Living On The Cusp

My life changed in an instant. One moment I was outgoing and sociable, impulsive and carefree, bordering on irresponsible. I was an optimist operating on blind faith, the type who jumped in first and worried about consequences later. A moment later, I became someone who preferred solitude to the point of being reclusive. I was careful and methodical and my view on life was realistic, if not pessimistic. What changed in that one moment? My sign. As I switched from one website to another, I transformed based on the differing dates the websites indicated matched astrological signs. Such is life when you’re born on the cusp.

Once more (as I did last week when writing about True Believers), I looked to miriam.webster.com for clarity. Not only in astrology but in life, a cusp is “a point of transition (as from one historical period to the next)” or the “edge” or “verge.” My birthday falls on the cusp of the astrological signs of Sagittarius–the characteristics of which I described first above–and Capricorn–the second. While I’m not a believer in astrology, I  find the cusp fits much of my life, starting in childhood.

I have two brothers who are over 7 years older than me and no other siblings. My parents were in their 40s when they had me. This combination of circumstances has left me feeling always a bit out of step with my peers. When I was in high school I listened to the music my brothers and their friends liked: Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie. Many of the books my brothers read when they were in high school, I read at the same time, so I was introduced to ideas and philosophies that were not on the minds of most fifth and sixth graders. Being raised by parents who lived through the Depression, my attitudes toward money differed significantly from that of most people my age. (That actually came in very handy in the years leading up to the recession that began in 2008.)

If you are interested in astrology, I found this book on Amazon all about being on the cusp.

Also, having siblings so much older than me made me in some ways more like an only child. I conversed more often with adults than with children. I had my own room, and I still tend to like a lot of space. Yet, I had the advantage of having siblings who generally liked me when I wasn’t annoying them. They came up with a connect the dots approach to teaching me how to draw shapes, made games out of learning to tie my shoes and do arithmetic, and tried to teach me how to play softball. They were never too successful with that last one. They stopped when I batted the ball into my own nose. There’s a reason I make my living as a writer and a lawyer, not an athlete.

The trend of being out of step age-wise continued in law school. I attended school at night and worked full time. Most other night students were (a) recently out of college and attending at night because they needed to work full time to afford school or (b) in their forties and up and changing careers from other professions. I was 30 when I started law school, and 34 when I became a lawyer. The attorneys I started at a large firm with were 8 years younger than me, and most people assumed I was of a similar age and had a similar lack of professional work experience.

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There were definite pluses to that assumption. The clients paid the same rate for me as they did for other brand new lawyers, but I’d worked full time for years in several different businesses and one law firm. I knew how to write business letters, conduct interviews, write motions, research efficiently and undertake other tasks that involved a steep learning curve for some of my colleagues. That meant my work was in demand, and I more quickly got more responsibility. In other ways, though, I felt perpetually behind. The 35 year olds at the firm were partners, not brand new associates, and I measured myself against them rather than against lawyers who’d just graduated law school. I was also less willing to devote endless hours to law for as many years as some of the twenty-somethings were. I think that’s healthy, but large firms tend to prefer those attorneys who spend several years of doing nothing but working before they start asking themselves whether they might want to have time for other aspects of life.

As a writer, I live on the cusp of groundbreaking changes in the publishing world. When I was writing horror and young adult novels in the 8 years after college, the only real option for a writer to sell her novels was to query agent after agent and publisher after publisher, hoping to become the one new writer out of hundreds of thousands that year whose work was pulled out of the stacks of manuscripts on an intern’s desk. When I began writing supernatural thrillers after practicing law for 7 or 8 years, I discovered a wonderful thing. If I believed in my writing and was willing to put my own effort behind it, I could publish my own work, becoming an entrepreneur as an author just as I had as a lawyer. The great part about having lived in both worlds is I developed good habits when querying agents and editors. Because I knew grammar errors and uneven writing would get my query or sample chapters tossed immediately, I learned to be vigilant about producing carefully edited prose. That’s served me well as the quality control supervisor of my own publishing enterprise. It also means I’m used to spending significant time and effort putting my work out into the world. And the rewards are so much more immediate and tangible with indie publishing because I can see sales within days and royalties within months rather than waiting six months to a year to hear back from a single agent.

As a whole, despite the occasional uncertainty I feel at not firmly belonging within any one world (or one astrological sign), being on the cusp has been a wonderful way to live. I like to think I can take the best of each place I’ve been and can make more conscious choices than I might if I fit completely within a particular category.

What about you? Are there ways you live on the cusp or that you fit right into a particular category? What are the pluses and minuses you’ve found for either?

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Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you’d like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.