October 18 2022
Today is my 41st wedding anniversary. Those numbers do mount up. Who knows where, when and how we will be celebrating our 50th.
I decided to use this blog (not every time, just sometimes) to talk about a few of my best-loved paintings, and share them and their making with you. Today’s painting is called “For My Hands” and I painted it I believe in 2012, at the beginning of my heyday decade.
I am left-handed. In fact, in our family – me, husband, and two sons – 3 out of 4 of us are naturally left-handed. My elder son is the odd man out. I think this is rather unusual, as it seems only 10% of any human population is left-handed.
When my second son started kindergarten, the teacher asked me if I would like them to “fix” him. I answered, “No thanks, he is not broken.” I managed for decades in several different cultures, including the Japanese which is extremely right-handed, so I thought my son would do OK too. As a matter of fact, he did. My husband was “fixed” this way in primary school, which I think is partly responsible for the terrible headaches he has been plagued with all his life. In my last years as a university teacher, I noticed quite a few left-handed students in my classes. It seems the compulsion to “fix” left-handed people is on the way out. Yay. If we can’t tolerate a bit of difference in the population, especially something as innocuous as handedness, then we are all in trouble. Who cares if, in a line of kids eating lunch, one or two are holding their chopsticks in their left hands?
]It does make a bit more sense with writing, as the structure of Chinese characters, as seen in brush writing (calligraphy) is physically designed for a right-handed person (the brush is pulled in the correct direction, instead of having to be pushed, as left-handed people would do); but these days there are schools devoted to left-handed calligraphy. No longer any need for “fixing” – bashing those poor left hands with a ruler or tying them to the desk so kids couldn’t use them. So much cruelty around the world for such a small thing.
One thing I noticed, and deplored, as a left-handed person in my era of consciousness of such things (fifth or sixth grade) was that apparently I was doomed to write “backhand” with the letters slanting to the left instead of to the right as a “normal” right-handed person would do. This is because when we learned to write, all the pieces of paper were slanted the same way – to the right – to accommodate the right-handed people. It was only as a middle-school student that a fellow left-hander, a very smart girl, pointed out to me that my handwriting would be much better if I just changed the angle of the paper. It worked like magic! I have often been praised for my small, “scholarly” hand and probably no one knows that I am left-handed – unless they actually see me write “upwards” with the paper turned toward the left, at right angles to the desk.
Of course, it is now a moot point, since handwriting will soon be a thing of the past. It’s already happening – practically all of my students in University had horrible writing, even in their own native language. With computers as the usual mode of communication, there is no need to form letters physically with the hand. This has had alarming consequences for Japanese people, as nowadays many of them can recognize which is the correct Chinese character to use, but they can no longer write them – it isn’t necessary, as when you type on a PC a selection of characters comes up and you simply click on the one you want. Even the traditional situations where you had to use your own handwriting – New Year’s cards, for example, or money envelopes, you can now get them printed so you don’t have to write.
My painting, which appears as the illustration to this post, shows the left hand, on the left, as the dominant (yang) hand, with appropriate colors and shapes. Everything creative I do – drawing, painting, writing words and music, crafts – is with this hand. The right, or non-dominant (yin) hand, I still use for many things – in the garden, cooking, using scissors, etc. I read that there are two types of left-handed people – the ones who are totally left-handed and the ones that can use their right hands for some things. (I expect right-handed people can also be divided in this way, though there probably hasn’t been much research done on this.) I’m in the second category, but for example, when I was studying tea and had to do everything right-handed, as you had to in those days, it was really a struggle. It’s also a struggle trying to learn how to play the piano, which is another thing totally geared toward right-handed people. So even though I do manage to perform some tasks with my right hand, I will never be as comfortable as I am using my left hand. I’m definitely not ambidextrous.
These days it is more fashionable to emphasize one’s differences than to downplay or try to “fix” them in conformity to some arbitrary standard. Of course it does make sense, in human culture, to have most things catered to the majority of people; but 10% is not such a small minority, after all. My mother, when I was a girl, didn’t teach me some things because she said it was too hard “because you’re a southpaw”. And my mother-in-law, when she watched me cutting veggies etc. with my left hand, would remark, “That looks dangerous” (abunakkashii). There used to be definite prejudices related to this, which are thankfully dying out. (Is this a direct result of the decrease in the use of hands generally? Another thing I noticed with my University students is that there was a steady decrease in hand-related hobbies over the years. These days the most hands seem to do is pushing buttons or swiping.)
It isn’t that awful to be left-handed. I’m sure it feels exactly the same as being right-handed, except you have to learn to accommodate yourself to a right-handed world. But it is educational, whichever hand you use, to have two hands, and to remember that there are other people who are living their lives in the opposite way and having to deal with that.
I love both my hands. I am always happy to learn another way to use them, which is why I like all kinds of crafts. Sewing, embroidery, knitting, beadwork, stained-glass – I just love feeling my eye-hand coordination kicking in. And both the yang and yin hands are necessary. My hands (and the eyes that guide them) are, I think, my favorite parts of the body.
How about you?