'Like most people, I have spent the better part of my life oblivious to the workings of my own hands.'That's what Frank Wilson says, in the Prologue to his book The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. My hands, I am not sure that I would quite say that. I remember so clearly how I focused so painstakingly on my hands when I practiced the piano. How deliberately I would relax my wrists, let my fingers float infinitesimally above the keys. How I would lift and drop them heavily into my lap, then place them again at the keyboard, wrists relaxed, fingers afloat.
I remember the pleasure I took in learning to knead bread.
Stroking a child's soft hair.
I'm thinking about the hands--the body, really--today because I spent a couple of hours making a blank book. Folding the signatures of paper, burnishing the fold with the bone folder. Pressuring the awl through the paper at the fold, then through leather. Threading a needle with waxed fiber. Pushing the needle through paper and leather repeatedly, sewing four signatures into a leather binding.
The room full of other people, doing the same.
Taking the time to undo a mistake.
After threading the needle, pinching away the excess wax that gathered on one side of the eye.
Lining up the marks so that the long stitches of the binding would be even, more or less.
Sewing on a button for a closure.
A sigh, signal of a small exasperation. Gathered in the lungs, and expelled.
Wilson notes, of a medical work by Sir Charles Bell, Scottish surgeon,
'It is genuinely startling to read Bell's Hand now, because its singular message--that no serious account of human life can ignore the central importance of the human hand--remains as trenchant as when it was first published. This message deserves vigorous renewal as an admonition to cognitive science. Indeed, I would go further: I would argue that any theory of human intelligence which ignores the interdependence of hand and brain function, the historic origins of that relationship, or the impact of that history on developmental dynamics in modern humans, is grossly misleading and sterile.'
Today, I felt the the steel of the needle in my fingers, both the pressure of pushing it through paper and leather, and the pressure of pulling it through to the other side. I felt the materials in my hand. Today, I was glad for the work of hands.
(for Mary & for Charlotte)