I’m a pretty artsy-craftsy person. I love knitting, painting, making jewelry and everything in between. Some things I’m better at than others, but I feel confident enough to say that I’m pretty good at most of my endeavors. Except one: soapmaking. Making soap, in case you aren’t familiar with the process, requires mixing lye and water with various oils and usually colorants and fragrances as well. As the soap cures over the next few weeks, it changes from lye and oils to an entirely different substance—that would be soap.
Over the last few years I’ve made soap at least twenty times and it always ends up being not what I was hoping for. The soap will seize and become hard before I have the chance to pour it into the mold. Or the fragrance will morph as the soap cures to smell completely different, or worse, disappear entirely. Different scents can cause discoloration too. So the sunny yellow soap I was hoping for ends up a dark brown.
For some reason, though, I stick with soapmaking. I really adore making things that are practical as well as beautiful. Handmade soap can really be gorgeous if you know what you’re doing (which I don’t despite youtube videos, books and numerous tutorials). It is a long and messy process, though, and sometimes when I’m done with a batch I’m almost in tears with frustration.
I’m not one of those people that totally perseveres. I will often throw in the towel at the slightest hint of trouble. But I stick with this dumb hobby anyway.
Last week I made a batch of lavender soap that was supposed to have lovely white, purple and green swirls on top. It ended up being white soap with hideous purple and green blobs throughout. It was so disappointing. Not to mention expensive. All those oils and fragrances are NOT cheap.
So I ask myself now, do I keep going? At what point do I realize that I am hopeless? When do I admit that I have been beaten?
The obvious answer would be to keep going as long as it gives me pleasure. But being a perfectionist, pleasure can be hard to pin down when things don’t look just so. And the whole process really, truly maddens me. I don’t know that it gives me pleasure, but I remain optimistic that this time it will work out perfectly.
To quit or not to quit? Isn’t this the eternal question? Whether it’s me and my soap or my daughter and her horseback riding lessons or somebody looking at their less-than-stellar marriage.
A lot of the time things require repeated failure before we find success. But what happens when success is elusive? How do we decide when perseverance is the answer or when it’s just smarter to give up or steer our talents in a different direction? The very thought of giving up is so reviled in our culture. Every sports movie and motivational poster is about not giving up. Is that always the right choice? At some point it’s got to be better to just say, “forget it!” and move on.
When I was learning to knit a few years ago, my teacher told me as I was unraveling yet another row that I had screwed up, that there is no such thing as making a mistake in knitting as long as you can rip it out and re-do it. Every single knit and purl stitch teaches you something.
So maybe that’s the secret. Keep doing and keep learning. Everything can teach you. Until it gives you a heart attack due to anxiety. Then you should stop.
I don’t know.
At least I’ve got a pile of soap now. It might look like crap but it cleans just fine.