I awoke today with a dull pain in my right jaw. That surprised me. It was a left molar that had been pulled. The pain in my jaw from the ground war that took place in my mouth the day before had minutely subsided, like the discordance in Kashmir.
I had a tooth extracted two days ago, and I’m quite proud of the defense my decayed tooth displayed. Even so, my lateralization — the structural or functional differences between the right- and left-hand sides of our body — tricked me today. As I pondered this jaw pain, it transferred to my left side. I felt it switch. Trust me on this; that feels weird.
What it means and what I am
Merriam-Webster defines ambidextrous as “using both hands with equal ease or dexterity.” This ability is what most people want to see if they learn I’m ambidextrous. They want to see me write with my left hand. Dexterity can be modified through practice. So, equality with handwriting doesn’t necessarily mean parity. It doesn’t mean that I can write as well with both hands.
For me, my script’s clarity is better with my left hand, but I’ve invested countless hours training to be right-handed, so I’m quicker with my right hand, though the words are nearly illegible. Enough with the boring stuff; let’s talk about the problems that come with both hands being equally handy! After all, that’s what you want to know! 😉
Complications from equal dexterity
Today, I am writing about my multi-decade complications from being an ambidextrous person. You see, my entire life has been a struggle between the left side of my body and the right. It was a fun trick in elementary school. I could throw or kick a ball as well with my left hand/foot as its counterpart. In middle school, I won my weight division in wrestling because my wrestling style was, well, bizarre. I confused every opponent. He didn’t know what he was struggling with, what with my left side being more muscular than my right but my right being quicker.
It was in middle school when I began to observe that being ambidextrous was odd. During that stage of socialization, odd isn’t what a child desires. I couldn’t spell ambidextrous, but my empirical data tickled my curiosity.
Spiderman had nothing on me
During my middle school years, my dad was a professor at a well-known university. His friend, an associate professor, was developing an IQ test as part of his dissertation. Dad offered me as a guinea pig. I sat through hours of tests, which is tough for a nine-year-old, on a Saturday. Before Dad’s friend left, he gave me a basketball for being a good sport. I thought life would return to normal; not.
The next Saturday, I learned that Dad’s friend wanted me to retake part of the test. That seemed weird. When he arrived, he told Dad that I’d scored quite well, except for the series of left-hand, right-hand questions. Since I’d been exceptional with the rest of the questions, Dad’s professor friend assumed my low score was due to me being nervous.
I wasn’t about to tell this stranger that I didn’t have a firm grasp of left and right, that the whole concept of right or left made no sense. I retook the test. I was in my bedroom, with the door closed, so I physically acted out each question while watching my hands, then wrote down the answer. I’d made it to middle school before someone almost discovered my secret “power.” I knew I still had much to learn; I easily related to Spiderman!
Our brains aren’t wired for dual-dexterity
By high school, weird was “in,” so I quit worrying about it, but not a day went by when I didn’t have to deal with my blessed nemesis. When I played cards with some friends, I’d deal with my left hand and play the cards with my right. If someone threw me their car keys, I’d catch them with my left hand. But if asked, I hadn’t a clue which pocket held my keys.
There has never been any logic for which pocket I put my keys in, left, right, right, left, left, left. No matter how I have tried to teach myself to always put my car keys in my front, right jeans pocket, I’ve never learned. To this day, I search. I did teach myself to carry my billfold in the same pocket, that would be my back, left pocket.
I was good at basketball in school because I could dribble, shoot, and steal the ball from a player with either hand. But I was deeply introverted, so I avoided sports. I did play in a rock band (yes, you can be an introvert and play in a band) that did well, though the one record we released was not a wonder. Yet, even in music, the dissonance between right and left was always at play. I had no habit of which hand I used to plug my guitar cord into my amp, which hand opened my guitar case, which hand placed my mic on its stand.
A bit of science
People throughout history have been intrigued by us ambidextrous types. I found an interesting quote about this topic in Medical News Today:
The preference for using one hand to write and perform major tasks has fascinated humans for centuries. Stigmatized as evil or even unnatural, left-handed individuals have experienced their share of discrimination over the course of history… Although from the outside our bodies look as though they might be symmetrical, once we get below the skin, all sense of symmetry is lost.
Scientists call this lateralization, which refers to the structural or functional differences between the right- and left-hand sides of our body. — Left, right, or ambidextrous: What determines hand preference? — Medical News Today
Some positives and negatives
My dual “right-handedness” has served me well when it comes to electrical or mechanical work. More than once, I’ve stepped in when a gearhead friend was cussing out a bolt he couldn’t manage to hold and thread. A couple of seconds and I’d have the bolt started, either hand. The same was true with my first couple of jobs. Being an ambidextrous electronics technician came in handy. I still can solder with either hand.
When I worked for CBS, one of my tasks was soldering wires a bit larger than a human hair. The technique required accuracy with both hands. It was a piece of cake for me. When I started my own company, I’d play off my skill as something all electronics technicians had and one I expected from my new hires. Well, not exactly, but when I taught them a technique, I did use my dual handedness. I didn’t want to influence them to be right-handed.
Two mice are better than one
For the majority of my professional life, I’ve worked with computers. As I sit here writing this article, I have a MacBook Pro to my left and an iMac in front of me. It is common for me to use my left hand for the MacBook’s touchpad gestures and keyboard and my right hand for my iMac’s mouse and keyboard. Occasionally, I do both at the same time, but my brain isn’t great at parallel processing disparent thoughts.
No, I can’t write two different articles at the same time and, typically, I use an app that lets me use a single mouse/keyboard, shared between both computers. Things get less jumbled that way.
I still don’t know my right from my left
About six months ago, my wife bought me a new padlock, one without keys. It has a small joystick on the front, and the combination is the order in which you move the stick up, down, right, and left. What was she thinking!
A couple of weeks ago, she needed to get in my shed. She didn’t know the combination. I told her the movements, but my blessed nemesis tricked me again. She came back later and said, “Five or six times, I tried what you told me, and it didn’t work. Then I remembered that you don’t know your right from your left, so I switched those and opened it on my first try.