You know what I pined for the most during the most isolated parts of this pandemic? It surprised me. The number one thing was New York City. NYC crept into my dreams. I was out at bars in the Lower East Side; I was in taxis heading back to Brooklyn in the early hours of the morning, I was in and out of a blur of ornate interior atmospheres and restaurants that characterize the rich interior life of that incredible city.
I’d wake up from my dreams of rushing around NYC in my bed in mid-winter snowglobe Alaska, the ravens and moose doing their thing outside. I wondered if we’d ever get a ticket out of this place. I mustered the strength to go back to daily living in isolation.
The other thing I sorely wished for was a manicure. I told myself that one of my first treats to myself when it was finally safe to venture out into the world would be an appointment at a salon to get my nails done.
New York City makes sense as something to miss. NYC was the set of an exciting time in my life and it’s full of people, culture, and activity; three things that were sorely lacking throughout 2020. Manicures?! I’d only ever gotten two professional manicures in my lifetime at that point. One with my sister, and another with my best friend. I was the tagalong for both. Sure, sounds like a fun activity but most of all I like spending time with you I said, as I gamely joined to get my nails did.
Weeks later, I cursed both of them as I tried to scrape the gel polish off after soaking my nails in pure acetone for entire episodes of The Office. It still wasn’t enough time! Gel polish is durable and, turns out, a beast to remove. I vowed never to get a manicure again.
Enter the pandemic, and I dreamed of NYC and having pretty nails.
I think at its heart what I was craving was a lasting marker of something externally beautiful, that I could see every day for myself and also act as a declaration of me to the world. I wanted to see and be seen. The four walls of my home and (wonderful, but solo) husband weren’t cutting it.
So on the eve of my first journey back east for Thanksgiving in two years, fully vaccinated, I cajoled a friend to go with me for a gel manicure at a local salon. Even fully masked up it felt somewhat illicit, like all interior activities with other people felt like those few short months ago. But it also felt indulgent. The salon wasn’t anything particularly special. It had that transactional, bare-bones feel of many nail salons; not too much to look at but they’ll get the job done. My nails, though. I chose a deep sparkling red. Walking away in the snowy November Alaska cold, I didn’t want to put my mittens on, so I could keep admiring my new polish in the waning daylight.
It was everything I’d dreamed of! Lucky me, right? How often does life pan out that the very things we crave turn out to exactly fit the bill? In this case, I think it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, in the best way.
Instead of scraping the polish off three weeks later, I made another appointment.
And then another one.
I’ve been going in to get my nails done every three weeks since then. This is a major luxury for me. Each visit costs between $45-$60 (with tip) depending on whether I just get polish or a full manicure, which in this time of scrapping and saving for the Mobile Art Studio feels borderline irresponsible.
But it’s doing wonders for my daily sense of joy and even, to some extent, my sense of identity and self confidence. Before every visit, I muse about what kind of big events I have coming up; what the next few weeks might look like, and is there a color that corresponds with the kind of stature I am looking to inhabit during this time? To ring in New Year’s, I chose a bold, bright glittery blue that felt fresh, optimistic, and fun to look at during the darkest time of winter. Later on in January and February, I chose a mood-changing polish that was a sleek and professional navy during my work day, but when I warmed it up shifted to a bright magenta. It felt like I was wearing a secret.
Every visit I spend at least five minutes scrutinizing the array of color swatches offered in a little basket, thinking about what mood I want to bring into my life in the coming weeks. It’s a version of meditation, because I’m reflecting on the prior weeks and who I was during this last polish while thinking about what shifts and changes I’d like to realize in the weeks to come. When I select my color, I am making a decision about who I would like to be in the future, even as I have no other control over what happens except for how I bring myself forth.
When I look down at my nails, especially in those first few hours and day after the polish, I feel – and I’m not exaggerating – joy. The color and shine brings me joy. After a while the polish and the joy fades, but then I have about a week to think about what the next polish will be. It’s a good cycle; a good passage of time and phases.
Then, during the manicure itself, I can’t stare at my phone because my fingers are either in little tinfoil packets (this, it turns out, is how they professionally apply acetone – with little daubs of cotton doused in acetone, affixed to my nails with tiny foil squares wrapped neatly on each of my fingers) or in the process of being fixed up and painted. This is at least a full hour of no phone gazing, which means all I can do is let my mind wander or intermittently chat with the salonist.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about how many manicures I have left until the day I go in to select my Mobile Studio pickup color. This last time I made an appointment for the week of departure.
My nails for these coming weeks are a dark, nearly iridescent green that shimmers slightly differently in different lights. To me, this color represents the weeks of trees gearing up for the green-up that will happen at some point soon – a deep, dark internal greening that takes place for a long time before the external and seemingly overnight explosion of color.
I haven’t chosen the color for pickup yet. I am open to ideas!