Paint Drying

I met Marla in archives at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History my first day on the job. July 16, 2012, to be exact. 

Through Marla, I’ve loved getting to know some of the best stories & secrets from Santa Cruz history by slipping on a pair white gloves and touching old artifacts full of dust & delight. 

Local reporters have gotten plenty of paparazzi shots of Marla amidst the relics. If only the newspapers knew what was beneath those white gloves though: the glint and gleam of perfectly polished nails. 

I've always been impressed by how skillfully Marla polishes her own nails. I don't think I've ever seen them chipped. Maybe that's because she changes the color up so frequently, they don't have time to chip. 

I remember telling Marla a while ago how I used to paint my nails before writing papers in grad school because it allowed me to focus and ultimately became a meditative practice. 

I've always supposed that's why Marla must paint her nails so much; like me, it became a form of calming therapy. 

And I'm sure it does. But in this story, Marla shares how the polishing ultimately painted through a particularly painful time for her & her wonderful family.  

Thank you, Lady Marla (as I like to call her), for reminding us that even a daily dabble in a nail polish bottle can coat a path to resiliency.  -emidobz 

I paint my fingernails a few times a week. Ugh, I know. It's goofy. I have an impressive collection of nail polish. I love it. I realize it's silly. But it makes me content. And polishing my nails got me through a tough season. 

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 In 2010, my husband, Mike, was diagnosed with cancer. Hodgkin's Lymphoma Stage 3 to be exact. It was springtime and Mike went to the doctor for what he thought was an ulcer but suspected something else. "I think I have cancer," he said after his first appointment. Nobody has time for cancer. It's inconvenient and takes work--kinda like an unplanned houseguest. A mean one.

During this time I became an nail polish connoisseur. Seriously. I'd dabble in the polish game before, but I never took the time to really dip into the lacquer. Yet during this stressful time, polishing my nails became a little ritual that got me through.

I woke up early during the week (5:00 am!) to do my nails before work. It calmed me, it was time that I could sort of zone out and take an hour to just sit in one place. It was like a meditation, a practice in patience. And perseverance. And acceptance. Slow it down. Smudges happen, so what? Take your time. You chip a nail right before you're finished, who cares? It will do.

 During challenging times, you stay hopeful, look for the bright spots. I went with Mike to all his chemo sessions. It was hard, but for 6 months we managed to pass the time talking about anything, especially baseball Little League. Our son Silas (aged 11 at the time) was on the all-star team that summer. We schemed about the team, replayed what Silas did when he was up at bat, and beamed when we recalled a teammate's grandpa yelling "your son is saving our bacon" when Silas kept catching pop-ups in center field. 

 We'd look at the bags of meds hooked up to Mike dripping into his IV and think "Come on, come on, finish already. We got stuff to do, a life to win, A BASEBALL GAME TO GO TO." Mike never failed to take our daughter Sofia (aged 8 at the time) to gymnastics practice and drive her to meets that fall. She in turn took care of her dad when he was feeling tired, making sure he was comfortable and had enough pillows while resting. Throughout his treatment, Mike kept busy because he said if he didn't, he'd have to think about other stuff. Or sweat the small stuff. He didn't have time for that. 

 Sometimes the chemo sessions dragged on but we managed. Mike kept positive, but it's a bitch. I mean, no one wants to be there, but they're fighting all the same. Sometimes Mike would take a nap and I'd flip through a magazine, goof around on my phone, and stare down at my hands. What are we doing here? How's this gonna go? Man, my nails look pretty great. This is a fabulous color. I know, it's silly. But it worked. I started to feel better about it all. The nail polish helped.  

Six and a half years later, we're all doing pretty well, great in fact, Mike especially. He's my all time hero, no joke. He crushed that disease and did it with a steely determination while wearing a beanie (his hair grew back just fine). My polish collection grew too as did my gratitude. 

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You know this already but I'll remind you: do what you can to make yourself feel better, to keep going. It doesn't have to be grand. It can be as silly as polishing your nails. Just you and your bottle of hope. Because when the paint dries, you're ready to take on anything. You got this, I know it. -Marla Novo


Marla Novo