Friday, October 29, 2010

Slow Love

I read this one despite its title, which I find both irritatingly vague and unjustifiably persnickity. Is love inherently slow? Or is slow love a particular phylum of love, in which case is this an endorsement, a description, or a warning?

It's also possible that the title is in an imperative, verb-noun, as opposed to a noun phrase, adjective-noun, in which case, whom is the author exhorting? The reader? Or love?

And what's wrong with fast love, or measured love, or love taken andante? Tempo markings in music are high-handed enough; I'll be damned if I'm going to take them from book titles.

When I find a hephalump pit of a title like this one, I tend to take the long way round. But I'm glad, in this case, that I didn't. I read slow love on the train to New York, half of it on the way up and half of it on the way down. It was the perfect place to read the book, or perhaps it is better to say that the book was perfectly mated to its place: the train wound slowly through the countryside as the book wound slowly through its author's firing, abnegation, and reconstruction.

Dominique Browning was -and was is the key word, here- editor in chief House and Garden for Conde Nast. It was the latest in a long line of high-stress, high-responsibility posts. Now solidly into middle age, she'd worked overtime and more overtime, divorced, haphazardly raised two sons, and conducted a longtime affair with a married man. Then, in the space of six months, everything disappeared.

Browning was fired. Conde Nast nixed House and Garden. She'd just broken off her off-again, on again relationship, this time for good, and now she had nothing -that terrifying, existential nothing- to do.

We've all longed, at one time or another for nothing to do. I used to plot for weeks, months, to get a day of breathing space, a day in which there were zero obligations, no meetings, no duties, a day to stare at the wall and paint your toenails and get to all the things you assured yourself you'd do when you finally, finally had time.

The reality of nothing to do is not nearly so sweet. I've been between jobs three times now, each for a space of one and a half to three months, and I can tell you that, after the first glorious fortnight, nothing to do palls. You loll. You languish. You get nothing done, because there is nothing to do, and the nothingness of it, the arrhythmia of of your days, begins to frighten you.

And this was without the anxiety of worrying whether or not I would work again, or love again, or ever collect a paycheck. Browning is at her best when she describes the indignities of her new life, the mornings spent in pajamas, evenings digging ice cream out of its container, glorious normalcy of weekends when, at last, you are not the only one not working. Her descriptions are vivid, terrifying, and surprisingly funny. Browning has an eye for the small, the slow, and the lovely, and, as the lovely begins to show through her scrim of despair, the book flutters to life.

It's when she becomes prescriptive that Browning falters. Yeah, yeah, slow down, enjoy life, drain the smallest pleasures. Not only have we heard it all before, but the advice is hard to take from someone who downsizes by moving into her vacation home and taking on freelance writing projects. Browning is living out many folks' dreams, and the impossibility of her lifestyle, the proximity of her nadir to poorer people's aspirations, is jarring.

Which is not to say that I wouldn't read Slow Love, despite its title, again. I would. Line by line, jolting past the railyards and the graffitied frontages of abandoned factories, the burned out rowhouses, the secret lakes, the rapeseed, the flaming trees.

No comments: