A bit of autobiography. I was born and reared in Chicago. I am married to a man of achievement. I have watched my children leave the nest for college. I am highly opinionated and tend to believe that the world would be a better place if more of my fellow citizens agreed with me. I have experienced both joy and sorrow in my life, and not long ago I celebrated my 50th birthday. I list these facts in case Time is interested in doing a cover story on me; in case Newsweek, U.S. News, and the New York Times decide to run lengthy features covering my life at midpoint; in case the entire American media establishment would like to use my transition into middle age as a catalyst for its own self-analysis and, ultimately, self-affirmation.

My thumbnail autobiography lists what I have in common with Hillary Clinton, and it was enough to earn her an orgy of national attention, right down to a booklet published by the Chicago Chamber of Commerce titled Hillary: The Early Years. Of course, she is the First Lady of the United States and I am not. But in a sense, that merely illustrates one more thing we have in common: neither of us has been elected to anything. So what the heck—bring on the New York Times.

On second thought, never mind. A closer look at our respective backgrounds reveals at least one important difference between me and Mrs. Clinton: she has a generational identity. My birth year was 1944, meaning that I am technically too old (every cloud) to be a baby boomer (has a silver lining). It’s just as well. Seeing as how I am generationally unequipped to believe that everyone is thinking about me and those who aren’t should be, I would be unnerved to see my face in Time, appalled to hear myself called “our mascot,” as boomette writer Margaret Carlson once described Mrs. Clinton, and horrified to know that I was being defended by the likes of Eleanor “The Screecher” Clift. (However, honesty does require me to admit that I would not say no should the Chicago Chamber of Commerce ever desire to publish a booklet called Janet: The Early Years.)

The barrage of coverage surrounding Hillary Clinton’s birthday was generated largely by her fellow boomers, who dominate the national media. And as usual when boomers converge, everybody had more than one agenda. For Mrs. Clinton it was a new means to an old end—her umpteenth effort at remaking her image, i.e., at gaining enough footing to prove that . . . well, that she’s right, damnit, right about everything! For media boomers, it was an opportunity for their umpteenth affirmation of Hillary Clinton as a national role model, which she must become eventually in order to prove that they, the media, are right, damnit, right about everything! This is the hallmark of baby boomers: even when the conversation is about you, it’s about them. (That way, they never run out of something to talk about.) As maddening as this is to normal people, it was finally worth listening to because this time, for the first time, there was a new quality to the conversation—a slight edge of desperation.

In its lengthy, earnest, ponderous birthday tribute to Hillary Clinton, Time ran a sidebar in which eight “famous” women revealed how it feels to be 50. Go ahead, guess how it feels. To quote Time‘s headline, it’s “Fabulous . . . Really!” According to novelist Isabel Allende, women in their 50’s have “wisdom, we have a network, we have a sort of secret strength. . . . We are not so distracted by motherhood, by being attractive, by the sexual energy that was there indiscriminately.” Indiscriminately? One understands why Ms. Allende was chosen to support an article about Hillary Clinton: by all appearances, neither woman has ever heard the words, “Speak for yourself, lady.”

Time also offered up tennis player Billie Jean King, she, too, full of self-awe. “I think 50 now is what 35 used to be,” she said. “It’s a great age, the best.” (Of all the wonderful Me’s I have ever been, the current Me is the most wonderful!) I am willing to predict that in 15 years, we will be hearing that 65 is what 50 used to be. And after that, when baby boomers start dying off, we will be told that they are dead in a way the world has never seen—more meaningfully dead, more completely dead, stronger and more fully realized in their deadness than any who have gone before. Fabulous . . . really!

Just because 50 is fabulous, you should not get the idea that it’s easy. In fact, today’s female boomers have known trials—glass ceilings, sexist jokes—that would have extinguished lesser spirits. Mrs. Clinton, quoted in Time: “Perhaps it would be easier . . . if we could be handed a pattern and cut it out, just as our mothers and grandmothers and foremothers were. But that is not the way it is today.”

That particular observation from America’s foremost contemporary trailblazer, pioneer, and earth mama raises a question. Has any group of women ever been dumped on, to such a degree and with such self-confident carelessness, as have the mothers of 60’s feminists (in public and by their own daughters yet)? I don’t know about Hillary Clinton’s “foremothers,” but mine didn’t have “patterns,” they had lives—lives so demanding and unpredictable that the first lesson of existence was: you are not the center of the universe. In turn, this perspective gave my foremothers “a sort of secret strength,” to use Ms. Allende’s phrase, a strength secret enough not to be squandered, but available enough to clean the clock of any little snot—even a middle-aged little snot—who dared to condescend to them in the manner of Hillary Clinton.

Let’s get real here. With her dependence on “ferociously protective aides,” her reliance on public opinion polls, her existence in a place her friends call “Hillaryland,” and her access to likeminded boomer journalists, Hillary Clinton is, to use the Chicago vernacular, a candy-ass when compared to just about anybody’s foremothers. Even when viewed in the context of her contemporaries, Mrs. Clinton’s existence stands in stark contrast to others’, utterly free as it is of the normal demands (which is not to say the feelings) of female life—cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving. I do not begrudge Mrs. Clinton her freedoms (there is nothing inherently character-building in cooking, cleaning, shopping, and driving), but I do believe she should seek the grace to admit that she does not live the life of an Everywoman and never has.

Everything written about Hillary Clinton contradicts some other thing written about her, just as much of what she herself says contradicts many of her prior comments. What this means is that neither she nor her boomer supporters in the press really know what they think about anything. They begin and end with the unquestioned assumption that they are worth listening to. As a result, ludicrous statements are made, and idiotic conclusions drawn, based on no evidence whatever. Writer Karen Tumulty in Time: “[T]he First Lady will lead a major White House conference on Child Care . . . [and] promised to lay out the problem’s complexity with her customary intellectual rigor.” As an example of that intellectual rigor, Ms. Tumulty offers this quote from Mrs. Clinton: “You have to put the issue in front of the American people and get them to look at it honestly.” The operative words in that statement are get and honestly. What Hillary Clinton is saying is that, left to their own devices, Americans are either oblivious to important issues or prone to viewing them dishonestly. They must be made to see what is important, then aided in seeing it rightly. Mrs. Clinton’s consuming self-righteousness explains the drag on her political learning curve, her intellectual rigor notwithstanding. U.S. News reports that “It has taken several years, but she [now] understands that many Americans worry about any powerful White House policy maker who is virtually unaccountable.” Slowness on the uptake would appear to be one of the unforeseen pitfalls of living in Hillaryland.

The intense but incoherent attention of baby boomers—through the lens of Hillary Clinton or otherwise—on their arrival at middle age suggests, I believe, that they are spooked. And the more spooked they become, the less inclined they are to shut up. Their contradictions, their collective mood swings, their insistent protestations of self-approval, their incessant self-analysis combined with an underdeveloped ability to process—all of it indicates a kind of collective befuddlement. It was inevitable. This most self-referential of generations has arrived at midlife with virtually no context in which to appraise their journey. If you have lived only the insular life of the Self (rejecting the example of your foremothers and, presumably, your forefathers also), doubt—a potentially powerful means of growth—will feel like failure, reassessment like hypocrisy. The life of the Self results, with the onset of middle age, in the worst of all worlds: the inability to examine a lengthening past with the clarity necessary to enhance a shortening future. Self-justification is a behavior unto itself, one whose emotional consequence is psychic loneliness. On an intellectual level, the result is merely coarse—sentimentality with no redeeming sweetness.

There is comfort in reaching 50 and knowing that you have been right after all about some important things. But it can be exhilarating—almost liberating—to realize also that you have been wrong. To know that pride or stubbornness or vanity or fear once blinded you to something you now see as true—this is to feel both humbled and emboldened. We may be nothing more than a speck on the great continuum, but we are a part of it nonetheless. To reject that in favor of the dinky insistence that you and your peers are the coolest people ever is, it seems to me, an act of spiritual suicide.

But there is a bright spot on the horizon. It is the Generation X-ers, the twenty- somethings held in such disdain by Children of the 60’s for being too cynical, too ironic, and insufficiently idealistic—and we haven’t even touched on their disinterest in Changing the World As We Know It. Boomers don’t trust Xers, in other words, because X-ers aren’t like boomers. Wary of political nostalgia and put off by middle-aged self-absorption, twenty-somethings are watchful and determinedly cautious. And in their way (they are young, after all), they are rigorously independent-minded—which is another reason boomers are suspicious of them: they are not easily led. This leaves baby boomers with no one to lead but each other—surely not how they imagined spending their prime years. The last thing they ever expected to become was ignorable.

My son exchanges regular letters with his 76-year-old grandmother, wherein they discuss the relative merits of old Artie Shaw recordings. Not long ago, I asked my son what he thought of Bill Clinton. He said, “He’s . . . silly, a silly guy.” My son is 25 years old, a member of the demographic group that is considered culturally cutting-edge, and he thinks that Grandma’s cool but Bill Clinton is embarrassing. If you are a boomer elitist, that’s got to hurt. If you are too old to be a boomer and too busy to be an elitist, you might feel inclined to smile. While you’re at it, score one for our foremothers.