, I apologize in advance if I don’t notice you right away.)

What in your life is your cheap therapy?

We find people all around us self-medicating with coffee, alcohol, sports, or the internet . . . which aren’t necessarily bad, but sometimes debatable as to how therapeutic.

This is where I think makers have an edge over the general populace. We practice self-therapy and also have something to show for it—something better than a pile of scratched-off lottery tickets.

Of course, for many of us artists, we have to create; it’s a drive that comes from being made in the image of God. Like God, we are makers. Unlike God, we each have a screw loose and so must find that thing—maybe even a number of things—that tighten those screws and keep our souls from rattling when they’re shaken. For example, living in a treehouse above the rainforest, swimming with dolphins off the Isle of Capri, or sketching while sitting in my local coffee shop could all work as therapy. I’m going with the cheapest one—and the one where I get to MAKE STUFF.

And, as a happy corollary, I have something to show for it that might bring joy to others.


Dave Zentner spent most of his life getting in trouble for doodling. He’s finally figured out how to make a career of that, as an artist and a Graphic Design/Illustration teacher at Madison College. He has a BS in Biology from Hillsdale College and has served as InterVarsity staff and an Assisting Minister at Luther Memorial Church. He and his wife Janet have two grown kids (a ‘skatepunk’ and a nurse), on opposite coasts.

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