Ever since I managed to smash a finger on my right hand between a rock and a tent stake on the first day of a 5 day backpacking trip, I have spent more time practicing tasks using my non-dominant hand, the left. I’ve always felt a level of awkwardness using my left hand for tasks, other than those that, to me, felt like using both hands together, such as playing the flute or touch typing. I had always thought that the awkwardness was the natural consequence of my being right-handed, but now I’ve changed my mind.

The other night I was using my left hand to eat dinner for practice, and the way I held the spoon was uncomfortable. I was pinching it near the end of the utensil with index finger and thumb; my middle finger vibrated with tension. It felt unnatural to use my left hand, but I could do it. Then I looked at how I was holding it, and questioned why I didn’t hold it like I would hold it in my right hand. I transferred the spoon to my right hand, and observed how I gripped.

It was totally different.

I balanced the spoon on my middle finger, coming over the top with thumb and index in a little hug, covering much more of the spoon’s length with my grip. I put the spoon down, and as I picked it up again with my left, I both paid attention to how I was picking it up and moved my right hand as if I were picking up a spoon. My left hand now held the spoon in that natural, comfortable position. No more shaking, no more tension, no more awkwardness.

Growing up, I was the kind of kid who would get used as the butt of a certain type of joke. The game was “lie to Jeanne, she’ll believe anything.” I expected people (even my young peers!) to speak the truth. To be honest when they described how they saw the world. But it was “funny” when I reacted to some outrageous statement as if it were true. Even through my teens and early twenties, I’d run into variations on that theme, getting teased for believing what people said. I was, and am, quite literal. I’ve just finally learned to evaluate what people say before I decide how to react (as if the statement were true or as if the statement were a type of exaggeration).

With that tendency in mind, the idea came to me that I could have decided a very young age – too young for me to remember – to pretend to be bad at using my left hand because I was told I had to “choose” a “dominant” hand (and left was clearly the wrong choice).

While this reconceptualization swirled through my head, I decided to try another experiment. I tried the “awkward” hold on my right hand. To my surprise, it felt fine. A different way to hold the spoon, but no tension or sense of awkwardness. That evidence pointed towards the left being more awkward in some positions but not others; I tested that hypothesis right away by picking the spoon up again with my left hand, but with the original “awkward” grip.

And now, my left hand was just as calm as the right had been with the same grip.

It is as if I excavated a long held, deep seated agreement that I’d made with myself so long ago that I didn’t even remember making it. But when I made that agreement, I put active energy into preventing myself from fully using my left hand. This was never a physical issue, but a mental one. I felt an energy coursing through my left wrist, seeming to almost illuminate my left hand. The relaxation of a long held tension spread through my body from that hand.

And, looking back at the last ten or so years, I can see where I was subconsciously pushing back against the old agreement that I couldn’t use my left hand. In addition to my starting to practice tasks left handed after that backpacking incident, throughout my decade doing CrossFit, I have had what might be termed an unnatural obsession with left- right balance. Knowing I was right-side dominant, I always tried to give my left not just equality, but a little bit extra to help it keep up. I’d start rounds with the left, because there’s usually a higher chance of doing more reps on the side you start with. And, unless a barbell clip was particularly stiff, I would use my left hand to both put on and take off every barbell clip. It was extra work, physically for that left hand and mentally for me to use the “non-dominant” hand.

Days later, I’m still deep in thought about this idea. I’ve been using my left hand more, but I’m not forcing things. I’m just being open to trying things with the left, like using wire cutters and an impact drill with my left hand to take apart the chicken coop we aren’t using on our property. Before this revelation, I wouldn’t have risked using power tools with my left hand. But I’m able to handle it just fine, and sometimes the left offers a better angle. It’s interesting to explore what I can do now that I’ve stopped stopping myself.

I think back to a book on tape that I got out of the Winfield Public Library as a kid, Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones. Though I later read more books in the Chrestomanci Chronicles, my library only had this one, and only on tape. Spoilers ahead; in this book, a boy is a massively powerful enchanter, but he doesn’t know it. He is left-handed, but is being forced to use his right hand by school. He’s gotten good at faking being right-handed, but he’s still left-handed. While there is more to the story, that suppression contributes to the boy’s inability to use magic. And his use of that hand is part of the key that unlocks his abilities.

What might I unlock, releasing this old agreement? If I have the willpower to suppress myself so thoroughly for decades, then what else can I do with that power under my conscious control? And, what other things are only hard for me because I have, consciously or subconsciously, made them hard for myself?

Sinister has a negative connotation in the English language, but the origin is Latin, for left or left-handed. That’s no longer a word that I’m going to take literally.

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