Being Left-Handed in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Recently, we were asked to sign our names on a commemorative wall at the office that I work at. As I was creating my eternal graffito with a sharpie, a co-worker of mine remarked at the fact that I was writing with my left-hand, as if I was doing so as some sort of joke, and not because I found it more comfortable.

It was interesting to me that someone I have worked with for quite some time would have no idea that I was left-handed, as I consider it to be a fairly large piece of my identity. When I was in school it was plainly obvious to see who was left handed and who was not, with all the scribbling away on paper we did and all, but I suppose at work, since I’m just on the computer all day, there is nothing to give me away (I use my mouse with my right-hand, for unclear reasons). Technology solves everything — now I can pass as a normal member of society, without anyone knowing about my “sinister” secret.

The cultural bias against left-handedness still seems to be walking and talking in many parts of the world. I had a strange experience when I was on a bus in Armenia where an old woman sitting near me suddenly started scolding me when she saw that I was taking some notes using my left hand. When I was little, people urged my mother to force me to be right-handed, so that I wouldn’t go through the hardship of growing up being different from everyone else, but she never did, and I am so grateful for that. I feel like a fundamental part of my being would have not existed if I were right-handed, in a way that I can’t really explain or justify, but still know to be true.

Being in the absolute minority of the population, left-handers feel a special sort of affinity for other left-handers, like a tiny head nod that you are supposed to give to another left-handed person, even if they are a famous person who you will never meet and have only read about in the papers. I always thought it was weird how many US Presidents are left-handed. Of the five living former US Presidents, a majority are left-handed, with Bush the elder, Clinton, and Obama representing the Southpaws. Reagan, Ford, Truman, and Hoover were all lefties as well (in handedness if not in politics). It came as absolutely no surprise to me to learn that Trump is right-handed, and to be honest, a small part of me wants to believe that our current President wouldn’t behave in such a shameful way, if he had grown up left-handed instead.

Freshman year of college, I lived in a three-person dorm room, and it turned out that all three of us were left-handed! This seemed like an impossible coincidence, but then again, Carleton’s Office of Residential Life has been known to use their strange abilities, abilities that some consider to be… unnatural, to play little tricks on incoming freshmen.

I quickly found out that one of these roommates was preternaturally good at playing the guitar. He was in a band, and I would always go to their shows just to see him play. He could infuse funky jams with a strange sort of dignity and reserve, which I found to be an electrifying combination. Anyways, I also play guitar, although less well, and the funny thing is that both of us play in the standard, “right-handed” way. I played violin before I learned how to play the guitar, and the violin community seems less tolerant of switching things up to accommodate left-handers, so I learned to play violin the same way that everyone else plays, and by the time I picked up guitar it seemed natural to me to use my left hand to push down on the strings. Actually, I’ve always thought that the hand that pushes down on the strings has a more complicated task than the hand that picks, or bows, so I’ve always found it to be natural to play guitar and violin “right-handed,” and in that sense I’ve always felt lucky that the whole world somehow decided to play stringed instruments in this way that benefits left-handers.

A weird prejudice that exists concerning left-handers is that they have poor handwriting. Actually, I was known for having pretty good handwriting in my high school days, although it has undoubtedly gotten worse over the years through neglect and disuse. Something that I try to keep in mind while writing is what I call “the slant,” which is a slanted angle in the direction of the forward slash “/”. For whatever reason, I have seen that beautiful writing from around the world has a bias towards this forward slant. The direction of the slant is the same regardless of the direction of the writing system; you can see this slant in languages written from top to bottom (Chinese calligraphy), right to left (Nastaliq Persian calligraphy), and you can also see it on whatever is on that ring in Lord of the Rings. In English handwriting, I’ve found that an easy shortcut to make writing look good is to have clear and straight ascenders and descenders that all slant forward at the same angle. It has always seemed more natural to me to make this slant using the left hand rather than the right hand, and I have found it strange that this forward slant shows up in calligraphy around the world. The fact that it is so predominant though suggests that I am wrong and that it is probably more natural to do this with the right hand. If anyone can link me to anyone who’s studied this phenomenon, please do so.

Regardless, none of these disjointed tidbits about left-handed metaphysics matter much anymore. Left and right handedness were only important insofar as human beings worked with their hands, but the unstoppable result of technological progress is that our hands simply matter less as a means of getting stuff done, which still I believe to be, on the whole, a positive trend, although it is one with many saddening aspects as well. Through technology, I can now be more like everyone else. I no longer have to struggle to cut paper using scissors or smudge my hand with pencil lead. Life has become better, life has become more joyous — but in some ways life has also become more boring, and shallow.