Earlier this week, WVFC posted a review of Dominique Browning’s new book, Slow Love. Here, we’re pleased to present the first installment of a two-part interview with the author–a WVFC exclusive. – Ed.

This book is about having the props knocked out from under you, recovering, and making a new path for yourself. What was the worst part about losing your job?

It was twofold: first, I lost the family of colleagues with whom I had spent years working, in some cases more than a decade. Making a magazine is an organic and intimate process, involving lots of free flow of ideas—and anxieties! As the manager of my group, I knew a great deal about each individual, and felt responsible for their well-being. And I knew their strengths and weaknesses. Losing them was an emotional blow.

And I also lost the structure of my days, about which I write in Slow Love. I lost the sense of purposefulness, the reason for an alarm clock to ring in the morning and a train to meet in the evening. I lost appointments, meetings, lunches and dinners, speeches, more meetings. I lost the feeling that I had a place in the world, and a reason to be showing up for something. It was as if the scaffolding had fallen away on a building, revealing that the structure inside was not really able to stand on its own.

There’s losing the job, and then there’s losing the magazine, House & Garden, which folded. A different sort of loss.

I felt deep sorrow about the closing of the magazine. In some ways it would have been easier for the magazine to keep going, even without me, because it was more than a hundred years old, and an American institution! It had closed once before, and I had been hired to bring it back. We had an extremely successful, robust circulation growth, with renewals as high as the New Yorker’s legendary figures. So readership was not our problem. Our problem was out of my control, and had to do with setting ad rates and managing the publishing department. We had six publishers in twelve years, and that is simply too much turmoil for a large, expensive operation of the sort Condé Nast runs.

Losing the job caused you to start questioning other aspects of your life as well, so there was an even larger sense of things coming apart.

I had a mid-life crisis. I hit 50, and it felt like the wheels came off my wagon. Once I was jobless, and therefore not so busy, I had to fall back on the rest of my life. But where was it? I was in a love relationship with an ambivalent person who was causing me pain. My children were grown and had left home. I was paying taxes on a large house in Westchester county, and I was rattling around in it. I had luckily survived a bout of cancer. And I had done absolutely nothing to resolve all these aspects of my life.

So this book isn’t just about losing work—that was just my trigger. For others, it might be the death of a loved one, or divorce, or any number of things. Something happens that slams you down, and you have to decide—is it going to flatten me, or am I going to get going again, in a better direction? Slow Love is meant to be a journey out of pain, towards hope and happiness—and the greater part of the book is exactly that.

Making a new life involved selling a cherished house and all the packing-up and discarding that that involves. It’s a difficult process for anyone, but perhaps even more intense for someone who’s spent much of her professional life thinking about homes and how to enjoy them.

It was nerve-wracking, exhausting, and upsetting. But now that I’ve done it, I know I can do it again if I have to. Looking back, I can see that selling that house was about saying goodbye to my life as the mother of young children, as well as my life as an editor who wrote about making a home. That house was the source for my other two books, Around the House and In the Garden, and Paths of Desire. So it was an enriching, nurturing place.

Your story of recovery is, on one level, a story about food and your relationship to it—something I think our readers can relate to. The need for carbohydrates, sugar. Looking back, where do you think it was coming from?

I was trying to comfort myself, and to give myself jolts of energy (which of course was backfiring with every bite.) My relationship to food had been pretty healthy, but partly because I had regular meals in restaurants for business purposes. Without those, I had to think about three meals a day. And I didn’t want to think about that. So I started with my own version of fast food: cookies. Portable, yummy, available 24/7. Exactly the problem.

It’s a familiar story for a lot of us—the paradox of caring for yourself by feeding yourself in a way that’s ultimately not taking good care of yourself at all.

It is a quick fix, and ignores the long term consequences that make you even more miserable: clothes that don’t fit, joints that ache from carrying the extra weight, skin that prickles…all of it. Awful.

Tomorrow: The turning point, the diet, and what comes next.

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  • Dona Evans May 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Your book amazed me. After being being told i had breast cancer i lost my job and two best friends in the space of a week, i am fine now. But, I’ll never be the same you have been an inspiration. Thank you.