Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hot Place

When I saw the title Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty is Not the New Thirty on a list of books that Harper was willing to send me, I said yes, send this one.  I thought it would be something different from the usual baby boomer books about how to stay in charge of the world forever, but, sadly, it's not. Tracey Jackson is somewhat more than fifty, as it turns out, putting her more squarely in the baby boomer generation than I would have suspected, and her attitudes are just not that different.

As you know, I am against baby boomers. So any book that starts out trying to lump me in with them is not going to get any sympathy--much less a sense of identification--from me. I am not the "us" she's speaking to when she says "the image most of us have of being over our grandparents."  No, honey, it's you. It's ex-hippies who never grow up.

That Tracey is overly focused on appearance is hardly surprising, given what she tells us about her mother, a woman who put her on a reducing diet when she was only eight years old, spent an hour each day washing her face with beauty products, and once traveled to Transylvania to be injected with something called Gerovital H3 that she believed would make her look younger.  So Tracey's own obsessions with exercising and having substances injected into her face seem less crazy, by comparison.

I thought maybe I'd get some tips from this book about how to deal with menopause, but most of what I got was a rant about how essential hormone replacement therapy is (despite the horrible physical symptoms it gave Tracey--the most remarkable being lumps on her face).

To be fair, I read Between a Rock and a Hot Place the day after I saw Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman show Let Me Down Easy, and the depth of the ideas about mortality in the play made the book seem even more shallow than I think it would have, ordinarily.

The part where this book really "jumped the shark" for me was when the author revealed that she had sexual fantasies about Jack Nicholson . . . um, wasn't she just speaking of grandparents?  After that, it's impossible for me to take anything else she says quite seriously.  Her claim that women over fifty "don't come like we used to" seems to me complete nonsense.  Her advice about exercising every day is based on this quotation:  "every day your body makes a choice. It's either going to get a little older...or it will get a little stronger," which is a nice example of the "only two choices" logical fallacy, don't you think?  And I can think; I have other choices!

But there are two parts of the book I like.  One is based on a quotation that the author claims is  from Virginia Woolf (who killed herself at the age of 59, you know): "arrange whatever pieces come your way."  Tracey's advice about having a career after fifty is that you should "start thinking about and actually setting up some pieces that will be ready to arrange before you have to start scrambling around for them or find yourself left with difficult or unsatisfactory pieces." This makes a lot of sense to me right now, especially in light of the story about how her career as a screenwriter turned into a new career as a documentary film maker when she got to her fifties. Plus, she's written this book!

The other part I like is her chapter about sending your first child to college, entitled "The Biggest Pink Slip You Will Ever Get."  Tracey is typically over the top about the experience, so my answer is "yes" to her question:
"Are we needy, clingy women who are unable to acknowledge that time is marching on and our kids are at the front of the parade and we are at the back?"
But it's fun to measure yourself against a hysteric; you come off so much better.  And she reassures me that I will be able to sleep next year when my daughter is off at college, something I've actually wondered about recently, and out loud.

So reading this book wasn't a complete loss, despite the fact that telling me that "all the female Supreme Court justices dye their hair" doesn't convince me that all women over fifty ought to have surgery on their faces.

Who would like this book? Some baby boomers.  Maybe a few stay-at-home mothers who thought they'd go back to work when their kids were grown up and now find themselves aged out of the workforce.  Anyone who wants tips about how to go to great lengths to look younger.


kittiesx3 said...

Good Lord, I thought I was the only person born in 1960 to thoroughly reject the assumption that I'm a boomer. I detest the lumping together of people born 15 years before me--our cultural influences were not the same.

I would hate this book.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, Jonathan Pontell was right. We're the anonymous generation who grew up in the shadow of the boomers. Generation Jones, he calls it.

FreshHell said...

Ugh. I think of 65+ as old because that's my parents ages and they ARE grandparents.

I don't belong to any group - too young for Boomers (thank god), just manage to squeak out of Joneses though I'm certainly just as cynical. Gen X is NOT me. I'm nothing and I like it that way.

I would also hate this book.

Valerie said...

I also reject the Boomer category, so this book would certainly annoy me. As for sleeping when your child goes off to college, it is kind of a funny thing. When Jim was away at college, I never stressed about him except when he got really sick. That said, when he was home on break and out with friends, I would worry about him when he was out late. Go figure!

Harriet said...

Ugh. Not my kind of book at all. I did, however find William Strauss and Neil Howe's book Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 thought-provoking when I read it years ago as part of an attempt to educate myself on marketing strategies (don't worry -- it's not about marketing -- it's about history).

Lori L said...

Another great review! I'm neutral on being lumped into the baby boomer category (I was born in '59), but certainly other things you mentioned hit a hot button with me.
I am over 50 and I don't picture my image as that of my grandparents.
My family history of cancer insures that I will NEVER do any hormone replacement. I really grow weary of hearing everyone throw out the "take hormones" advice as the only way to handle menopause without addressing the risks it involves.
I could go on, but I'll stop at those two comments. Clearly, I will not be reading this book since I 'm sure it would greatly annoy me.

Anonymous said...

I giggled a teenaged giggle when you said you are against boomers--something along the lines of of the giggle a 13-year-old would give when another 13-year-old loudly says a naughty word in a public place.

I didn't know it was allowed to be "against"!

Jimmy Carter wrote a book about growing old that intrigued me in my callow youth; I read the blurb and paged through it at the circulation desk ( I was working at a library at the time) though I didn't check it out. Neither did anyone else, though it was on the new book shelves, and it was a very New England Democrat kind of town, full of people the same age as Jimmy. Now that I am old enough to think about it, I am surprised there is a market for books about growing old at all. Is there anything to say that anyone really wants to hear?

lemming said...

OK, so I'm definitely not in the Boomer category, and I would still be angry with this book. I don't want to look 25, I don't need to look 25 and, quite frankly, I'm glad not to be 25.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I feel certain you're right about that last statement.

Valerie, I guess that's reassuring? It sort of makes mothers sound irrational, though.

Harriet, I was just having a conversation with Ron about marketing yesterday morning--I said that blog reviews of books and facebook discussions of movies were moving more people because we've all gotten so dismissive of advertising that we don't pay attention to it; we only notice recommendations from people we trust.

So maybe I should read the book about generations, because I'm sure some of this is generational. Often I find that I line up with younger generations than my own when it comes to attitudes about texting or having to watch tv at a certain time.

Lori, I was a little surprised that she largely dismissed the cancer risk and went blithely on to the plethora of horrible symptoms that were relieved only by hormone replacement. I guess I don't know yet how desperate I might get, but it's hard to imagine going to the lengths she does.

Villanegativa, thank you for that giggle. Sometimes I think a person gets to an age and just decides what's allowed...that's how you know you've become a curmudgeon...

That's an interesting question, about whether anyone reads books about growing old.

I think some do. This winter I reviewed Harold Bloom's poems about growing old, Till I End My Song. And I have M.F.K. Fisher's Sister Age on my shelf... unread.

Jeanne said...

Lemming, but you were so cute when you were 25! And you were almost as much fun back then!

Jodie said...

I just don't understand how anyone can continue to take themselves seriously after they've been to Transylvannia to get things injected in their face. How do you even think that with a straight face?;)

Jeanne said...

Jodie, the author does comment on the strangeness of the destination...and, as the story turned out, the mother never made it there. A pisgah view of Transylvania and the needle full of youth!

Care said...

Is it here --> <-- that I can insert a SCREAM?

Jeanne said...

Care, thanks for the sound track!

Yesterday I had a phrase from a song by Aretha Franklin going through my head in connection with the post about trying out for a high school musical, and when I used it on FB and Twitter, my friend Permanent Qui Vive pointed out that I shouldn't be allowed to quote Motown if I'm "against" baby boomers!

Jenners said...

I love the line "But it's fun to measure yourself against a hysteric; you come off so much better." That alone would sell this book for me.

Jeanne said...

Jenners, yeah, you get it--I think that you might share my sense that only next to someone like Tracey will anyone like you or me ever look calm and collected.

Anonymous said...

Two words that do not go together in my vocabulary: "elective" and "surgery". I am earning my wrinkles and will wear them proudly.

Also, I am also a 1960-born person and I have never, ever considered myself a baby boomer. Ugh.

Jeanne said...

Lass, I suspect that those of us who've had to have non-elective surgery shy away from the thought of doing it voluntarily more than someone who hasn't had to go through it before does.

Jeanne said...

Lass, it occurs to me that the kind of baby boomers who have facelifts, etc. scoff at those who say they earned their wrinkles and will wear them etc. Tracey is definitely in that camp.

But it also occurs to me that those of us determined to wear our own faces no matter what happens to them over the years may be younger in attitude.

The song Eleanor sang for her audition is one sung by Maureen in Rent--"Take Me For What I Am." She means it. I think you and I do, too.

Nancy said...

Is it bad to be a boomer? *does rapid nervous inspection of generational characteristics* Hey, we brought y'all desegregation, anti-war protests and women's rights. Surely that counts?

Jeanne said...

Nancy, it's mostly that people my age feel like we were too young to have any of the fun, but too old to give up the idealism and be slackers--Wikipedia sums it up succinctly:

The name “Generation Jones” has several connotations, including a large anonymous generation, a “keeping up with the Joneses” competitiveness and the slang word "jones" or “jonesing”, meaning a yearning or craving. Jonesers were given huge expectations as children in the 1960s, and then confronted with a different reality as they came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, leaving them with a certain unrequited, jonesing quality.

So no, it's not bad to be an individual born at a time when you could have been a hippie. It's just bad to still be a dirty hippie in this era, when we can blame you for raising our expectations and then never working out daycare to go along with feminism, as just one example.

On the other hand, a friend my age recently said to me (in an email entitled "give peace a chance"):
perhaps it says something about “our” generation—apathy, laziness—that we haven’t been able to seize control and make the world a better place for ourselves and future generations. When you read all those dire statistics about Social Security going bankrupt and plunging future generations into overwhelming debt, all those numbers are based not just on the 45/53 Boomers but on us, too. And we’re not exactly rushing to fix the problem.

Let me just end by recommending reading Christopher Buckley's novel Boomsday over this appearance-obsessed piece of nonfiction. It will do us lots more good.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting here! I'm glad a bona fide boomer made an appearance. I tend to think of myself as having just escaped generation X the same way you just escaped boomerdom, Jeanne. I've sort of got a theory that the extra removal in time of a full generation rather than a half generation is the magic factor in how well people can tolerate the foibles of their elders. Also a lot of it is down to where a person lived growing up, how old they were when they became socially/politically sentient, what sort of time span their parents and or older siblings births' covered, because I can't really match up my own attitudes toward boomers with any particular group. Oh yeah. And class! Sometimes I just want to be against boomers, feeling frustrated at the way they seem to rule the earth without having made it better enough to justify their sanctimony, other times I think they are cute, in a way I realize is pretty condescending. Then I will watch a documentary that gives me a perspective on some element of the roots of the counter-culture that makes it seem incredibly brave, and give me a sense just how "counter" it was--and where would be if it hadn't happened? and if there hadn't been that deep well of idealism to water it?--followed by another that makes me groan at the (occasionally drug-addled) naivete and unconscious chauvinism of the whole era. Der Mann and I recently watched half the first season of Mary Tyler Moore with our eyes bugging out of our heads at the popular conception "career girl" and wives with degrees (tee-hee, educated females, how ridiculous!) and uppity notions, and so on. Literally squirming, sometimes.

On the other hand, I have no sense of Generation Jones at all!

Is it to the boomers' credit that you simply can't ignore them? Or simply to the credit of their numbers?

(With apologies to any boomers reading this for my generalizations.)

Jeanne said...

Trapunto, I will grudgingly give the boomers some credit for rebelling while asserting that part of what they accomplished was due to their numbers.

And I think you're right about our sense of what generation we belong to coming from a lot of places, including when we became politically aware. My first awareness of politics was Watergate.

Anonymous said...

The falling of the Berlin wall. So there you go.

Jeanne said...

Villanegativa, your first awareness of politics happened about the same time I moved to the rural north, here.