After the Fact: If, at first, you don’t succeed


“If you haven’t got time to do it right, when are you going to have time to do it over?” It’s my daughter’s favorite expression. Not really, but she heard it often enough from her father that you have only to start with the first words to tweak her very last nerve. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to do something right the first time, and doing it over is a sure way to learn.

The more technical something is, the harder it is for me to learn and even more, to remember. The other day, I was trying to write H 2 O, with the 2 in subscript. Now, I’ve done it before so it shouldn’t have been too difficult for me to figure it out again. After several stabs, I finally asked the grandson to tell me how it’s done. Even he had to think about it for a minute. Actually, I thought it was pretty amazing that I’d remembered the “subscript” part of the equation.

My brother-in-law is an amazing artist, though relatively unknown outside his part of New Mexico, excepting anyone in the Catholic Church who gets the diocese newsletter.  They’ve featured his paintings on more than one cover. He’s a master of doing it over, and over and over. I’ve known him to get halfway through a day’s work on one painting, but, by evening, it’s become something altogether different, and different yet again when I see it the next morning. I’m convinced that his greatest works are buried under other paintings. He may not get it exactly right the first time, but he needs someone to tell him when to stop.

A number of years ago, my sister belonged to a community service “sorority”. They held a dinner and dance every year to celebrate the accomplishments of the group through the year. Micki had informed Lorence weeks ahead of time that he needed to get a haircut, and take his suit to the drycleaner. On the Monday before, Micki took the suit to the cleaner, and picked it up on Wednesday, all the while reminding Lorence about the haircut. By Friday, Micki was apoplectic: Lorence was still shaggy. So, he drove the four blocks to see his favorite barber. Who was closed for the day.

Instead of going to a different barber’s shop, Lorence went home, got out several pair of scissors, a hand mirror, and began cutting. He didn’t look too bad before Micki went to bed, but he continued to snip here and trim there. When she got up the next morning, Lorence was just finishing his haircut. And he looked like a P.O.W.! It was nearly a week before she spoke to him again, and that was only to issue an ultimatum. “If you ever cut so much as ONE hair on my children’s heads, I will hand you yours. On a platter!”

Doing something over teaches patience. I’m not a perfectionist, but I do like things to be passably correct, so, when I took the Singer sewing class, I took out many a seam.  Some seams came out more than once, but I never regretted having stitched again, and again. Likewise, it takes me a while to knit a sweater, and I’ll take a work in progress down to the first row if I’ve missed a stitch. I learned how “faking it” doesn’t’ work when I made half-a-dozen “Nordic” sweaters for Christmas one year. A reindeer can come out looking more like a fat cow with a bad hairdo if you try to “fake it” instead of going back to start again. 

Nowadays, it saves a lot of time and frazzled nerves if you just buy a sweater with a “Nordic design” from some catalog. They’re mostly made in China, and I don’t think they have reindeer there because theirs look suspiciously like fat cows with bad hair, too.