The attraction of what is strange

Explaining things
So the series of vignettes I’ve been writing about my history of developing the (let’s call it) dexterity of my non-dominant hand is even more depressing than I anticipated. I think it’s because I like making arguments, not implications. A story implies too much. Or, I like making implications, and inserting small stories inside of my arguments, but I don’t like making arguments inside of stories. I don’t like explanations in stories, but I do like stories in explanations.

Likely now that I’ve said that I’ll feel differently about it.

I heard David Sedaris read once about how he loved living in France because the language was difficult for him, and I could relate. This is clearly one reason for using my left hand. It’s as if, instead of choosing some challenging goal using my native hand (or tongue) I will do mediocre things with a foreign hand. 

Hero Worship
Another reason is that I have always felt that, for life to be good, I would have to very fundamentally change who I was. For most of my life, I did not see my challenge as one of degrees, of continuous improvement. I saw it necessarily as radical transformation. 

I have also throughout my life experienced electrical storms in my head, as if the voltage got wonky. Someone will speak, and suddenly I’m not just listening—I am tracing their words with a needle that’s located somewhere between my ear and my uvula. Or I will have a thought, and my whole body incorporates it, and I have to grind my teeth and speak nonsense for a minute to calm my head. Or I will feel as if in front of me is a low pressure zone, and behind me is a high pressure zone, and my thoughts extend out in front of me, pulling me forward.  I have experienced that while watching people perform acts with dexterity, especially when doing so sinistrally. People talk about a “tingle down the spine.” Tingle isn’t the word.

Sometimes this feeling has gone wrong, and instead of my thoughts pulling me forward through pressure differential, they form an inflexible plank, extending forward from my face, and I am unwieldy maneuvering because of this ballast. Why I must have such a figurative conception of planning I don’t know.

But anyway, seeing someone that I admire doing something so fundamentally different from the way I do it has given the politburo of my mind ammunition for dictating that the workers be left-handed.

Similarly, it sometimes seems to me that I don’t experience affection in a normal way, instead experiencing primarily envy or disgust.

Still another reason is the mental concentration, and the experience of rapid development. Maybe some Dunning-Kruger. In trivial tasks, you can double your dexterity with your non-dominant hand, while the same level of practice might produce diminishing returns for the right.

And there are a lot of ways to focus. On the physical movement (the grip, the movement of the shoulder, the elbow, the wrist, the joints of the fingers), the mental model of the movement (the way the shape of a letter feels), the mental picture of a letter, trying to trace that mental picture, or simply focusing on what the tip of the pen is doing and connecting that with what your arm is doing, and relating the two. You can be an instant in the past, an instant in the future, or somehow right in between. And over time the consciousness of using the wrong hand is replaced with a feeling of pure intention, of willing a letter, a word, a sentence to be formed. 

And other phenomena seem to go on. Imagination seems to improve. Verbosity drops off. You find yourself thinking about square roots. 

One thing I have learned over the past few weeks is something about practice. While I have practiced on and off at this for years, it has always been with a blend of confused intentions, and always mired by very messy self-doubt. And always for surprisingly short bursts. Years of daydreaming, and maybe two weeks of sporadic practice.

This time, I accepted but didn’t dwell on the anxiety. Instead, I set some straightforward goals and rules. Practice twice per day. Don’t worry about which hand you use in daily activity. Don’t try to change anything about yourself. Just practice. Focus on objective skills: writing a sentence smoothly, consistently, shaping the letters the way that you intend to, each sentence similar to the one above it. Focus on finding a grip that is comfortable and non-fatiguing. Do this and nothing else. Breathe through the rest.

When you find a shape that’s hard to form, form it over and over. Don’t have anything distracting going on. No video or music or erratic thoughts. Focus the beam of your attention over and over and over so over time it distills your awareness into a concentration. 

That’s how you myelinate the axon sheaths.

I haven’t been having coffee for a few weeks, and hardly any any processed food for a little over a week. Mostly vegetables, meat, yogurt, and milk. I think I’m not getting enough calories and feel a bit tired. But also I feel less protected from my thoughts. My mental arousal seems more closely connected to the clarity of my intention in any given moment. I can go from feeling tired to very engaged just be visualizing a desired outcome, as if, without the stimulants of caffeine and simple carbohydrates, the accelerator has become more sensitive.

 I am rereading Karen Martin’s book Value Stream Mapping. I am in the thick of a lot of process design and improvement at work, but that’s difficult to talk about.

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