When a writer friend pointed me to a story titled Losing It in the New York Times Magazine of March 28th, 2010, I rushed out to my living room and pulled out the magazine to read what, seemingly, was a heartwarming story of a woman in the writing world who pulled herself out of misery.
In her essay, Browning lays bare her life after being laid off from House & Garden in November 2007, just a little before Thanksgiving. She writes lyrically about how she was sucked into the quicksand of dread and depression but willed her body out of the vortex of over-eating and slovenliness by discovering the joy of gardening and unearthing the meaning of the slow life in a new home.
I was getting ready to shed a few tears while reading the exquisite excerpt from her memoir, Slow Love, when I decided to dig around a bit in the weedy garden that was supposedly Browning’s life following her layoff. What I dredged up made her story wilt right in my hands.
During the two and a half years after she was given the pink slip, Browning disposed of the first house and garden, moved into her other, second, house and garden, deftly shifted gears into the blog lane with an impressive online presence called Slow Love Life, A Conversation with Dominique Browning, and careened into the fast lane of publishing success with a book deal for Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness.
Browning has a three-decade resume that writers like me would kill for. She is the author of three books, has written for O magazine, Food & Wine, The New York Times Book Review, and Departures. She has also been an editor at Esquire, Texas Monthly and Newsweek and she has a column, “Personal Nature”, that is her “distinctive take on all things environmental” for the Environmental Defense Fund website. By her standards, I should be overloading on Prozac and, simultaneously, getting sloshed on Guinness Stout with a hint of lime. May be there is something seriously wrong with me for deflecting rejection like a woman? “The folding of the magazine was ruthless,” Browning writes, recalling the shock of the closure of the magazine. “Without warning, our world collapsed.”
I couldn’t help reflecting, meanly, on that boomerang called karma. Did Browning ever think of how the freelance writers she assigned stories to at House & Garden might have felt when the stories they bled over were slashed without warning by executive editors like her? The paltry kill fees aren’t even enough to cover a sandwich and a drink at a Manhattan deli. Almost daily, I see freelance writers (many of them single women) on my writers’ forum handle rejection with a proud face, uncertain where the next assignment is going to come from. They lumber on in the petering market, taking any writing project–whether it’s a ghostwriting project, a newsletter creation assignment, a copywriting job–to inch towards the monthly income they need.
Did Browning care to ponder over how her sob story would hardly resonate with the stable of many thousand writers who are now out of a job, thanks to the slow demise of print journalism? Most of all, did she realize how her very brief season in her vegetable bed of rejection couldn’t even compare to the perennial tossing into the compost slush pile that freelance writers like me endure–over and over and over–from editors like her?
When I went back to the essay after reading Browning’s bio, I was rotting with fury. For a reason that’s wedged somewhere between a woman’s homing instinct to play mother hen to her family and her primordial need to uphold the domestic fortress, I could simply not swallow Browning’s tying her umbilical cord to her cubicle.
“Without work, who was I?” she wonders. When she discusses unemployment and her mental state, my brain is on rototill mode. “Being unemployed is a lot like being depressed,” she writes.
I happen to be in touch with many talented mothers who, for reasons of their own, are unemployed, yet, passionately involved in school-related and community-related activities. They are making the public school system in the United States a much better place to be, while women like Dominique Browning have been showing America how to make the home and garden pretty and nice.
I couldn’t glean much about her life as a mother upon reading the essay. But I do hope Browning took days off to be with her two boys, baked brownies with them, played an active part in the parent committee at their school, fretted about how they fared at school and asked them how they dealt with a mother who was intensely committed to her work at a national magazine. I bow to her ego and her rabid need to support herself all her life. But I do wonder how many employed women, especially given Browning’s legacy, will turn soggy and limp in that brief, uprooted state of unemployment.
Behold a topflight editor like Dominique Browning with a rolodex of topnotch contacts–which would ultimately put her transparent memoir in the pages of nothing less than the NYTimes magazine so that Atlas, her publisher, can be guaranteed whopping sales–spiral into a “whiplashing tailspin” of despair and depression?
Spare me the pain. And hold that Kleenex, please.