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Sometime in the third grade, a girl in my class began to claim she was ambidextrous. Previously, this girl had said she wanted to be a marine biologist. She also claimed to have athlete’s foot. This girl was a pretentious liar.

In fairness, marine-biology ambitions were all the rage that year. We were just moving beyond the easy descriptor stage; it was no longer enough to want an occupation you could identify from a Richard Scarry book, such as baker, doctor, or fireman. Now people wanted to be not just teachers but middle-school teachers, not just football stars but running backs—ideally, our choices conveyed an element of mystery and worldliness to the other kids. Still, generally speaking, our ideas for future careers were about as complicated as those you see in contemporary romance novels, where the heroines have easily explained jobs that seldom seem to interfere with the business of being a glamorous grown-up. Marine biology, with its vague hints of tropical waters and dolphins, seemed like a perfect career path for both the frivolous animal-lover and the committed scientist. None of us was sure what it entailed. 

In any case, this one aspiring marine biologist announced one day that she was ambidextrous, which, she supposed for some reason, would make her a particularly excellent marine biologist. We were learning cursive at the time, and she explained that she could write cursive with either hand, because that was how her brain worked. She demonstrated. Both sets of writing were illegible, so her point was effectively made.

After that, a number of other people discovered that they, too, were ambidextrous. Everyone started scrawling things with their left hands just to see if they could. (I ascertained that I was not ambidextrous.) The one lefty in the class acted very superior about the whole thing, because he could already do certain things with his right hand and had to use a differently shaped pencil grip. 

The teacher ultimately made everyone stop being ambidextrous. She made us go back to our regular cursive drills. We soon seemed to lose interest in marine biology, too; I don’t think anyone from our class has pursued it as an adult. Most people have the kind of complex real jobs that fill in the cracks of daily life and that don’t occur to kids: jobs without dedicated costumes or unique tools. Jobs, that is, in which ambidexterity probably wouldn’t have much application, anyway. 

I do wonder about that girl from time to time—if she’s writing with both hands or pursuing life as a biologist or even if she’s merely contracted athlete’s foot.