I read somewhere somewhen that there was a comic about a serial killer who bit off the nails (and even some of the flesh) of his victims. While I have not actually read the book, I can imagine that the end result would look a little like the below photos (only perhaps moreso).
I have a confession to make.
I am an Old Man ™ and I still friggin bite my nails. The hands that you see in the photo above are this guy’s fingers. Taken at about the time of writing and posting this entry to the blog. Notice the absence of nails, or how bloody short some of them actually are? Notice the damage around the nails and the gaps between end of nail and end of finger? Common occurance, right? I know. If you want to be disgusted, you may as well go see “IT” right? But I’m showing you what my fingers are like to highlight just how bad a problem this habit of mine really is. But even worse than the physical evidence of the habit are the obsessive needs that come with nailbiting.
And you thought it was just a gross habit. Ha! It’s far worse than that. While it technically might not be as bad as – say… a heroin addiction – there are nonetheless severe addictive or compulsive qualities that come with this “habit” of mine.
- Why bite nails? For one, there’s the immediate payoff. I’m constantly rubbing my fingertips, feeling out every little bump or hangnail, or slight inconsistency in the nail. It’s not intentional, but you can be sure that it happens. When I bite off the annoying bits that I find, I can say, “Ha! Instant success!” Considering I’m both a writer and a teacher, this is huge. As both a teacher and a writer, it often takes a long time – a LONG TIME – to get any feedback. Comments and reviews of books, replies on articles often take years to develop. And students? Well, having students create something worthwhile can sometimes take a lifetime. So the instant gratification of looking at your hangnail-less finger can bring a whole lot of satisfaction.
- Time Investment. Really. I’ve sunk countless hours into biting my nails. Best thing about it is that they grow back. When that happens, I can bite them again! <cue maniacal laughter> After putting so much time into this, it would be such a shame to see my investment go tits up.
- Doing something. This may sound odd, but when I’m talking on the phone, or driving, or just staring and letting my mind wander, I get restless. Even over the span of .5 seconds. I need something to do. Not think – I’ve got that covered, and am already doing that. No, I need something to do. Physically do. What can I do when there’s nothing on hand? Oh, look! Hands! Fingers! Nails! I’ll do that!
- Social Anxiety. Are you ready for my big, dark, scary secret? I’m… An Introvert! I know, I know, you’re thinking “Holy shit! I did not see that coming!” The 2016 7th highest-ranked teacher in the whole of EF USA is an introvert? “No way!” my students are all saying. Yup. I’m an introvert. Now, quick definition: “Introvert” does not mean “shy.” The Internet does such a great job of defining this that I’m not going to bother. What I will say is that as an introvert, I get energy by being alone. Being amidst people is tough. When I’ve got “People Time” scheduled, then I’m a pimp daddy of getting my point across, filling time, and giving examples that illustrate with a Da Vinci flair. Outside of those regularly-scheduled people times, I have no freaking clue how to act around people. I get really self-conscious; I get hung up on every word spoken; I get too focused on the lines that connect everyone with everything around them – and worst of all, I get really uncomfortable when I’m stuck with no immediate exit or if I have to be there. So what do I do? You’ve probably guessed it by now. I play with my fingers.
- Doing anything but “What I Need to Do.” Work is hard. Duh. So what better way to pass a few moments to distract myself from work? Instead of the long, drawn-out process of coming up with the next word to write, I instead give myself a problem, lean back in my chair, and while I think of that word, I give myself a physical task: the destruction of an annoying part of my fingers. But, you know that movie “Up”? There’s a dog in that that gets distracted most commonly by “Squirrel!” I’m like that. Suddenly the problem posed by the distraction (namely my nails) consumes me and I forget what it was that I was doing. Then, when I recall that I was looking for a word, I come back to it, and gear up to solve that. Or just as often, I let myself become distracted by another nail. Damn these addictive digits…
- Thinking Time. This is almost the same as the above, but the context is different, as John Cleese could tell you. And actually, Cleese’s points on the ideas of allocating Time, and then using Time to get yourself to your most creative are essentially canon in my actual process. See, I am a “good teacher” because I have taken Cleese’s wisdom to heart. Far be it from me to force my students into the dull routine of standard teaching – no, they can get all that from their other teachers (not you good teachers, mind you. I’m talking about those other ones. The ones that Pink Floyd have infamously immortalized). Whenever I do anything, I want to bring something new to the table. And when it’s time to plan that out… ah… the distraction that will let me formulate words is literally at the tips of my fingers.
So how does Beachcomber come into all of this? Well, so far, as of writing these words, I have not once even given in to the compulsion to shove my fingers into the hot drooly toothed cavern that is my mouth. “How have you been able to stave off the need?” Simple: I grab Beachcomber.
Many people out there might know of my long-standing love of Transformers, and they may also know that I have a collection that is far too big for my shelves at home. It’s true. All of it. I love these little (and not-so-little) puzzles that are remarkable feats of design, characterization, and engineering. Seriously, the people who make them are geniuses of their trade and should get a raise.
For me, reaching for these toys satisfy my compulsion to be fiddling with something, as they are constantly able to change position, but not just any simple human position like most action figures – you know: arms and legs that move in a couple of ways, the twisting of the head – that kind of thing. No, Transformers have so much more to offer a fidgety mind or fidgety physical compulsion. Nowadays, engineering has gotten so good that a good Transformer has the moving arms and legs, wrist swivels, waist swivels, knee bends, elbow bends, ball-jointed shoulders, ankle tilts, head adjustments that normal action figures have. But they have so much more. A robot cat becomes a cassette , a robot becomes a VW Beetle , a robot becomes a Walther P-38. Some have additional moving parts in their alt modes – moving legs on the animals, hinged jaws, moving wheels, random gun ports, a massive fortress mode that makes me drool. Some of them are so complex that just transforming them can take an hour.
If Transformers are all so complex and exciting, why Beachcomber? Sure, he’s a shiny little green guy with some fugly bright orange thighs, but why him? Why not someone cooler? For the size of him, and really, the overall simplicity. This little guy is just about perfect for my needs. He has big wheels that let me put him between forefinger and thumb and spin him. He’s got a nice, satisfying transformation that doesn’t make me worry that I’m about to break him. He’s really bloody shiny. He’s got a suitably appropriate hippy-like personality (matching the overall mentality of where I live). But best of all, he can easily slip into the breast pockets of all the shirts that I so frequently wear. Ultimately, it means that whenever I have the urge to gnaw on my fingers, I can reach into a pocket, pull Beachcomber out, and fiddle the impulse away.
If all goes well, this will help to kill this damned addictive compulsion to bite nails. Then that would be one damned addiction done and away with. On to the next…
Whether or not it was my intention, in a way, because of the photo of my nails above, we are kind of creating one of those things whereby we wait and see how well we can hold off the addiction. I’ll try to get an update on the progress of my nails in about a month or so. Ew, right?
I’m going to close with one last observation. And get ready, because it’s about as random as one can possibly be. Are you ready for it? The area around fingernails don’t scar. Seriously. Check it out. If you have photos or other proof to run the contrary, I’d love to see them. But in my own observations of my own fingers, it’s something that I noticed. How odd, indeed. Now if we could use this kind of tissue to implant on other wounds, maybe it would cut back on scar tissue.
I’m kind of running updates every Monday and Saturday, so I’ll keep at this schedule. Until Monday, then.