Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Sinister Hand

My sister took the family out for fondue last night. Good times.

I've always had a strange relationship with my left hand. Among other things, it's tried to kill me.

If you've ever seen my handwriting, you've gotten a look at one of the clues. I've been told it's diagnostic for someone who's been switched from left- to right-handed. This has given me trouble over the years. I've given up entirely on cursive and have printed everything throughout my adult life. I can't even read cursive, really.

On the other hand, there was a period of time in my youth when I tried to teach myself to write two different things at the same time, using both hands simultaneously. I wasn't able to pull that off, but I did find that I could write the same thing with both hands at the same time, writing mirror-wise with my left hand.

After a while, it was just as easy for me to write mirror-wise with my left hand as normal fashion with my right -- easier. My writing was neater, even if reversed. And when I was doing this I could read my backwards writing just as easily as the conventional stuff.

More aggravating have been the times when I've tried to work a combination lock unsuccessfully. I've had times when it's taken me more than twenty minutes to figure out that I'm doing it mirror-wise with my left hand.

When I was in high school my brother and I were part of a study that investigated underachievers, students whose performance wasn't in line with their abilities. The woman conducting the study was horrified at my developmental asymmetry and strongly encouraged me to engage in practices that would treat my right and left sides identically. For instance, my right arm swung when I walked but my left arm didn't. She insisted that I consciously swing both arms to the same degree.

Things hit a peak when I was going nuts in my early twenties. For a while one of my chores at work was making notepads. There was an old papercutter in the basement and it was a monster. It had a three-foot solid iron handle; if you stacked two reams of paper under the blade, the weight of the handle sheared through them as if they weren't there. Shhhp.

So when I worked on the papercutter, my left hand recognized opportunity. My right hand would be under the blade neatening a stack of paper when my left hand would sneak up and pull the safety knob, releasing the blade. The iron handle would swing down and smack me upside the head and I'd jerk my right hand to safety.

This happened three, four times a week over the course of six months or so.

A couple of years later, after I was considerably more stable, I was walking with my brother and we were talking about that study we'd been involved in. I said, "I'm sick of fighting with it. If I'm asymmetrical, I'm asymmetrical. I'm not gonna make my left hand swing; it can do whatever the hell it wants."

And then, with no conscious action on my part, my left hand started to swing...

We've gotten along much better ever since. I think the time I spend typing and playing music helps -- these activities give the left hand a chance to do something smart and work in concert with the right hand.

Still, it's a little weird to know you have more than one person in you -- and they don't always like you.

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