Out of Left Field

Author: Kirsten K., Correspondence, Self-Improvement, Wellness

With nearly nine months having passed since our last post, you might think today’s blog entry is coming out of left field—and you’d be right! If you’re among the 10-12% of the population that is left-handed, you probably already know that today is International Left Handers Day.

Given that neither Kirsti nor I is naturally left-handed, you may be wondering why The Swoon Society found this to be a Subject Worthy Of Our Notice after such a long leave. The simple and slightly strange explanation is that I’ve spent the last couple of years learning to be a lefty!

I’ve always been fascinated by left-handers, since my oldest sister is a southpaw. I used to watch with wonder whenever she’d write with her left hand, holding it curled inward in the odd manner of many lefties who were forced in school to mimic right-handed penmanship. But any time I attempted to write with my own left hand, I was hopelessly awkward. Even when I only tried to imagine making the movements in my mind, it felt out of my reach.

A few years ago, I read an article about ways to protect the brain from age-related memory loss. Since I watched a close family member struggle with dementia, this has become an important issue for me. The article recommended engaging in novel pursuits and changing your routine in order to stimulate different areas of the brain. One of the suggestions was to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, which got my logical left brain to thinking…

I like to make New Year’s resolutions, so on January 1, 2020 I resolved to use my left hand for as many activities as possible that year, including eating, brushing my teeth and hair, using the computer trackpad, and writing. I had no idea what was shortly in store for the world, but when people started stockpiling supplies and stress-baking at the beginning of the pandemic, I knew I wasn’t the only one taking a left turn into unfamiliar territory.

I got the knack of using the trackpad right away and was surprised by how quickly I became comfortable with it. I now use it almost exclusively with my left hand. While my initial attempts to brush my hair and teeth were less successful (I still battle a bit), it wasn’t long before I was easily eating with a utensil held in my non-dominant hand.

What I really wanted to master was writing, so I began by doing the daily Sudoku with my left hand. There were only nine numbers to navigate, and I could print them slowly and singly in their separate boxes, but the extreme difficulty of this task gave me new sympathy for those who’ve had to relearn how to write due to accident or illness. It’s an unsettling feeling to intend for your hand to do something, only to have it refuse to comply.

I became exhausted in a short time with the effort and concentration required to make those numbers with my left hand, but I started to see steady progress as time passed. I could actually FEEL my brain working in a way I’d never been able to appreciate or understand as a child when I first learned many of the skills I now take for granted as an adult.

During this time, an out-of-state friend was having a milestone birthday and asked, in lieu of presents, for friends to write her letters. Since this friend happens to be a lefty, I decided to dive in and compose the correspondence with my left hand. I ended up churning out three full 8½”x11” pages of small print. Trial by letter! It was a hot mess, but it was legible and valued all the more for the effort involved.

While I haven’t yet mastered left-handed writing, I made an interesting discovery along the way: I can finally imagine what it feels like to write with my left hand. All of that practice created new connections in my brain, and now I’m able to both physically write and IMAGINE the act of writing with my left hand, which I hadn’t been able to do before. This is more evidence that trying something new really does awaken dormant areas of the brain.

I like to joke with my sister, Kirsti’s husband, and my nephew’s fiancé (all southpaws!) that I’m now an honorary lefty—which may seem like a left-handed compliment, because there’s more to being sinistral than merely the hand one uses to clutch a pen or fork. I’ve watched my sister wrestle with a world designed primarily for right-handers, and she can’t simply switch it off when things get difficult, so lefties like her may not see the comedy in my case of “clutchural” appropriation. However, my experience has provided some powerful, perennial lessons:

  • It’s never too late to change.
  • Adopting a new perspective helps you appreciate the differences in others.
  • Your brain—not just your body—needs regular exercise to keep it fit and strong.
  • With persistence, you can accomplish things you didn’t think possible—including things you couldn’t possibly think!

So Happy International Left Handers Day to my fellow (ahem) lefties, but if you plan to take brain health into your own hands, you’ll need to get “right” on it.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

International Left Handers Day
Brain Exercises to Improve Memory


The Pen Is Mightier Than the MS Word

Author: Kirsten K., Correspondence, Wellness

The Pen Is Mightier 1

Woman in the Sea (felt, fabric and thread) by Marianne McCann

I have a friend in Vermont whom I lovingly refer to as My Crazy Friend Marianne™. She is a total quirkfest. A skilled seamstress who is as likely to appliqué aliens on a hand-stitched quilt as flowers, she is also a classically-trained artist who once made a paint-by-numbers of JonBenét Ramsey on a piece of wood that she colored in with nail polish. She sews many of her own clothes and throws separates together haphazardly in a style I can only describe as “Pippi Longstocking let loose in Oilily.” She talks a mile a minute, reads even faster, and has varied interests ranging from UFOs to homesteading.

The Pen Is Mightier 2

Vermont and Tupperware (acrylic on canvas) by Marianne McCann

I met Marianne when she was temping at a record label where I worked in Los Angeles. We remained good friends after we both left the company, until one day when she suddenly announced that she was moving to Vermont. She’d visited a friend there and made a spur-of-the-moment decision to pack up her son and her few belongings and relocate to New England. The residents of her small town did not know what to make of her at first, but they have embraced her in the years since she dropped into their lives.

The Pen Is Mightier 3Marianne is something of a Neo-Luddite who goes online at her local library only when absolutely necessary and can usually be found in front of the woodstove in her one-room cabin with a cat and a pile of knitting in her lap. I could give her a call anytime, but she prefers to exchange letters—“real,” handwritten letters, not emails or computer printouts. She is the last holdout in my life to the art of written correspondence.

The Pen Is Mightier 4We have been exchanging letters for years, sometimes regularly, often sporadically. I find that I resist sitting down to write a letter, thinking that I don’t have the time, but once I have pen in hand and a blank sheet before me, it feels like a meditation. The act of putting ink to paper is deeply satisfying. Words flow directly from my hand to the page and each letter has a different shape and feel. It’s a more honest form of communication, since there is little opportunity to edit. Sometimes I’ll think, “I should have left that out,” or, “I could have said that differently.” But I’m halfway down the page and I’m not going to start over, so it stays in.

The Pen Is Mightier 5When I’ve finished a letter, I experience a true sense of accomplishment. I have created something tangible that will now travel across the country and soon be in the hands of my friend. There is a feeling of anticipation as I wonder what she’ll think, if she’ll laugh, how and when she’ll respond. There is no immediacy to exchanging handwritten letters. It is a process. You send off your stamped envelope then go about your life for days, sometimes weeks, until you walk out to your mailbox one afternoon and there is a letter addressed to you in uneven script. It’s like receiving an unexpected gift. I don’t usually open it right away, but save it until I have a moment to sit down with a cup of tea to savor the news of Marianne’s latest wacky project.

The Pen Is Mightier 6I must admit that sometimes I “cheat.” I found a parchment background online and a script font that looks fairly handwritten. Occasionally, when I haven’t corresponded for a while and am pressed for time, I will type up a letter in Microsoft Word using these tools, print it out and mail it off. Of course, Marianne knows it isn’t authentic, but I hope she appreciates my effort to approximate the real thing. From time to time, she herself will send a typewritten note or a postcard of one of her paintings in lieu of a handwritten letter, but nothing is quite as fulfilling as sending and receiving the genuine article.

My Crazy Friend Marianne™ told me that I would feel better when I took the time to share my thoughts on paper in my own hand…and that was sane advice.

S.W.O.O.N. Stamp
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Marianne McCann


If you’d like to begin a written correspondence, but don’t have a friend or relative who’s interested, consider writing to a soldier or finding a pen pal through an online service like International Pen Friends, PenPal World, or PenpalsNow.