Saturday, August 30, 2014

Learning to Write With My Non-Dominant Hand

Saving my brain or losing my mind?

Drawing of my mother's hand, by Natalie Schorr
I have been doing a lot of reading into the subject of neuroplasticity recently, particularly as related to handwriting and its effect on memory. In looking at this, I have also looked through some articles about using your non-dominant hand. Some articles say it will help grow and strengthen your brain, a pleasant thought, while other articles seem to say it will confuse your brain and cause all sorts of issues.

My tendency has been to believe that writing with my non-dominant hand would be like doing crunches with my brain, but like most people with exercising, I hadn't really done much with it.

Then last week, at my already boring day job, I was assigned a task so mind-numbingly banal that I could actually hear my brain cells weeping and failing, much like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz when she gets doused with a bucket of water. It seemed like fate had thrown a challenge at me. Wonder if I can do this job with my non-dominant hand?

In the Beginning Was the Word

Too bad no one could read it

In this unimaginative project, I had to go through about 1500 profiles, double checking for the correctness and completeness of an array of uninspiring informational items, from the person’s name, to their addresses, other children, pets, etc.

I decided I would write my notes to myself with my non-dominant left hand, as well as use the mouse, which is NOT a left handed mouse I might add, in order to get the profiles in order and the information on these people encoded. It did not start out very well.
First attempt to write with my left hand

My handwriting was barely legible, and I had a very hard time with it. My body tensed up as I tried to write, pen held in a death grip by my left hand. It’s a good thing no one would ever read it but me.

Really Heavy Brains

First studies of neuroplasticity

Radio Head #5, a contemporary portrait drawing in blue pencils by Natalie SchorrIn the early 1960′s, Mark Rosenzweig, a professor of physiological psychology at the University of California at Berkeley discovered that rats that were raised in stimulating environments had brains that were heavier, had more neurotransmitters, and had a better blood supply than the brains of rats raised in non-stimulating environments.

His work showed that the brain could be modified, and that learning potential did not cease in childhood. That is great news for all of us at any age. Being a dedicated lifelong learner, maybe my brain would not deteriorate as I grew old.

One Week Later

Seven tiny little days

As you can see, I have come along nicely with my writing skills.
After one week of practice,writing with my left hand

At first, I had a great deal of trouble figuring out the mouse. I would hold my body very stiff again as I tried to make the mouse go where I wanted it to go, and to make my lettering clear enough to be legible. It took a long time to get the mouse click sides right.

Now, just a week later, I am able to use the mouse almost equally well, although I am still somewhat faster using my dominant right hand.

Is my brain feeling any heavier yet? Hmmm… maybe.

Things to Do With Your Non-Dominant Hand

Give it a try

According to an article by Jeff Rose at , the brain needs constant mental stimulation in order to grow, with a sort of “use it or lose it” idea. He suggests trying an array of typical activities using your non-dominant hand such as:

Brushing your teeth – Hot tip: move your hand and not your head!
Using the TV remote
Pouring drinks
Eating – especially with chopsticks

Most of these things I am doing well with, except the chopsticks. It might be a good way to diet, as it may take forever for me to get the food to my mouth.

Confusing Your Brain While Unleashing Your Creativity

Will using your non-dominant hand make you more creative?

Upscale #5, a surrealist colored pencil drawing by Natalie SchorrIn an article by Kim Ranegar at, she points out that brain mapping shows creativity to be a right brain activity. If you are right handed, then using your left hand may cause you to tap into previously unexplored creativity. Be careful, though, as unleashing all that creative potential could be scary. You might find yourself mixing stripes with plaids, or ordering unfamiliar foods just for the fun of it.

Reorganizing the Brain As We Age

A lot of stuff is happening in there

There is evidence to suggest that the brain can restructure itself in response to weaknesses that develop as we age. Research by Roberto Cabeza at Duke University suggests that prefrontal activities that took place in just one hemisphere in our youth may take place in both as we become older.

Other research performed by Melanie Springer and Cheryl Grady of the University of Toronto also shows that as we age, we tend to perform cognitive activities in different lobes of the brain from when we were young. This pattern was also more pronounced in people who were more educated.

The shifting of brain activities from one lobe to another is indicative of plasticity, although we do not yet know for sure why it happens. Perhaps working with a non-dominant hand would be more successful or easier to accomplish as we age, because we would be using both sides of our brain naturally already.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sketchy Saturday Spent Defacing Ex-Library Books

Library People #134, a graphite pencil portrait drawwing by Natalie Schorr
I am enjoying a day of solitude, something that's been pretty rare for me over the last 20 years, so I've taken advantage of that to do some art therapy by adding to my repeating Library People series.

Yesterday, I put my husband and kids on planes to the west coast for a family wedding while I stayed home to hold down the fort. Then I went on a whirlwind tour of the used bookstores in the area and got some awesome books on which to do some more drawings.

I love the stains on this one that were left by an ill considered application of cellophane tape a decade or two ago. I decided to play up the stain pattern with this very distinctive profile of a man.

When I put this piece up on my Facebook page, my friend Kelley said her parents met at a social at the College Park Baptist Church from which this book came. This is not her father.

Library People #137, a contemporary portrait drawing by Natalie SchorrI got 4 pieces done, which is actually a lot of drawing for one day. I was particularly happy with this one, which features Date Due stamps dating back to 1930. I haven't found an ex-library book this old before, so I was super excited to find this one yesterday. I decided to put the man above the date due stamps rather than on top of them because they are so cool.

These two, along with 2 more will be up for sale on eBay beginning tomorrow night.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Library People 131 - 133

Yes, the Library People are returning. I don't even remember how long it has been since I did these. Some people would say that I have lost momentum, and they would probably be right. Some people would say that you can't go back to a series after all this time, and they might be right as well, but here I am.

I started doing Library People drawings back in about 2006. This past week I did these three. It felt good to be back.

For those of you not familiar with the series, let me quote from my eBay listings:
The Library People series consists of drawings of people on the inside covers or pages of discarded books, many of them ex-library books. The covers that are the "canvas" for these drawings have ripped or cut edges, and may contain stamps, writing, stains, dirt, wear and tear, and other evidences of age. They also contain memories; memories of the people who have checked them out, carried them to school, read them on the bus, left them in the rain. The authenticity of the real book, not some reproduced item, is part of the experience. I hope you will enjoy being part of the series.

Why do I continue to return to these? Of course, it is the memories. That connection with others, the past, and the feelings that go with all that. Good feelings; melancholy feelings; uncomfortable feelings. Feelings of loss and hope.

What may have brought me around to this was a college reunion. It was a reunion for the graduates of the UNC-Greensboro Theatre Department from the 1970's through the 1990's. I wasn't sure how I would feel going in to it. I wasn't even sure anyone would remember me - or that I would remember anyone else for that matter. But I did remember most of them, and some of them did remember me. And we shared and laughed and ate, and it was good. Good to be there, alongside the memories.
No, we were no longer young. But how great it is to still be alive and part of the conversation.

So back to the drawings. These were done on the covers or pages of discarded books, just like the 130 people before them. and there will be more to come. Fragile pieces of memories. You can purchase one if you like; they are for sale on eBay. As always, I cherish your comments.

Library People 131  Library People 132   Library People 133