After my guitar lesson last night, D and I watched a movie and I unceremoniously cut my left hand's fingernails off, collecting the fragments and swiping them into the garbage. My whole life Mom has oohed and aahed over the superhuman strength of my nails. My nailbeds are wide, the nails themselves are hard as rocks, smooth and strong. Unlike my sister and my mother's nails, mine lack any hint of brittleness or frailty; they rarely break and tend to grow to lengths most women pay to have with fake, acrylics covering up their own nails. In fact, my nails even protest cutting and tend to need a few clamps of the nail-cutter before they comply. Mom attributes my nails to her parents genetics and laments that the trait somehow skipped her. She never fails to comment on their progress, often grabbing my hand, examining the nails with one hand and looking at her free hand's shorn ones. When my parents visited last semester, my nails were short, a byproduct of the stress of comprehensive exams and Mom commented, "It's not like you to bite your nails." "They've all just broken," I replied, examining the jagged edges, so abnormal to my hand. At Christmas, they'd grown back to a squared off, manicured-looking length and, again, she noted the change, sighing and saying, "I wish I'd made an appointment for a manicure for you. You just have such lovely nails. I envy your nails."
Women spend tons of money to get their nails pampered every week. In some ways, it's a sign of femininity, one that took years for us notice in my own nails since I played so many sports growing up and my hands were always calloused and dirty, nails kept short for the cause. Today, when I look around at my students and colleagues, I notice the various shades of red, brown, purple on their fingernails, or whatever color happens to be in season at the time. My aunts get their nails done weekly, selecting nail-jewelry when they have fancier occasions or holidays coming up. Many people consider the length, structure and even paint color of nails to be an essential part of their grooming, like I consider flossing my teeth and showering.
When I cut those nails off last night and filed down the stubs that remained, I didn't feel like I was losing a part of my femininity or defying my mother's desire to live vicariously through my nails. Instead, a sense of liberation to the stereotype ensued. I am no longer definable by what my hands say, since my right hand nails are still longer. I'm blending together expectations, confusing the ability to determine a precise characteristic with which I can be defined, sacrificing my nails to the guitar gods in exchange for a skill. Already, I find that typing is a tad stranger with one hand's nails shorter than the other, but guitar playing is so much easier and just like learning the guitar, the strange new way of typing will come, too. The skills and work that defines me will recompartmentalize to allot time for practicing where once there none and some other space of wasted time in my day will be given up to learning to play this guitar.
Today, when I woke up and practiced my chords and scales with D's guidance, I could hear my mother in the back of my mind when she comes next month to visit saying, "What have you done to your nails?" and envisioned myself whipping out D's wooden guitar and plucking out my chords and scales as an answer. After all, I don't want to wait until I'm dying or sick to realize that there were things I wanted to learn, but never made the time. Shaving down my nails is a small price to pay.