This article was published online on April 17, 2021.
I raised the drumstick, brought it down, and a dreamworld opened beneath me.
A dreamworld, to be clear, of incompetence. A dreamworld of crapness and debility. A slump in tempo, an abyss. I was sitting at my practice drum kit, attempting one of the signature moves of the late John “Bonzo” Bonham, of Led Zeppelin: triplets with a left-hand lead. Done properly, with the correct dosage of taste and power in each stroke, left-handed triplets will conjure an extraordinary kind of jazzy thunder. Done improperly, they sound like a wardrobe falling down stairs. When I lead with my right hand, my triplets are okay. Not Bonhamesque, not Bonzoid, but okay. But when I switch to the left …
Being human, reader, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Righty or lefty, you know that if you lead with your nondominant hand, whether you’re brushing your teeth or dismantling an unexploded bomb, the clichés of maladroitness will swarm you: the fists of ham, the fingers of butter, the multiplicity of thumbs.
Why this built-in asymmetry, this out-of-whack distribution of motor skills? The biology of handedness is complex. But the psychology, it seems to me, is pretty straightforward. It goes like this: Inside your nervous system lives a shadow person, a shadow you, shy and clumsy, dislocated, light-fearing, not nearly as good at things as you are. An underachiever who would very much like to be left alone. And you get in touch with this person, immediately and directly, by using your weaker hand.