“Mama, you have a young face but your hands are old,” piped my observant four-year-old. I glanced at my bony hands guiding the steering wheel as I drove home, knowing what I’d see: Bulging veins and knobby knuckles. She’s right, I thought, as I sat on one and dangled the other over the top of the wheel to remove it from view.
I’ve spent a fair amount of my life hating these hands, but seldom give them a second thought these days. I’ve long come to terms with these appendages and quite appreciate their usefulness. Sometimes I actually love them, especially when they fly across the keyboard as they are now. But when I heard a speaker claim recently that our identity is found in our hands because they represent who we are, I had to wonder what my hate/love relationship with mine said about me.
I didn’t find research supporting the speaker but found something much more useful instead. Seems when we create things by hand, our mood is enhanced and we feel happy. We have a primal need to make things, according to Dr. Kelly Lambert, chair of psychology at Randolph-Macon College. What’s more, the obscene amount of time we spend with technology, plus the act of buying the stuff we need rather than make any of it leaves us in a state of disconnect. In the name of progress, we deprive ourselves of an essential creative process that offers pleasure, meaning, and pride.
People who can’t use their hands to create because of crippling arthritis or other debilitating handicaps, often become depressed. Research shows that hand activity — from knitting to growing flowers to grating cheese — can beat stress, relieve anxiety, and lower depression. Creativity, after all, is a powerful tool for altering our inner life because it soothes and satisfies us.
It’s interesting that my favorite memories about two family members from the past are related to their hands. What I remember most about my grandmother is the way her hands guided the spring green fabric under the jutting needle of her sewing machine as she showed me how to make a simple shift dress for Home Ec class. Her hands snipped and threaded and cut all day. And I remember my mother-in-law’s patient hands when she taught me how to crochet. Maybe there is something to the speaker’s hand identity claim after all.
I never sewed another garment I’d wear in public, but I did crochet handbags and house slippers. I later took up macramé, bread making, sponge painting, and a host of other crafts. But now, I engage in little that’s crafty or creative other than writing. It’s not that I can’t use my hands, but simply that I don’t. I decided to do something about that.
Today I made this deco mirror with these hands and some old beads and ceramic tiles I’d stashed in the attic. It was so much fun! It brought a spontaneous joy that opened creative pathways so strong that I had to stay up late to get this blog post down. And I found these hands just beautiful.
How does using your hands to create affect you?