Perfect Polish: Mary Shepard

When I was younger I would beg my sister to paint my nails for me. After enough pestering she would oblige, and I would watch as she made cautious, precise swipes across my nails. She never needed nail polish remover for her careful strokes; her manicures were a manicure from her was perfect every time. I would practice and practice, trying to get my strokes as neat as hers, though they never were. I was obsessed with having a perfect manicure, but it would never be perfect unless it came from her. As I got older and my hands got steadier she taught me how to make the same careful strokes, no acetone needed. 

I am still a perfectionist, although less so as a college student. As can be said for most Hopkins students, I have had to get comfortable letting things slide and settling for completion instead of perfection as classes, clubs, and friends battled for attention. This is an important lesson to learn, and I think the sooner you do the happier you will be. For me, accepting this in my academic life meant aiming my perfectionist tendencies at something else. Painting my nails soon became a weekly ritual — a time to zone out and think about something frivolous and fun. This semester I find that my attention is more divided than ever; hearing my laundry signal it’s dry as I sit down to go to class, or the Friends theme song echoing down the hall into my room as I study for an exam. Having this time when I can sit down and focus my complete attention on a task that is now so simple for me is a respite from everything constantly pulling my focus.

I look forward to painting my nails each week, budgeting time to paint as well as the time needed for them to dry, daydreaming about what color I will pick next, so that when I finally sit down I can soak in each minute of calm. I start each week with the same base coat. I pick out the polish I have been thinking about since my last one started chipping and make those same careful strokes my sister taught me, sealing it with a shiny top coat. I can’t do work (for fear I may mess up my new polish), I can’t think about my classes or clubs, instead I just sit and watch TV with my nails cautiously laid out on a pillow in front of me. After an hour I test to see if they are dry, then go on with my day.

Nothing is as exciting to me as watching bright, newly painted nails glide across my keyboard. All week I stare down and see something I can control and manage (a rare quality these days), I see perfection.