I’ve been listening to the NPR podcast Hidden Brain a lot recently. They had an episode that released back in June called “Smoke & Mirrors” that dealt with the smoking habit of one of the show’s producers, Max Nesterak, and his battle to kick the urge once and for all. At the time of the show’s recording, Max had been six months removed from cigarettes and feeling great.
The episode had me thinking: could I apply some of his techniques for quitting smoking to a bad habit that I have? Maybe. Though my habit isn’t life threatening, it is surely disgusting and sometimes painful. It often leaves my fingers throbbing and bloody and unable to pick up small things off the floor or a flat surface. My habit is nail biting.It’s been my vice since I was little. My orthodontist made note of it in her files way back when. A customer made mention of it during my training to become a postman, saying that I must be really nervous all the time, and that I should cut it out. I can’t even properly scratch an itch or peel a label off an apple. God forbid if I have to get that crusty piece of something off the collar of my shirt. It doesn’t seem like much, but it really sucks.
I’ve tried to stop a few times to varying degrees of success. In my later high school years I’d paint my fingernails black. Well, it was part attempt to kill the habit, and part an attempt to “express myself” or something like that. It worked for a little while until I built up a tolerance to the taste of fingernail polish, and my bosses at the foundation I was working for told me that black fingernail polish didn’t look well on a guy who was supposed to be from the 1800s.
The second time was more mental. I fancy myself a songwriter, and I do have a few songs that I’ve written. Another disadvantage to nail biting is that it makes playing the guitar that much more difficult. It makes it a little more painful to push down the strings on the fret board, and makes it almost impossible to play without a pick. But, I was eager to record an album on my own, and I used that as ammunition. I told myself that if I can let my nails grow out, I can finally set aside the time to record that album that’s been festering in my brain for at least half a decade. I can begrudgingly report that that album remains unrecorded.
I desperatly need a new approach. Max’s strategy for kicking smoking had a few steps, most of which seem not to apply to my situation. One was that he had to be held accountable to the listeners of the Hidden Brain podcast, which in my case wouldn’t amount to much. The podcast I do host with my friend Greg at LetUsNerd.com doesn’t have a huge fanbase. Mainly just Stephen Gertz, who could care less about my gnarly, mangled fingernails.
The second step was that he had to release a PSA on the dangers and downsides of smoking. Though a PSA on the dangers of nail biting could do some good — nail biting can cause intestinal worms, which, if you ask my younger self, are no fun — I don’t see a local radio station picking up my cause anytime soon. Imagine that playing during the morning rush hour?
The third and final step of his plan was to takethe money he would spend on cigarettes daily and put it in a savings account or in a desk drawer. After one year, he can take that money and go on a vacation or splurge on some fancy gismo (by his account, it would be well over a thousand dollars when he’d hit the year mark). But, if he relapsed, he’d have to donate the money to a charity, and not just any charity. An evil charity. A charity that goes against his values. He never said what that charity was, but given the fact that he is a gay man, I would suppose it would be something anti-LGBT like the Family Research Council or the Dove World Outreach Center. If that prospect alone didn’t make him stop smoking, I don’t think anything would.
Problem is that chewing my nails doesn’t cost me monetarily, except for the pennies and dimes I must leave behind when I can’t pick them up. So, I chose to start small. I made my goal to put back at least one dollar a day for the cause. If I fail and relapse back to biting my nails, I’ll have to donate all that money, however much there may be, to Donald J. Trump’s campaign
to make America great again. Why? Honestly, I couldn’t think of a more disgusting and ignorant use of my money at this time. Worse yet, if I fail after the election ends, I’ve decided to send my money to the Westboro Baptist Church, probably accompanied by my pride and severed fingers for good measure.
There you have it. My plan to stop my nearly life-long habit of nail biting is to basically bribe and blackmail my way out of it. It’s the typical American way, my friends. As I close, I am currently on day two of this journey, and I can say that it is a little harder than I thought. Nail biting had become my idle pastime, much like mindlessly checking Facebook is for others. It’s also my stress reliever, much like drinking was, which I’ve also decided to quit as well.
Just yesterday I caught myself, nails on teeth, while waiting for my wife at a consignment sale. I was mad because the
fascist lady who was guarding the door at the armory wouldn’t let me in since I didn’t have a ticket and my wife did. They suggested that I come in and sit in a chair, like a scolded child who just did his best Picasso on the hallway wall. I chose to stay in the car, where I fumed and almost blew my whole mission on day one. As I felt the nails hit my teeth, I saw a vision of Donald Trump rubbing my dollar all over his soft, sweaty body as visions of sugar plums and border walls danced in his head. One bite of that hard, comforting fingernail wasn’t worth funding the destruction of the world.
No drinking. No nail biting. No political rants outside of Twitter. And I’m thinking about a way to lose weight again and to be more productive at both work and my creative endeavors. That’s not too much at one time, is it? I’m not trying to cause myself to crash and burn, am I? And next week, I’m going to learn to breathe with gills.
Also, I’ve discovered that I’m a masochist, apparently.
More updates soon.