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book review: the pandemic midlife crisis - gen x women on the brink

As a Gen X woman living in a strange, “middle age” period, in a pandemic, I knew I wasn't alone. But I wasn’t sure how much I would be moved by stories in The Pandemic Crisis: Gen X Women On The Brink, an essay collection by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger (HerStories Project Press, November 2021). I loved it.

The writers’ stories span a range of socio-economic levels, family situations, parenting perspectives, life challenges, and other sandwich generation struggles and triumphs. Yet, a sense of resiliency and resourcefulness is threaded through. I found myself thinking: I know those traits! That’s Generation X. That’s us.

Early on, when COVID hit, you may recall many articles that said Gen X was positioned perfectly for living through something like a pandemic. We knew how to pivot, perservere, find stuff to do, be independent, and roll with changes – without everything mapped out for us. Nearly two years later, a lot of these traits did shine through, though no one should have had to deal with something like this.

In this essay collection, "Lunch Bus" by Katharine Strange reminded me that it can be the little things right around us that get us through the days – things we might not think about very much, like the value of conversation over a turkey sandwich or that chatty neighbor we might not take time to get to know.

I could particularly relate to "Essential," by Marya Zilberberg, whose college kids come home in the pandemic, bringing clutter and comfort. “The kids’ small, predictable actions are comforting amidst raging uncertainty,” she writes. “Some nights the aromas of broth and sesame oil waft up as they cook Ramen. Its residue lingers into the morning hours, smelling like a distant skunk in light distress.” I, too, woke up to that Ramen smell at 1am, and spotted the dirty pot the next morning. It was comforting. I also enjoyed Caroline Berger’s "Both Of These Things Are True," and could relate to the introvert perspective.

The other thread that connects these women and these essays seems to be a sense of gratitude and hopefulness, despite all the struggles. Gen X isn’t a generation to give up, or get so down in the doldrums they can’t find a way out. Some women got creative. Some felt like they were going crazy. Some found themselves questioning friendships and careers, redefining motherhood, pursuing old or new passions, and refining plans for a post-pandemic future. Caroline Berger talks about “what passes for luck now” in her essay, "Both of These Things Are True." We have had to redefine so much. This book leaves me feeling like luck has led to deeper love and gratitude, and just might lead to richer lives for many Gen X women.

In a way, many of us would like to forget these pandemic times. But this book marks more than difficult moments of endless months in masks and quarantine. It's about celebrating the strength of Gen X women. That is something that will never go away.

The book is available on Amazon.

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