Bakers, and “the moral obligation to be cheerful…”

James Parker, contributing editor at The Atlantic, baked for years at Clear Flour Bread (a proud member of Brookline Local First!). Earlier this month he was asked by the New York Times: “As a writer, what influences you other than books?”

In answering, after discussing what he’s gleaned from drummers and comedians, he then harkened back to his days as a Brookline baker, saying:

Nothing is more nobly nonliterary than manual labor, and the years I spent baking at Clear Flour Bread in Brookline, Mass., were sky-blue. What a great job. Startlingly physical, to begin with, with plenty of hauling and swabbing and rushing around; the bakery itself was like a ship in a Patrick O’Brian novel, fierce and insular, microcultural, every moment accounted for, every inch of space pressed into service. You sweated and clanked, and the flour flew up in slow clouds, until everyone’s face had received a kind of aristocratic powdering. Clear Flour BreadThe rewards were enormous: the fine, fuse-like crackle of a rack full of handsome brittle baguettes, which you have just pulled out of the oven — that’s a beautiful sound. Television’s “Marquee Moon” coming out of the bakery boombox at 1 in the morning, with your muscles so warmed up they seem to act as vibrational channels for the music — that too is a beautiful sound. 

From my fellow bakers, those yeasty intellectuals, I learned about industry and cohesion and the moral obligation to be cheerful. The last lesson was the most important, and extended out of the bakery and into life. If you’re depressed, maimed, crocked in some way, fair enough — let us know. But if not, then in the name of humanity stop moaning. Keep a lightness about you, a readiness. Preserve the digestions of your co-workers; spare them your mutterings and vibings. It’s highly nonliterary, but there we are: Be nice.

On the cusp we are of the annual, ritual holiday craziness. In close quarters, with almost no time to spare, or to ourselves for the next month+, we would all do well to remember the lesson shared by Mr. Parker and learned at Clear Flour… Be cheerful, all!

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