I remember when the hand specialist spoke those dreaded words, “You won’t be able to use your right hand anymore.” At first his words were foreign, spoken in a language I didn’t understand. What? What was the doctor saying? How could I, a writer and an artist, NOT use my right hand? But my right hand, complete with a surgically inserted pin, pain and many months of healing time, was not responding. In that moment my life stopped.
I did not know how to now to live.
Slowly, at age 45, I began to understand what this would mean. I began to realize that I must become left-handed. I must learn to use my left hand for writing and all fine motor skills. There wasn’t a choice if I wanted to continue on, to re-enter the job force after this injury and to go from here… I felt overwhelmed. Depression came over me like the night.
I knew that somehow I had to find a way out. I began to learn “left hand”. I picked up a spoon and missed my mouth. I had trouble with just about everything I tried to do. I was the klutz. My children cringed when I held a knife to chop vegetables.
I began to re-learn how to write using with fat crayons, the kind I used in kindergarten. I wrote each word, taking up two lines on the paper instead of one. After a few sentences I became tired. That was enough for one sitting.
I was a child again, learning my letters, but this time I chose colored pencils and crayons. What eventually came out upon the page astounded me. Anger and frustration spoke from my left handed, less dominant side. Sadness that had not had a voice in my right-handed world began to speak. And eventually, a poem began to emerge; growing each time I practiced my writing. One day the voice of the hidden me stood up and said, right there upon the page, I’m tired of trying to paint like Sally Waterman.
I read these words and looked around, wondering who had written them. Where was this reaction coming from? I decided to follow my left-handed muse.
The teacher always held up Sally’s work as examples of good art. The rest of us looked in awe at our classmate’s masterpiece.
And then down at our own attempts. We covered our work first with our hands and then with our shame.
It was a simply written piece about the comparing critic, the voice that tells us we aren’t good enough, pretty enough or smart enough. The writing of I’m Tired of Trying to Paint Like Sally Waterman, published in 1999, was life changing for me. I realized that I needed to honor who I am. I needed to allow my own voice, my own authentic voice, to come forth and stop living how I thought everyone else expected me to live. I began to understand that I am enough. This radical way of thinking was foreign to my upbringing. A deep shift began; I began to give myself permission to embrace the creativity that was repressed within me.
I decided to turn this writing into a little book and illustrate it myself, yes with my left hand. The drawings were simple and child like. They are not incredible art and yet so many people relate easily to them. I now use this book when I teach writing classes to explain how we are not on a comparison journey and how our inner critic works to keep us from expressing ourselves. I often hear students state, “I had a Sally Waterman in my life too...”
My left-handed journey taught me many things. The inner work that came as a result of “the accident that changed my life” was a tremendous gift, even though I didn’t think so at the time. In this process, I began to listen and understand my deep passion for the creative arts that I had repressed, changing my life work as a result. And then, over the next year, my right hand began to heal. I was delighted to surprise the doctor, even though I had made my peace with being left-handed. I am now an ambidextrous writer, blogger, teacher and artist who learned to honor the abilities I have been given. I learned that I don’t have to paint like Sally Waterman.
Diane "Annie" Mathias
Resources for Uncovering Wonder
Diane “Annie” Mathias, MA writes, blogs, teaches and presents about the creative arts. In 2010 Mathias founded a 501 (c) 3, Resources for Uncovering Wonder, www.R4UncoveringWonder.org which utilizes the creative arts for education, healing and transformation. Her website, www.DianeAnnieMathias.com displays more of her own work and her one-of-a-kind books, Her blogs are available on both sites. Please contact her at AnnieMathias5@gmail.com to purchase copies of this book.