Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On Becoming Left-Handed, or Be Careful What You Wish For . . .

So I’m trying to mix a motherfucking meatloaf for Father’s Day with my right (Parkinson’s) hand, and it’s pretty laborious.  My left hand usually takes over about this time, but it’s just too messy, so I’m left to my own devices.  Which reminds me . . (cue flashback music)

All my life, I’ve wanted to be left-handed.
Left-handed people were so cool.  enigmatic.  mystical.
Controlled by the brain’s right hemisphere,
They also had a tragic history of oppression:
hands tied behind their backs, forced
To draw the alphabet with their clumsy, inanimate, claw.

I tried to write left-handed, curling it up and over the page like my brother did, imagining perhaps a nun hovering over me with a ruler, watching for the devil, ready to strike the moment the captive hand freed itself in a desperate attempt to assist me in expressing myself.  (This may read like some kinky bondage scenario, but I'm directing this scene, not some French auteur. And I’m not even Catholic.)

Anyway, back in the day, the closest I came to feeling left-handed was by writing backwards, from the right side of the page to the left, then turning the paper over to reveal, ta-DAH!  A perfectly formed sentence. Twenty years later, I had the same feeling when I was learning Arabic.  There I was, writing from right to left again, but this time drawing letters that were unfamiliar, and totally mesmerizing.

So I’ve had some practice with this awareness of left/right-hand shenanigans, right?  Handedness is intrinsic.  Like Lady Gaga says, you’re born that way.  So you can imagine how weird it was to discover, one fine day in 2010, that not only did my left hand know what my right hand was doing, it had taken over!  Without asking permission!  Without even announcing itself, it just stealthed its way into dominance. 

I was gardening, minding my own business, when I looked down at my hands and went, “Hmmm.”  It didn’t register right away.  Then it did:  “Jenny, why are you dead-heading the chrysanthemums with your left hand?”  I hadn’t done anything; I hadn’t switched them on purpose; there was no conscious awareness of having made a decision.  It. just. happened. 

And that was maybe the second symptom of Parkinson’s I noticed.  Like most everyone who has contracted this disease, I didn’t have the semiotic resources to be able to put these (seemingly) unrelated little incidents together to form a coherent meaning, aka a diagnosis.  That took another 6 months or so. The body knows, people!  And you know, while we’re at it, let’s reconsider the pugilistic parasitic pirate invasion metaphor, shall we?  The left hand knew something was amiss.  Without any fanfare, it gently stepped in to lend a helping hand and, by doing so, finally fulfilled my longing to be/come left-handed.

The meatloaf turned out pretty good, too.

Coming soon:  hints on how to make micrographia work for you!


  1. It's remarkable how the human body works; when one of your senses fail your others will perk up on behalf, such as your eyesight goes, so your sense of smell goes up in response. But I never knew that actual bodyparts such as the hand would compensate each other as well. The human body is a remarkable thing: the one machine that seems know how to keep going working against all the odds.

  2. Great narrative Jenny. My grandmother had PD and I'm ashamed at how little I know about Parkinson's. I absolutely love your sense of humor!

    1. Thanks, Jeannie! One of these days I'll have to tell you about all the parts I cut out of this post because I was afraid the humor wouldn't "be appropriate." Thank god for people like you! And, by the way, I'm channeling your grandmother; she says don't worry about it.

  3. Oh, wait a minute. It's not my left hand "doing" all this lovely assisting-- it's my (right) braaaaaaiinn!!
    (key spooky music)