When salons closed during the first lockdown, I splurged on beauty gadgets: a UV lamp, a wax warmer, a face steamer, even though I could have just opened the dishwasher halfway. Armed with the right kit and YouTube, I figured I could become entirely self-reliant for my beauty needs, a survivalist of the millennial kind who, no matter what the world threw up, could still cut it on the ’gram.
And a survivalist I became, although more the traditional sun-deprived, unkempt, bunker-dwelling kind. Despite investing whatever time I could find into beauty practice (from studying the science of ingredients to scrubbing wax and nail polish from the floor), I could not improve quickly enough. After a month I gave up altogether.
There’s a scene in The Simpsons in which Homer says he doesn’t want to learn because “every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain”. I thought about this as I visited the nail salon, watching the professionals elegantly skim the file across my fingers and delicately paint the nails of punters: a wedding ring finger imbued with a Mondrian pattern, a nail colour index shaped like butterfly wings, the manicurist as miniaturist. Learning all this would surely leave me unable to remember my own address.
It’s not that I think the brain is a computer with limited storage, though I like the comparison: like the way the mind feels heavy when it has seen too much, as though experience has filled its capacity, leaving it slow and unable to process. But, increasingly, I am learning that the brain is not limitless. It can focus on only so many things in a day (four hours’ worth, apparently), not to mention emotions. Perhaps the only way to become truly self-reliant in the modern age is to care a little less – and learn how to do without the rest. Maybe Homer was on to something after all.