Monday, February 29, 2016

Writing Myself Into A Corner

I'm right-side dominant and one of the strokes I had has affected my right side. For tedious reasons it is now too difficult for me to write and that makes life surprisingly challenging. That inability brings adult illiteracy into sharp relief as a terrible thing, but not my immediate problem.

A while ago, while watching the Antiques Roadshow, one of the punters brought a letter from Admiral Lord Nelson. The expert identified it immediately as one of his left-handed letters, since Nelson famously lost his right arm. I was stunned. Logic had failed me. It had taken four years and Sunday TV to realise that if one of my childhood heroes could learn to write with his off hand, so could I.

Thanks to a dear friend in America, I now have a copy of "Handwriting for Heroes" which aims to teach one to write cursive with the non-dominant hand after six weeks of daily exercises. The book is intended for military amputees and clearly has a soldierly bent, but I don't care: the fact that I haven't lost my right hand, let alone had it blown off is irrelevant; I still can't use it to write, and the book is written for adults. The latter is a great advantage: I fear little attention is paid to how wretchedly boring some therapies can be.

However, the book has been sitting in plain sight, with everything ready for me to use it, gathering dust for months. Why? I think I haven't used it for two main reasons: identity and defeat.
First, I am surprised at how integral my handedness is to my sense of self. I'm right-handed. That's part of who I am, like being 5'8" or a guy or my age. Unlike some of the things that can be altered or cheated on stage or screen, learning to write with my left hand seems like a fundamental change to me. I'd be different, somehow.

The second reason is worse: it feels like accepting defeat. By learning to write again with my left hand, which involves improving and developing its fine motor control, I am acknowledging that either the tremor in my right that is part of why writing is so hard will never get better, or that it will take so long to improve that I shouldn't hold my breath. In a way, it's worse that the book works on fine motor function, because that, if anything, would help my right hand.

Having figured out (probably) why I haven't yet started "Handwriting for Heroes" and come to the conclusion that my reasons are insufficient to actually stop me, and they're essentially bollocks, I need to have the intestinal fortitude to knuckle down and start using the bloody book. Continuing to dither and delay merely lends credence to the inadequate excuses I've been giving myself, and is no longer tenable, once I've done the figuring out part.

The reality is that I may never recover sufficient fine motor control of my right side to be able to write with it, but at this stage, four and a half years after I had the strokes, I'm certainly not going to recover it in the next six weeks, even if I do eventually can write, I'll be able to write with either hand (which is weird and cool), and the cost of not being able to write is too high.

In an odd way, it feels as though it would be easier to have lost the hand altogether. Then, I would have no alternative, real or imaginary, to fully using my left. As it is, though, I have the hope and hence the expectation, that my right hand will improve. Hope is not always as helpful as reality, and hope can be blinding.