Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mental Ambidexterity

Why are you smiling?

Because I know something you don't know.

And what is that?

I am not left-handed.

Cary Elwes
as Westley
and Mandy Patinkin
as Inigo Montoya
The Princess Bride (1987)

I fence with my left hand. Not for reasons similar to Inigo's, in that I'm far too good a swordsman to have a competitive match if I don't use my off hand. Quite the opposite, in fact. See, I'm a robust individual, and when I turn to the profile and get into the fencing stance, I present quite a large, inviting target. Also, at five-foot-eleven, I'm not a short man, but I'm also not graced with the natural size most of your dominant fencers have. So, when I learned the noble sport, I took up the only advantage I could: I learned to fence with my left hand, which throws most fencers, who are used to the vast majority of their opponents fencing with their right hand, somewhat off-kilter.

But I am not left-handed.

I do most things with my right hand. I write with my right hand. I eat with my right hand. I throw a baseball with my right hand. I shoot a basketball with my right hand. But when I decided to learn to fence, I decided to do it with my left hand to take whatever advantage I could to cover up for my natural lack of athleticism. The beauty of it is that it worked; to watch me fence, you could never tell that I wasn't a lefty in everything I do.

I wouldn't call myself ambidextrous, though. Why, do you ask? Because I can only do things with one hand or the other, not with both. I'm a horrible fencer with my right hand. My handwriting from my left hand looks like it came from a five-week old chimpanzee with brain damage. In fact, there's only one thing that I can do with some level of success with both hands - hit a baseball - and even then, I'm not doing the same things with both hands; I hit for more power as a righty, but I have better coordination as a lefty. So I wouldn't call myself ambidextrous physically.

I would go so far as to say that I'm mentally ambidextrous, though. What does that mean? It means that, in general, I use both sides of my brain equally well. Most people are either your right-brained, artsy types or your left-brained, logical types. I happen to be both. Yes, I'm a programmer by trade, but I'm an art-house, black turtleneck, coffee drinking kind of programmer. I want my code to be elegant, not just functional. As a web developer, I can't just get by on programming, either, because there is an artistic component required of my job. I think that's why I like my job so much: I get to actively use both halves of my brain on a regular basis, and I can't think of too many other jobs like that in the world.

As I've learned more about music, I've discovered that to be why I like music so much, too. Yes, it's obviously a very artistic pursuit. It's also a very logical, system-governed thing, too. I can certainly imagine someone being a good musician without being good at math, but I think having a strong foundation in math and logic makes the pursuit of music theory to be significantly easier for someone. It's the one way in which I can express myself that stimulates both sides of my brain, and I think that's what makes it so appealing to me.

My other favorite hobby? Miniature wargaming. Yeah, I know, I'm a dork. But, it's also similar in that it allows me to stimulate both sides of the brain, albeit at different times. The games themselves require logic, concentration, and tactical thought. In preparation for the games, though, you get to paint tiny little figures. Again, it's a hobby that lets me flex both halves of my mental muscles, and it appeals to me.

Where music surpasses any other pursuit I've ever been a part of, though, is that it lets me do both simultaneously. I'm keeping time, anticipating chord changes and patterns, and all the while making something pretty. What's better than that for a both-brainer?


Beth said...

Dude. I'm left handed but I fenced (for like a month...) right handed!

And the black turtleneck thing made me laugh out loud.

Yeah...Frank and I are both both-brained, too.

iamnotlefthanded said...