At first I thought I didn't like Slow Love, because Dominque Browning's descriptions of life as an unemployed editor made me feel uncomfortable. Aha, I realized, that means the writing is really working, if the author can have me feeling as miserable as she is after she loses her job as editor of House & Garden magazine.
I remembered losing a job at a magazine as well, but I quickly ran out and got another job so all those uncomfortable feelings didn't have a chance to set in. The new job was not at all what I wanted, but fear of being penniless led me to it. It was the late 1980s, after all, so getting a job didn't offer the same challenges as today's job market. Browning lost her job when Conde Nast announced the folding of the magazine in November 2007.
Following the loss of that editor identity which she had held for nearly 13 years, Browning found it difficult to stop eating or sleeping. Later, she experienced sleepless nights and night sweats. She thought obsessively of a ten-year, on-again-off-again love affair with a man she calls Stroller. She also kept notes of how she was feeling. "Writing has always been my way to absorb things; I often write out my troubles. It even crosses my mind that maybe this will be the time in my life when I finally have a chance to write for a living," she says near the beginning of the book.
When I started the book, I looked forward to a contemplative read with Browning gazing into lily ponds, reading poetry in her pajamas, and learning to love herself while appreciating what is right in front of her. Browning's is a realistic approach: she doesn't get to that state right away. By the middle of the book, though, she's reading the Psalms, sorting through the books she loves, and playing the piano. "Fingers dance over keys, producing a sound that is light and clear. I take all the repeats. I observe the rests. I enjoy myself. I am happy for small-boned miracles."
I particularly enjoyed her chapter on "Packing the Books" because for writers and book lovers, deciding what to keep and what to let go can be a traumatic and yet joyful experience.
"After months of depressed sloth, I begin to walk for miles every day," she writes. She observed her spring garden with its daffodils, hellebores, peonies and "thick, furry spools of the unwinding ferns." And she goes through the books, including six shelves of cookbooks. One of the books she decides to keep is The Walker's Guide to Snowdonia because of the map she can unfold to "gaze with wonder at the expansive green landscape, perfect for the solitaries among us..."
From eating a plate of peanut butter at the beginning of the book Browning later begins to settle into a new home on Rhode Island and creates a ceremony out of baking and "slow cooking."
I wasn't expecting a climax in this memoir but I realize that even this genre benefits from one. Browning reflects back to having kidney cancer two years before the magazine folded. By this time, I really disliked Stroller, who mistakenly left messages for Browning that were actually meant for his wife. As was the case throughout the book, I appreciated her honesty.
Browning recovered and found that "how nothing to do is its own state of grace." I like to think of her swimming in the Atlantic among the limpets and the purple shells, observing shards of shells as "fragments of poetry." It's risky swimming alone, but she is noticing so much: "the small beauty in every single day." Love is all around her.
Dominique Browning writes a monthly column called "Personal Nature" for the Environmental Defense Fund website. She is the author of Around the House and In the Garden, and Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardener. She lives on the coast of Rhode Island and is the mother of two sons. Visit her website and her blog.
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