Dominique Browning was the editor of Condé Nast's House & Garden for 12 years-and then she got fired. In this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, she chronicles her descent into apertif-drinking, Bach-listening, metaphor-mixing madness.
Browning was chosen to relaunch the Condé title in 1995 after the magazine's two-year hiatus. (Anna Wintour is credited with "destroying" it prior to her reign at Vogue.) She steered the magazine for more than a decade, until its "ruthless" folding in 2007, at which point Browning found herself listless, depressed, prone to metaphor, and obsessed with eggs:
I was a zombie... Privately, I was in a whiplashing tailspin... Work had become the scaffolding of my life. It was what I counted on. It held up the floor of my moods, kept the facade intact. I always worried that if I didn't have work, I would sink into abject torpor.... Time hangs heavily on the unemployed soul. If I ate an egg at 8 a.m., by 9:30 I was starving. I became obsessed with eggs, gazing on their refined shape in wonder. Perfect packets of nutrients. I ate eggs all day long. When I had a job, I never thought about eggs.
Browning realized she had hit bottom when she found herself sucking away at a bottle of French apertif wine and cleaning her house by herself, like an alcoholic commoner.
Normally I like a bottle of Guinness stout when I need a nutritional hit, but I'd gone through my supply. I spotted a nearly empty bottle of Lillet moldering at the back of the refrigerator. Sugar and liquor only improve with age, right? I emptied it into an oversize breakfast cup and read the recipe on the bottle. A twist of lime? Who keeps limes? I threw in a slice of lemon. Then a few more. Half a lemon...
Drink in hand, I decided it was time to wash the windows on the second floor. I could use a little exercise, I thought. Funny how sugar works: suddenly a surge of energy. Cleaning was an activity I had thrown myself into in recent days. I might be a mess, but at least I could control the mess in my house.
Of course, there is a happy ending: Browning's firing finally allowed her to slow down and learn something magical about herself: "What my fingers lack in speed, my heart makes up in feeling," she writes. "If I have to, I will crawl through sarabandes and quadrilles, letting the dance fill my soul." Oh, and also, she got a book deal—Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness is being published next month by Atlas & Company.
Well, all's well that ends well, right? Except that, uh, Browning already wrote this book-or at least, a very similar one. And the Times wrote about it. As Alex Witchel reported in 2002, Browning's book Around the House and in the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing and Home Improvement chronicled "her long sadness and [her] house's decay"—the story of "a woman who has experienced loss and pain and has mended, somewhat." [NYTMag]