Don’t miss WVFC’s exclusive two-part interview with author Dominique Browning this Thursday and Friday, May 27 and 28.– Ed.
In November of 2007, Dominique Browning was the powerful editor-in-chief of Condé Nast’s House & Garden. And then, suddenly, she wasn’t. The magazine, relaunched in 1995 under Browning’s direction, succumbed to hard times and disappeared, propelling Browning and her colleagues out of work and into the breadlines of the publishing industry. She became, at first, an expert at crumb gathering, lunching with still-employed and generous friends and filling sleepless nights in the company of muffin-baking internet sisters at allrecipes.com—temporary substitutes for the framework of office frenzy and a balm for loneliness. Many muffins (and pounds) later, she was in the depths of despair. Where does one go and what does one do when there is nowhere to go and nothing to do?
It’s a hard question for anyone whose life shifts unexpectedly. In Ms. Browning’s case, not only does her professional life cease to exist, but she is left with an empty nest as her sons begin their own lives, she rides a years-long romantic roller coaster with the ambivalent and uncooperative married man who is her lover, and sells the beloved house she can no longer keep. It’s a lot to swallow. And when she finds herself wandering the early morning farmer’s market in pajamas (she does wear a coat) with unbrushed hair—a moment that surely is a low point—she looks around at “people running their morning errands” and understands “I am no longer alone in the world. I have rejoined the living.”
The strength of Ms. Browning’s memoir, Slow Love, is that it celebrates the process of loss and redemption, warts and all. And her most compelling prose appears as she emerges from wallowing, when she ceases to be “attached to suffering.” Life, she says, “finally, was feeling too precious to waste time crying over self-inflicted sorrow.”
Ms. Browning moves to the small house in Rhode Island purchased several years before and slowly learns to feel grateful for the change. She at last has time to accept the pleasure that comes from observing and participating in the natural rhythm of each day: putting her hands in the soil to coax life from the earth, embracing cooking for one, observing, amazed, the habits of local marine life as she braves the waters in her own kayak. She has “begun to accept the relentless flux that is the condition of my life, of all our lives. Not young, not old; not betrothed, not alone; thinking back, looking forward; not broken, not quite whole anymore, either. But present.”
And by learning to be present, Ms. Browning is surprised by joy. She feels, “a slow flush of love for the world—the sheer pleasure of being here, the profound honor of witnessing life.” She hears the earth whisper and falls gently into grace.