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What To Read: Sari Botton is aging gracefully
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
Oldster Magazine explores what it means to travel through time in a human body, at every phase of life.
What inspired you to start a Substack all about age and getting older?
I’ve been fascinated by age and aging from the time I was 10 years old. At my birthday party in a bowling alley that year, 1975, my uncle came up to me and said, “Well, you’ll never be one digit again,” and I was stunned. I’d been hit with the first milestone I was conscious of, a place along the timeline of my life from which I couldn’t turn back.
That, and often being out of step with my peers, made me become obsessed with which milestones you were “supposed to” reach when. As I’ve gotten older, though, and skipped certain milestones altogether (the biggest: I never had kids), I’ve dispensed with the idea of “supposed to.”
I’m interested in learning about other people’s attitudes toward age and aging, and I imagine other people are too. So I started Oldster Magazine to satisfy my curiosity and that of others. I also started it with the hope of normalizing and destigmatizing aging, by pointing out that everyone is going through it, at every phase of life. That’s why I include contributors of all ages, even people in their 20s. Maybe I’ll add some teens and kids at some point. We’re all reaching new life stages, passing certain key markers, and having feelings about it, all the time, from childhood on.
You’ve given the Oldster Magazine Questionnaire to many people of different ages. Which insights have resonated the most with you?
Interestingly, I’ve related equally whenever someone has written that they feel like an “old soul” despite being only in their 30s, and when someone has written that in their mind’s eye, they are a teen despite being in their 70s or 80s. I’m all about that incongruence between chronological age and how you perceive yourself. It’s a fluid thing for me, and apparently for others—in some ways you feel older than your years, while in other ways you feel younger.
You’ve written that “the older I get, the more me I become.” Do you think that’s true of most people? Is aging a process of becoming more yourself?
Yes, aging is very clarifying in that way. The more you really live, the longer you go through life, the harder it becomes to fool yourself and others about who you are and aren’t. Pretending becomes too tiresome, and so you more easily recognize and eliminate your own pretensions. You also stop caring as much whether people judge or accept you, and accept yourself, warts and all. It’s very freeing.
Who would you most like to interview for Oldster, and why?
Patti Smith, because even at 74, she exudes a kind of agelessness. Behind the older exterior, you can always see the young woman she was. It’s in the way she carries herself, which makes me think it’s also in the way she thinks of herself. She has also had incredible staying power, as both a writer and musician.
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
I greedily plow through Rusty Foster’s newsy, gossipy Today in Tabs pretty much the second it arrives, the way I used to read early Gawker. Alicia Kennedy’s writing on food and food-related politics always opens my eyes to ideas I hadn’t considered—plus there are great interviews and recipes. I subscribe to entirely too many other newsletters, but some of my favorites are by Samantha Irby, Sarah Miller, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Alice Driver, Heather Havrilesky (Ask Polly and Ask Molly), Rafia Zakaria, Jami Attenberg, Mona Eltahawy, Anand Giridharadas, Isaac Fitzgerald, Jason Diamond, Fiza Pirani, and Aaron Gilbreath.