Since I began teaching and lecturing on the subject of writing with the other hand, ... I have met some individuals who were forced by circumstances to write with their non-dominant hand. A broken arm or wrist, a stroke, or some other sudden injury or illness led to a temporary or permanent switch to the other hand. Many of these individuals experienced deep inner changes, opened undeveloped dimensions of their personalities, and uncovered buried talents. Brad is a case in point. An attractive and energetic young man, Brad was in his early 20s when I interviewed him. He discovered a whole new world because of an accident, forcing him to write with his other hand. Here is Brad's story:
As a young child I wrote stories and had a large imaginary world to play in. My neighborhood appeared to be a boundless garden of adventure, mystery, danger, and fun . . . . .
I had an obsession for games and a terrible fear of losing or being rejected. As a young boy I ran away from my first baseball game crying because I had run the wrong direction around the bases. At an early age I was made to realize that if I wanted to play men's games I had to learn the rules and pay attention to detail. I saw that a man's world is very critical. Judgments are made with large consideration to the end goal, and the means are carefully restricted to the straightest line toward the goal.
So I set out to learn the rules, and I learned them better than anyone else, to the point of being able to tell my coaches when they had made mistakes before they recognized them. I learned to direct all my anger and desires toward the goal: winning.
I lost sight of my fluid, youthful world as I grew up and became more and more rigid in body and spirit. I tried to take on the outer appearances and inflexible standard of a winner. I was quarterback and team captain at school, a leader on the field, a sacrificer of my body. I could throw a football 75 yards at age 15. I pitched on the baseball team and developed a keen jump shot and hook in basketball. My right arm spent long days reaching, throwing, and extending. I did little reading but did well in school, especially in math and sciences. My language skills were poor. I always worked hardest in this area and received my worst grades in English and foreign languages. At 15 I had many male friends in high school and almost no female friends. In those days I preferred a good dirt-ball game to a date.
It is still very vivid in my memory, the day I fell to the floor on the basketball court of my high school with a pain so strong in my right shoulder and arm that somehow I knew instantly my dreams were shattered. I knew I would never play professional football as I so fervently desired. In fact, later I found out that I would never be able to throw any kind of ball again.
A week later I sat at my final examination in English with a dislocated right arm. I was very angry because the teacher was forcing me to write my essay with my left hand. My right arm was tightly bound to my body and totally immobile. I had been confident I would get off without writing any essay that day, which would have been fine with me. Soon I found out that if I didn't write one I could fail the class. I spent almost three hours completely absorbed in my new and arduous task. I found myself using all the pent-up anger and frustration as fuel to write a very long, barely legible and somewhat sarcastic essay. By the time I turned my paper in I had forgotten how enraged I had been or that so much time had passed. Taking charge of my emotions had required great effort.
Afterwards I felt vulnerable, exhausted, and close to tears. Yet I wouldn't dare let these feelings out. I couldn't ride my bike so I walked home three miles. My shoes came untied many times but I got great satisfaction out of tying them with my left hand. At home I became completely fanatical about keeping my life's routines as normal as possible with the use of only my left arm. I cooked, wrote papers, made telephone calls, drove a car, and performed personal hygiene with my left hand. Every little detail became intensified, important, difficult, and exciting. Everything in my life became a challenge which was solely designed to teach me a lesson: that I could do something which I had thought I couldn't do. This in turn gave me new self-confidence and opened a previously unknown world to me.
I received a "C" grade on my English essay. I hadn't given enough, the teacher seemed to be saying, but that essay was the beginning of a major transformation in my life. I couldn't use my right arm for six weeks, and just after getting the cast off I injured it again. During this time I became totally focused on reading and writing. The more I read the more my child-like curiosity surfaced. My visual imagination overflowed in long and insightful reports, essays and poetry. My grades in English went from "C" to "A."
As my inner life expanded, so did my friends and surroundings. During the recuperation I was separated from my jock friends who, it turned out, were not very good friends after all. So I had to create new friendships, most of them with women. I found I could talk to them more easily about my new feelings. And I fell in love for the first time.
Along with these changes, I also wanted to move out of the city. I really felt the need to get in touch with the natural rhythms and patterns of life, with my body and spirit. So I went to live in the woods until I entered college to study another physical discipline: dance.
Brad opened up to his own creativity and entered the arts world when he turned a catastrophe into a golden opportunity. He went on to become a performing dancer and instructor of Contact Improvisation, a new movement form. His unique style combines fluidity and strength: power that expresses a balance he has attained between the active and receptive aspects of his personality. Brad attributes the beginning of this major life change to the day he dislocated his arm and was forced to use his other hand.
Words have continued to be an important outlet for Brad, who later studied acting. As he told me: "When I started focusing on acting, I found myself writing in mirror images with my left hand. It was spontaneous and completely unexpected. I feel it has stretched my awareness in exciting ways."
(excerpted from Chapter 4, The Power of Your Other Hand)
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