Sinister Acts: For Neassa, Becky, Liz, Catharine, Meagan …

Kage Baker was left-handed. Not the impaired type of left-handed: she could use her right hand for some things. In fact, she couldn’t even use those special southpaw scissors, because she learned how to cut with ordinary scissors at home long before she got sent to the nuns. Paper dolls and spaghetti – we both liked the old Betsy McCall dolls in the magazines (does anyone else remember those?), and Momma’s creative solution to half a dozen small kids and noodles was to issue baby scissors with the spoons …

Not that the nuns in school were inclined to indulge her lefty tendencies. Most of the sisters pointedly ignored it, though they did issue poor grades in penmanship – a fair cop, as Kage’s cursive was astoundingly unreadable. There were only a few of them who decided to punish her handedness – the usual lectures and knuckle rapping. They failed. Kage was left-handed, and obstinately refused to change.

She always claimed this was a very wise decision on her part: had she given in to changing hands, she would have had a wall-eye and a stutter.  That’s very likely true – forcibly changing handedness is one of the causes of stuttering. Kage wisely decided to skip that stigma. She had enough trouble, with the more medieval-minded nuns, in being left-handed and red-haired.

Being left-handed taught her to improvise a lot of ordinary coordination tricks. She was always interested in calligraphy – which she taught herself to do backwards and upside down, so as to avoid smearing the newly-inked letters with her following wrist. The finished script was oriented normally: she just wrote it out starting from the right, and wrong way up. Sometimes she penciled it in first, just to be careful. But I have seen her printing long passages for notes and invitations ex tempore and totally back to front with never a flaw.

She liked to assemble model ships; right-handers watching her would cringe and fret, expecting her at any moment to slice her fingers off with the strangely-held Exacto blade. On the other hand, Kage used a computer mouse with her right hand, simply because most CPU’s and keyboards initially only had ports  for the mouse on the right side. By the time cordless mice appeared, she was set in her ways – the mouse stayed on the right. Besides, that left her dominant left hand free to do … dominant things.

She frankly did not care which way refrigerators or cupboards opened: but she always noticed which way they went. Left-handers do.  Huge amounts of the world are hinged backwards for them. They also automatically head for the ends and corners of booths and tables in large seating arrangements – they need the extra elbow room to avoid their right-handed dining companions. The last few years of her life, Kage especially like sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the blessed Skolds and Rettinhouses – half of them are left-handed too, and everyone knew how to compensate for the forks flashing in all directions. (Thank you, Carol Skold!)

Kage was actually proud of being left- handed. Whether or not it’s true that lefties are more creative, she nonetheless shared the condition with a lot of very creative people. Leonardo de Vinci, Michaelangelo, Durer, Holbein, Raphael, Escher; Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells, Cole Porter, Paul McCartney; W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo. Also 8 U.S. Presidents and assorted crowned heads – Queen Victoria, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Ramses II … for a star-studded list of examples, check this out:

Also, in Kage’s own multiverse, all the Children of the Sun. Every last one of them is left-handed; she made it a racial trait, striking a symbolic blow for the sinister minority of this world. Then she made them master artificers as well, so that somewhere there would be an entire clever civilization where nothing was hinged backwards. If you were left-handed, anyway …

Today – August 13th – is International Left-Handers Day. Find someone who is left handed and be especially nice to them. Buy them a drink or a left-handed pen. Open that backwards-hinged cupboard and give ’em a cookie. The world’s just not the same without them.

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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Sinister Acts: For Neassa, Becky, Liz, Catharine, Meagan …

  1. Teri Pettit says:

    Re: “we both liked the old Betsy McCall dolls in the magazines (does anyone else remember those?”

    Remember them? I memorialize them. 🙂


    • Kate says:

      Oh my gosh! What a wonderful site! They were the only paper dolls either of us ever, ever liked – they looked like normal little girls, and we could actually get dresses like theirs … oh, wow, the memories …



  2. Teri Pettit says:

    My mother never bought magazines, so I hardly ever saw Betsy McCall as a kid. What my sister and I used to do was make paper dolls out of the Sears catalog pictures. Remember how about half of the pages were of clothes just laid out flat instead of being photographed on a model, and they were mostly at the same scale? So it was easy to draw a paper doll to fit the clothes.

    My favorites, though, are the Hallmark greeting card paper dolls by Vivian Smith. They’re on my web site too. When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up and be a Hallmark artist. (We lived near Kansas City at the time.)


  3. Meagan Rettinhouse says:

    They say we are left-handed, but we are always right-minded.

    One of the people who runs the Box Clock booth at Dickens told me that when I was signing my receipt after buying a Box Clock. 🙂


    • Kate says:

      I like that one, Meagan. Since Kage was left handed and I am right handed, she always said that when combined we had one good brain …


      • Meagan Rettinhouse says:

        Yeah, when the guy told me that, I though, “Cool, he’s left-handed, too,” and what he said just stuck with me. 🙂


  4. Lisa, Frank's kid says:

    Thank you, Teri. I remember Betsy McCall, too.
    And while I’m not a leftie, my dad was, and endured the nuns’ knuckle-banging. He emerged with ambidextrous, gorgeous penmanship; a lifelong loathing of the Roman Catholic school system (for a variety of reasons); and the ability to read upside-down and backwards. He imparted that last skill to me, and it’s served me well during all sorts of interviews and official scoldings.


  5. Kate says:

    Lisa – that ability to read upside down and backwards is a common side-effect of Catholic School, it turns out. We all spent a lot a time at teacher’s desks, staring down – every one of our compatriots in later life still retained the skill, too. Kage’s handwriting was distinctly non-beautiful, because she refused to give in – but her printing was exquisite and complex. And in several styles. Only the second person of my acquaintance to pass notes in Celtic uncials. (I am remembering many meetings, Mr, Gillan….)


  6. Elizabeth says:

    I write left handed but cut & bat right… I just like to confuse people. Thanks for thinking of me Kathleen.


  7. Kate says:

    Liz – how could I forget that wonderful Year of the Red-headed, Left-handed Lady Barkeeps? Dougie just sat there and watched the 4 of you and beamed like a kid on Christmas morning. It was hysterical.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.