On cusps

In a week where Tennessee dealt a major blow to democracy, and folks in Wisconsin are worrying about a challenge to the election of a judge (the only political bright spot in my week), and (speaking of judges) we have (new? more?) evidence of corruption on the Supreme Court (not that all of us paying attention haven’t known since the 90’s that Clarence Thomas is several kinds of terrible), and there is a new and frightening move to restrict women’s access to abortion and control over our own bodies–all of which is evidence (as if I needed more) that the political norms I lived most of my life with are gone and a minority is no longer even pretending that they’re not going to take power in whatever ways they can–I come to this place feeling as if I have nothing to say.

These kinds of weeks leave me feeling shut down, with my words all stopped up in my head. The things that occupied that space this week (aside from the above) feel trivial in comparison. But here are a few of them:

The new documentary about Brooke Shields. Brooke and I are the same age, and if I ever needed validation that I came of age in an effed-up time to be a pretty female–in which you had to, somehow, be simultaneously both knowingly sexy and virginal–I’ve now got it. The first episode, which focuses on the late 70’s-mid 80’s, reminded me of just how much it sucked to be a young woman in that time. (Not that I could really see it while in the midst of it. I just tried to fit in and get by and be OK, as most adolescents do.)

Here’s 1977 Rita, wearing her first pair of pantyhose, her beloved puka shell necklace, a new dress, and heeled sandals. I can tell you that she is both pleased with these new grown-up things and uneasy about them.

Just two years later, 1979 Rita has a completely different vibe (despite the fact that, like 1977 Rita, she hasn’t started her period or kissed a boy), and there’s something in these two images, and what that documentary helped me see about the culture younger Rita was becoming a woman in, that makes 2023 Rita both furious and sad.

This is not to say that there isn’t plenty that’s still effed up, but if you want to know about the specifics of what is was like for those of us born female in the mid-1960’s, go watch the documentary.

Speaking of those born in the mid-60’s, I encountered another generational piece this week, “The Dazed and Confused Generation,” written by a later Boomer about how people his age need a different generational label. As someone born in December of 1964–making me, by two weeks, technically, a Boomer, I can relate. I feel nothing like a true Boomer, and while I don’t identify completely with the group he does, what some have named Generation Jones, I also don’t fully identify as a Gen-Xer, either. I guess that’s because I’m a Cusper. Me and Brooke. Makes sense that a kid born to parents of the Silent Generation has often felt invisible and unsure of what rules to play by.

This week I bought more books than I should have. Because of Bethany Reid’s review, I bought Linda Pastan’s Almost an Elegy: New and Selected Later Poems. My purchase was prompted because of this poem (continuing to speak of generations and cusps) that Bethany shared:

The Last Uncle

The last uncle is pushing off
in his funeral skiff (the usual
black limo) having locked
the doors behind him
on a whole generation.

And look, we are the elders now
with our torn scraps
of history, alone
on the mapless shore
of this raw new century.

—Linda Pastan

I’m not the elder generation in my family yet, but many people my age are in theirs. In a conversation this week about whether we are at the beginning or in the middle of what’s happening to our country, I could see how I was gathering my own “torn scraps/of history,” and Pastan is a good person to provide guideposts into the later stages of life. (Any stage of life, really.) I also bought Kate Baer’s What Kind of Woman, because Bethany’s post reminded me of how much I like a certain kind of plain-spoken poetry (Ted Kooser is a favorite in that vein), and I saw it in the bookstore one day after skating. I decided it was time I got over not wanting to buy a book by a popular, best-selling poet. Her writing fits into the plain-spoken category, and I’ve liked some of her poems that I’ve encountered via social media, so why wouldn’t I buy her book? (I’m not going to delve into what my aversion is about or where it comes from. Probably more social programming from my youth that involved responses to Rod McKuen.)

In addition to poetry, I bought a kind of book I never buy: City Farmhouse Style: Designs for a Modern Country Life. I encountered it in the library, and the first house featured looked so much like the Louisiana house Cane and I bought and have begun renovating that I bought a copy and sent it to my mother-in-law (who will be living in the house). What kind of woman buys a house in a part of the country that continues to vote in people she thinks are hellbent on destroying it and that is likely to be impacted by climate change in ways she can hardly bear to think about, and then buys a book that–on the surface, at least–is everything she dislikes about so much of contemporary discourse on home decor? This kind, I guess.

I wanted (and tried and failed) to write about the house, which we began demo on last week while we were on spring break. Here’s a peek at what it currently looks like:

Image of a room with exposed wood walls and ceilings. Wood is not in good condition.

This is the main living area, with doors to the bathroom and main bedroom. Here’s what the bathroom looked like mid-cleanup after demo:

Small room with rough wood walls, plumbing pipes. No tub, sink, or toilet.

I wanted to write about this house–which means writing about family and history and geography and politics and climate change and mortality and generations–but I got all stopped up with the complex messiness of it all. Maybe I’ll be able to sort it out in time.

Speaking of houses and design and artistic expression, I really liked a home featured on Cup of Jo this week. The owner is a pastry chef, restaurant owner, artist, and mother.

I like the homey-ness of all the images. I like how things don’t match. I like how it resists any kind of label I see in the titles of design books in the library (farmhouse, coastal, cottage, etc.). It’s a colorful, in many ways hand-made home, unlike so many of the ones I typically see in blogs, instagram posts, and real estate listings. (I love real estate listings and follow realtors even though we are not in the market to buy or sell or move.) We’ve painted almost every room in our house white, and my reaction to this house saturated in color has me wondering about that. The homeowner featured in the story passes on a suggestion from a designer to look in one’s closet for clues to our design style, and mine is filled with neutrals in solid colors. I like neutrals and I like our home (a lot), but there is something in the colorful messiness of hue and pattern in this home that really speaks to me and now has me wondering what kind of home 1977 Rita might grow up to choose and create for herself if she’d been 12 in 2007 or 20017 and why 2023 Rita is muted in so many ways and what these things that have caught my attention this week all have to do with what’s happening in the world as I am trying to keep my balance on the cusp of old age.


I would love to hear what’s caught your attention this week, or how you feel about your generational label or what it was like to come of age as your gender in your time or what you’re reading or what you’ve bought (or not) and what kinds of spaces you like to be in. Or mortality. (Good thing I haven’t aspired to write a lifestyle blog, eh?)

This shot makes me think of the last lines in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.”

“This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.”

I’m guessing many of you know the poem and that she’s got a memoir coming out. This excerpt from it made the rounds this week. It’s a good read, speaking of women and their voices and socialization and poetry and success and how much things have and haven’t changed.

9 thoughts on “On cusps

  1. Ally Bean says:

    Your photos of yourself show a beautiful girl. So pulled together, unlike most photos of me from that timeframe.

    I’m part of Generation Jones, but I lean toward identifying more with Gen X than Boomers. I don’t mind labeling myself this way, but also realize that all labels can be limiting– or a starting point for self-discovery. Do with your generational niche what you will.

    I want to watch the Brooke Shield’s documentary. I imagine I’ll relate to some of it, maybe not, but worth exploring.

    Here’s what caught my attention: I discovered a lifestyle columnist named Tim Dowling this week. He writes for The Guardian and his sense of humor jives with mine. Reading him and thinking back to Erma Bombeck I’m reminded that we need his kind of counterbalance in our world, not as a way of denying the seriousness of issues, but as a relief from their burden.

    • Rita says:

      Well. Appearances can be deceiving. That girl was a pretty hot mess on the inside–more so in 1979 than 1977. Let’s not even talk about 1983.

      Thank you for introducing me to Tim Dowling. I can see exactly why he appeals to you; he has an Ally Bean way about him. I like that quiet kind of humor about small slices of everyday life. I am also of a generation to remember (and love) Erma Bombeck. I remember finding “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” in a closet when I was in elementary school and laughing out loud at her humor. I thought she was hilarious. (She was, but I was also a kinda weird kid.)

      I’d be interested to hear your take on the documentary. I started it because I was mildly curious, and it got in my head more than I anticipated.

  2. Marian says:

    I’m with Ally on what those photos of younger you show. Photos of me from that timeframe are painful to look at, and I sincerely hope my stepmother has pitched the bulk of them. It’s my feeling that despite all the purported progress with equality and #MeToo, women our age (I was born in 1967) know deep in our bones—perhaps in a way that differs from younger women—not to ever be surprised by sexism or objectification. Disappointed, yes, but surprised, no. I had never heard of Generation Jones, but this certainly fits my husband’s experience of life. (He was born in 1965.)

    “What kind of woman buys a house in a part of the country that continues to vote in people she thinks are hellbent on destroying it and that is likely to be impacted by climate change in ways she can hardly bear to think about, and then buys a book that–on the surface, at least–is everything she dislikes about so much of contemporary discourse on home decor? This kind, I guess.”
    I don’t know for sure, of course, but I suspect you wouldn’t be doing any of this if it weren’t for Cane and the fact that he has family there. We all (I think) sometimes do things for/with our partners that we wouldn’t otherwise do. I know I do. 🙂

    That Texas judge, and Clarence Thomas . . . FWIW, we, up here, are asking WTAF and are outraged on your behalf.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, our new house project is all about Cane’s family there. They are the reason we bought it. I am grateful for them and for my experiences there; it helps me see what’s happening in this country in less simplistic ways. More heartbreaking ways, too. It all feels complicated. I’m grateful for the outrage of others outside our borders.

      I know this will sound unbelievable, but it took me longer than it should have to understand sexism and objectification and how those things impacted my experiences in the world. Well into adulthood. The ways I looked made some things easier for me (I know now), and I mistook some of the things that came to me as by-products of merit or value that others saw in me (the “me” of my intellect, character, and talents), rather than by-products of looking and behaving in ways that were deemed desirable. Sometimes those things still surprise me, though they shouldn’t.

  3. Kari says:

    You put posts together in a way that I wish I could. My attention deficit brain has a lot of trouble with this. If I told you how long it takes me to write posts, I think you’d think less of me. It’s the putting it all together that’s more difficult than the writing.

    I also appreciate the home that Cup of Jo shared. Also Catherine Newman’s home. Rita, I absolutely love a mismatched home as well. I enjoy watching your progress on the Louisiana house. Do you plan to move there? I know you mentioned it before, but I’m not sure if you mentioned your intentions.

    I plan to watch the Brooke Shields documentary. I’m sure it won’t be an easy watch. It’s unsettling to see things that we thought were normal during our formative years turn out to be horribly wrong..

    Sigh. SIGH. SIGH.

    • Rita says:

      I would not ever think less of you! I might think more. For whatever it’s worth, many of my posts take quite a long time. Writing is how I process and think, and things have to marinate. It helps me untangle all the connections, if that makes sense. I have some ADHD tendencies myself.

      We are not planning to move to Louisiana full-time. We do hope to be able to spend some extended time there. Cane is still teaching for a few more years, so it will be summers for now. His mom is going to live in the house, and I’m so happy about that. That was one of our hopes when we made the decision to buy it.

      As for Brooke…it was unsettling. You forget a lot, you know? And seeing things from an adult perspective changes things, too. At the time, she was basically a peer (though a wealthy, famous, off-the-charts beautiful one). I did not see her as child who needed protecting, but I sure do now. She was a child surrounded by adults using her to meet their own needs. And I don’t just mean the ones close to her, but all of them–the talk show hosts, the directors, the marketers, all of them.

      SIGH is right. I’ll be interested to know what you think of it if you watch it.

  4. Kate says:

    “What kind of woman buys a house in a part of the country that continues to vote in people she thinks are hellbent on destroying it and that is likely to be impacted by climate change in ways she can hardly bear to think about, and then buys a book that–on the surface, at least–is everything she dislikes about so much of contemporary discourse on home decor? This kind, I guess.” This made me chuckle. Isn’t it kind of surprising/wonderful how life has a way of pushing us out of even the boxes we check for ourselves? And the bones in your Louisiana home are lovely.

    I absolutely love the house you shared, though it’s not for me. (I need white space or I feel claustrophobic). Houses that feel like the people who live in them and less like a “style” are my favorite.

    I have lots of other knotty thoughts about family, and the world, and generational labels (and traumas), but I don’t quite know how to untangle them into coherent thoughts either. For what it’s worth, I know you’re a little older than I am but you’ve always felt more like a contemporary than a Boomer to me.

    • Rita says:

      Yes, this: “Houses that feel like the people who live in them and less like a “style” are my favorite.” I don’t like houses that scream some kind of style, and that’s probably what I was really responding to in that house. But also, I really did like what she’s done with color. I don’t know that I would like living in it, but there was something about it…

      Thank you for saying that I don’t feel like a Boomer. I hate that I technically am one. Not just because of all the Boomer hate Gen Z directs at them, but more because my life experience just feels so different from theirs. I have some jealousy about things they had that I wish people my age had gotten. (Totally blame them for screwing over financial aid for college students.) My kids’ dad is a Boomer born in the thick of that generation, and boy, did we have some generational differences!

  5. Debs Carey says:

    I’ve not seen the Brooke Shields documentary. Being in the UK, it may not have made it to our mainstream services – but I shall try to track it down online. Your description of being a hot mess totally chimed. I remember feeling oh so very grown up because I was tall for my age. I copied my mother (and her mother)’s behaviour and was flirtatious in my manner. All that changed after this guy grabbed me and kissed me, which was only interrupted when my friend walked in. He was in his early 20s, I was 10. My friend asked “why would he do that?” and I thought that made it my fault, not that he was behaving in an inappropriate manner. No wonder so many of us were truly messed up.

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