Being a left-handed person in a right-dominated world can be hard, especially in elementary school. It’s difficult to write: if you hold the paper “normally” and write straight across from left to right, your hand covers over and smears what you’ve just written. Many lefties turn the paper sideways and then write from top to bottom across the page. Others hook their hand over the line and write from the top. Either is at least as awkward as it sounds, plus you’re pushing rather than pulling your pen across the page, creating extra friction and resistance.
As you may imagine, handwriting was hard and even painful for me. I always got poor grades in penmanship, although I could draw well and got good grades in art.
I loved reading and language, so the putting-words-together part of writing was no problem for me – I was a wordsmith from a very young age. But getting my words down on paper was almost beyond me.
My parents separated when I was 9 and I moved with my dad to Pittsburgh, where he attended grad school. My mother remained in Thailand with my infant brother. In those days it was next to impossible, and impossibly expensive, to make international calls, so the only way Mom could hear from me was for me to write letters.
I wanted to stay in touch with her, but I was up against the handwriting problem: I just hated writing anything. It was slow, irritating, and my hand cramped. But Mom nagged me to write more, and Dad nagged me as well, probably because Mom was nagging him about it. It was an ongoing battle, resulting in infrequent letters containing roughly: “How are you? I am fine.”
Finally, Dad hit upon a solution. He had bought a Selectric typewriter to use for his grad school papers. This was in 1971, when a Selectric was new and sexy technology. We had never had any kind of typewriter at home before; the old mechanical ones would probably have been too hard for my child hands anyway. The Selectric was easy and fun, and I found the mechanism fascinating. I could only hunt and peck, but this was still so much easier than handwriting that I was happy to type long, chatty letters to Mom.
The change in style and increased length, and the bare fact that my letters were now typewritten, made Mom suspicious. She became convinced that Dad was writing the letters for me and that I was being deliberately kept incommunicado – um, why? to hide something from her? (I’m not sure what that would have been.) She was very nasty about it, accusing Dad of god knows what.
I was crushed and furious. I had finally found a way to write in a length and style natural to me, and I had assumed this would make Mom happy. Instead, she rejected my efforts and said it wasn’t even me doing the writing. I was offended on my dad’s behalf, that she would think that badly of him, and further angered that she’d think he could stop me contacting her if and when I wanted to.
There was only one way to prove it to her: I recorded a cassette tape. My voice shaking with hurt and anger, I told her that the suspect letters had indeed been written by me, and if she didn’t appreciate them, I’d stop writing altogether. When she received that, she had to accept that my letters were in fact mine. Not that I felt much like writing to her after that.
The upside of this dismal episode was that I got comfortable with a keyboard early on. Later, in high school, I took a typing class, and soon began typing papers for other people, as well as everything of my own that I possibly could – much to the relief of my teachers. I resented having to write exams by hand (still do): it’s a handicap that affects my grades, though I’ve never been able to convince any academic institution to find a solution to this. Fine, then don’t bitch about how hard it is to read my handwriting – I told you it would be!