In my never-ending attempt to better myself, I am trying to stop having bad habits.
Understand that I’ve got a nice little garden of bad habits here that I have been cultivating my entire life. I chew on my lips. I bite my nails. I pop my back and knuckles. I squint my left eye and tilt my head a weird way. If I have a scab, you better not tell me to not pick at that bitch because I am definitely going to anyway.
Over the years I have begun realizing that my little habit garden does not grow anything useful. In fact, it attracts figurative bees that follow me around and sting me with paranoia whenever I am in public. I will be happily going about my business in the Trader Joe’s when suddenly I realize that I am calmly and methodically gnawing a hangnail. I stop mid-gnaw, with a sudden stab of panic and the sense that EVERYBODY IS LOOKING AT ME FOREVER.
And so I’ve started trying to pull up my garden of habits, but I’m discovering that the things I thought were fairly harmless when I was six are deeply rooted and nigh unbreakable at the tender age of twenty three. It’s not as simple as just saying, “All right, time to stop touching my face all the time with my greasy hands.” My hands just don’t listen. As soon as I stop paying attention to them, they just float upwards, as though compelled by some kind of magic, and lay their foul grease all over my complexion. Reading about how much nicer your skin will look if you don’t constantly paw your face doesn’t help. Snapping a rubberband on my wrist doesn’t help. The desire to give myself inadvertent zits is so strong that it overrides any sense or decency.
That’ s just one example. My current habit-breaking binge centers on my fingernails.
See, I have always chewed my fingernails off. Nail clippers are strange and foreign beasts that look just as mysterious and dangerous to me as my eyelash curlers look to Taylor. Why bother, I thought when I was little. I can just bite my nails off! Fun and effective! It didn’t help that my hands are tiny and stumpy and my nailbeds are awkward horizontal squares. There was never the potential for beautiful almond-shaped nails with glistening polish, so when my fingers routinely became mutilated bloody stumps, it just wasn’t that big of a problem.
About a week ago, though, I suddenly had a thought. “Am I not an adult?” I thought. “Am I not an independent woman capable of managing her own destiny? Her own life? Her own fingernails?”
And so I stopped chewing my nails.
At first it wasn’t too hard. they had already been gnawed down to nubs, so there wasn’t anything remotely tantalizing. No little hangnails to work at, no edges to try to smooth. Nothing I could do, so I was a-ok with doing nothing.
After a few days my nails began to grow back. I let them grow proudly, admiring them at every opportunity, filing the square corners to see how pretty and almondy I could possibly get them. Taylor complimented them frequently. I think he read in a book somewhere that he’s supposed to praise me to reinforce my positive behavior. Or he’s just nice. I don’t know. Everything was going well.
Now, though, it’s beginning to get…difficult. They are still shorter than my mother’s pretty nails, or my sister’s, but they’re just so…chewable. At this point, all that I do is think about not chewing them. At any given point, my brain is telling me to jam my fingers in my mouth and bite down. Conversations have become stilted and bizarre.
“Jessica, want to watch the new South Park?”
“Of course I chew!”
“Jessica, why do you look so tired today?”
“Our apartment was freezing all bite long.”
“Jessica, can you e-mail me the statistics you found?”
“CHEW BITE CHEW CHEW GNAW BITE CHEW.”
Instead of biting, I have taken up frequently cleaning my nails, assaulting any gunk that may be developing beneath them with superhuman levels of prevention. My nails simply do not have the opportunity to get dirty, because I am constantly scraping beneath them.
I’m aware that this is just trading one habit for another, but this habit means that I bleed less and that’s a pretty good thing. I’ve even learned that filing compulsively is a decent trade off for the delicious satisfaction of biting off a nail.
What about you? Got any bad habits that you’re working on? Or bad habits that you’re not working on for that matter. I got a bevy of those too.