Book review: ‘Between a Rock and a Hot Place’ by Tracey Jackson

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Special to the Los Angeles Times

Sometimes you just want someone to tell it to you straight. You may look and feel better than your grandmother or even your mother did at 50 but the idea that 50 is anything like 30, Tracey Jackson practically screams, is either a marketing scam or a line made up by a 50-year-old guy in a bar trying to pick up a 30-year-old woman.

We are fixated on youth. This is not news and, by her own account, no one has tried harder than Tracey Jackson to stay young. Although her grandmother swore by Crisco to defeat wrinkles, Jackson, 52 and a screenwriter in Southern California, has access to the latest anti-aging promises; Bikram yoga and Core Fusion (her preferred, one hour a day, six days a week regimen); bioidenticals (her preferred hormone treatment, after trying HRT) and on and on. Jackson has some great tips in “Between a Rock and a Hot Place” that the reader may not have heard about, like over-the-counter calcium and magnesium as a sleep aid (Jackson prefers Klonopin).

The trouble isn’t really with the exterior — you won’t look like a 30-year-old if you devote half of each day to anti-aging but you can look pretty good. No. It’s much worse. The problem is that this culture discards women older than 40 or barely recycles them. Women older than 40 are the ones who are called in a crisis to pick up kids from school or ailing parents or to taxi a friend to the auto shop.


At 35, Jackson had written the scripts for three films in the iTunes top 35. By 47, she could not find work. A working woman all her life — through kids and two marriages — she found unemployment was the hardest adjustment of all, way harder than a few wrinkles. While her friends were, for example, off taking pole-dancing lessons to improve their sex lives, Jackson tried to face the music.

“When you get to the ‘third chapter,’ ‘second adulthood,’ or whatever euphemism you prefer for fifty, you are in the hardest demographic to get rehired. You have no idea how you are going to move forward. There are so many psychological hurdles to clear.” From age 20 to 50, there’s a pretty clear road map, whether or not you choose to follow it: marriage, children, career, mortgage, etc. After 50, for women in the U.S., there is no road map. Doesn’t matter how much time you’ve put in. Face it.

Baby boomers are not the first generation of women to find themselves unmoored in middle age. Jackson’s mother, a prominent columnist, was laid off at 65, after 24 years at the Santa Barbara News-Press. Rather than giving up (meaning alcoholism or worse, suicide), Jackson’s mother wrote a book about China. Jackson took her cues from her mother and from a Virginia Woolf quote “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” She began working on a documentary about privileged teens in the U.S. and how we raise children, called “Lucky Ducks.”

Jackson covers it all: the physical changes (including feelings about sex), the children leaving home (“the biggest pink slip you will ever get”), decreasing means and lowered lifestyle and the emotional trauma of being discarded by a society whose rules you have pretty much followed for decades. She does it with humor and a firm hand.

Cowboy up is the message, this is what to expect, not the princess scenario. Jackson is the firm, kind, capable father you never had.

Don’t let yourself go and don’t give up. “The truth is, it’s not your grandmother’s fifty, and it’s certainly not thirty, but it’s your fifty. And though certain things will eventually come to a halt, the quality of your life doesn’t have to.”


The book is nothing less than what my own grandmother used to call a “godsend.”

Salter Reynolds is a Los Angeles writer.