The New Math of Old Age
Boomer women need to learn the (chronological) facts of life
Jackson, a screenwriter (Confessions of a Shopaholic) and documentary filmmaker, wrote Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is Not the New Thirty to set boomer women straight. Specifically, she wants them to stop denying the march of time and start preparing for the future. Fifty is 50, she declares at the outset of this combination self-help guide and confessional memoir, “and it arrives with more baggage than Paris Hilton on a press tour.” Sigh — that’s just the first of many cringe-inducing wordplays you’ll find here.
Of course, Jackson is onto something. Boomers have managed to extend youth — and delay aging — longer than any previous generation. And we do look younger than our grandmothers (possibly even our mothers) did when they were our age.
Still, no one gets out of here alive — the oldest boomers are busily turning 65 this year. Enter Jackson, who tucks her arm in ours for her “journey to fifty and beyond” while dispensing helpful hints on sex, work, money, health, the empty nest and the accretion of wrinkles.
A word to the squeamish: If you blush easily, you’ve come to the wrong book. Jackson’s chapter on “Sex, Estrogen and Not So Much Rock and Roll” opens thus: “When I was thirty, I masturbated every day without fail, some days twice.” That was then; at 50 she “never” does (she says), leading to a present-day scene involving Jackson, her evidently good-natured husband, a complicated his-and-hers sex toy and the family Chihuahua.
Then there’s Jackson’s shticky trope about more conventional methods of weight loss: “Call me vain, call me shallow,” she writes, “but don’t call me between eight and nine because I will be at the gym.” Ba-DOOM-boom, ksshhh!
But just when you’re ready to shout “Enough, girlfriend!” Jackson sneaks in a piece of practical advice or a heartfelt recollection. She writes warmly of her grandmother, for example, who loved desserts — “all desserts” — claimed she was allergic to vegetables, and whose sole form of cardio was pushing a shopping cart at the A&P. Grandma Dot died peacefully in her sleep at 86.
And many readers will identify when Jackson writes, “I remember the first time I realized I looked old. Everyone remembers the first time …. It’s that … heart-stopping moment when you look at your reflection and go, ‘Holy [sh*t], who is that old lady standing next to me?’”
The phrase “between a rock and a hot place” refers to the author’s menopausal quandary: Take hormone-replacement therapy (and accept what’s said to be an increased chance of cancer, heart disease and stroke) or suffer the vile physical and mental consequences (night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, hair loss and more). She eventually settles on controversial “bio-identicals,” or hormones said to match what the body produced in abundance before menopause. The play-by-play on her decision is long-winded, but it offers useful information.
Jackson also has a lively take on work. “I want to retire when I’m dead,” she announces. “That’s the day I plan to stop working.” Regrettably for her, Hollywood had other ideas: Jackson’s screenwriting gigs dried up when she hit her late 40s. In response, she indulged in six months of crying jags. Then, heeding Virginia Woolf’s advice to “arrange whatever pieces come your way,” she set about reinventing herself. Jackson arranged her pieces into Lucky Ducks, a feature-length documentary about raising teenagers; she urges readers to assemble something of their own.
One topic Jackson profitably could have skirted is money. It sounds like she has lots of the stuff (“I am the poster child for boomer consumerism”), blinding her to the fact that others may lack it. Her boosterish discourse on plastic surgery and Botox, for example, is followed by some half-hearted savings tips.
A more empathetic Tracey Jackson finally emerges in the book’s penultimate chapter, where she describes how boomers feel when one of their icons dies — political journalist Tim Russert, for example, or movie director John Hughes. Not to mention their own friends and acquaintances: “[N]o matter how many ways you try to distance yourself from it,” she writes, “it still scares the [sh*t] out of you.”
There’s death talk aplenty in these pages, yet Jackson never turns maudlin. “We may not be thirty when we’re fifty, or forty when we’re sixty,” she concludes, “but we can be the best version of where we are at any given time.”
To which one can only say, “You go, girl!” Only next time, go with a less-abrasive ’tude.
Boomer Evelyn Renold is a writer and editor who lives in New York.