On Being a Lefty

As a young child, I was the only left-handed person in my immediate family. (As it turns out, my youngest brother is also a lefty, but because he’s ambidextrous in many areas, I like to think I’m the only true lefty. We can ignore the fact that I swing a baseball and a golf club right-handed.)

My grandmother, my Mom’s mom, was left-handed too, and she grew up in the thirties and forties, when society was not so kindly to left-handed people as it is now. Schools forced children to use their right hand in writing classes, even punishing kids for daring to prefer another perfectly good hand. My grandma, however, was lucky to have parents who didn’t force the issue, and she grew up a proud and unabashed lefty. When she had two sons who were left-handed (my uncles), and several left-handed grandchildren (one currently present), she encouraged it as a badge of honor.

“Lefties are the only people in their right minds,” she would joke. (Because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. Get it? Har har.)

As a kid, I felt especially honored to be the only one in my household with such a skill. I didn’t realize, and perhaps you haven’t either, that society is in fact biased toward right-handed people. I used can openers with mild discomfort, not realizing they were made to go the other way around. I used scissors with intense discomfort, because my left-hand fingers didn’t conform to the intended right-hand finger angles. When I was at summer camp and we were practicing archery and they gave me a left-handed bow, I was upset because the tension was all off, and I was used to practicing on my brother’s right-handed bow.

“Can I try a right-handed bow?” I asked.

“Aw, honey, you don’t want that. You’re a lefty.”

“Dammit Carl, give me the right-handed bow,” I would have said, if I were me now.

Carl (or Bill or whoever) did, and I massacred a foam deer with one well-shot arrow.

Take that, Carl. Or Bill.

When I go shopping and sign credit card receipts, the cashier either says, “Whoa, you’re a lefty!” or “Whoa, I’m also a lefty!” As someone who doesn’t like attention being drawn to herself during what ought to be a normal business transaction, I learned to cover up my embarrassment with snark.

“What’s it like being a lefty?” asked one cashier at a jewelry store.

“You get used to it,” I said, and did a pen drop and walked away with my earrings.

Perhaps the most perplexing instance of this came recently, when I was working at a bank. If you’re a lefty who works at a bank, watch out. Every time you fill out someone’s deposit slip, they go nuts that you dare to write out their account number with your left hand. It’s practically un-American. I’ve never been made so aware of my hand dominance in my life.

One day this ragged-looking fellow, about thirty years old and wearing a beard like a brown brillo pad, came up to my window and wanted to take out some money. Whatever his particular transaction required, I had to ask my coworker for help, and she stood next to me while I filled out the man’s withdrawal ticket.

“She’s a lefty,” he said, not to me, but to my coworker.

I continued writing out the withdrawal ticket. Account number. Date. Name.

“Lefties are as mean as cat shit,” he said, to my coworker.

I’m sorry if this language offends you. If it helps, it offended me. We finished the transaction and then I went to the bathroom and stared at my face in the mirror.

Lefties are as mean as cat shit. As mean. As cat shit. The words rang in my head. I felt stunned and vaguely harassed. Vaguely insulted. Vaguely mocked.

But most of all, I felt just… What the hell does that even mean? Is cat shit inherently malicious? Are lefties somehow biologically related to cat shit in a way that righties aren’t? Is this a scientific fact I missed? Have there been studies done on this? The guy didn’t even cite his sources. A philosopher of his caliber should know better.

(I still want to know what this means. If someone can enlighten me, please do.)

I’m still proud to be a lefty, and I still cannot, for the life of me, understand why people act so weird about it. It’s not like I chose left-handedness. It’s not like I chose to live in a world that favors righties by the very makeup of its appliances and school desks, by the fact that most languages are written left to right, or that smug guys named Carl or Bill think they can decide what bows people will use. And don’t even get me started on musical instruments.

But in a way, being left-handed has offered me perspective. How often do I make assumptions about people based on biological facts they can’t control, like Brillo-Beard did to me? How often do I make unconscious comments that bewilder and offend others? (I still really want to know what “mean as cat shit” means.) How often do I assume life is the same for everyone, not seeing the little adjustments and painful adaptations people make to fit in, like I have to make with can openers and scissors? How often do I simply not see that society is better designed to help out some people and not others, because the design happens to favor me?

This realization is the key, I think, to fixing those seemingly insurmountable issues we come across in society. Our biggest problem is usually not that we disagree, but that we misunderstand each other. That when someone asks, “What’s it like being a lefty?” we offer the snarky answer instead of the honest one. It’s only when we’re honest that we can start coming up with solutions.

So see guys? I’m not mean as cat shit.

Be a Person, Not a Brand

As a freelance writer, a lot of the advice I’ve come across for building a blog, a client base, and social media following all boils down to one mantra, humming over and over and over:

Build your brand.

It’s the mantra of many a millennial. In the internet age, the dream is that we can all achieve success with our passions. We just have to market ourselves enough, post on social media enough, add a healthy dose of capitalism, and boom. The career of our dreams.

The phrase means that if you want to be an entrepreneur or creative, if you want to have a nontraditional career where you work from home or build a business, you must market yourself, sell yourself like a product. You must create an empire of one: you.

Every time I hear that phrase, build your brand, my soul shrinks back and grits its teeth, as if my entire being has just bitten into a metaphysical lemon. The mantra sounds good, and it’s worked, really well, for a lot of people. And I’m happy for them; I really am. But the idea at the root of branding yourself is one that absolutely terrifies me, because I think the implications of it go farther than we’re willing to consider.

A brand is a created entity. A brand is something a corporation makes to sell another thing. A brand is a surface-level household name constructed to be consumed. Oreos: you eat them. Nikes: you wear them. Sharpies: you bleed them dry. (I think I have a future in slogan writing, by the way.)

The truth is, human beings are so much more valuable than that. Humans are fragile and strong. We are terrifying and beautiful. We fly high and sink low. We are perfect and flawed, and the work we create is the same. There is so much more to us than the selling of a product or service.

Maybe you insist that I’m misunderstanding this phrase. Maybe it doesn’t mean what I’m taking it to mean. But then I have to ask: why are we using words like “brand” to describe people? People, with minds and souls that are somehow, magically, blessedly able to transcend the physical and inject everyday life with resilience and beauty and hope. The term “brand” to describe personhood is not just inappropriate; it’s insulting. Perhaps by using such paltry words to describe something so inherently magnificent, we are unconsciously saying what we tend to believe. Perhaps we are falling into the universal human trap: to take something valuable and trash it.

I’ve tried, as a writer, to build my brand, to treat my craft like a business and my self like a product. I’ve tried to blog in a way that sells, with flashy catchphrases and trendy buzzwords. I’ve tried to use social media to optimize my followers, with perfectly-curated pictures and relatable captions. I’ve tried to make flimsy business connections that are no more than a click on a web platform.

And all due respect to those who’ve achieved great success this way, but it’s not for me. When I write, I want it to be what I was born to say. When I post photos and say things online, I want it to be sharing something beautiful and making someone laugh. When I meet people, I want it to be in person, and I want it to be a real relationship.

The build-your-brand mentality may seem innocuous, but the problem is that this mentality doesn’t stay in the business world; it seeps into our mental states and social lives and personal development. I see a generation just a little younger than me growing up thinking that it’s normal to always be building yourself as a marketable image, never getting the chance to close the blinds, loosen up, have fun, and just be a person. I see us unable to accept each other as complex, three-dimensional people, instead choosing to commodify each other, to buy each other and throw each other away. I see us compromising the purity of our passions, crafts, and trades in the name of what seems like an easy ticket to a career. The internet may allow us to pursue our vocations like never before, but it has the danger of making our vocations the only thing people see in us. And this is a tragic, tragic thing.

So please: don’t be a brand. Be a person. It’s awkward and painful and vulnerable, but it’s also wild and beautiful and unique. You can create and accomplish far more meaningful things, a far more meaningful life, by just being a person. Because you already have, and you already are.

MLK

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“And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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