My Left Hand of Darkness

16th-century Prosthetics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré
16th-cen­tu­ry Pros­thet­ics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré

I didn’t expect a hand injury to be such a big deal.

Okay, so I crushed my hand in a fall when a tree root rose up out of the ground and tack­led me. Besides the fact that it hap­pened almost exact­ly the way it hap­pened to one of my fic­tion­al char­ac­ters in a fan­ta­sy nov­el, the pain I expe­ri­enced was no fan­ta­sy at all. It was very sharp, very real, and as it turns out, very last­ing.

Once I got past the relief of dis­cov­er­ing I (mirac­u­lous­ly) didn’t break any­thing, the real­i­ty of the real degree of my injury—severe soft tis­sue damage—began to sink in. It would take weeks, maybe months, to regain full use of my hand with­out pain.

The kick­er: it’s my right hand. Insult to injury: I work as a writer for a liv­ing.

The good news: I’m ambidex­trous! This is some­thing I’ve been telling myself since I was a child, when I didn’t under­stand why peo­ple favored one hand over the oth­er when it came to cut­ting bread, draw­ing pic­tures, or pound­ing nails. I used my left hand to wield knives, pen­cils, and ham­mers just as flu­id­ly as I used my right.

Yeah, well. That was then. In truth, I’m a soft left­ie. I’m no full-blown south­paw, and I’m cer­tain­ly not going to win any cal­lig­ra­phy con­tests.

What I hadn’t real­ized until now, was not so much how my injured hand was slow­ing down my abil­i­ty to write—but how much it was affect­ing my brain.

16th-century Prosthetics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré
16th-cen­tu­ry Pros­thet­ics (1564) designed by Ambroise Paré

Writ­ing begins with the burst of an idea in my brain that my body instant­ly wants to acti­vate. Since my injury, for the first time, I noticed that I could feel those fresh ideas shoot­ing down my right arm—only to get backed up, as if in a clogged pipe.

Now, back­logged ideas are des­per­ate­ly seek­ing egress from my brain before they fade into obliv­ion. Old habits are hard to break, and try­ing to rewire my think­ing to ignite my left arm to action (and with some degree of speed) has ulti­mate­ly changed not just the way I write, but what ends up on the paper.

Maybe it gives me more time to edit my thoughts before they get translit­er­at­ed to the page? Maybe it changes my sto­ry, as described from a left-hand per­spec­tive? Maybe it only proves that even when I can’t write, I can’t help but fig­ure out a way to keep try­ing.

What is the phys­i­cal act of writ­ing, real­ly? Maybe at the very least, it’s our brain’s great escape.

Illus­tra­tion from Edwin D. Babbitt’s The Prin­ci­ples of Light and Col­or (1878)