I was thinking back on my decorating days. I had put in 34 years at my craft. At first I called it a job and a learned skill. It was many years later that I decided it actually took a bit of talent to do what I did.
As younger women came along I began to notice a difference. I didn’t know what it was at first. I noticed a move toward working faster, getting out the product and many times sacrificing some of the art and creativity for the quick product. Their cakes weren’t bad, they just weren’t great.
I began to look at why mine were different. Of course, years of practice and experience had a lot to do with it. But that wasn’t the only thing. A lot of it had to do with my insecurity and how I looked at life in general. I never believed I had talent and never thought I could measure up to everyone else and that spilled over into my work.
That meant I was always trying to get better as well as faster. A good decorator should strive for perfection. You will never have the ‘perfect’ cake, but you can strive to be the best you can be at that particular time and get close to finding that perfection.
That meant that every time I piped a shell for the border, I made the effort to make it consistent with the one before, making each one the same so that the finished border looked neat and tidy and ‘perfect’. Even when learning to work faster, with every cake and in every thought was the wish to keep each shell consistent and thus the illusion of the perfect border.
It was the same with making roses. Roses are not easy to make. If you have ever bought a bakery cake or a cake from a big chain store, you have seen many flowers attempting to be roses, some good, some like icing blobs and others in between. Over the years I made jillions of roses and every time I did, in my head, using my formula, I would count the petals and rows and strive to make each rose realistic and beautiful and try to make it better than the one before.
With each new project, came a period of learning. Doing something new, trying to copy someones technique without knowing quite how they did it, was always teaching me something. And at the back of my mind, there was always the thought of striving to get better, make it better each time I did it, and in doing so, gaining expertise and skill and satisfaction and joy in the creative process.
That is what I didn’t see in the younger, up and coming decorators. They decorated to make a living, to get a pay check and to do it quickly to turn out a lot of product. To be fair, that is what the bigger stores need, a lot of product to make money. And, when I began, I wanted to learn it to get to be creative and artistic, but I also needed the paycheck and the job. It was only later in life I realized that this was not a job that I was going to get rich doing. You have to love the work to keep at it. And it fed my creative side for many years.
But what I noticed was, that once a new decorator had learned all they needed to know, then they thought they were done and it just became rote and quick…turning out cake after cake without any regard for that perfect shell or perfect rose. Admittedly, each persons’ idea of perfection is different, and we all make compromises on quality when there is a time crunch. But there are levels to that quality and to that compromise. And to continue doing something year after year, you need to be eager to learn new things or better and/or different ways to do something that keeps you interested and fulfilled.
I decided maybe it was an age thing, a difference in how each generation looks at things. Perhaps I am just showing my age. Does my point of view even matter? I’m not sure. I think it is important to constantly strive to become better, to improve, to continue learning and use your self-satisfaction at a job well done be your constant goal.
But after 34 years of doing the same thing, and age making it harder to deal with the hustle and bustle and the stress, I started longing to slow down. And so, my medical issues and increased immobility that caused me to unexpectedly retire before I was monetarily ready, was perhaps a gift in disguise. I put in my time. Now it was someone else’s turn. I have turned the page and begun a new chapter in my life. It is not what I planned or even expected, but it is good for now. There is always something to learn around each bend and unexpected twist in the road. And so the journey continues…