What’s your Thing?

A story about Seth’s nose

We all have our Things

They emerge when we’re bored. When we’re waiting. When we’re procrastinating. When we’re tired. It’s a mental itch that wants to be scratched. It’s like Thing from the Addams Family, a blind, feeling hand, flailing around, looking for something to grasp. 

Your Thing might be snacks, or Fruit Ninja (is that still a thing?), or CNN news alerts. For me, it’s Twitter. For my partner Seth, it’s picking the skin off his nose. 


Seth likes to pick his scabs, and in theory I understand. It’s satisfying to remove that layer of deadness and let the pink, healed skin be free. But he tended to pick them before they were ready to be picked, before the skin had rebuilt itself underneath, leading to even bigger wounds and even bigger scabs, which, of course, made him wild. So I got mad at him, but that didn’t stop him. So I offered to buy him two gallons of ice cream if he let his wounds heal, and that worked. 

And now he likes to pick the skin off his nose. 

It’s not a scab, just dead skin that flakes up. And when he sees one flake, he pulls it, and the skin is raw and pink underneath, and that requires healing, with new layers of skin, and the dead layers on top always have an edge, because you can’t exactly pull off an entire layer all at once cleanly, thus, as his nose got pinker and more irritated, the cycle continued.

We had a Very Serious Conversation about this. We decided he needed something else to satisfy his hands. A new Thing. So we went to Target. 

Yes, a real store. It’s nice to be in the real world. To see physical objects in 3D. The goal was to get a stress ball, a squish toy, something. We would go to the toy section and figure it out.

It was a weekday night, and Target’s closing hour approached. Of course we procrastinated until it was nearly too late. But his nose was pink and swollen, we had to go. 

We arrived eight minutes to closing. Every Target worker gave us evil eyes, eyes somehow more evil when their bearer is masked, for eyes are all you can see. But we sprinted, and besides, there were plenty of other people in the store, and Seth’s poor pink nose, it was an emergency, sorry! We speedwalked up to the second floor. We asked someone in a red shirt about stress balls and he pointed us to the toy section. He followed us and hovered in the aisle, speaking into his walkie-talkie: 

Yeah, I’ve got two new guests in toys. 

They were watching us. They were waiting for us. We were running out of time. 

And the options were… dire. 

There were no stress balls.

They did have silly putty, though. And round squishy stuffed animals. Okay, so we had two options, and thirty seconds of rushed deliberation. Would you rather squish an animal’s brains out? Or rub planet putty in your palms? Which one will look you in the eyes? Which one has more resistance?

We chose the planet-themed silly putty. Mars, Saturn, Venus, and Uranus. He would squish the life out of these planets and let his nose heal. And we weren’t even last in the checkout line. 

Seth and I both spend a lot of time at home. This is not unique these days. Seth reads a million books and thinks very hard about economics and physics. I sit for hours a day writing, editing, and reading. 

Hours of sitting. Not all of this time is productive. The brain wanders. It needs a break… then another, and another, and why am I sitting here again?

I’ve deactivated my Twitter. I have nothing against Twitter or social media, specifically. But it’s killed my concentration, and I need a big break. I have nothing against picking scabs or peeling dead skin, either, but after a certain point, it becomes destructive. 

I’m trying to notice the Twitter cravings, to look them in the eye and say STOP. But it’s still hard. The habit is embedded. I find myself checking my email too often instead, and feeling disappointed. I need to replace it with something else. Now I’m trying instead to pet my cat when my brain hurts. It’s nice to move around.

Or maybe I’ll steal Seth’s silly putty. 


Elliephant of the week: She is furniture now

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