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January 12, 2016

Book Notes - Mira Ptacin "Poor Your Soul"

Poor Your Soul

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Mira Ptacin's Poor Your Soul is a deeply moving literary memoir of loss,love, and renewal.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Ptacin’s memoir is a raw and absorbing story of family fortitude and a young woman’s struggle to confront and accept the unexpected."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Mira Ptacin's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Poor Your Soul:


The playlist below isn't just music that I listened to as I wrote my book—the list is literally the soundtrack to the period of my life in which my memoir takes place. The songs below were playing in my ear as the significant events of my life took place, which, in turn, became the content to Poor Your Soul. I haven't listened to them since because I'm afraid of what emotions the music will evoke or trigger . . . it was all such a watercolor of intensity, mostly trauma, with glimpses of incredible love and romance, but all such a whirlwind. All true, all within a short and muscular time of my youth period that shaped who I married, the family I came to raise, the trauma and grief I swam in and through, woman I came to be. I suppose it's the soundtrack to my coming of age.


Rufus Wainwright: "Oh What a World"

I listened to this song a lot (and lots of Rufus) when I first moved to New York (from Maine), which is essentially the time period where the book begins. It was a bewildering experience to come from the very Dr. Seuss-esque town of Portland, Maine, (nature-loving, friendly, a state who's mottos are "Vacationland" and "The Way Life Should Be") to New York City, a city which I knew very little about, and was entirely unprepared for, an island that felt like an alien spaceship still chained to the ground, ready to take off any moment. I was bewildered. I'd traveled around the world a few years before moving to New York, but in doing so I was a traveler, an explorer—I didn't have to account for much. In New York I was suddenly a resident, part of the system, and to me, this was utterly overwhelming and utterly baffling. And that's why this song suited things so well. I moved in the winter, when the city felt both playful as well as a fever dream, teasing and slightly sinister. Gray. Blue. Heavy. Like this song's influence of Ravel's Bolero, both the music and the moment celebrates the feeling of days of days when one holds up her face to the world every morning to feel the light of the sun and the direction of the wind and the weather, only to be licked with the riptide of humanity's nonstop march forward, no matter the weather or what is falling down behind us. It all was a shock and felt just very bizarre, but I rolled with it.

Francis Lai: "Un Homme et Une Femme"
This song was playing in my ears when it all started: I was walking to meet my match, a person who would promptly change the entire course of my life, and together (and abruptly) we'd exit our youth together. It 2008 and I was twenty-seven. I was on my way to a blind date. To say I was quite reluctant to go on this date was an understatement—I nearly backed out at the last second and found every excuse not to go. At the time, I was in graduate school, was incredibly studious and serious about the beginning of my writing career, my thesis, my growth as a writer, and spent all my time focusing on it. But this imbalance made me a pale and neurotic human, so shortly after the winter holidays, my sister and mother set me up on a blind date with Andrew, the man whom, to my surprise, would very soon become my husband, and this song was playing in my ears when I removed my headphones and met him for the very fist time. It was a cold January evening in New York City. I was wearing a reddish coat, red lipstick, gray dress, black boots. We had Korean food. Halfway through the evening he asked permission to hold my hand. At the end of the night, he asked if he could kiss me goodbye at the Union Square subway station. Within five months we had gotten pregnant, gotten engaged, lost a child, and gotten married. It all started with this song.


Willie Nelson: "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain"
Andrew and I only had a handful of dates before we got married. One of them was at a karaoke bar where he stood stoically on a stage and sang this song, entirely straight-faced and completely tone-deaf, to me. Rather than describe Andrew, I will share his online dating profile below (which lured me in and agreed to go on the blind date):

"I ride a bicycle whenever I can. I have a puppy that loves the dog run and licking my face. I eat everything (except cilantro). I'm comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. I enjoy parenthetical asides, not abbreviating in text messages, and semicolons. I have a mild obsession with Iceland. I'm a firm believer that the best food in most countries comes from street vendors. I think, in general, music sounds better live and marching band drum lines rule. I wish I was a better dancer, and I pretty much hate cats. (Further achievements in athletics, academia, and the arts can only be described in person.)

I like my milk whole, my steak rare, my PB chunky, my black pepper freshly ground, and my eggs runny. I drink inordinate amounts of pulpy OJ and I might steal yours if you're not watching it. I take Bloody Marys very, very seriously. No day is complete without dark chocolate.

Moms appreciate how I help with the groceries and chopping vegetables; dads respect my facility with power tools. I can fix your broken shower door. I can kill your spiders. I will hold doors for you (most of the time). But I will never wear khakis or a backwards baseball cap, brag about how much money I make, nor scream at the TV during a big game.

I'd like someone who is confident about the stuff she knows and interested in the things she doesn't. I'd like it if you enjoyed words, alcohol, science, smooching, live music, art, and buildings. Or if you could teach me to like things that I don't like right now. (I don't really trust picky eaters.) But you shouldn't be ugly either. Or male. Or an alien zombie, powerful in life, unstoppable in death."

MIA: "Pull Up the People" and Air: "Sexy Boy"
These two tracks were on Andrew's iPod, which I borrowed for an extended period of time, when we first started dating. I'd listen to it on my bike and as I ventured into the city and it toughened me up. He toughened me up. He turned the city into a bit of an amusement park for me, rather than an opponent, and he became my partner. He was the first "man" I'd ever dated. He got it. Love came quickly to us. 


Joanna Newsom: "The Sprout and the Bean"
Within five months we'd gotten pregnant (accidentally), then got engaged, then lost the baby, then got married. And then what? We tried to move forward, tried to keep up, tried to manage and live normally. We listened to a lot of Joanna Newsom during the beginning of our relationship/marriage, and somehow I think the lyrics say something about that first year. So much chaos and passion and trauma, heartache and pain. We were so soft and so innocent.

And Danger! Danger!

Drawing near them was a white coat,

and Danger! Danger!

Drawing near them was a broad boat,

And the water! water!

Running clear beneath a white throat,

and the hollow chatter

of the talking of the tadpoles,

who know th'outside!

Should we go outside?

Should we break some bread?

Are y'interested?




Johnny and Santo: "Sleepwalker"
This is our song. Also, was our first dance as a married couple. This is a song with no words, only a mood like dark honey.


Andrew Bird: "Banking on a Myth"
Shortly after living together in Manhattan, Andrew and the dogs and I moved to Brooklyn where we'd spend large chunks of time outdoors in Prospect Park. One night we saw Andrew Bird at the bandshell. We are big fans. And this song's eerie, minor-key tone with the discordant violin captures the mood of that season: a lot of summer nights in concert at Prospect Park, trying to make sense of our life after death, and I think this song's eerie, minor-key tone with discordant violin captures the mood of Poor Your Soul. Around this time, I sank into a deep depression and was diagnosed with PTSD from the traumatic pregnancy and abrupt loss of our child.

Daft Punk: "Harder, Better, Fast" (Alive 2007 version); C-Mon & Kypsky: "The Evil Needle"
My running mix! Shortly after being diagnosed with PTSD, I decided not to go on antidepressants but instead start running. And then I decided to run a marathon. I trained every day in Prospect Park. C-Mon & Kypsky and Daft Punk had my jams and kept me moving. In the beginning, I couldn't run a single mile. One year later I was running 26.2. I stopped being so afraid of feeling pain in my body. Really, I stopped being afraid of feeling things. Running changed my life.


The Redwalls: "How the Story Goes"
"The only sense that is common in the long run, is the sense of change – and we all instinctively avoid it." --E.B. White. After almost four years of struggling to make our lives and marriage work in New York (we were on the verge of divorce, sacrificing our happiness for the advancement of our careers), Andrew and I did the same thing that E. B. did nearly seventy-five years before: took a clean break from city life in search of a much simpler existence. We threw a dart on the map, as well as the calendar, and decided to move to Maine. We packed up the dogs, our belongings, detached from our jobs, said goodbye to all that and hello to more peace, more quiet and less distraction. I remember listening to this song a lot during this transition. For our first week in Maine (and some change), we lived in a Super 8 Motel (the two dogs and two humans sharing a room, eating burritos, living out of a shared suitcase; the two humans searching feverishly for jobs and a place to live via Craigslist)…but it all came together quickly enough. We found a small cottage on a small island just off the coast of Portland, Maine (population 800) and we came to find jobs we loved. And our marriage started to come first rather than after our career goals—in fact, it began to thrive. We were just too sensitive for New York; we didn't want to be calloused and had been through enough trauma without time and the right environment for us to heal. In Maine, we took hikes daily, took time to be outdoors and be quiet. Two months after moving to Maine, in 2012, we ran the Maine half marathon together. A few days after that, we found out we were expecting a child. Theo is now two years old, and our daughter, Simone, was born in November, 2015. And so, our story continues to blossom . . .


Mira Ptacin and Poor Your Soul links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Battle Creek Enquirer profile of the author
Between the Lines interview with the author
Portland Press Herald interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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