By Adam Granger
I’m a lefty. That is, I write left-handed, and that seems to be the standard by which we define handedness, so I guess I’m a lefty. But I do almost everything else—eating, waving, throwing and batting—right-handed. When I tell people that, they say, “Oh, you’re ambidextrous,” but I’m not. Ambidexterity is the ability to use both hands equally well for everything, and it’s rare. For the most part, I can’t do the right-hand stuff with my left hand, nor the left with my right. Like most people, I am what is referred to in the hand biz as cross-dominant.
About 10 percent of us are left-handed, and upon us are heaped mounds of etymological insult. The adjective “sinister”—which originally meant simply left, left side or left hand—has, from heraldry forward, incurred a host of negative meanings: frightening, alarming, ominous, dark, menacing, evil and the like. Paying someone a left-handed compliment is damning that person with faint praise. Mary Wollstonecraft, an almost-singular feminist in her day, wrote, in her 1792 treatise, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” “When a man seduces a woman, it should, I think, be termed a left-handed marriage.” Magic was called the left-handed art. On the other hand (pun not intended but gladly accepted), the synonymity of the adjectives “right” and “correct” springs from the same handedness bias.
But there are rebuttals: Proverbs 3:16 says that in wisdom’s left hand are riches and honor. And, on average, lefties score one point higher on IQ tests than righties (squeaking my score into triple digits. Yessss!). Also, an inordinately high number of creative people are lefties. The only conclusion to draw from all of this is that this anti-left prejudice is born of simple petty jealousy on the part of righties. It’s sad. Bigly sad. I still say that it’s odd that I’m considered left-handed solely because of my handwriting, in lieu of pretty much everything else. It’s a rigged system.
There’s a ton of literature on handedness. There are theories as to how and when it’s determined, on whether prenatal ultrasounds encourage left-handedness, on whether genetics are a determinant, on the left-brain/right-brain relationship to handedness and so on. It gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, and I will leave it to you to explore the topic further if you wish to. But, for now, let’s talk about me.
After the reading I’ve done on the science of handedness, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m meant to be doing some of the things I do with the opposite hand from the one I currently use: my left-handed writing is execrable, and my right handed ball-throwing is worse. What if I switched? What if I learned to write with my right hand? I had a chance to have a go at this a few years back when I broke my left wrist, but I didn’t think of it then. An eight-week opportunity to practice right-handed penmanship was right under my nose (well, actually, it was under my nose and down at the end of my arm). Had I acted then, I could be sitting here right now, writing with my right hand in beautiful cursive on fine linen paper using high-quality inks and gold-nibbed fountain pens. But no, I squandered that chance while carelessly scratching out pseudo-signatures on the backs of checks at the bank, the teller and I laughing harder at each effort. I mean, if, in fact, most of us tend toward capability with one hand or the other (unless we are ambidextrous, remember), it would have been a smart thing for me to try.
Because, it’s no fun being a lefty. I don’t know how things are where you’re from, but in secondary school in Oklahoma in the ’60s, the student desk was a modular affair, with a desktop that fastened to the seat back along its right side. This provided a wonderful armrest—unless you were left-handed. I wrote with my left elbow flapping awkwardly in the air. I looked like a scrawny, bespectacled, one-armed football tackle daring the opposition to break his remaining arm, and it was fatiguing and stressful and it produced the scrawl I now jokingly refer to as my handwriting. And things were made worse by the way I gouged the writing point into the paper instead of having it glide away from what I’d just written. Then, finally, my palm would rub over the whole mess, smearing away whatever legibility was left.
So, some snowy day, I am going to exercise my right to write right. The world was not made for lefties, and I’m just about ready to jump ship from the SS Sinister and stow away aboard the Good Ship Righty. I’ll leave a farewell note. Good luck reading it.
Adam Granger lives in St. Anthony Park with his wife and dog, Molly, and is a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.