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(Lori Langille for The Globe and Mail)
(Lori Langille for The Globe and Mail)

I'm no da Vinci, but I do have one awesome party trick Add to ...

I’m left-handed. That suggests, according to popular theory, that I’m right-brained, so it’s not surprising that I’m an artist.

I draw, paint and photograph. There’s the occasional sale, but mostly my friends and family members, along with charity auctions, are the beneficiaries of my work. I like to think that some day I might even have a show, sell several pieces of my art, make some money to cover some of my time and expenses.

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But I struggle to find my “muse.” Technically, I’m capable, but I rarely put utensil to surface or eye to lens with any confidence that something inspired will appear.

I wonder how others do it. How do they come up with those beautiful or startling or dramatic images? And it’s not just artists either.

How do mathematicians write formulae that are longer than the ball of wool I use to knit my sister a sweater? How do writers create amazing stories? How do musicians come up with gorgeous melodies?

I kept hoping for years that diligence and practice would pay off. But deep down, I knew there was more to it.

And I think I’ve finally discovered the secret.

The revelation came to me the other day, after a dinner party where someone observed that four of the nine guests were lefties. That’s somewhat out of the ordinary, as southpaws normally make up about 15 per cent of the population.

So we got to discussing the challenges of being left-handed in a right-handed world. And the skills we had developed, too.

Most of us were somewhat ambidextrous, playing guitar, baseball and golf the “normal” way. But that was probably a result of being taught by righties, rather than because of an innate ability.

Then I piped up and asked if any of the lefties could write backward.

“You mean, like, spell words backward, like ‘koob’ for ‘book’?” someone asked.

No, I said, I meant literally write backward, in cursive style. Like another somewhat-better-known artist – Leonardo da Vinci. Starting on the right-hand side of the page, and sloping left, with both the letters and words backward. Mirror writing.

None of the others had ever tried it but a couple thought they could do it with a bit of effort – printing anyway, maybe not writing.

But for me, it comes naturally, as naturally as tying my shoelaces. It might even be easier for me than writing forward. My backward writing is neat and legible, easily read when held up to a mirror.

I don’t know when I discovered this ability; I certainly never practised. It was probably some time in grade school.

In fact, in university, because it was so much easier to use the writing arm of the lecture seat on my left than the one on my own seat, I even took notes backward.

Let me tell you, I sure regretted doing that when it came time to study – holding up a mirror, heck, even finding a mirror big enough to reflect a page, was such a hassle I gave up and borrowed other people’s notes.

As time passed it became a bit of a party trick – if anyone mentioned that I could write backward, I’d be asked to provide a sample, and it usually amazed the onlookers for at least 10 seconds. They might even give it a shot themselves, usually without much luck.

But we’re all older now, and there aren’t many things we haven’t come across, most of them much more interesting than backward writing. So at the dinner party, no samples were requested. We all had a chuckle about it and moved on to weightier subjects.

As it happened, the next day I called my childhood best friend, who is also left-handed, to tell her some news, but before I could say anything more than “Hi,” she interjected.

“Hey, I saw so-and-so yesterday and she’s left-handed and I told her about my friend who can write backward!”

I laughed at the coincidence, and also at the thought that this was my claim to fame, not my art.

Then the light came on. That is how those talented people do what they do. The secret is, there is no secret. It just is. Like my ability to write backward. It comes from some magical combination of genes and early nurture that turns on a certain part of the brain.

Mozart started composing as a child. My younger son and my cousin’s son both started making three-dimensional paper sculptures before they went to grade school (okay, not in the same league). No one showed them how. They just did it.

Same here. When I write backward, unlike when I paint, I don’t even have to think about it. And now I understand the brilliant artists and scientists of the world a little better.

I just wish there was some money to be made with my special talent.



Hope Smith lives in Calgary.

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