The tools of my craft


When I was 22, I woke up one morning with a pinched nerve in my right shoulder. My entire arm was numb and unresponsive to all commands from my brain.

A bit of flexing and exercising (led by an anaesthesiologist friend) returned control of my arm to me within 20 minutes, but up until that time every nightmare scenario I could imagine played through my mind. How could I take notes for class? How could I handle camera equipment? How could I type or sign my name or — and this was most devastating of all — draw?

I’m in envy of the ambidextrous. I can’t even use a mouse with my left hand without something in my brain coming unscrewed. Since this incident, I’ve had fits of trying to train my off hand to do the work of its sibling, with only modest success. When the Major folded origami cranes with her left hand in Stand Alone Complex (above), I was driven to emulate, and now I’m a damn champ. But a lot of things — typing with any proficiency, and especially art — completely elude my left hand, and probably always will.

Fast-forward to the present year. I’ve been experiencing soreness in my right hand since at least September. I kept meaning to go to a doctor, but you know how it is, working an 8-5. I told myself I’d get the time to recuperate after GDC Next, when I had a week’s vacation lined up. If I came home from vacation still experiencing stiffness and pain, I could look into scheduling a doctor’s appointment then.

The next week I was laid off.

Now… I could rant a bit about getting laid off from Gama. That the job I was so excited about would terminate mere months after I started it. I look back at the post I wrote shortly after accepting the position and cringe at all the naive optimism on display. But my editor has been endlessly supportive, the dismissal is not a reflection of the quality of work I was performing, and as you might have guessed, I am writing all of this, painstakingly, with one hand, so I really don’t want to belabor the issue past its due.

But do you have any idea how much writing you do when searching for a job?

Part of it was my fault. A lot of late-night livetweeting of TV shows and origami — still my go-to hobby when nervous or depressed. But a large part of it were the job apps, filing with recruiter sites, searching for housing and researching unemployment, and so on. Here and there I defaulted back to doing visual art to take my mind off things, but that only exacerbated the level of injury. Somehow, without planning to, I was right back to living out those nightmare scenarios I’d entertained in college.

And then today, after a nasty flare-up while out on errands, and wrenching it badly on the bus on the way home, I found I couldn’t use my right hand at all. At least, not without tremendous pain and discomfort.

It’s two days before Christmas, so seeing a doctor is right out. I don’t know if I can afford one anyway. With some of my donor rewards still outstanding from the crowdfunding I did to get to GDC — you know, the trip that was supposed to help me get a new job, and succeeded at just that; too bad the job only lasted a few months — I’m strongly against the idea of asking for help from my online friends and peers. I write this here just to get across the particular pain and frustration of losing the one meaningful tool I have for making a living, at a time when I need it most.

If I believed in higher powers, I would take this as a sign that I had deeply offended one. Chopping off my hand would be a mercy at this point, next to having the thing hang uselessly at my side like this.

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  • Rachel Helps (@Rachel_Helps)  On 12.24.13 at 9:08 am

    I can’t think of anything comforting to say. I’ve had carpal tunnel before, and I know how disabling it is (not just physically, by also psychologically) to lose your hand and your ability to type. I hope you can find a way to cope with one hand or rehabilitate your other. :-(

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