Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
– Maya Angelou
Greetings Dear Ones!
As so often happens here in New England, we no sooner get finished shoveling away the last of the snow, go in to warm up by the fire, then head back to the shed for more wood only to discover that the lilacs have bloomed without warning, the grass needs mowing, and the humidity has turned one’s hair to candy floss that birds want to rip right out of your head and use as nesting material. (Ok, maybe that last bit is just me…) (But yes, it really happened!) You know you really need to condition your hair when a determined little Tufted Titmouse won’t let you sew outside without pestering you for home goods! Mother Nature seems as good at shifting gears as a sixteen-year-old attempting to drive a Standard transmission for the first time—we have jumped from first gear to high gear and totally ground up the clutch.
In the shop, Prom season is finally winding down, even if the Seamsters aren’t. (We are still wound up over all the weddings!) June 1st is the last prom and all of the gowns are finished, if not picked up yet. That just leaves the last minute “malfunctions” to hurdle as they come and then we can close the book on another season. The place looks a little bombed out without all the gowns. We couldn’t possibly have more residual glitter in every conceivable crevice if we had tucked a hand grenade in Tinkerbell’s knickers and pulled the pin. We are still finding it in our food, in our cars, and on our pillows at night when we go home to sleep. A friend who crafts and sews observes “Glitter is like the Clap of crafting. Once you have it; you can never get rid of it.” It’s even going home on the suits we tailor for men—men who probably assume all their work was done by pixies.
In addition to weddings, we are starting to get back to more “normal” alterations. (Hint: There is No Such Thing As Normal!) A woman presents me with her favorite pair of pants. “I need you to help these pants survive until this kind of waistline comes back in fashion so I can buy more. It’s neither too high nor too low. They don’t make them like this right now.” Prudence nods her head—right now the waistlines on women’s garments are as uncertain as the creek levels in Spring. I look at her trousers. They are black and nicely made. The fabric looks exhausted and the seams stretched to the point of looking perforated but I don’t immediately perceive anything that requires mending. Everything just looks frail and strained. I hold them up to the light and daylight streams through certain areas. She points to two spots immediately below the crotch where the fabric is especially thin. “See here? Chub Rub,” she states flatly. “Any cure for that? I can’t bear to have that wear right through.” I offer to patch them but she doesn’t think that will look very good. “What would you like me to do?” I ask. “Just Do Your Best, Honey,” she says briskly, “You’re the professional. I’m sure you’ll think of something.” The brat in me longs to stick her tongue out at the lady as she turns to go. I HATE being told to “do my best.” Why? Because as a somewhat anxious and sensitive person, I have no idea where that particular goal line is. When have I arrived? I want to know. “Never,” says Prudence. Am I even Close? “No,” says Prudence. I slump.
Next in is a fast-talking young man who needs his garment ready in less than three days. Six months ago, the last time we saw him, we were altering his suit so he could chauffer limousines. Today, he has the ceremonial robes of a minister and the sleeves are about four inches too long. How is this newly-minted leader of a flock going to reach the hearts and wallets of his devoted followers without his beautifully expressive hands showing by Friday? The sleeves are long and complicated with huge cuffs that extend to the elbow and are embedded in the outer seam of the sleeve. “I know it’s a rush job,” he says, “Just Do Your Best.”
In the corner, is an former nun who wants the sleeves shortened on a Talbot’s jacket. We can’t turn up the sleeves from the bottom because the button holes are cut. We cannot take it up at the shoulder because it will narrow the top of the sleeve too much to accommodate the circumference of her upper arm. “Just do your best,” she says piously, as if she is assigning homework. “That’s all anyone can ask.” “Ah…” says Prudence knowingly, “But you’re asking for a wee bit more, aren’t you?” After all, if you wanted this to look like crap, you’d try to fix it yourself, wouldn’t you? You are here asking for MY best because you are willing to bet money (i.e. pay a fee) because you think “my best” is slightly better than your best. We are ALL hoping that “my best” will be your dream come true.
Just do your best… What is that anyway? I know these people. When most say “Just do your best” what they really mean is “slide the needle on that continuum that goes from ‘anything-you-do-is-better-than-the-way-it-is-now’ as far right as you can towards ‘as-good-as-new, well-better-than-new-because-I-probably-shouldn’t-have-bought-it-in-the-first-place…” When others say it, they mean “I still expect a miracle. I know you have a magic wand around here somewhere.” Sometimes, when people say “it doesn’t have to be perfect…just do your best,” they think they are giving us some ease, relieving us of some pressure. They aren’t. Are we supposed to believe they would actually accept mediocrity? Nope. They won’t! “Best” is the moving target we accidentally hit after we aim for Perfect and fail. Sometimes we have to keep rejecting and revising what seems to be our “best work” until we get something that will fly. Sometimes we have to start over and over with no vision, no idea of any sort of Platonic Ideal, just warped shadows dancing in the firelight upon the cave wall. Sometimes we find ourselves at 3:pm with a measuring tape, humming a BeeGees melody from the 1970’s and changing the lyrics to “How deep is your crotch, how deep is your crotch, I really need to know… because we’re living in a world of fools…” because some woman has dropped off two pairs of pants that have nothing to do with each other and she wants you to make them match—or “as best you can.”
I notice a bumper sticker on my way home. It reads, “Just Do your best and God will do the Rest.” Oh goody, I think. I hope He knows how to use the blind-hemmer! He’s probably back at the shop right now, trying to get the left side to match the right on that wretched little wind-breaker I “did my best” on today. The next day, there is no evidence that any Supreme Being has done anything while I was gone. Maybe “my best” wasn’t enough to tempt the Almighty—or perhaps He has the same regard for glitter I do and fled.
“Do your best” is definitely a mantra that leads to misery because, as my beloved brother-in-law from Texas says, “You Can’t Fix Stupid.” No…but you can watch it in action every day in a tailoring shop when people ask for the Impossible, say “the best” will do, only to find out that “the best” was not all that good in the end. But it was the Best we could do. Truly. We are the tailoring version of the Statue of Liberty here, saying “Give us your tired (trousers), your poor (internet choices), Your huddled masses (of undergarments) yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming closet….”—we cannot guarantee “Perfick”, we only offer hope for Better.
Here are a few things I have learned from trying to “Do my Best”:
· Einstein was right: Imagination is often more useful than Knowledge.
· Doing our Best does not always make for good sewing but it makes for Good People. I need to do my best, even when no one else is looking. That way, even if I am disappointed by the results, I never have to be disappointed in myself.
· Struggling does not mean I am stupid—it might mean the task is beyond my scope. And that’s ok.
· My Best varies from day to day—it differs according to the caffeine, sleep, exercise, and food gauges of my body, and whether or not I have spent the dawn hours trying to corral escaped sheep. (Last week, “my best” included rolling over my own cell phone and crushing it beneath a tire I was trying to check for a puncture.)
· My “Best” can be any combination of Real, Imperfect, Flawed, Quirky, Weird, Beautiful, or Magical… It can also be downright awful.
· I don’t have to be satisfied with my best. It can be what runners call a PB—the personal best—that is next week’s target to beat. (NOT that I intend to run over multiple cell phones!!!)
· “Best” can be a “Good Enough” place to end or it can be the pause you take before climbing higher.
Mr. Liberated Normandy comes in to have his WWII uniform resized to fit him. It’s a vintage thing he bought on Ebay because his own original version is unavailable for service and he doesn’t want to wear his dress uniform for the upcoming Memorial Parade. For some reason, he wants to wear this eight- pounds-of-wool jacket that has all the wrong insignia and smells of mothballs and mold instead. He gives us a picture of how we are supposed to make the insignia look and where the braid needs to go on the sleeves. Naturally, he does not have the braid and has no idea where we should get it. “Just do your best,” says this Old Soldier who can no longer see. He is the only WWII veteran left in his town. I think of him tottering down the street in the heat on Memorial Day and all of those who gave, not just their Best, but their ALL and I am supremely Grateful. Suddenly, dealing with glitter, chub-rub, and jammed hemmers doesn’t seem all that bad.
Do your Best, my darlings, even if it’s not Good Enough. It is.
With love for your Best, your Worst, and your In-between,