The Left-Handed Blues

Iris Tsouris, Editor-in-chief

I’ve felt a strain in my right hand for several months now. But it was January when it really settled in: an innocuous clumsiness turned into a rapid buzzing sensation, which trickled down my palm to the new, consistent ache in my elbow. My grip weakened, locking up whenever I made a fist. My ring and pinky finger triggered. And after a few days of stubbornly pushing through what I thought to be the worst of it (which consisted of dropping a frying pan on my face and making an abundance of bad, ill-fated drawings), my hand finally gave out. 

I was, for lack of a better word, pissed. My right hand is everything. Normally, it is my non-dominant left hand that is the useless appendage, hanging limply at my side while my right hand deftly takes the lead. But sheresponsible for drawing, writing, typing, math, cooking, playing the pianowas now reduced to a cold, unyielding claw. She had given up, and for reasons I didn’t understand. 

Her immobilization was temporary, said an orthopedic surgeon. And self-resolving. Come back in a month if you want, and we’ll do an MRI. It was simply one of those in-between injuries. I felt that his nonchalance, equal parts comforting and condescending, was typical of the older, more impersonal doctors, who had seen so much in their careers that an inconsequential injury left them unfazed. But I knew he was right: what I was going through was not debilitating. 

My patience was still running out. For the past month, my world has been comprised of heavy gauze, voice-dictation software, and taping towels around my elbow at night. Whatever this is (ulnar nerve entrapment, cubital tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, perhaps?) forced my left hand to become the breadwinner. Which is just fantastic, seeing that she can barely brush a tooth. 

But I found solace in “Solace”—one of Scott Joplin’s best ragtime pieces. Instead of the garish plunkiness that you’d typically associate with saloon piano, “Solace” is a soft descent, quiet in its heartbreak. I pieced it together in early January when my right hand still worked. Back then, the melody overshadowed the rich, syncopated left-hand harmony.  

Most pianists have an unfortunate right-hand bias. The left hand is typically put on the back burner, regarded more as an accompaniment for the right hand that traditionally drives the piece forward (well, there are many outliers, evident especially in some of Chopin’s preludes). But when the left-hand part of “Solace” was all I had, it felt like a necessary shift in perspective. I even re-learned the right-hand part with my left hand, which was trippy, frustrating, unpredictable… and oddly exhilarating. I learned to love it.

With a newfound left-hand appreciation comes a rekindled love for collage. Not traditional collage (because I have yet to navigate the issue of scissors)—but digital. I scour family photo albums for the bizarre, jarring, and beautiful. They are admittedly not the deliberate or particularly meaningful pieces that are expected of AP Drawing and 2D students, but they scratch an itch I didn’t know I had. 

I know adaptation won’t be necessary for much longer. There are moments where, in the throes of drama, I swear my hand just kills me, and the swell of overly-aggressive drawing, tensing during fortissimos, and sleeping with my wrist tucked tightly under me re-surfaces. Then, there are moments where I wake up, and my only symptom is the persistent but painless triggering in my fingers. My hand functions, albeit gingerly. On a good day, I draw. 

Making art, like solving a differential equation or coding a website with JavaScript, is said to activate the problem-solving regions of our brain: its value, therefore, surpasses its tangible output. And the more I inhabit this space, where the pressure to effortlessly and efficiently create feels incessant, the more I realize that it shouldn’t. The fruition and, in turn, power of art hinges not on quantifiable productivity, but on our ability to bounce back. To literally take matters into our own handsor hand, in my case.