First let me say that a New Year’s resolution was my absolute last resort. For years I’d been trying to stop biting my nails, a habit that seemed encoded in my DNA since childhood. I made the rounds of polishing on evil tasting medicines (I licked them off and then happily
bit my nails), and had even paid a fancy nail salon $200 to get fake nails glued on. Hard, acrylic, painted whore-red, these nails were indestructible, right up until six hours after they were put on, when I bit them off, nearly chipping a tooth on the tough plastic.
Oh, I kept trying. I paid money to the Freud Institute of Hypnotherapy in New York City, which turned out to be just one burly looking man with a handlebar mustache and a hilariously sonorous voice. He even had one of those whirling discs you stare at to get hypnotized and he kept shouting, “Focus!” at me. I had to pinch my thighs to keep from giggling, and the moment I left his office, I chewed my thumbnail off.
I hated my habit. I loathed the way my hands looked. I was mortified when people noticed my fingers and I began to keep my hands in my pockets whenever I could. But what could I do?
Three years ago, over a champagne toast, I impulsively made a New Year’s resolution in front of a whole lot of people. I was going to stop. This time I meant it. This time, I wasn’t going back to the hypnotist or Lee Press-on nails or anything else. Instead, I was going to rely on my personal favorite way of doing things: magic thinking. I told myself if I stopped biting my nails, I would get the one thing I most wanted beside pretty nails: I could sell my next novel and maybe even find a new publisher.
Most of my friends humored me when I mentioned my big resolution. (“Yeah, my resolution is to be able to grow wings,” one friend said). But I was determined. I knew I was a nail-aholic, and the longer my nails grew, the more I tried not to hear their siren song to bite them. But I wanted to sell my novel more, and I had sort of convinced myself that not biting my nails, rather than talent or luck, was the trigger to making it happen. I wrote really hard. I chewed on gum instead of my nails, and I constantly reminded myself that something dire would happen at the first nibble. One day, I accidentally tapped a nail on the table! I held my hands out and stared at my new nails in admiration.
Every year, I made the same stubborn resolution. Here it is, three years later, and even though I want to, I still haven’t chewed my digits. And as for that magic thinking? Well, I not only finished that novel, I sold it to Algonquin.
Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eight novels, including her latest, Pictures of You. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a columnist for the Boston Globe, a book reviewer for People, and a writing instructor at UCLA online.