This is 32: Talia Lavin answers The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"At no point do you get an official grown-up card, or really feel essentially different in your consciousness than you did as a teen."
From the time I was 10, I’ve been obsessed with what it means to grow older. I’m curious about what it means to others, of all ages, and so I’ve started “The Oldster Questionnaire.”
Here, author Talia Lavin answers. - Sari Botton
How old are you?
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
In my mind I will always be 14. It was when I was at my most passionate, the age of my first kiss, my first love, the age I swore off religion forever, the age I started writing my own stories, the first time I fucked up online, the first year I self-harmed, and started learning a third language. Or maybe I’ve collapsed a lot of things into that single year and they were spread out a bit more, but fourteen was the year the world lay out in front of me like a cut plum. I think I feel, still, that I’m raw and dumb and feel too much and whatever intellect I have is a fiercely specious precocity. Or maybe that’s the age I attained a certain consciousness and part of me froze there.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
I feel young, but not in a good way. Like I missed some developmental milestones, some inner satiety and maturity, the kind that ripens into good relationships and a stable home life and a mortgage, children, etc (many things I covet obsessively are conveyed in that airy etc). I’m a bit of a stunted waif, milestone-wise, and I grieve it. Emotionally, I had a very difficult childhood and young adulthood, and the past decade or so has been scarred by very serious mental illness. So here I am like a kid standing in pajamas at the threshold of the adults’ party. Everyone else is sipping whiskey and thinking about fucking each others’ spouses or something and I’m clinging to the lintel, eavesdropping on arch and witty phrases I can’t understand. I am out of step, but I can hear the music, my feet are bare and cold and I own no serious shoes.
What do you like about being your age?
I don’t have to deal with as much bullshit about partying and being hot as I did in my 20s, but I still have enough vigor and energy to be physically active and professionally ambitious. I’m more confident in my many odd traits and have warmed to them rather than hiding them.
What is difficult about being your age?
I grew up in a fundamentalist religious environment according to whose lights I’m not just an old maid, I’m a dessicated husk. I’m cognizant of that a lot. I want kids, I’m at the precipice of being too old for that choice. I am consumed with this stupid notion of a ticking biological clock (a term, by the way, I discovered originated not in science at all but in some male op-ed columnist’s imagination in the ‘70s, and suited the patriarchy so well it caught on like wildfire). I would almost rather have the question settled by years passing. To live in the center of unquenched yearning is hard.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
To be honest, I spent so much of my teenage years and young adulthood romanticizing suicide that I didn’t really figure I’d be alive at thirty, or after. At any rate I’m here. At no point do you get an official grown-up card, or really feel essentially different in your consciousness than you did as a teen. It’s weird: you just get older.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
It took away some of my daring (I don’t go in for group sex or anonymous sex much anymore, which I loved in my 20s). It’s given me time to acquire knowledge and experience, and even, dare I say, a smidgeon of expertise in my chosen field.
What are some age-related milestones you are looking forward to? Or ones you “missed,” and might try to reach later, off-schedule, according to our culture and its expectations?
I want to have a baby, whenever that happens, which by my upbringing’s lights should have been roughly ten years ago and my social circle should be happening now. Otherwise it’s all a bunch of question marks; mentally, I’m so unstable I fear physical infirmity to match. Menopause might be interesting, though. I can’t say I’ll miss the blood.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
It’s not even an age so much as a feeling: back in 2009, at age 20, I had never had a panic attack. At 21 I had my first. And my life changed forever and has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk in the ensuing twelve years. I’m clawing at a choking collar now, forever. I wish I could go back and change whatever needed to change so it would never happen.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
Laura Lippmann makes it look good and she never slows down. My cousin Elinor, in her late eighties, gardens for hours every day, pampers her tiny grandchild, keeps donkeys, is always made up, well. She is glamorous and a tiny bit cruel and surrounded by a lifetime of beautiful and well chosen paraphernalia, including many portraits of her, done un-commissioned, by friends. Her physical frailty makes her dear to me but so does her wit, which is her armor.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
I have an enormous furrow in my brow, a very intellectual sort of wrinkle, and I have no wish to Botox it. It feels like a friend.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
This year I will be celebrating by completing a week free of tobacco and nicotine. It has been eleven years of heavy smoking since I got this far. Is it a gift? In the long run. In the present, I feel like ants are crawling under every inch of my skin. Celebrating another year of life by doing something that makes me want to die feels apropos, as I generally live in that ambivalence, in the runnel between the knife’s edges.
Talia Lavin is a writer focusing on the far right with bylines in the New Yorker, Washington Post, Vice, GQ, The Nation and more. She is the author of the recent book Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy.