I’ve just returned from a Midwest vacation and my hands are a mess. Before I left, I went to the salon on the corner, just a few doors from my home, and got a brilliant red manicure. I wanted that hue because it felt right for the 4th of July, and because I personally like bright colors on short nails. My career in manual therapy requires that I keep the free edge of my fingernails trimmed very close, so I never let my nails grow long, and I rarely paint them. When I do, I go bold.

It seems a little silly that I paid extra for the “gel” polish meant to last two to three weeks. I can destroy the most durable manicure in a matter of days. I like to do things with my hands, the messy tasks and manual chores that support my ADHD tendency toward hyperfocus on favorite activities. Busy hands also tame my anxieties, while tactile feedback provides constant, typically pleasant synaesthetic feedback in the form of colors and patterns.

On this trip, I went fishing for the large trout that inhabit Lake Michigan at the depths below the thermocline. I reeled in three huge beauties, getting covered up to my arms in slime, scales, and blood*. I also rolled out pounds home-made fettuccine with a Marcato Atlas manual press, washing my hands a bazillion times between batches because I don’t like the gritty feel of semolina flour, even though I love the process of making fresh pasta. And, I prepared a huge bowl of grilled corn salad, scrapping the charred kernels from the cob and nicking my fingers in the process. 

The one afternoon I had alone at the cottage, I relaxed with a magazine, Popular Mechanics. I haven’t looked at this publication in years, but it was the most intriguing of my options, which included In Style, Michigan Blue, and a few other titles. That particular issue of Popular Mechanics had fab instructions for how to morph three leaf blowers into a hovercraft. I doubt I could handle the racket this contraption would make; I’m averse to the sound of a single leaf blower, and I certainly couldn’t handle the trio required to construct the hovercraft. But, it seems like just the type of wacky project I’d love to get my hands on, a process sure to strip the Rouge Louboutin from my fingers in a matter of minutes.

This morning, I reached out to a childhood friend of mine, posting a photo of my destroyed manicure to her Facebook page. As kids, she and I loved to fish, to climb trees, and to get into all sorts of mucky, challenging, and creative endeavors. We also loved Tinkerbell nail polish, a brand made for children that peels off easily. Hayley and I got a laugh recognizing that nothing much has changed over the decades; we both still love DIY projects (by hand, and mostly on her own, Hayley is building a dwelling on her rural property) as much as we appreciate a pretty, albeit short-lived, manicure.

I’m committed to developing a deep appreciation for my experiences as a neurodiverse person and the ways in which my neurocognitive differences manifest in this world. Sometimes, that neurodiversity is expressed by my strong attraction towards conflicting interests, such as my desire for adornment crashing headlong into my fondness for sensory-rich hands-on projects. I want both. I want the shiny eye-candy fingernails and the full day fishing excursion. I want the trimmed and oiled cuticles and the nicks from the kitchen knife, the hallmark of my hours preparing food for two dozen people. I can have both, the messy but stimmy and soothing manual labor along with the captivating shellacked fingertips. They can co-exist. At least until the first chip… 

*Many of you know I have mirror-touch synaesthesia, and have intense physical pain when viewing injuries, blood, etc. I do get flagrant mirror-sensory phenomena when I fish. I couldn’t possibly do it every day. But fishing reminds me of the best parts of my relationship with my father, and for that reason, I fish once or twice a year.