Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bread Alone by Judith R. Hendricks

I found this book on my bookshelf at my parents' house.  It is one of the few books I haven't actually read.  I don't know why I didn't read it years ago. I absolutely adored the story.  I am not a baker or a chef, but I love people who have a passion for such activities. Wynter's love for baking bread made me want to understand the process more.  But I still can't imagine reading non-fiction  books about baking or cooking, but more power to those who do!

I wonder if reading about individuals who are starting over, and seeking their place and niche in the world inherently  leads to others questioning their own path.  I can't consider this personally as I consider my own path daily even without such fictional prodding. I loved reading about Wynter's delayed adolescence - that is how I am defining it -- her attempt to find herself and make peace with all the waves of experiences and emotions that are trying to overpower her.  She is an incredibly realistic woman, one who is emerging from a marriage that allowed her to ignore the fact that she hadn't found her niche.  She taught high school for a handful of years and sold Real Estate for a year. She hated both. So she easily subsumed her interests and became the corporate wife her husband desired.  Seven years later she is forced to to create a new version of herself, and like many that have come before, she proves to be strong and resilient, capable of so many things she had never considered when she was cocooned in a beautiful house in Los Angeles. 

This book made me think of a Washington Post article from last week. Matt Crawford has a doctorate in political philosophy from UChicago, and yet he recently penned a surprise bestseller titled Shop Class as Soulcraft.  He is quoted as saying:  
There's this false dichotomy out there between intellectual work and manual work.  The popular image of the plumber is just the butt crack, not that of a skilled tradesman who sets his own hours, figures out complex problems on the fly and probably earns more than most of his clients. Plus, there's that satisfaction of imposing one's will and intellect on the physical world, to immediate effect.
 He also states:
The issue is not so much whether it is manual or physical labor, but whether your work demands use of your personal skills and judgment. If it doesn't, then you're on an assembly line, no matter how crisply starched your shirt is.

All of this is ruminating in my head as I face my own unclear future, but it also relates directly to the life of Wynter, a woman who finds meaning in making bread.  Some may consider it the work of the unskilled or, unintelligent, but it clearly brings Wynter a great deal of happiness. Isn't that what we all want for our children and friends?  Work that brings about happiness and fulfillment?  I know I do.  Sometimes I think we all get sucked into the dominant mentality.  A woman I taught with basically removed herself from regular society. She took time to paint and do yoga. She found herself in the brown earth of New Mexico.  In some ways I envy her, even as I recognize that I am not capable of living completely off the beaten path.

My experiences in shop class and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity (burned my hair in the woodburner, learned I am not as handy with a hammer as one should be) and in the kitchen have proved that I will never be a car mechanic, construction worker or bread baker.  Part of me wishes I was less cerebral and more capable of finding happiness in simple tasks, and grueling physical labor.  But, swirling through my head are other ideas as well.  It's isn't just about labor; but making a conscious choice to do something for the right reasons. I will file that way in the back of my mind.

I just found out that there is a sequel to Bread Alone. And I am so excited to read the next chapter in Wynter's life.

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