The Left Brain Is What’s Left

Kage Baker was left-handed. Not aggressively so – ordinary scissors didn’t disable her. She never wanted any of those cunning isomer-tools made for the sinister to use. We had left-handed refrigerators from time to time (due to the shape of various kitchens occasionally restricting which way the fridge door could open) and she complained when she had to switch hands to use them. But all her writing and drawing was pure lefty.

She drew a lot. I have sketchpads full of her train-of-consciousness art; she carried them everywhere in high school, and did pencil sketches to illustrate the stories she told in the cafeteria. (She told tarot cards for pocket money there, too.) For some years she did commercial murals with Momma – they spent one hideous summer painting snowscapes on the side of a professional Santa Claus’s sleigh – but her own chosen media was ink and water colours. Kage adored coloured inks.

Accordingly, along with her fondness for maps and ink went a love of intricate alphabets. She taught herself calligraphy. Being left-handed, though, she had to letter very, very carefully – otherwise her hand trailed over the wet ink as she worked across the page. I’ve seen other lefties just curve their hands around to accomplish this. To Kage,  though, it was easier to just do her lettering backwards and upside down. I’ve wondered what that said about her brain …

Human brains have two halves, hemispheres divided vertically. The rather simplified accepted wisdom is that the left brain controls the right side of the body, and is orderly, logical, intellectual, reasonable. The right brain in turn controls the left side, and is creative, intuitive, emotional and less verbal.  Left-handed people are running off the right side of their brains; they are frequently creative and disorganized. Think Leonardo de Vinci, who invented everything but finished almost nothing. Right-handed people, conversely, have the left side of their brains dominant, and tend to be planners and doers. They make lists, ace multiple answer tests and are, in fact, most of the people in the world.

Intelligence has little to do with this. Lots of people are logical, methodical and stupid. The world is also rich in artistic idiots – not savants, who have a whole other suite of problems, but people who genuinely create art and also genuinely create chaos.

So, Kage was left-handed and I am right handed. She could write literally upside-down and backwards; after all those years reciting in front of a nun’s desk, I can read that way. She could do research for her books and end up finding roads beyond the fields we know: usually through some wardrobe doors, I think. I did the same and brought home solid facts  – which was not always useful. I went to the library once for information on the fabled island of Jamaica, and somehow brought home a book about its cement factories. (Huh, said Kage. Listen, go find out if bacteria can live inside cement, okay?)

What we finally decided was that, what with the handedness and all, we constituted one complete and fairly well-wired brain. One of the few differences pathologists found in Einstein’s brain after he died, was an unusual number of connections between his two cerebral hemispheres. While our brains weren’t physically connected, as a team we did have access to both a right and left side all the time. It made up for the times we were each half-witted.

On the one hand, this makes it harder for me to function now – half my brain has been amputated. On the other hand, Kage left me a good image of her brain in all her writings. And on the other other hand , I’m used to her running her thoughts through my brain, and vice versa. In effect, I have a brain prosthesis.

See the lights blink?

Tomorrow: musings on steampunk. Probably.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to The Left Brain Is What’s Left

  1. Becky Miller says:

    I feel a good story coming on…

  2. Michael Young says:

    A light comes on,
    I now understand more than I did before.

    Thanks for this blog

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