First published 2009
Alright, listen up. I’m about to alienate roughly 90% of the world’s population here and I won’t be apologising for it. We 10% or so get a lot of shtick from you guys so here’s what’s going to happen. You’re quite welcome to stay but know this: if you have nothing constructive to say, your opinions on the upcoming subject are about as welcome and legitimate as a notorious sexist appointing himself representative of an entire sovereign nation’s female population. Obviously that’s a far fetched scenario but, y’know, I’m just throwing out an example here.
If you aren’t prepared to sit there with lips zipped then be off with you. Go sit in that corner, with your easy to find, off-the-shelf scissors and cut some denim for 20 minutes, alright. Go learn any instrument you want without having to adjust every movement in your brain, and think about what you’ve done.
Ok, I think they’ve gone…
Hi there fellow lefties. Let me tell you about A Left-Hand Turn Around the World. This poor li’l guy has been languishing on my shelf for several years but I finally thought it was time. Time to dust it off and get a-readin’.
What promoted this? Ukeleles. Those tiny guitar things physically attached to the forearms of every hipster in town. A certain website, which (she says through gritted teeth) shall remain nameless, had the blessed good fortune to receive some constructive feedback from me in the form of a two-thousand word email about a certain aspect of their site. Namely the section in which they dealt with the question of left-handers. Their advice? (And know that I am holding back rage induced bile here.) “Play right-handed”. To paraphrase the young folk, I. Cannot. Even.
I shan’t bore you with the details of their disgustingly ill-informed insulting preposterous infuriating twaddle. Their reasoning is so laughable as to be, well… laughable. Laughable, that is, if I weren’t so busy smashing the computer screen with the damn ukelele.
Oddly enough I’ve not had a reply for my kindly efforts at pointing out their foul inadequacies, and upon investigating their shiny new website found that not a word of their advice to left-handers has been changed. This, of course, means war but first let’s talk about A Left-Hand Turn Around the World.
Fellow southpaw David Wolman’s pop-science look at the trials and joys of the left-handed population is a light-hearted introduction to the convoluted neuroscience that may one day shine a light on our existence as an odd little ratio.
The theories are many and the research has moved on since the publication, but many of the mysteries still remain. The consistency of the ratio of left to right-handers in the human population is not quite explained by genetics alone. And when mixed-handedness and varying degrees of laterality are taken into account, the entire topic begins to stretch out into an unfathomably huge plain of confusion and contradiction.
Unfortunately the whole topic of handedness is also scattered with pseudo-scientific jiggery pokery and the vestiges of earlier left-brain, right-brain research that turned us all into tortured creative geniuses.
While looking at left-handedness in particular is not a major drawing card for scientific funding, studying the asymmetry of the brain and body and what that can tell us about so many other things will probably be the route by which someone trips accidentally over the left-handed key.
David Wolman presents the research and the researchers who were at the forefront of projects that, if not directly aiming for, had the potential to unlock some of those plaguing left-hand questions. Questions like, why are we so damn fabulous at certain sports? Or why does the correlation between left-handedness and schizophrenia seem to really exist? Or, seriously, how hard can it be to make some decent left-handed scissors without marking the price up 500% you money-grubbing bastards…? Ahem, pardon me.
It is a little disheartening to read the book and come face to face with the possibility that, in fact, there might actually be nothing too special about us at all; just another funny, persistent population quirk, like redheads. But, and coming from a workplace so oddly skewed as to make it a right-hander who is the odd one out at the yum cha table, I think we all know that’s not quite true. We are special, dammit! Magical creatures. Sure, we may be slightly more prone to learning difficulties and mental disorders but that is by the bye.
If, like me, you are interested in this weird glitch in the human population, A Left-Hand Turn Around the World is an accessible and amusing introduction to the topic. From the references you can go Googling the latest news from the researchers mentioned and see what they’ve been up to for the last five years. I’ll just be over here, playing my easily re-strung ukulele left-handed as nature intended.