I’ve been thinking about handedness a lot lately. One reason for this are my left-handed students, but the foremost reason is my left-handed husband.
When we met he told me that he was ambidextrous. I found that weird but charming. Weird because I hadn’t met anybody who is truly ambidextrous before (and I haven’t met anyone since either). He used different hands for different tasks. He wrote with his right hand, and used scissors too but he cuts bread with his left, stirs pots with his left, and many other things.
Then, a short time after we moved to this house, the house he grew up in, we found some old tapes from his father, and there was one where Saint Nicolaus had come to their house (it was really his uncle dressed up), and told him several things like not to lose his temper all the time, and to always use the spoon with his nice hand! Duh. My husband can’t even remember being told off for using his left hand. But that recording showed that he had been a lefty all along.
Now at the time when my husband was a child left-handed people were usually expected to change their handedness. Which can’t really be done. My husband recalls only one boy in his whole grade who wrote with his left hand. I’m seven years younger than him, and in my time in school there were only ever one or two children who were left-handed. And there still were tons of teachers who forced lefties to write with their right hand.
Ever since knowing that he is left-handed my husband has started to do even more things with his left hand than before. But the things that he didn’t change were the way he wrote, cutting with scissors, and playing guitar and bass. And that, the playing of guitar and bass, was the thing that kept him from changing over. Because he is a professional musician and music teacher. He can’t just switch hands when playing his instruments. It would take decades to come near the level he is playing at now.
Then a friend told him about the book about left-handed people who are acting as if they are right-handed. And we met a couple of people who had changed to writing with their left.
The book, and the people, suggested that using the wrong hand, especially for writing, might account for things that one might think to be character traits. The feeling of being awkward, and somewhat wrong, for example. Being slow in conversation, having trouble to explain one’s thoughts so that others can follow them, trouble remembering things, the feeling of having to be in two places at once, the feeling of everything being too hard, and a bit too much all the time.
Having to write with your wrong hand does things to your brain, muddles things, and makes them quite a bit harder.
And then I read about a study that said that professional musicians who are left-handed but play their instruments the traditional way, even an instrument like piano, are not doing worse than right-handed musicians doing the same. And that there is no real need to switch.
Mind you, I’d still tell every left-handed student of mine who wants to play guitar to get a leftie guitar because that’s easy. But I won’t switch my piano around (though I know people who have done so) because as a pianist you don’t usually bring your own instrument anywhere.
So my husband decided to leave his instruments alone (apart from the bongos which he switched and loved immediately) but he also decided to learn to write with his left hand. (And I also got him two pairs of left-handed scissors, and a pencil sharpener.)
And he says that writing with his left hand, while a bit awkward and unpracticed, feels great. He says he had an immediate feeling of flow, and ease, even though he has to learn how to write for a second time. Mind you, like most of us he isn’t really writing all that much by hand these days. Mostly he types. But still. He said he is feeling lighter, and more at ease, and the feeling of having to be in two places at once all the time just vanished.
So just by changing the hand he writes with my husband has become more lighthearted, and a bit happier, and less grumpy. Like magic.
Mind you, changing that is not easy. For weeks now he has been practicing writing every day. And often still, when he just wants to jot something down on the grocery list, he still uses his right without thinking. And writing is slow again for him, he has to think about it, how to form the letters and such. His first impulse was to write in mirror writing. But he is getting there. Day by day.
And I have to say, seeing his left-handed handwriting makes me totally happy. His writing is so different. Not cramped and small, all the letters pushed together but open, and big, and leaning towards the left. I really love it. And I especially treasure the card he wrote me for my birthday this year, which was the first card in his life that he wrote with his left hand from beginning to end.