Thursday, June 6, 2013


Saw an article recently about handedness--how right-handed and left-handed people differ, and what it all means. It's an old pop-sci chestnut, stories propagated every so often by some new bit of research that doesn't really prove anything, but I find them fascinating. Because when it comes to handedness, I'm a mess.

When I was a kid, I was completely ambidextrous. That lasted until the third grade, when my teacher caught me writing the left half of a page with my left hand then switching the pencil and writing the right half of the page with my right hand. Well, she declared that the laziest thing she'd ever seen! From that day to this, I only write right-handed. Although I sometimes wonder if I could retrain my left hand, just to show her.

An off-the-cuff compendium of how I do what:
  • Throw: left.
  • Bat: right.
  • Kick: left.
  • Write and Pencil: right.
  • Ink and Paint: mostly right but sometimes left (less fine motor control required, I think)
  • Golf (I don't golf but have played mini-golf and assume the mechanics are similar): right.
  • Tennis: left (when I first played in my early teens I switched the racket from hand to hand depending on where the shot was headed: no backhands! However, I learned that was bad form and I looked stupid dropping the racket during the hand-off, so settled on left).
  • Archery: both (I'm left-eye dominant so my own bow is left-handed, but I shoot my daughter's right-handed bow just to keep things even).
  • Bowling: left.
  • Teethbrushing: both. I switch halfway.
  • Scissors: right.
  • Kitchen knives: left.

High jump, which I did on the junior-high track team, deserves its own note. I approached the bar from the left while nearly everyone else approached it from the right. All those right-footers typically scooched the landing mat toward the left, either deliberately or just through the repeated momentum of their landings. Consequently, when I jumped in the other direction, about one time out of four I missed the mat entirely and landed on the ground. This was not conducive to an extended high-jumping career.

I enjoy my flexibility. It's been suggested that it accounts for my love of and work in both science and the arts, although I understand the whole "left brain/right brain" thing isn't really true anymore. Every once in a while I do find myself standing in the kitchen staring at a jar in my hands, paralyzed, trying to figure out which hand turns the lid because neither feels right. It's a small price to pay.

One of my identical twin daughters is left-handed and the other right-handed. This would seem to belie the definition of "identical," yet I understand it's common within the Split-Zygote Community (SZC). Coincidentally, the left-handed kid's name starts with an "L" and the right-handed kid's name starts with an "R," an unintended but swell mnemonic.

In my lifetime, left-handedness has gone from being a sign of something not quite right in the brain to an unremarkable thread in humanity's rainbow tapestry. You hear old horror stories of kids having their left hand tied down so they're forced to use their right, a sinister (heh!) practice I'm glad is mostly extinct. I don't remember any trauma from my third grade teacher's training but do kind of wish she'd left me alone. Would've been interesting to see how I turned out.


RunningFromMoose said...

I'm a righty married to a lefty. One advantage: being able to sit next to each other at dinner and hold hands under the table.

Brian Fies said...

Wow. That's pretty cute.

Mike said...

Had a college friend who was right-handed in everything except playing the guitar, because as a little kid he used to mirror Gene Autry on television and so, by the time he actually got a guitar, fretting with his right hand seemed natural. Most left-handed players have learned to play righty as well, simply from times when there is a campfire and one guitar. Of course, very few people can borrow theirs. My friend Eric may have gone even deeper into matters: He's now a lutier and can make a guitar for whatever hand he wants.