Friday, January 30, 2015

In good hands

           It's National Left-Handed People's Day, so let's celebrate all those right-brained folks among us who keep life so interesting.  In my experience they're the ones who think outside the box...or disregard the box altogether.  They're the artists, the musicians, the creative muses, and the ones who show us how to approach life with a slightly different perspective.
          When I taught first grade, I spent an entire summer practicing how to write with my non-dominant hand so I could better instruct my lefties.  It wasn't easy, but I found that over time I got the knack.  To help my left-handed kids feel more at home, I brought in a chimpanzee puppet that had long arms and a goofy smile.  When I introduced  "Kristan," I told the kids he only spoke German as that was the only language I had learned semi-fluently in high school.  He was left-handed, too, so he needed slightly different instruction with his writing skills.  Everyone loved him, especially when he made mistakes, flipping the letters or turning them upside-down.   
          "Oh, we all goof up now and again," I'd tell the kids.  Then I'd smile at Kristan and say, "Nur noch einmal versuchen."  (Just try it again.)
          Since my days in the classroom, I'm still teaching kids and adults of all ages, but now we're all barefoot and hang out on the floor.  No handwriting is necessary, but I still notice my left-handed students often need a little more gentle guidance with new flowing pose routines.  No worries...I teach what I also need to learn.
          You see, I've recently discovered that I'm a latent lefty.
          At first I thought I was simply ambidextrous, as I've been consciously using my left hand for more activities these days.  Mild carpal tunnel in my right often dictates that my left take the lead.  I often tell my students, "The non-dominant side may be stronger because the dominant gets more mileage."
          But last weekend I ran into a friend whose husband studies hand dominance.
          "I'm sure you're mixed-handed," Lori commented brightly.  "No doubt about it."
          I nodded.  "Yeah, I use my right brain a lot these days."
          Interested in learning more, I came home and took an online test to see where I fall on the sliding scale and was surprised by the results.  According to that particular survey, I'm left hand dominant, but also strongly mixed.  That was a head scratcher...and I noticed I used my left hand to do just that.
          All this week I've been paying attention to which hand does which job.  Brushing my teeth?  The right hand.  Turning keys into locks?  The left.  Eating?  Both.  Unscrewing lids?  Left.  Vacuuming?  Both.  Carrying groceries?  Both.  Shoveling snow?  Both.  Scrubbing dishes?  Both.  Holding a book?  Left.  Starting a knitting project?  Left.
          You can see where I'm going with this.

          I owe it all to the eclectic choices I've been making for the past fifteen years.  My yoga practice keeps me balanced as I alternate which leg leads in a sun or moon salutation and I'm mindful to work both sides of my body as equally as possible.  I pay attention to my left-handed students and watch how they creatively change whatever I'm teaching into something unique and more integrated...then try it their way.
          In shifting the focus of my writing during the past year, I've come to rely on both sides of my brain more fully.  I use the right brain to create.  The left to edit.  The right side to allow words and images to flow through my imagination and onto the page or screen.  Then the left side hones it so the prose is clearer and more articulate.  The right side finds fabulous ways to make things more artistically expressive.  The left side maneuvers the technology needed to launch my work into the world.  All in all it's been a wonderful way to find an inner balance that's often reflected on the outside. 
          More importantly, it's given me the awareness of my strengths and challenges.

          Tomorrow I officially complete a year of research for The Lace Makers.  Last winter when I began watching documentaries and films about slavery and the Holocaust, I had no idea what I was doing.  I simply allowed the right side of my brain to guide me toward resources that I would have avoided in the past because of the painful emotions they might invoke.  When summer arrived, I unexpectedly heard the voices of two characters whispering in my imagination during a yoga class.  One of them, an eight-year-old girl living as a slave on a plantation in 1865 gave me a lovely, yet haunting opening paragraph:

          The sun be peepin' over the old barn where I hear the cows be moanin' to get milked.  The air sharp like little pins and needles where my arms be peakin' out from under my shawl.  The sky turnin' the color of the egg yolks my mama like to break just to watch 'em get runny.  She do that sometimes.  Break them egg yolks for Massa and keep on fryin' 'em til they be hard as shoe leather.  He don't say nothin.'  Just gobble 'em up like they the best thing he ever et.

          Since then I've followed my intuition wherever it has led me.  I've taken notes from countless sources, outlined most of the novel, and prepared the cover image.  I didn't realize until just recently that this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.  I don't think that's a coincidence at all.
          Still, in the midst of all the research I tried to take mental holidays.  A few months ago I wondered, What television show would be the farthest thing away from this subject matter?   Then I thought, Why not watch "The Twilight Zone?"  But of course, the very first episode on the DVD depicted a former Nazi returning to the camps years later only to discover the ghost of a prisoner whom he had once tortured.  When the story unfolded, it was like being in the middle of my own personal Twilight Zone.
          Then a couple of weeks ago, I decided to watch Jimmy Stewart in "The Glenn Miller Story."  Little did I know that Miller died in a plane crash during World War II.  And later that night when I googled, "Japanese internment camps, United States," up popped a link to an interview with a man who had been interred for three years as a child.  Once again, it was no coincidence that the man is the father of a very significant person in my life.
          Day after day, no matter where I turn, stories of slavery and the Holocaust spontaneously surface in television programs, news stories, and the like.  It's as if I'm a magnet for as much information as the universe wants to send my way.  But right now I'm beginning to feel nearly super-saturated. 
          Last night I was watching the HBO documentary "Night Will Fall" and for the first time in my life thought, I honestly don't know if I can write this book. In the past there have been many times when I didn't want to finish the novel or book I was writing, but I've never felt as though I couldn't do it.  I imagine that's my left brain talking...the side that likes things neat and orderly.  Logical and exact.  It doesn't like to get messy and isn't all that comfortable with letting things unfold over time.
          Yet even though The Lace Makers isn't a novel I would have thought to write on my own, because I was led to it by a steady and urgent inspiration, I'm going to try.   As the ideas keep effortlessly coming to me in thoughts and dreams and through talking with people, I know I'm in good hands as I journey forward into a manuscript that has been a long time coming.  
          Perhaps it's the courage I find on the other side of my consciousness that lets me know I'm ready to see what will unfurl as the story unfolds.  For the next ten weeks I'll be leaning a little more heavily on the left hand to guide the right as we walk down this undiscovered road together...knowing that whatever grows along the way will be a blessing.
          And whatever seeds are left behind...will be just right.