2.35 The Left-Hander's Lament

When I'm teaching skating, I enjoy being active and mirror the skaters to make them push harder and go faster. But I’m getting older and I’m slowing down. A few weeks ago, I tripped up on those pesky toe picks and broke my fall with my right hand. The next morning, my wrist and entire hand was sore, I could barely move it. This was not good since I’m right-handed. I had to go to the bank and make some transactions. Okay, I had just rolled my pile of nickels, dimes and pennies, but still, every little bit helps. I couldn’t even lift the plastic bag of rolled change. At the bank, the teller requested my signature and I couldn’t grasp the pen. I picked up the pen in my left hand, figuring any old chicken scratch would suffice. And the strangest thing happened. The writing was perfect.

My handwriting had always been poor, borderline illegible-doctor-type writing, and I usually opt for printing. Even printing resembled an eight year-old. I never tried writing with my left hand – why would you if you’re right-handed? – and suffice to say, I was stunned at the clarity of the writing.

Walking home from the bank, I wondered if my entire life had been a lie. I counted myself among the 85% of the population that was right-handed, the majority, as opposed to those less fortunate left-handed people. Perhaps I was ambidextrous? I always admired people who could use both hands equally. Wouldn’t you get twice as much stuff done in your life?

My mother is left-handed. Is hand orientation hereditary? My old trusty friend the Internet told me there is evidence that this is true. Apparently, hand orientation develops in the fetus, determined by observing which hand is predominantly held close to the mouth. There is even something called the Vanishing Twin Theory, which hypothesizes that left-handed individuals were originally part of an identical twin pair, with the right-handed fetus failing to develop early in development. I dismissed this theory, more out of lack of imagination rather than discovering any contradictory information.

Researching further, I discovered that left-handedness has had many negative associations. Left-handedness is also known as sinistrality, a Latin word that took on meanings such as ‘evil', ‘unlucky’, and the derivative, ‘sinister’. Left-handed people are sinister! Right-handed people are, well, right. When you think about it, right-handed people are inherently pretty arrogant.

There is a National Left Hander’ Day – at least I would not be alone. The website for the celebration explains: “Don’t feel left out. Are you tired of trying to use gadgets and tools made for right-handed people at home or in the office? Then vent your frustration on August 13th!” Was a revolution coming? There was even a song, a call to arms if you will - the Left-Hander’s Lament by Ian Radburn. Here is a sample of the lyrics: “Now here’s the story of my life/I’ve had fun but lots of strife/For I was born left-handed, but I’m proud/To be one of the elite, right-handers we can beat/We’re the 10% that stand out from the crowd!” You can read all the lyrics and listen to the song at this LINK . I don’t blame you if you don’t reach the end of the song.

Right-handers beware.

Over at the left-hander’s club website, there are links to left-handed products such as scissors, knives, handguns, children’s products, garden equipment, instruments, clocks and watches. They list famous left-handed people: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr (that’s 50% of The Beatles!), Barack Obama, Leonardo da Vinci, Matt Groening, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Clinton. I felt in good company until I reached these left-handed people: Joseph Stalin, James Cameron, George Bush, John McCain and Annie Lennox. Just for your information, both Bob Dylan and Fidel Castro are ambidextrous, which, depending on who you’re talking about, is handy if you play the harmonica and the guitar at the same time or are a communist.

Chris McManus of University College London has even gone so far to propose that the proportion of left-handers is increasing, and as a group, have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers.

I began my life as a left-handed person.

Back on the ice, I tried skating to the left. It felt so natural that even at my old age, I tried doing some jumps. Within three days, I was landing more difficult jumps than when I was younger and a competitive figure skater. I considered a comeback.

On my way home, some kids were playing street hockey. I asked if I could join. Historically, I had never been good at sports, I was usually picked last and a groan emitted from someone when they got stuck with me on their team. I groaned as well, as I didn’t want to be on either team. I grabbed a left-handed hockey stick and immediately scored a goal on the large ten year old guarding the net. After five more goals, I continued home.

That evening, I was playing squash. I took the racket in my left hand and never played better. My shot seemed to be twice as hard and accuracy went through the roof.

At home, I switched my mouse over to the left side of my computer. Shook hands with my left hand. Wrote notes in perfect and lyrical handwriting. It was challenging for me to teach left-handed skaters, but now, they were my favorite students. I was born again.

My website went down with technical difficulties and instead of contacting the help line service, I opened up the backend and looked at the code. My eyes scanned the nonsensical programming, located the problem and fixed it within five minutes. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet nullam dignissim convallis est.

I had never been interested in programming or anything like it. I would be what you call a ‘Right Brain Person’, someone who operates in the right hemisphere: creative, artistic, cerebral – a dreamer. I was never good with numbers or technical information, leave that up to the left-brainers, the ones that operate in the left hemisphere, I thought. But now I’m a left-handed person, does this mean I’ve actually been a left-brain person all these years?

To calm myself down, I went to the library and was immediately drawn to a book called The Hidden Reality, written by physicist Brian Greene. I was never interested in String Theory before, but all of a sudden, I was fascinated by the complex mathematical equations that could prove there is a universe external to our own, theories that are based on formulae Einstein proposed decades ago.

Computer programming? String theory? Something was very wrong.

Norman Doidge, in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, explains that we can remap or rewire our brains. We can teach ourselves, through neuroplasticity, to change how our limbs interact with our brain. Doidge doesn’t explain the repercussions of these experiments. Yes, this might be good for a right-handed person who had their right hand amputated, but are there darker, more sinister implications? If we are a right-handed person and allow the darker side – the left side – take over, how would this affect our personalities? Will our partner, husbands, wives, children, parents recognize us?

Walking deeper into the library, I wanted to know why pi continues on forever and discovered that the current record for the decimal expansion of pi stands at five trillion digits. Why is pi a mathematical constant if the expansion of its digits continues to grow? Pi is the value of any circle’s circumference to its diameter, which is the same value as the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius. Pi is considered an irrational number? How can a number be illogical? Isn’t that the point of numbers, and mathematics in general? Reason. The decimal representation of pi never ends or repeats and is considered a transcendental number, which implies, that no finite sequence of algebraic operations on integers can be equal to its value.


In addition to sports, I was never good at math or science. By revealing my left-handedness, was my left side completely taking over? How can this be? Further research showed that in fact the left side of my brain controls the right side of my body and vice-versa. So, if I was actually left-handed, that would mean my right brain was taking over and I would be even more creative. Now my entire brain hurts.

I had lots of thinking to do: should I remain a left-handed person? Perhaps my left brain was just taking over and negating my right brain completely? Will it completely push out any creative passions I had as a right handed-right-brained person? I haven’t written anything or thought a creative thought since hurting my right hand since crossing over to the left side. I lived for that creativity in the past. Would irrational numbers, transcendental fractions, decimal representations and string theory dominate my dominion? This was a Pandora’s Box I did not want to open – either with my left or right hand.

I went for a long walk, came home and put my mouse back on the right side of my computer. I cancelled my order for left-handed scissors and revoked my pending application for the left-hander’s club. I worked through the pain in my right hand by printing barely passable words. Within an hour, I had my first creative thought for days.

I decided to write a blog entry about my experiences as a left-handed person.