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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)
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