In a different hand

There are times, especially when I’m shaving, that I wonder if I’ve missed out on something by being a rightie. Of course, in the interests of neuroplasticity I’m starting to shave with my left again, and trying to pretend that I’m getting better. And yet, it’s a two-steps-forward, two-steps-backward thing I’m afraid -I even wrote  an essay about abandoning a similar effort several years ago.[i]  But, hope springs eternal, and now I’m trying it again; I suppose I actually am improving, although I can’t shake the feeling that I’m simply a charlatan. An aspirant pretending to a lost identity.

When I was still a teenager, I remember getting a job as a day camp counsellor one summer. I convinced the administrators that I was qualified and eager but after the first day on the job, one of the kids complained that I’d been afraid to pick up a harmless garter snake for them to touch. I felt unmasked; there are some things you just can’t fake, I guess, and one of them was that I still had a job.

I mean it’s not that levodexterity would have made any difference, but it might have been a default position to which I could have retreated, since at the time I was pulling a desperate little boy to the latrine so my left hand was fully unoccupied and unarguably available for the snake. That sounds a bit lame, I realize, but I really don’t like snakes.

Sometimes I have the feeling that I’m just thinking about handedness now because Time has been yellowing my dextromanuity a bit. The thought occurred to me that it could have been different had I been born a levo and the more artistic flighty right brain had been the one in charge. I might now have been basking in the slowly flickering gallery lights for my eagerly awaited latest retirement painting, rather than still paying off a mortgage from my career in a right-bodied world.

So, now that my autumn-tinged years have been competing with one another to drop off any remaining leaves before winter sets in, I’ve begun to wonder whether there was ever any choice in the matter of handedness. Surely there was…

When I was a very young child of an age when I was forced to go to bed before the summer sun had set, I usually found myself unable to sleep. It must have been in my preliterate days, because I remember having to invent things to do in bed without making any noise. I don’t think those little transistor radios that would fit under a pillow had been invented yet, so I made up a game in which my two hands would wrestle with each other. And no, it didn’t speak well of my future potential, but there you have it.

The game was really very exciting at first -the thrill of combat usually is, I suppose- but it wasn’t long before I realized that one hand kept winning, no matter how much the other cheated -this pretty well extinguished any hope of the game catching on at school. I suppose it wasn’t a surprise, really. Whenever my father read to me, he always turned the pages in my books with the same hand. And for some reason, it was also the same hand that he insisted I use when he showed me how to colour inside the lines: my right hand.

I remember when the truth hit, though. I’d been lying on my pillow in the sure and certain knowledge that I was well on my way to growing up, and I was quite proud of my progress in the journey until it suddenly occurred to me as I drifted off into a contented sleep, that it was always my left hand that kept winning the intermanual competitions. Were my hands contesting my paternity I wondered as I tossed and turned my way into a dreamful night?

Anyway, I don’t remember any reprimands at school for using the wrong hand, so I suspect I was already an ambi by then. I’m not even sure if and when I switched; no one drew my attention to it. So, I mean, how would I ever know if I had always been a covert member of the dark kingdom, embedded at an early age to gather useful information that could be used against the northpaws?

In a way, perhaps I already knew, though. Growing up in Winnipeg, we were all expected to play pick-up hockey on outdoor rinks in the winter, and baseball on vacant lots in the summer, and I was always picked last (actually, I was never even picked then -I was just the only kid left over without a team). Anyway, thinking back on those less than halcyon days, I’ve come to believe that it wasn’t so much my lack of talent -well, okay, that too- but more the fact that I could never decide which way to hold the bat or hockey stick, and as a result, I never acquired the requisite finesse to look even moderately cool. Clumsy and inept I think were my descriptors for most of my formative years.

The only thing that seemed to develop with practice was my mouth -oh yes, and my legs to escape the inevitable desire for retributive justice after a particularly clever badinage with someone larger and more goadable than either my vision or vocabulary had anticipated. But, I don’t imagine vocabulary is particularly ambi, is it…?

Anyway, I eventually settled into right-handhood without any sense that I had done anything unusual, but I still wonder which flag I was born under. I’d long since lost any involuntary lefthandability -although I could amaze and delight onlookers in Food Courts all across the city with my dexterity (sorry –levoderity) by chopsticking up particularly difficult chunks of chicken chow mein off my lap with alternating hands. I actually perfected the technique out necessity a few years ago when I broke my right wrist tripping off a curb in New Zealand while I was running from a dog. As the essay I end-noted explains, I still continued to try out my left hand from time to time of course, but each time I have to be constantly vigilant that it doesn’t get the upper hand… an interesting expression, don’t you think?

Stuff like that counts as artistic though, doesn’t it? Maybe in fact, I’ve actually been covertly controlling things all these years with my right brain like artists are supposed to do. Maybe all those doodles I used to draw in class would be worth something now if the teacher hadn’t made me right-hand her the crayon, rip the paper up, and put it in the wastepaper basket at the front of the room.

Perhaps all those retirement plans for increasing my neuroplasticity are actually just messages from my right brain trying to reinstate its rightful heritage -sorry, I mean leftful heritage…



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