I have a number of bad habits, some of which I prefer not to mention, but one that has stuck with me for the longest time and refuses to be kicked is that of biting my nails. It’s embarrassing, really, but the instant my nails get long enough to be noticed I bite them down again. I know it’s nasty, I know it’s not very ladylike, but I’ll be damned if that’s not the truth.
What’s particularly funny to me is that when I was younger (about kindergarten through fifth grade), I had the longest nails known to man. They were my pride and joy. My long, delicate nails made me feel grown-up and feminine, and I was so enamored of them that whenever they would break I would be desolate. In second grade, I started taking piano lessons from my voice teacher and she had quite the vendetta against my nails. Justly so, because they were so long they would clack against the keys and make it impossible for me to play correctly. There are adorable little passive-aggressive notes written on my “homework” that said, “Cut your nails!!” in sweet, innocent script decorated with hearts and smiling faces. Of course that didn’t sway me. I remember her saying that if I could see the tops of my nails over my fingertips, they were too long. That was just too much to ask. I was so much more passionate about my nails than about playing the piano that I would throw legitimate fits about them, enraged that I had to chop off my true beauty. Because I was a headstrong, stubborn youngster who rejected instruction of any kind, piano lessons didn’t last that long.
There’s a bit of a fingernail-history void from the end of my voice lessons to the first time I ever bit my nails. I guess once the trauma subsided and I was allowed to enjoy my dainty nails unimpeded my brain began to gloss over the details. Either way, I first picked up a guitar in the fifth grade. It was my dad’s that he kept in the spare bedroom (a.k.a. his office), and I wasn’t allowed to touch it. Maybe it was the taboo that made me do it, maybe I was genuinely interested, I’m not really sure, but what I do know is that I fell in love.
Now, playing guitar is impossible with long nails. Not impossible like piano with long nails is, impossible period. They scrape against the strings and make notes buzz like mad — it’s just all around bad karma. But when I picked up the guitar in my dad’s office, I didn’t know that. I taught myself simple chords without knowing it could be easier. It wasn’t until I started taking lessons (something I was still big-headed enough to be set against) that I was told I needed to cut my nails. My guitar teacher told me to do it with pretty much the same tactics as my piano teacher: the classic note on the homework. But you know what? That time, I cut those nails.
Let me set one thing straight: as a kid, I hated music lessons. I loved music very much, but so much that I thought I was the end-all-be-all of musicianship and believed I didn’t need some dumb teacher to tell me what to do. My voice/piano teacher was a very talented, very kind lady but, frankly, I despised her. My guitar teacher was a very cool, very understanding gentleman, but, well, I despised him too. The teacher had nothing to do with it. It was the instrument.
I only took guitar lessons for a year. It was all I could handle. After that, I taught myself guitar. I’m not an excellent player or anything, but I know or know how to figure out just about any necessary chord and that’s all I need for simple guitar accompaniment. My guitar has become very emotional for me: whether I’m feeling down or crazy in love or so angry I could spit, singing and playing my guitar helps me keep my calm. I am a firm believer in the healing power of music, and now that I’ve found my musical niche I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
So maybe biting my nails is disgusting. I should probably invest in some clippers. But if I pick up my guitar and there aren’t any clippers to be found, you can damn well better believe I’ll bite them off short. It’s not that I’m immune to the sight of my nasty, ragged nails, or the general unsanitariness of it all, it’s just that I’ve found something more important than my looks. My trivial vanities never stood a chance against music.