But as much as I enjoyed and could relate to Slow Love, there were also some speed bumps. For such a smart lady who writes so well, I wanted to throttle her every time she self-deprecatingly admitted she was still obsessed with her on-again, off-again boyfriend that she dubbed "Stroller." He comes through, loud and clear, like a jerk. A creep. And a liar. Certainly no one a smart woman would want to grow old with. He can't even commit to committing whether to decide whether or not to commit.
Life is full of detours. But as I read Slow Love it was harder and harder to understand why Browning kept returning to a relationship that clearly wasn't a real relationship. Stroller's only redeeming quality (that I could see) was that he was a Yankees fan. But that didn't make up for the fact that he still behaved like a first-class jerk,
"... He invited me on a very special trip to Fenway Park for a Yankees vs. Red Sox game. I was flattered ... until I realized he really just wanted me to do the driving. When we got to the stadium, Stroller deposited me in my seat somewhere far away in the bleachers ... and then left. He settled himself next to an old friend somewhere behind home plate."And she stayed with this guy after this incident? And even drove him back home? Yankees or not I would left him to find his way back to N.Y. Later she explains why Stroller resisted spending time with her sons and she was barred from ever meeting his kids, "Alas, one grows accustomed to the complications of (so-called) adult relationships." Not a good enough excuse, sister.
She knows that spending time with a high-maintenance/low output person is not what she should be doing, "I have come to dislike anything that demands constant attention, whether it is dogs, dishwashers, or, finally, men. I like things that are independent, and that need you only because they want you, not because they'll have a breakdown without you." But knowing is not the same as doing, and it takes her a long time to finally break away from the toxic relationship.
Luckily her times and frustrations with Stroller aren't the main feature of Slow Love. Browning details how she fell apart after she lost her job as editor of House and Garden magazine. I am leaving a job I have held for 10+ years and I could completely relate to her rudderless feeling. Browning struggles to find meaning in days without the set schedule that a regular job provides, and how much looking for a new job can take out of a person, "No one seems to understand how much time it takes to actually find work. Between that and falling apart, I've got my hands full."
Browning had to restructure her life, but in this age of multiple foreclosures her money problems did seem a bit on the pale side. She is darn lucky she had a second home to sell, which makes downsizing a challenge, but not the disaster that so many in this country are currently facing. But she does have some great observations on what having a home can mean to people, "Our sense of home has become portable. That may be one reason we invest our possessions with so much more meaning — they, rather than rooms and gardens, have to carry the memories."
As she starts to adjust to her out-of-work schedule she realizes that maybe she doesn't want to go back to the rat race, not completely. She starts to find a way to work out of her home, "There were days, in my climate-controlled office life, when I didn't even know whether it had been muggy or cool, or if it had rained. ... there is something unsavory about having been so cut off from the natural world that I am surprised by the golden hue in the slant of the light at four in the afternoon, on a weekday, no less."
Slow Love is definitely a paean to "stop and smell the roses," a reminder that life is short and that we surround ourselves with so much, but never leave ourselves the time to truly take it in. I also liked her de-stressing exercise, "I start doing a trick my friend Caroline taught me. I make fists with both hands, and then unclench them and relax them, holding my palms out in release. It feels fantastic, a letting go. After all, one way to complete a project is to drop it." That's right, just drop something. Say no. Why is that so hard for so many of us to do? Or not do?
Another aspect of her downsizing her life was her battle to reduce the amount of books that she had. As a bibliophile from a long line of bibliophiles, getting rid of books really hit home for me. I keep mentally checking off books to give away to the library, but it is so hard to put into practice. I especially like how she justified letting go of her too-many cookbooks: "I long ago decided that this sort of book is not meant for cooking. It is, instead, food pornography." So let someone else drool over those recipes you are never going to cook, give them away.
Browning also succinctly sums up what a lot of us are going through at the moment, with both aging parents and children to care for, "Sometimes I feel like I am the fulcrum of a seesaw on which my children are going up in their lives, and my parents are coming down." Boy oh boy can I relate to that feeling.
Sometimes Slow Love is a little hard going. Browning jumps about in time in her narrative, from her past with Stroller, to her houses in the greater NYC area and Rhode Island. So in one chapter you feel she is making headway, and then in the next she seems to have backslid again. It is a bit disconcerting and confusing. It makes you wonder where exactly are we in her narrative of slowing down.
But Slow Love is a great reminder that we all need to look at our lives from time to time, to see what they are really about, and what is important to us. For some it may be digging in the garden, or playing some music, or spending time with our children or friends and lovers. But it never hurts to slow down and take the time to read a book, and then think a bit about what you just read.