Baby Boomer Woman: Toby Devens

by Anne Holmes on July 7, 2010

Meet NABBW member Toby Devens, a former New York editor for Where magazine and now a Baby Boomer turned author. Devens’ first book, Mercy Lord, My Husband’s in the Kitchen and Other Equal Opportunity Conversations with God, was published by Doubleday in hardcover and Avon in soft cover. It received glowing reviews from People magazine, the West Coast Review of Books, the New York Daily News, and many other newspapers. Her work has also appeared in such publications as Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, McCall’s and Parents magazine.

Toby’s latest book, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), is a devastatingly funny, poignant, all-too-true novel of the ultimate midlife crisis of three best friends as they enter their menopausal years. Here’s what Toby has to share with our readers:

  • Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself? As soon as I knew how to form letters and string them into words, I began writing my own fairy tales—every last one with a happy ending. That about sums up my philosophy—all’s well that ends well, and every woman’s got a little princess in her. I’m a New York kind of woman, born and raised in Brooklyn, transplanted to Baltimore in my twenties. Worked in public information for corporations, government and finally for a nonprofit international network tissue of tissue transplant banks. That was so fulfilling as the work we did gave sight to the blind, and improved the quality of millions of lives. When downsized, and after the initial shock and sadness, I realized that now I could write the novel that had been brewing in my head for a decade. My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet) was published in 2006 to glowing reviews. And I just completed my new novel. So I’m a big believer in encore moments and second chances.
  • Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc. Life offers so many surprises. Married twice, widowed twice, I married again (some people never learn) and after eleven years with the man, I currently find myself in the middle of a D-I-V-O-R-C-E. However…I got a lovely step family (including super grandkids) in the bargain, learned a lot of lasting lessons, and I have no regrets. However… if I ever even think of taking the vows again, you have my collective permission to shoot me. On a happier note, my dear daughter Amanda presented me with my first bio-grandchild, Elizabeth last November. So its been a bittersweet year, the sweet as always, outlasting the bitter.
  • What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s? Most evocative memory is of Brooklyn summer nights when we kids hung out in the streets late into the evening. I lived in an apartment house on a block lined with them. So you could whistle and flocks of friends would fly from the buildings. On those steamy nights, clusters of us preteens improvised do-wop songs on the corner, read movie magazines under street lamps and practiced our flirting with boys…who completely ignored us. It was usually past ten when our mothers called from the windows to herd us upstairs. Days were infinitely long and not programmed. Time to play, time to dream.
  • What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women? Tenacity. Resiliency. A decent sense of self. A sold work ethic. A strong desire to support and mentor other women.
  • What inspires you? Getting up in the morning works for me. With all its trials and tribulations, I believe as the poet Robert Frost did that the world’s “the right place for love, I know none better.” Countering that note, I’m also inspired by being really ticked off. Writing is a cathartic experience. Old boyfriends sometimes appear in my stories fitted out with horns, tail and pitchfork. Writing well is the best revenge. My daughter gave me a t-shirt one Christmas emblazoned with the saying, “Be careful what you say around me, you might appear in my next novel.”
  • What brings you the most pleasure in midlife? Ah, the grandkids. Seeing my family flourish. And reconnecting with long absent friends.  Between Facebook and other Internet resources, people I haven’t seen in years are suddenly surfacing. Reunions online and in person tend to confirm that the ones I liked and loved decades back—believed in and trusted—turned out to be as wonderful as their promise.
  • Do you have any interesting hobbies? I am learning to play bridge. Have been for more than two years to keep the brain sharp. I am terrible at it, but refuse to give up. Tenacity or plain pig-headedness keeps me bidding away. Reading is a refuge and a reward. I juggle two or three books at a time, switching depending upon mood. Secret indulgence: reality TV featuring chefs and fashion designers.
  • Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite. Well, shucks, ma’am, I have to say my favorite book is My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet). It was such a joy to write about three single women in their fifties who triumph over all kinds of obstacles and do it with grace, style and wit. Others I love:  Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Complex, dense, challenging—worth every 2 a.m. stay-up because you can’t put the book down. Just finished The Help. Wonderful…and it’s a first novel.  Movies: The musical “Gigi” is so lushly gorgeous and the songs are fabulous. Woody Allen’sAnnie Hall” and “Manhattan,” tributes to the city I adore. All of the Kate Hepburn, Spencer Tracy comedies and lest you think I am stuck in another generation, I think the Swedish production of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is brilliant.
  • Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go? Well, a good thing about the last husband was that he spoke six languages (English not so well, but he was a whiz at Polish), so he was a handy traveling companion. But I have many single women friends (and a multi-lingual sister and brother in law) who are ready to hop a plane or board a ship at the drop of a passport. One day I’d like to take my daughter and her family to Ireland (she’s a Kennedy). And my great-grandfather was born in Scotland—haven’t been there yet, so that’s on my bucket list.
  • Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate. I’m a card carrying hypochondriac though, as the birthday’s pile up, I’m realizing that something’s going to get me, so I what’s the point? Still, I aim to live as long as I can, as young as I can. I work out at Curves three times a week, climb a lot of stairs, meditate when I don’t forget, and I found this incredibly brilliant physician whose theory is that ice cream counts as protein.
  • What do you stress about? What DON’T I stress about?
  • Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go? No surgery (do you know what they do in a face lift? I’ve seen one. They actually peel down….never mind. Ugh!), no toxins that would take down a horse injected into my forehead, no liposuction. No tucking and trimming. I do fuss a lot with my hair which I make sure retains its natural auburn color, unnaturally. Also, Spanx is a girl’s best friend.
  • Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how? I reinvent myself constantly. Life is a series of adventures so when a new one comes along, you just have to suit up.
  • Do you plan to retire? There is no retirement from writing. It’s not a profession, it’s an obsession. So I guess they’ll have to pry the laptop from under my cold, dead fingers.
  • Are you doing anything to GO Green? I have a daughter-in-law who’s a certified green advisor and works hard on environmental programs for the city of Baltimore. For my part, I recycle. I drive a Prius. I eat leftovers, which is a kind of recycling, no?
  • Do you engage in any faith based practices? I used to turn my hands heavenward daily and say, “Take this from me, dear God.” The Buddhist mother of my daughter in law recently told me I needed to be more proactive. So now I say, “I’m giving this to you, dear God. Deal, please.” I belong to a synagogue and attend services Friday evenings, loving the camaraderie and the traditions of the culture–and the rabbi gives terrific baseball-themed sermons somehow connecting the Baltimore Orioles, when they’re on a losing streak, to Job. I also practice active gratitude, knowing that every day is a gift and it’s right and proper to send a thank you note.
  • Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife? My re-blooming in the years after I lost my last job was a biggie. My second husband’s incredible attitude as he let go of the world, taught me to value every moment, extract every laugh and bit of love from life, even on your way out.
  • Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them? There is a novel I want to write, will write, set in Brooklyn in 1949, and told in part in the voice of a 12 year old girl—a mystery story with a Holocaust component. I feel a real calling to get this book written and published. On a lighter note, I want to dance at all my grandchildren’s weddings –including the weddings of those who haven’t yet been born. That should get me to my hundredth birthday doing a mean salsa.
  • How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world? I serve on various nonprofit boards, and donate to charity, but I think my most meaningful contribution to the greater good comes from my writing. The reader mail that comes into my website is so satisfying. One woman wrote, “I picked up your book while brooding through my current post divorce doldrums and your characters gave me a sense that my life isn’t over by a long shot. Plus you had me laughing out loud.” It doesn’t get better than that. So that’s my kind of mission—spreading the word that the best of everything can began midlife or after. Personally, I try to be a very good friend. I discovered when dealing with the deaths of two husbands–with most of my family 3,000 miles away in California– that friends are incredibly precious. So many were there for me when my life was at its toughest crossroads. I try very hard to be there for them in good times and bad.
  • Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why? As an only child, I was truly blessed with wonderfully loving, bright and funny parents. My mother was infinitely patient with her little rebel of a daughter. In his later years, my father never finished a conversation without signing off, “I love you, kiddo.” But although their love was unconditional, they let me know that liking and respecting me were not—those rewards I had to earn. Their values gave me a running start and a lasting foundation.Also, my daughter has been a source of inspiration. Her childhood—losing a father and then a father figure—was not easy, but she not only survived, she prevailed. I’m convinced she’s taught me at least as much as I’ve taught her.
  • If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose. “Hang in there, babe.”

To find Toby on the web, and to learn more about her books and upcoming new book, visit her website today.

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