March 15, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Milda M. Devoe's Book & Baby is an essential guide for writers with children. Drawing from her own experience as well as those of others, Devoe clearly outlines how to effectively parent while remaining creative and productive.
First of all, I am a big fan of playlists. I grew up with mix-tapes and I believe it is a labor of love to choose songs to play. So friends – here is the playlist for Book & Baby – enjoy!
The first section of my book is pretty much memoir. I spin crazy tales about how I got where I am, how I became a writer, how dare I write a book about writing while parenting, what crazy twists and turns my life took until I became a real-life grownup with a nonprofit to run. So. The section about me? The theme has to be
Self Control (Laura Braningan)
Why? Because, baby, because I lived among the creatures of the night while writing this book – ! The whole entire thing was written between the hours of 10pm and 3am. That’s the time I had to myself and I never stopped myself to wonder why. And now I have this book. I hope it helps someone to believe in something. I hope one parent decides to go ahead and finish that short story and send it out today. Be bold!
Then there is that manifesto. Yep. I wrote an artist manifesto. Pretty much ranting on the page about how parents are treated IRT their artistic careers. So, I guess the song for that would have to be…
Shout (Tears for Fears)
Uh. Oh. I have just dated myself pretty miserably. Guess I’ll have to shout that out too.
I am a big fan of hyperbole and learning from the mistakes of others. And yeah, admitting my own mistakes too. This book is more of a collection of the terrific stories of famous authors that read at Pen Parentis than it is my own opinions. SO many wonderful authors contributed. You’ll read about Min Jin Lee, about Patty Dann… Will Chancellor and JP Howard… Helen Phillips and Mira Jacob… But my experiences are in there too… yeah. This is a great song if you can stand synth pop from the '80s. “You shouldn’t have to sell your soul….”
Hey: these songs got us through the '80s. (Those of us who preferred David Bowie to Bruce Springsteen, anyway.)
The next part of my book is organized into sections by the age of the writer’s child – I address how the various resources of time, money, and energy must be addressed at each stage of parenthood in order for a writer to remain productive.
I start with infants. Babies. Know what happens when you have a baby? You have no energy. Ever. Except when people come over to look at your baby. And then you suddenly have talked incessantly through naptime and a feeding and you have no idea how you’ll ever recoup the time. And this drains you. So….
This isn’t the kind of music I usually listen to, but I love the beat and I like the upbeat lyrics. I play it on repeat when I’m dragging. Okay, I’m weird. Admittedly. Playing any song on repeat is probably idiotic. There you go. I avoided all songs with Baby in the title. Are you impressed? You should be.
Walking on Sunshine (Katrina and the Waves)
Nothing summarizes the toddler years more than this ridiculous song. Can toddlers never slow down? They are all so happy! And when they melt down, there’s this incredible suggestion that it is absolutely not their fault, that if only the world had obeyed their demands, they would be cheerful and adorable as ever. (In the book, I point out that during this time is probably the hardest time to find time or space to write – nothing pulls a toddler’s attention more than their parent staring at their computer rather than making eye contact.)
Karma Chameleon (Culture Club)
This is the theme for the section about writing with little kids in the house. I love the lighthearted tune and boppy synth that you can’t help dancing along to. But like those little kids – it’s all drama, even in technicolor. And what an earworm! Good luck getting anything done once this gets into your head. The lyrics are super intriguing but also, everything is all or nothing. Trying to work on a novel while you are dealing with accusations of “you didn’t cut the crusts off my sandwich and that means you don’t love me!” “Every day is like survival. You’re not my rival.” Oh how true that is when you have an elementary school kid.
Next up in my book is the section on “Big Kids” – what’s a big kid? I categorized these as middle schoolers. These middle-school years are quite possibly the most productive time you will get as a parent. And yet--? Kids that really ought to be able to find things to do, instead they need to be taken places. Soccer. Trumpet lessons. Chess club. Where do all these activities even come from? You’re not a parent, you’re a taxi driver.
Tokyo Drift song (Teriyaki Boyz)
Great driving song. Probably why they used it in the Fast and Furious soundtrack. Note to parents: do not play this in front of your kids unless you want to explain that they are saying “Drift drift drift” not “dick dick dick” – just saying. Save yourself with headphones.
Next part of my book: the teen years. Steeped in irony, laced with death and fear and suffused in the strongest love imaginable, good luck getting anything done when this is happening:
Blasphemous Rumors (Depeche Mode)
I came of age when this song was popular and to me, it epitomizes the nature of the teenaged years. First of all – what irony. The whole song reeks of it. But as for family relationships, it tells a compelling, dramatic story; the parent isn’t a bad-guy who doesn’t get it—but a compassionate loving person who simply watches as her child evolves and is left to deal with the fallout. The emotional weight of the teenaged years, the constant fear that your child might not survive – with or without you - if this song doesn’t express the emotional baggage that can prevent great writing getting done while your child is a teen, I don’t know what does.
The last section of the “guidebook” part of my new book is the very short “Empty Nest” chapter, reminding us that sometimes solitude is as full of mental pressure as the crowded, frantic, terrifying moments when our kids are home. I’d say that Empty Nest is pretty well described by this great old song:
In My Room – Yazoo
I have always loved these old New Wave bands and when I feel disconnected from my pre-having-kids self, I find that music will frequently bring me back. This does not always result in words on the page, but it is always nice to remember yourself as a hopeful romantic, even if it’s just to hit a reset button.
I want to thank David for the opportunity to think in terms of music and memory—the very last section of my book is a collection of resources including a chapter written by the wonderful poet Mary Harpin containing the results of research she did with Pen Parentis writer-parents about how they maintained their literary careers while also caring for kids. Her results are eye-opening. I highly recommend her chapter from the “Writer’s Snack Jar” at the end of the book.
As a last gift, I want to connect you to a fantastic ASMR mix that is 3 hours long and that I could plug into my ears and write to all afternoon.
M.M. DeVoe earned her MFA at Columbia University as a Writing Fellow under Michael Cunningham and Helen Schulman. Her explorations of identity through creative writing have brought her to publish in nearly every genre: literary fiction, poetry, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, even musical theater... she has won or been a finalist for more than 20 writing awards. She won her first grant for Pen Parentis from NYC's Department of Cultural Affairs in 2009 and remains its founding director to the current day.