I can’t claim that I have ever seriously suffered because I’m left-handed. When I happened along, the days were long gone when teachers forced lefties to write with their right hands, at least in public schools. Nor have I ever worked at a job where this accident of birth endangered me, the way that I’ve heard some loggers on the green chain have, because the safety guards were all positioned for right-handers. Still, being left-handed set me apart at an early age. It also made me believe I was clumsy while I was growing up, a feeling that later evolved in a belief in flexibility and a patient approach to problem-solving.
I think that all lefties must develop a sense of being different at a very early age. You can’t help but feel separate from the world around you when it’s not quite designed for you. You have to figure your own way of doing things, sometimes with equipment that leaves little space for a left-handed approach. You can’t count, for instance, on having space inside a piece of machinery to turn a screw left-handed, which forces you either to use your right-hand or some ingenious workaround instead.
As for watching a demonstration, forget it. Not only do you have to reverse all the motions made by the person doing the demonstration, the way that other members of the audience do, but you have to transpose them again to see how they apply to you. This is a tremendous effort for a child, who is likely to have an imperfect sense of abstraction, and explains why I learned simple tasks like tying my shoes at a relatively late age. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have well-meaning teachers and family members; it was that none of them were left-handed, so they couldn’t help me much in learning how to absorb the information they demonstrated.
Unsurprisingly, this difficulty in navigating my immediate world left me feeling incredibly stupid and clumsy. Other kids didn’t have trouble I had, so the trouble must be in me. This feeling lasted well into my teens, even my early adulthood until I discovered the secret of relaxing and concentrating so I entered a special mental stage in which I could transpose what I saw and translate it into my own actions. But I didn’t fully get over this self-perception until I realized that the fault was not just in me, but also in the poor instructions I received.
Just as importantly, I learned the need for patience with problem-solving. Now, when I’m trying to solve a computer problem, or plan the most efficient route for a series of errands, I know that the best way to accomplilsh my goal is to deliberately slow myself down and think throughly and methodically until I hav a course of action planned.
With this background, I don’t think my stints as a university instructor or a technical writer were the least accidental; I still believe that the ability to explain properly is one of the most important talents that you can have.
Because of such circumstances I must have been all of four when I first realized that, no matter how I parsed my situation, I didn’t fit in very well. Either I was a slow-learner and clumsy as well, or, by necessity, I was more versatile than the right-handers around me, becoming close to ambidextrous simply because I had no choice. I suspect this feeling of difference explains why the left-handed are represented disproportionately in the arts; in our society, being an outsider is a given for an artist, so creative activities seem a natural refuge for many of us.
Some lefties are probably destroyed by their alienation, but for some reason I took a different work. Increasingly, as I matured, I took a perverse pride in my difference, increasingly describing a strange idea as “coming out of right field” and using “sinister” as a term of approval, reversing the diction that decried left-handedness as a form of joking self-assertion. When I played baseball, I would confound others by continually switching the side of the plate I stood on; similarly, once I could score consistently under par at the local pitch and putt course while golfing right-handed, I achieved similar scores golfing left-handed in less than a couple of weeks.
These days, I don’t notice which hand I favor all that much, except when I realize that an actor looks natural to me because he or she is left-handed. If anything, my view is that the ability of lefties to adapt and flourish is one of the many proves of just how flexible the human brain can be. But, when I stop to think, I have no doubt that I would be very different if I had been born right-handed.