Of Two Minds

I am right-handed. I am a detail-oriented and organized person. I make lists. I plan ahead,” said Robin Truelove Stronk, DVM. This gravitation toward order played a substantial role in her 24-year career as a veterinarian in Brattleboro.

“I greatly enjoyed life as a veterinarian, taking care of all species of animals over my career,” she said, noting that retiring from her practice was bittersweet. “It was difficult leaving my patients and their owners behind.”

But with the help of her husband, who managed the veterinary practice, she transitioned into retirement by writing a memoir:” Vet Noir: It’s not the Pets – It’s the People Who Make Me Crazy.” Dosed heartily with humor, the book delves into how vets deal with the human element of their work.

“Every day is different and has its challenges,” Stronk said.

Her ultimate observation was that without dark humor, there wouldn’t be much humor at all in many of the situations she faced. “This was how I managed to go through the many ups and downs in a busy veterinary practice where it could be possible to care so much that there were tasks that would seem impossible.”

Like many, Stronk has found that retirement is only a word. “You just find more creative ways to get many diverse tasks crammed into every daay,” she said.

One activity that keeps her occupied is rather surprising for a right-handed person who thrives on order. Stronk is an accomplished artist, who has been experimenting with art since she was young.

“In high school, a riding accident left me with my entire left leg in a cast,” she said. “Upon its removal, the cast was not covered in signings done by friends but in doodles done by me.”

She progressed from doodles to charcoal portraits of animals that provided spending cash during college and veterinary school. And later, once her three children were grown, she signed up for classes at the River Gallery School in Brattleboro, a decision she called “a lifechanging move.” One of its founders, Ric Campman, took note of Stronk’s charcoal portraits and challenged her to create something without charcoal that didn’t portray animals.

“I could hear the gears screeching in my head,” she said.

With pastels as a substitute and blank paper before haer, Stronk struggled. “It was messy! I couldn’t use my usual organized approach.”

Then came an even worse challenge… a self-portrait.

“The human animal was the most difficult for me,” she said. She hid the portrait behind a piece of furniture at home and put a pause on classes. “But I kept thinking about it,” she noted.

Eventually, Stronk returned to the River Gallery School — her only formal training — and was later accepted into the Windham Art Gallery on Main Street in Brattleboro.

“It was stimulating, educational and just fun to be among what I felt were ‘real artists,’” she said.

Unfortunately, her artwork, now primarily oil painting, came to a halt at one point when she injured her right elbow and had to wear a sling. One day, her niece came over to paint and, Stronk said, “it seemed foolish for me to sit and watch.” So, she attempted to use a brush with her left hand.

“It was not successful and my right hand, used to doing that task, would unconsciously make motions, like grasping a brush, and it hurt,” she said. Undeterred, Stronk instead grabbed a surgery glove and began to finger paint.

“I found that my left hand was a totally different artist,” she said.

It used intense colors and included people in scenes, both unheard of for her. Also intriguing was the fact that her left-handed pieces began to sell.

When Stronk went back to her surgeon at Dartmouth, she told him about the experience. “I am just glad I always did surgery with my right hand because my left hand is a wild and crazy guy,” she joked.

Well, it turned out the surgeon was a lefty. But he quickly rescued Stronk with the story of his own medical training. He had been required to operate with his right hand because the assistants were used to handing instruments to right-handed surgeons. With the right hand generally associated with the logical left brain and the left hand tied to the artistic right brain, Stronk started noticing correlations. Many creative people she admired turned out to be lefties; she could almost predict it.

Stronk still paints mostly with her right hand, but her lefty finger paintings are always signed with a dot to the left of her signature. See more of her work at truelovearts.com.