Preambles: To Pick or Not to Pick

Ella Larsen

Sophie Dora Tulkin

Sophie Dora Tulkin

The peppery, compact tubes squeezing gently from my pores are the opposite of gross; they are satisfaction, perfection. I have laid awake many a-night envisioning the perfect pimple, watching two dexterous fingers coax out the ooze over and over until I fall asleep. Like a big game hunter I have my certain prize catches: the whitehead on my arm that I popped while I was taking an online math test yielded two loops of tough white concentrate; the zit on my father’s back clandestinely eliminated at the beach was so small I didn’t even think it worth touching until only a prod revealed a stretch of dirt underneath the skin half an inch long. 

This love of picking, of attacking something over and over again in search of the beauty within, works exactly the same way in my brain. For days I can ruminate over one opinion thrown out haphazardly by an acquaintance, picking through it again and again until I feel that I have squeezed out every ounce of meaning possible. I mine relationships, snatches of conversations, my very existence, in hopes of hitting the jackpot. And while the trophy catch is much harder to come by,  the results are a million times more satisfying because I will have them stored up in my brain somewhere forever (or at least until I die, and after that, who cares? Heaven is probably filled with acne-covered angels). While having the ability to focus on a single idea can be useful for academic purposes, it threatens to become an extreme handicap if not properly curbed. For years my mother has likened my brain to a hamster wheel, going round and round at all hours of the day. She even took me to her homeopathic mushroom man who gave me a dry eraser to “wipe away my thoughts” before I went to bed (being about seven, the metaphor may have gone a bit over my buzzing little head). I love consuming ideas, plunging into thoughts, but it is only when the fine line of equilibrium gets tangled and the ideas consume me, whether I want them to or not, that I realize I have gone too far, picked too hard, and landed myself in a volcanic mess that may take weeks to heal. Still, with a reward so great, a little less sleep here and there is worth it. Isn’t it?

Surprisingly, I’m not a very pimply person. My zits are benign, flesh-colored blemishes, not blinking welts. They could (and should) be left alone to reabsorb, but once I spy that inconsistency, out come the talons. Why? Because it’s something to pinpoint. To focus on. Something external that allows me to overlook myself as a whole, so focused am I on this minute detail. No longer am I imperfect as a person (something I shall never be able to overcome) but this minuscule part of my face is imperfect, and must be extricated. The same goes for my mental pimples. I revel in the external: ethical questions, religious quandaries, the Absolute Truth. Only when the issue forces me to examine my own emotions am I enveloped in pus-filled woe. Should I pick, lose sleep, and chase the spiraling rants muffling my consciousness? Or should I cake myself with concealer, repressing all emotion until I erupt?

To pick or not to pick. That is the question.

And the answer? I don’t know. Perhaps it involves something my mother praises, something I fear, something called balance. Perhaps the key to living a happy, satisfying, mentally healthy life is learning which pimples to pop and which to leave alone. No one’s an expert, and I can’t learn from anyone else because my happy medium will be someone else’s nightmare. So I’ve just got to experiment, pick a bit here and there, and be ready to ease up should one explode.


This story is a part of a series called "Preambles", sharing the personal essays current students submitted for their Wesleyan application.