Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing with Two Hands Simultaneously

I mentioned in a previous post that I taught myself to be ambidextrous. Occasionally I'll take notes in class with my left hand, partly to avoid the binding of my spiral bound notebook and make the most effective use of the space on the page, and partly just to get practice writing left-handed. However, this is still a lot slower, so most the time I wind up switching back to my right hand to catch up.

One day last week, I became curious as to just how much slower I am with my left hand now. I wrote out “The Sound of Silence” Simon and Garfunkel lyrics (since that's one of the few songs I have completely memorized) with each hand, timing how long it took to write each verse. Then, I calculated how many times slower I was with the left hand for each verse and the average came out to 2.5 times slower than the right hand. Better than it used to be, certainly.

But then there was the old problem of the left hand smearing what's already been written. What if I wrote from right to left? Of course, to make practical use of this I'd have to get really good at judging how many words I could fit on a line, but the idea intrigued me nevertheless. So I tried picking off each letter from the end, one by one, essentially writing each line of the verse backwards. But the spacing was off, both between letters and between words, since each letter started from left to right.

To truly write backwards I realized I would have to reverse the strokes I used to write each letter (for example, a “t” would be written by doing the cross at top first, then coming up through it). This would also take care of the spacing problem, since the letters would be written mostly from the right to left.

I wrote another verse “exactly” backwards with each hand, then thought of yet another fun experiment; writing a mirror image. This wasn't nearly as challenging as I thought it would be (in fact, it was simpler than writing backwards) since after a very short period of time my mind seemed to reverse the letters automatically. Strangely, when I tried to think about the letters I was writing, I had trouble remembering which way they went, such as a “b”. I think I got just a bit of an idea of what dyslexic people might feel like. In any case, it was fun seeing how normal my writing looked when I held it  up to a mirror.

Finally, I picked up a pen in each hand, divided the page in half, and wrote the same verse with each hand simultaneously. It took a bit of getting used to, and I had to make sure I was doing exactly the same thing with each hand down to crossing my t's in the same direction, but I found I only had to look at one hand and the other side would turn out just fine. It was like all the spacing and proportions of the letters translated from one hand to the other such that I would write better with the hand I wasn't looking at than I would if I had simply closed my eyes the whole time. I'm about three times slower writing with both hands simultaneously than with just my right hand.

A sample of the writing (more Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, this verse is from "Flowers Never Bend"):

Earlier today, I continued the experiment by writing backwards with my left hand and a mirror image with the right hand simultaneously. Sample below.

Finally, I tried writing upside down. Here's a nice trick to that; if you get confused as to which way a letter goes, think about which is normally closer to the last thing you just wrote, the line or the curve of the letter. For example: for "p" the line is closer, so you'd draw the line first then the curve (only now it's upside down). With an "e", you start close to what you just wrote and go away from it.

No doubt I'll come up with more strange brain twisters for writing (upside down/backwards/mirror image with both feet simultaneously, perhaps :P ) but so far I've been keeping myself entertained.