1. I like the sound of it. And I like the suggestions I find in it. So the assonance and the associations, you might say. But would I care to be a little more specific? By all means. So glad you asked.
2. I like the repetition of the “ef” sound from left to jeff. That’s a fine piece of assonance right there. And it’s something of a soft sound. Challenged by the repetition of the hard “d” in “handed.” I like that soft/hard thing, the yin/yang of it. And to my ear the “j” sound even offers a slight, subtle echo of the “f.”
Then the syllable “ef” carries other echoes and associations. It reminds me of one of my favorite salty words, for which it’s even the well-known stand-in: “fuck”—“the ‘ef’ word.” Again, the mix of soft and hard there. Both in sound and in the coming together of hard and soft that the word denotes.
More personally, though, that favorite syllable “ef” also points me toward the ineffable. Ultimate Mystery. Those things about which we say, “For lack of a better word.” What’s the first couplet of the Tao Te Ching? The Tao that can be named/Is not the eternal Tao? That.
The referenced, painted page of William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, from his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
And one of the things I often feel I’m trying to do in my writing, particularly my poetry, is what I like to call, “effing the ineffable”—trying to capture in words that which can perhaps never be captured in words. A fool’s errand on the face of it. But “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise,” said old Bill Blake, and I can only hang my fool’s cap on that one.
3. There are some common associations with left-handedness that I like, and some which I’d like to “reclaim” in the best outsider tradition of taking something considered negative and turning it into a source of pride. Left-handers are often thought to be creative, artistic, romantic; of above-average intelligence, even genius. I like all that, that’s fun.
There are also all kinds of linguistic roots that associate being left-handed with being diabolical, of the devil. Sinister. Haven’t tracked this down, but I seem to remember hearing that left-handers in certain medieval times and places were thought to be witches, and were tortured out of it or even burned at the stake. My memory may have exaggerated here. Pardon me if I’m being left-handedly creative/romantic with such conjurations.
4. So there’s a notion of contrarian, outsider status that comes with being left-handed. But it’s subtle. Handedness is much less apparent than race, or even national origin—apparent from language and accents whenever someone speaks. We speak of gay-dar, but not hand-dar. People often don’t notice I’m left handed unless I tell them. Yet we lefties are only about 10% of the population, and as every left-hander knows, the world is set up largely by right-handed people for right-handed people, to the extent that left-handers statistically have a shorter life span, because the right-handedness of the world keeps us that little bit more vulnerable, makes us just a little more susceptible to accidents.
Not only by virtue of my handedness, but in other ways, I have often felt like just a bit of an outsider. On my little idyllic dead-end lane, Junedale Drive, growing up in Kalamazoo, MI, I was the youngest kid on the street—including the youngest of three Jeffs; and the sole only child among large families. My friends were mostly working class and all went to one church or another, while my parents both had advanced academic degrees and were atheist/agnostic. When I was about seven in around 1970, I was the first kid in my 2nd grade class whose parents got a divorce. Later, in middle and high school, I was a bit of a nerd, but not irredeemably so. I always managed a little crossover. So. A consistent outsider, but not way, far outside. Enough to feel internally branded. Not enough for it to always show on the outside.
5. Then there are the political associations of left wing. While I have no firm allegiance to any political party, when it comes to our human political problems my analysis could generally be considered left wing, and the solutions I favor tend toward the left wing as well. I tend to favor solutions based on cooperation over competition, solidarity over division. That tends to shake out as democratic solutions over republican ones.
No doubt I’m influenced by the fact that my mom, Margaret B. Holman, was an anthropologist, in my belief that we humans are innately tribal, by predisposition of some chord of genes that gets strummed on the strings of our genome. Just as wolves travel in packs, but coyotes don’t; and lions hang in prides, but leopards don’t. Further, I believe that two of our most basic human instincts are those for cooperation and competition. Yes, our human contradictions are that built-in.
The book: The Archaeology of Mobility: Old World and New World Nomadism, edited by Hans Barnard and Willeke Wendrich. The article: The Social and Environmental Constraints on Mobility in the Late Prehistoric Upper Great Lakes Region, by Margaret B. Holman and William A. Lovis
In an article of my mom’s about nomadic northern Michigan Native-American tribes, I was struck by the fact that each tribe, the Potawatomi, the Chippewa and the Ottawa, had its territory, through which it moved over the course of the four seasons, finding food and other resources according to its ecosystem and its food specialty. At the borders of its territory, each tribe had contact with other tribes, generally cooperative—trading fish for game, meeting and mingling and swapping young men and women for mates. The territory was bounteous and the population small, so the interactions were civil.
It seems that only when we perceive our resources to be too scarce for our numbers that we become competitive to the point of war, killing, rape and plunder. I feel like if we humans could only perceive that we’re all really one vastly extended tribe; that our commonness is more essential than our differentness; that our planet is still bountiful, resplendent; then we could come up with cooperative solutions to every one of the problems facing us which seem so severe, even lethal: food, water, energy scarcities & disparities, and climate change.
That’s where I’m optimistic: it’s possible. It’s conceivable. Where I’m pessimistic: It doesn’t seem likely that enough of us will make that imaginative leap in time. More probable, it seems, is that the savior of the human genome from its more self-destructive tendencies is likely to be the well-overdue pandemic that may soon come along and wipe out a solid majority of extant humans. It’s been said that the plague helped create the Renaissance. Such a pandemic could turn this place from an increasingly tapped-out, ever-growing garbage heap back into a rich, abundant paradise for whoever’s lucky enough to hang on.
6. Seems like a lot to pack into such a harmless, silly, singsong little phrase like “Lefthanded Jeff,” eh? Exactly right. But. The beauty of it is, you don’t have to know any of that. Hopefully it’s got a bit of a ring to it, a nice rhythm. A bit mnemonic while not too moronic. Fun to say, one hopes.
And on that note, I will leave you to it. At least for now.
Image from: http://visalramani.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/left-hand-writing-96903.jpg