Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Handism

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Handism

About 10 percent of people are born with the left hand as their dominant one. We now know that this is controlled by a specific gene (which also appears to link to a tendency of schizophrenia), but for a long time left-handed people were viewed with suspicion. Some schools attempted to force the unfortunate few lefties to write and draw with their right hand. I remember this being done to my creative oldest sister, Libby. On the positive side, left-handedness is linked in folklore with creativity and intelligence(although this may be a result of figuring out how to cope in a right-handed world). Celebrated male members of the club include Michelangelo, Raphael, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Paul McCartney, Johnny Rotten, H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, and Albert Einstein. Yes, there are accomplished lefty women too: Joan of Arc, Queen Victoria, Hellen Keller, Marie Curie, and some TV person named Oprah.

The left and right-brain theory fans might argue that lefties are using their right brain more, since hemispheres control opposite hands, but recent neuroscience has pretty much discounted the two-hemispheres model, pointing out that both sides of the brain are active in nearly all mental tasks.

For writers, it's interesting to see how the age-old bias against southpaws is embedded in language. Consider, for example, the positive connotations of being "right" or having the "right" as opposed to being "left out." Less playfully, look at words we have adapted from French: both gauche and maladroit, now English terms for social or physical clumsiness, refer to lefties. An old saying for someone poor at dancing is that he has "two left feet." From the Latin for "right" (dexter), we derive dextrous, dexterity, and ambidextrous, all positively loaded; but from its term for "left" (sinister), we get, no surprise, sinister. In magic, the "left-hand" path is black magic, intended to kill, curse or wound, not heal. Many Middle Easterners consider it an insult if a stranger offers his left hand for shaking, since that is the hand traditionally reserved for, er, bathroom purposes.

In an attempt to redress these historical injustices, I wrote my new book, Time Slip, with both hands.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

John Oughton

John Oughton is the author of several books, including Time Slip: New and Selected Poems, published by Guernica Editions.

Go to John Oughton’s Author Page