Phantom Hand

Forcing left-handedness in pursuit of symmetry.

children’s writing that says never ever give up, repeated, and stay strong with a drawing of a strong person
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

A colleague and I were planning a board meeting together. I took notes with my left hand on a piece of paper as we sat at a quiet Lima cafe. She said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were left-handed!” I replied, “I’m not, I just like writing with my left hand.” She looked up from her coffee. “Wow, you don’t ever like taking the easy route, do you!”

She was right. I like a challenge. In most things. Learning to play the tabla. Learning Chinese. Moving to Peru to learn Spanish. Trying to teach myself code.

During the pandemic, I immersed myself in online courses. I took courses in design courses on Udemy. I took HTML, coding, and Bootstrap courses on Skillshare, and my latest, and probably favorite, I splurged on Grid Critters, a videogame-like program that teaches CSS Grid. You might say, big deal. We all learned new things in the pandemic if we had enough space, time, and money to be able to work from home.

Well, I combined these courses with the cultivation of a skill I had always wanted to master. Writing with my left hand. And I mean write well, legibly, smoothly.

This desire started when I was around 7 years old. My mom told me how my grandpa, her father, who was a dentist, wrote with his left hand to build the ability to clean teeth and handle dental appliances more easily. This fascinated my young brain. It also ignited my inner what-if worrywart. What if I break my right arm? What would I do? How would I write? I needed to prepare myself, just in case. (Back then, we never used computers in school).

It’s strange, the things we envy about others. In 8th grade, one of my close friends was ambidextrous, and I envied her. I think it ties into my adoration of symmetry. I dislike the idea of overusing one hand, while the other one doesn’t even get a chance.

Through these online courses, I got hours of practice taking handwritten notes with my left hand. I bought a fancy pen and a sketchpad to give me greater mobility and flow. It’s funny. When I write with my left hand, my right clenches jealously. It doesn’t like feeling unused, and it tries to write in the air as the left hand works.

This reminds me of Commander Aranda whose severed right hand lost in battle takes on a life of its own, and can’t seem to part from the left. Reyes (1949) writes in his short story Commander Aranda’s Hand,

“Commander Aranda woke up at midnight. Like a bizarre nuptial union, the severed hand, the right, had come to wrap itself between the fingers of his left hand, a companion from days long gone, yearning to be close again.”

People say that your non-dominant hand can unleash your emotions. When I draw or paint, I instinctively use my left hand because it inhibits me, lets me be looser, less critical of my art, in other words, more creative.

It’s been a long covid year and some change. Peru’s lockdown started in March, and things haven’t gotten much better out here. I don’t know how long I will be cooped up in this house, but at least I know my left-hand writing is getting better.


Reyes, A. (1949). La mano del comandante Aranda. In C.García (Eds.), Voces sin fronteras: Antología vintage español de literatura mexicana y chicana contemporánea (pp. 3–11). Vintage Español.



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