The wOw Interview: Author Tracey Jackson

c David Levinthal

Is 50 really the new 30? wOw talks to author and screenwriter Tracey Jackson, whose new memoir, Between a Rock and A Hot Place, takes on what it really means to be a 50 year old woman today

wOw: What made you take this on the topic of aging in the first place?

Tracey Jackson: As I hit the fifty mark, I kept hearing this chorus of baby boomers chanting, “We are thirty.” While I wanted to believe it, everything I was experiencing was telling me it was so not true. On one hand I loved the concept, but on the other I am very aware of boomer delusion. So I decided if I was feeling all these things that were anything but thirty, then my comrades in boomerdom must be as well. We are the generation that feels we have to control everything, so I found the notion that we could turn back the clock willy-nilly both hysterical and harmful

I am presently waiting for the release of the iAm30 App.

wOw: How has the reaction been so far to your assertion that, contrary to popular belief, fifty is not the new thirty?

TJ: It’s interesting because when I ask people, they inevitably say three things, some of which contradict each other. Everyone says that inside, they feel no different than they did at, say, 22 or 26 — sometimes as young as 17. And I think we all do feel that way — there is that person inside who is not very different than who we were thirty years ago. But that person is now in the youth of old age, and it’s very hard to connect those dots. Most shave ten years off how old they feel in daily life. And then the really honest ones roll their eyes and own that not only do they not feel thirty, but they’re relieved that they don’t have to put up this front. They like the fact someone is saying “Hey, I don’t feel thirty do you?” It’s very hard to constantly pretend like you are something you are not. And by attaching this phony age on us, it really sets us up for all sorts of expectations that can’t, nor should they be, met. So mostly I get, thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking.

wOw: There are quite a few intimate revelations in this book: fantasies about Jon Stewart, the reality of middle-aged sex, etc. Do you think people will look at you differently now?

TJ: I don’t know how they looked at me before. I think they may look at themselves differently, or perhaps not feel alone. This whole notion that we are in our sexual peak at 50 — please, it’s absurd. In terms of our place in the animal kingdom, we are not even supposed to be alive. The original plan for women was barefoot, pregnant and dead. It’s only thanks to modern science and medicine that we are still here. So the idea that we are as easily aroused, and constantly ready to hop into bed and frisky like a 20 or 30 year old is lunacy. There are instances when it can come back, but those often require straying and doing all sorts of things we aren’t supposed to. Hot sex as a quotidian part of the daily to and fro of life with kids and long marriages and responsibilities coupled with the fact your estrogen, (nature’s aphrodisiac) has left the building?? None of this leads you to rolling around the kitchen floor like you did in years gone by.

And if we were, both men and women, in our sexual peaks at this age, explain Viagra to me.

wOw: What’s your favorite part about growing older?

TJ: My favorite thing about growing older is that I am actually in the place I want to be at this stage. I have the family I want to have, I found true love after a bad first marriage — so truth be told, even without the estrogen my sex life is better than it was in my 30s. I am stronger physically than I have ever been, so I’m able to do anything I want. I look back from this vantage point with no regrets, and I think that is huge.

I have also been able to recreate myself at this stage, and I actually enjoy what I’m doing now more than what I did in my thirties and early forties. Or, I should say, it’s what I should be doing now, so it feels right. In many ways, it’s not so much about growing older, but where my life is at this older juncture. But that only happens if you accept where you really are. Which is what I try and show in the book: our life is what we make it, especially now. Things are going to change, big things. But it’s the forward march that counts. Just keep moving and doing and don’t let them get you down.

wOw: Your least favorite?

TJ: My least favorite part about growing older is the loss, the deaths — the deaths of those older we have been close to, the death of friends, deaths that come from disease that is very different than the random deaths we experienced in our youth. The thought we could be next.

wOw: How did your family feel about your publishing this book, with its revelations about HRT, Botox habits, etc? Did you allow them to read it before submitting to your publisher?

TJ: My family is so used to me parading us around and using us all as topics that this book was a non-issue. I spent two years making a documentary, “Lucky Ducks,” about us, so this was nothing. If I want to write about Botox or HRT, or even sex, they could care less. They think it’s funny. In fact the sex chapter has been passed around my older daughter’s dorm floor. My younger one has not read it. My husband reads everything I write, but that is more for editorial purposes than content. I did ask him after I wrote the sex chapter, if he minded, and he was fine with it. But that is the way he is; it’s why we are happily married. Many husbands would have had a fit and not allowed it. He would have let me put in pictures!

wOw: What are your thoughts about being 50+ in the workplace? Your view of the workplace once 60?

TJ: Well, that’s a real problem. In a word, it sucks. We are not a society that embraces the older person, and oddly, while the older person today looks and acts younger than the older person of yesteryear, the real powers in many parts of the workforce have never been younger. So there are many sectors where you can’t be hired old, much less get old and hang around. Media is very tough, unless you are a superstar by 40, and in tech, old is 27. With the economy, it has gotten harder and harder for people fifty and over to get new jobs if they have been let go, and too often, to hold onto their jobs despite the fact they are better and more experienced than their younger counterparts. One of the biggest complaints I hear from women is, “I can’t get a job at this age, and I can’t find a man.” Now according to Freud, those are the two things that make up the quality of your life: doing work you like and being productive and being connected to another. So it puts women in a terribly vulnerable position.

I advocate a Plan B that one should start putting into effect in ones’ early forties, because chances are unless you are a Supreme Court justice, a tenured professor or own your own business, you will need it.

wOw: What’s next for you? Do you plan to write more books? Do you think this book will be made into a movie?

TJ: I hope to write more books. I suppose realistically we have to see how this one performs. I would love to make another documentary. I will continue blogging, as I love that, and there are whispers about this book’s future on the big or little screen.

Editor’s Note: Tracey Jackson is the author of the new memoir Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is Not the New Thirty. A screenwriter for seventeen years, Jackson has written and sold films to all the major studios. Her most recent writing credits include Confessions of a Shopaholic and Lucky Ducks, a feature-length documentary that she also produced and directed. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters. Visit her at traceyjacksononline.com

6 comments so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    OK.  As the Fifties has been my absolutely hands-down favorite if we really have to think of life in decades, I will warrant a guess that most of us who have “done” the Fifties very well that they thank God it isn’t the thirties.  Balancing children and a profession is a juggling act that should be applauded.  Applauded big time.  But – for most of us – the children are out of college and on their own, shakily or not. 

    The curtain is open on a new chapter of our lives.  . and I have deemed it SIMPLY WONDERFUL.
    Before – in all those years some of us look back at rather fondly — in reality there were so many ups and downs, tears, disasters, and many times we did not handle life (or our husbands) well at all.  Let’s be honest.

    But somewhere in the past decade, a confidence was forming that I call “coming into our own”.
    Our choices are better (and if truth be known, our choices will become better still!!) and hopefully we have the belief we can do anything.  It is time to get both feet out the door if you haven’t so far as so much of what we call “fate” is being at the right place at the right time.  Part of that is meeting people that will form directions in your life.  It works.

    Never, never put all your eggs in one basket.  . unless you really truly like to know what it feels like to go down with the ship.  If at all possible these days, love what you are doing in your work life.  Either way though, find after hour delights that get you out there, doing something entirely different.  I went into politics in a county way, which made me in demand and able to pick and choose among high-caliber boards, shooting me into other directions I would not have dreamed of.  None of us can know what tomorrow will bring — but it is exhilarating to try different paths.  And what is better than to meet new people, challenge your mind, and ride a “high”??  

    One more thing.  We each make choices.  . and while in my 40s, I chose straight estrogen as just about the only pill I have ever taken.  .  . and why would I stop taking something that has remained my own fountain of youth?  I still can climb mountains with agility I could not have dreamed of.  My husband seems to adore me – which says a lot these days.  I would be lost without work that I love.  

    I live by the edict that it is not the years in your life but the life in your years — and so far I would say to Tracey that the best is yet to come.  Just wait!
     

  2. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Kudos for going against popularly promoted lies about ageing, despite Mick Jagger’s nonstop booty shaking at the Grammy’s.  The pharmaceutical industry promotes these delusions about our bodies.  Sadly, the current recession has made many business sectors more heartless against middle aged workers.  This trend will not improve. 

  3. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Aging is not a disease. I’d rather be older and have wrinkles than go back to be early twenties with no life experience. I can laugh about situations now that might have horrified me or caused me to cringe when younger. I am looking forward to reading this book because Tracey Jackson has enough experience to be interesting.

  4. avatar Kathy says:

    I think how you feel about 50 depends on what has given you pleasure, confidence and affirmation over the years.  If it’s how you look – sorry, you’re sunk.  You will curse every year that takes you away from your ideal self – that is, a twenty-something.  You will use chemicals and surgical knives to try to look like you did decades ago, and you will only succeed in looking like an experiment gone horribly awry.  But if you’re self-image was never about your skin, or hair color or waistline, then 50 feels absolutely wonderful. 

  5. avatar Karin Dobson says:

    Thanks so much for this.I don’t think there is anything more desparate than hearing 50 is 30.Your 50′s can be great or you could be dead.

  6. avatar Anne Whitacre says:

    I agree with the first poster — my fifties are my favorite decade, too.  I too have estrogen (and progesterone and testosterone and thyroid) as supplements, but I’m calmer, smarter, wiser and funnier than I ever was when I was younger.  I’m not a size 6 anymore, but I can live with that.  When you add the somewhat greater income that comes from a life-long career (even after two years of unemployment) things are just… easier.  I wouldn’t be 30 again on a bet. 
    For me, so much comes from finally trusting my own judgement, and no longer being plagued by “what other people think” – the insecurities of youth have given way to the self-knowledge of the older.  (I don’t want to be complacent… yet.)
    As for the “50 is the new 30″ — the people who care about that are people who never learned the lessons of being 30, or 40.  They still have a lot of growing up to do.