The Zen of Fingernails: Giving Up Attachment

I’m obsessively attached to my fingernails. Well, we’re all attached to our fingernails, except for George Clooney in that one scene in Syriana that I totally couldn’t watch.

What I mean is, I really want to have nice fingernails. Long, strong, no peeling layers, worth polishing. Fingernails that lead you to make extra hand gestures when you talk and cradle your coffee cup gracefully, tenderly, with both hands, just so people can notice how pretty they are.

Alas, I am doomed. Although taking calcium did help with the peeling problem that dogged me for years, I just cannot grow out a complete set of 10 good-looking fingernails of the same approximate length and maintain them for more than 24 hours.

Every single time I reach that day, that moment of nirvana where I realize that they’re long and well worth polishing with a pretty color in place of my usual clear protective coat, something happens.

I grate one while making hashbrowns.

I hit our granite countertop straight on and break one.

I’m crocheting and a microsnag gets caught in the yarn and tears just far enough that I can’t file it smooth and save the nail.

Or—in one horrendous accident right before my wedding in July 2007—I actually cut straight across the nail and into the thumb with a knife that slipped, and I wore a bandage through weeks and weeks of growing it out. Nothing says long, strong sexy fingernails like a cartoon character bandage on your thumb. At your wedding.

In a domino effect that never varies, once one goes, the rest start dropping like flies. Nails that were beautifully smooth and strong develop tiny tears down low, close to the cuticle line where it will really hurt like a son of a gun if it catches and tears, so I have to cut the nail back to protect myself. I hit countertops, encounter graters and knives, and lose the length one way or another, usually on at least half of them before the carnage stops.

I cut them all back because I hate that look of mostly long nails and a few short freaks, and start all over again.

My special bonus handicap in this quest for perfection: When I was a kid, maybe 8 or so, I smashed a finger in a solid wood door that was at least two inches thick.

I remember going to yell to my brother Don that Mom said to take out the garbage. In turning away and slamming the heavy door shut, I have no idea how I could catch the middle finger of my left hand in the door so badly that the fingernail was torn off, but I did. (For one thing, I’m right-handed; for another, just one finger, in the middle of the hand? What the--?)

I marched into the kitchen where my mother was washing her hair in the sink (this was before they added a showerhead in the upstairs bathroom in our very old house in the country, outside Lewiston, Idaho). I stuck my bleeding, ravaged finger under her face and said, “Look what I did!” Must have still been in shock, since I wasn’t yet crying from the pain.

The sudden appearance of a bloody stump under her sudsy head gave her such a shock that she couldn’t drive, so the garbage-toting Don had to take us to the hospital. They gave me a shot, sewed the fingernail back on, and told me that if I was lucky I wouldn't lose it completely. There was enough attachment in the nail bed that it did grow back, fortunately.

But I have three little notches around the nail, one on each side and one off-center at the base, where the stitches went in. So that nail is nothing like the rest of my fingernails, and I often develop one of those little microtears at the site of one of the side stitches.

Through the luck of the genetic draw I have tapered fingers and nice oval fingernails—except for Mr. Blight on my left hand. That door-slamming accident cost me a lucrative career as a hand model, I’m quite sure of it.

In a weird Lamarckian coincidence, my mother also had a childhood accident that smashed the middle finger on her left hand and ruined the nail. In her case she was behind a rocking chair when her visiting grandmother rocked back and mooshed her finger.

Mom’s quest for beautiful fingernails led her to various failed attempts in the early days of acrylic nails, leading to a nasty nail fungus and terribly weak, soft fingernails that she had to leave unpolished for a long time. She’s now back to fake nails, I notice when I visit her in the dementia facility; someone comes in and does the nails for the ladies who still have enough cognition for vanity.

I never went the fake route. It’s my own nails that I want to have as a thing of beauty and a joy forever. For over thirty years I have sought fingernail perfection, and my nails have fallen short.

The origin of suffering is attachment: one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. In life all is transient; nothing lasts forever. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, loss is inevitable. Thus I suffer because my long fingernails are inevitably temporary adornments.

When the day comes that I let go of my attachment to fingernail perfection, and the accompanying suffering over the snags and chips of daily life, it will be a sign that I have grown spiritually.

Or that I have finally gotten acrylic nails.

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Fun with Slogans: Deathless(?) Prose for Chests & Bumpers

Chalk it up to my undergraduate studies in linguistics and English at Washington State University. Or to my general word geekiness, which pre-dated college and gave me fun facts to share as small talk.

In fact, I charmed my first husband with linguistics on the night we met (at a Mensa meeting. Doesn’t get much geekier.):

“What’s the difference between a blackbird and a black bird? All blackbirds are black birds, but not all black birds are blackbirds. (pause) It’s all in the emphasis.”

This thing we’re chalking up to college and word geekiness? My deep-seated desire to coin the kinds of phrases that will live forever on your car bumper or chest.

I think of my deathless prose at odd times (don’t we all?), inspired by someone else’s poorly written slogan or my witty family or a funny turn of phrase in a meeting (I try not to guffaw out loud at these junctures—usually succeed). And there’s always the random association free-for-all in the morning shower.

There is now an outlet for such fun and games! Thanks to someone on Twitter—can’t remember who—I found and its, where I can submit slogans.

The slogans are visible for a week, and people vote up or down. If any of mine win, I get $400 cash and a $100 gift certificate for shirts, thus ensuring that my children will receive a plethora of T-shirts.

On the other hand, I may get no votes at all, making my prose just a little short of deathless.

Hence this list, so at least the faithful who read this can get a chuckle or two.

You can go vote too, if you like—not just on mine, but on all the rest—if you click on the phrase and create a log-in. Your choices are “I’d wear this” and “Uh, stupid” (which gives me an idea for another post, on how we might affect election outcomes by just . . . reframing the options a tad).

If you submit a slogan of your own, tell me in the comments so I can go vote!
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Snow Day

A snow day starts early.

My job includes managing emergency communications, so if there’s any question that we might shut down, I get a call around 4:30 a.m. from the calm-voiced Jon, director of facilities.

He’s always apologetic about having to wake me, and remarkably cheerful given the cold darkness outside and the fact that he’s been up far longer than I.

Between the two of us, we work through the list of factors to consider. How is the plowing going for city streets and for campus parking lots, and what are the campus conditions? What are the other colleges and universities doing? Major school districts in our area? Are city officials asking people to stay off the streets and drive only if absolutely necessary, and what’s the forecast?

It’s a pretty human process, with no cut and dried way to decide, but we eventually come up with something, always erring on the side of safety. We confer with the equally calm-voiced HR director Diane to make sure we're wording things right per university policies.

If we actually close, that means no one goes to work. No one.

No one to plow the sidewalks and parking lots. No one to keep the computers and phone lines working. No one to see that the HVAC keeps the buildings from freezing.

So we don’t CLOSE close. If we decide we should minimize travel to campus, we suspend operations, a decision the chancellor makes after considering our recommendation.

When we suspend operations, we don't hold classes and only “essential” personnel report to campus. When we used that term in our campus communications in the heavy snows earlier this year, people had to ask whether they were essential.

Kind of humbling to find out you aren’t, but you don’t actually want to be essential—not on a snow day. If you’re non-essential you don’t have to venture out into the conditions that officials are defining as too dangerous for travel.

If you’re me, on the other hand, in my essential role….

Actually, I don’t have to venture forth. I count on those essential IT folks to keep the systems working that allow me to put the word out.

Recorded phone message, web site alert page updated and then linked in color-coded text from the home page, emails to campus listservs because quite a few staff check their work email from home, a notice on the portal system that people use to access official records and information, emails to media followed by phone calls, and now Twitter and a note posted on the wall of our Facebook page and sent out to our fans.

(By the way, it’s the same whether or not we suspend operations. If we’re open for business as usual, people need to know that too. )

After I push our announcement out as many ways as possible, I monitor the TV broadcasts and check media web sites to see if they’re using what we sent, and post a comment if I can find someplace to do it that will be visible and informative.

(Sidebar question: Why isn't there one specific place for official representatives to log in and post our info, alphabetically by agency? The school districts have that.)

Because I have the laptop open and I’m connected to my work desktop, I end up dealing with old stuff from my in-box for longer than I realize in my too-early-morning daze.

Eventually I realize I’ve been up for over 3 hours. I’m doing things that are neither urgent nor important, I have a headache because I haven’t had coffee but I shouldn’t at this point, and there’s nothing more to do in this “emergency.”

After that, I go back to bed for a while before I get up, pop open the laptop again, and settle in for a quiet day of work and watching the weather in case we have to do it all over again the next day.

Sweetie and the Poo Rock

Sweetie enters the dining/family room, where Eldest Daughter, Second Daughter and I are all ensconced with our laptops: family togetherness, 21st-century style.

“Where’s the poo rock?” he asks. We all snort with laughter.

We know what he’s looking for: the pumice stone we use to get mineral deposits off the toilet bowl. It’s the word “poo” that sounds so funny, especially coupled with “rock” to form “poo rock.” (Having a juvenile sense of humor is considered an asset at our house.)

It probably triggers thoughts of Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, from South Park. I was never a South Park fan, but we were trapped at the lake cabin and there’s a DVD of that episode, so I was subjected to the singing talking poo and his little poo family.

The poo rock is a key piece of the bathroom cleaning equipment and supplies in our house. I don’t think we have particularly hard water, but a ring forms fairly quickly. We do scrub the toilet—every so often—yet that just doesn't do it.

I’m fond of the application of a bleach/water spray to kill toilet germs. In general I’m pretty environmental in my housekeeping practices, such as cleaning the shower with a paste made of baking soda and a dab of shampoo. (Try it! Works great!)

But not for the toilet. Death to germs, bring on the bleach.

We inherited some build-up when we bought the house that we have worked away at with the help of poo rock. I’m still sort of amazed that you can scratch away at porcelain (or whatever toilets are made of these days) with a rock and not hurt it, but that’s the magic of poo rock.

Another challenge in our master bathroom is that we have a yellow toilet. Hello, toilet manufacturers? Yellow is the last color we want for a toilet. Well, maybe second to last—brown would be the winner there. I want to know when something’s clean and I’ll never, ever know with this toilet.

We conserve water in the time-honored fashion, by not flushing until it’s necessary. This, coupled with Stupid Yellow Toilet Color, means that I’m not quick to stick my hand in for scrubbing even if it looks innocent. I have to flush before I start cleaning.

You may be noting that this wastes water. Yes, but wouldn’t you make sure?

Sweetheart and I were brushing our teeth together the other day. I thanked him for his diligence in attacking the mineral build-up so effectively.

There are a few spots that are hard to reach because of the intricacies of interior toilet design so he hadn’t gotten absolutely everything farther back. His efforts had improved the view enormously, though.

“What we really need is poo rock on a stick,” he said.

Do you have any idea how much it hurts to snort toothpaste foam through your nose?