This is 33: Blake Pfeil Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"I’ve been told my entire life that I’m an old soul."
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, multidisciplinary performance artist & writer Blake Pfeil responds. - 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?
Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been fortunate to reconnect with my 6-year-old self through an ongoing project I’ve been developing called All-American Ruins, through which I explore and document through storytelling and photography abandoned sites around the country. Through that work, I do associate with my 6-year-old self, in spirit. I’ve been fortunate to console and comfort 6-year-old me, thereby incorporating his wonder and imagination back into my own life.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
It depends on the day.
When communicating with younger folks on social media, I definitely feel old. It can be tricky to want to keep up with their behavior/lingo/etc. because it makes me feel old vs. allowing them to have their own thing going, just as I did when I was in high school/college because I’m no longer that age. When I think that through, I do feel just right.
Truthfully, every year of my 30s thus far has been better than the last because I’ve learned to lean into my 6-year-old self more and more.
I feel in step with my peers when discussing events like 9/11 or Columbine. There is a shared experience that bonds us in ways that other generations will not understand. Our communal understanding of the economy, politics, the environment, and pop culture unifies us, and I do feel like a part of that.
However, I’ve been told my entire life that I’m an “old soul.” I never quite understood what that meant until the pandemic and realized that my sensitivity, intuitiveness, and empathetic nature somehow makes me an “old soul.” I’m not sure why those attributes put me in the “older” category, but so be it.
What do you like about being your age?
I think that I got really lucky to enter my 30s in the middle of the Trump presidency and just before the pandemic. I spent my 20s reconciling with alcoholism and figuring out how my lifelong recovery could happen. When I turned 30, everything changed: I learned to be rigorously honest, got divorced, bought a house, engaged deeper with my professional and creative endeavors, and entered a personal renaissance that wouldn’t have been possible without meandering through the muck and the mire of my 20s. I feel sexier than I’ve ever felt, I’m learning the power of spending time with myself, and I’ve acquainted myself with a higher power that keeps me grounded and centered. I love my autonomy, direction, and good fortune.
What is difficult about being your age?
I think many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers don’t understand the difficulties Millennials face today. Economically, politically, environmentally—we are up against a lot of roadblocks and setbacks that are products of capitalism and greed, products of our predecessors. I don’t feel represented in the government (locally, on the state level, federally), so I often don’t feel heard or seen. It can be challenging not to feel animosity towards Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who refuse to accept the realities Millennials face because of the previous generations’ failures.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
It’s wild to know that my parents were in their early 30s and already parenting three kids. My impression of being in one’s 30s was a house, a partner, kids, and a steady job. What I couldn’t have accounted for is how I was born into a completely different generation (see: my previous answer), being queer, and not having the typical experience of the “American dream.” I was told that the Evangelical version of “God” was the only way to “salvation,” and discovering my own sense of spirituality and faith has been hugely transformative—and definitely different than what I anticipated.
I feel sexier, more autonomous, and spiritually grounded and centered. I also learned how to say “no.”
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Like I mentioned earlier, I feel sexier, more autonomous, and spiritually grounded and centered. I also learned how to say “no.” It’s given me my sobriety (eight years as of Sept. 16!), a deeper understanding of my mental health, and the ability to be action-oriented and less afraid of life. I don’t know that it’s taken away anything, really. I’ve certainly let go of people, belief systems, and fears that no longer serve me. I think, truly, that age has only taken away people who I love dearly.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
In addition to everything I’ve mentioned above, I’m definitely far more in control of my decision-making. I never felt that part of my identity could include the word “mindful,” but that’s changed as I’ve aged. I think mainly it’s my own personal sense of power and understanding of why I’m on this planet. Stepping into the light of my sexuality was a huge part of that too. It enabled me to find the family I always wanted and allowed me to feel deeply good about evolution.
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 don’t like to think about it in terms of anything I’ve “missed.” While I often wonder how different things might be had I been able to express my true self at a younger age, I’m not sure that I’d change anything. I am a firm believer in the idea that we become who we become because of our experiences. I don’t think I’d be in the position I’m in today or feel the way that I do or be able to do the work I do with the storytelling nonprofit TMI Project and at Radio Kingston, without having gone through (or been barred from) certain milestones—like exploring sex, for example, when I was in high school, the way that others could. As autonomous and independent as I’ve become, the Scorpio/romantic in me does look forward to meeting my partner and sharing a life together. Strangely enough, I’m eager for my 40th birthday because I feel like I already went through and overcame my “mid-life crisis” via the pandemic.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
I think I’ve learned to associate with my 6-year-old self so much because it was the age where I felt the freest and most like myself, without all the cultural implications and backlash on my identity. Truthfully, every year of my 30s thus far has been better than the last because I’ve learned to lean into my 6-year-old self more and more. So, to answer the question, 6 and 33—but I wouldn’t go back to this age, necessarily. More so learn, as I’ve mentioned a couple times, to incorporate his nature and joy into my own life as a 33 year-old.
I was told that the Evangelical version of “God” was the only way to “salvation,” and discovering my own sense of spirituality and faith has been hugely transformative—and definitely different than what I anticipated.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
Any of my older fellows in Alcoholics Anonymous are role models for me, especially the ones with more sober years than I have. Many creative &/or political inspirations also have made an impact in this regard: Jim Henson, Joni Mitchell, Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, RuPaul, Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Dolly Parton, many more.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
Namely, I got sober when I was 26. Staying sober was the best decision I ever made. I have also increased my body routines in my 30s: more running, more weight-training, healthier eating. I definitely grew into my body and found a sense of style that works for me: haircut, wardrobe. I try to stay true to my sense of wonder and imagination while also trying to step into my body positivity. I definitely wear skimpier outfits in the summer than I used to.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
It’s impossible for me to let go of my mischievous side or sense of humor. I don’t see any point in taking most things too seriously, and my life is so much better because of it. I want my nervous system to remain as intact as possible, so trying to focus on finding the humor in everything I do is very helpful and important to me.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
I always make time to honor myself and do things that fill my spiritual tank. Usually a hike or wander somewhere I’ve never been, a good Italian meal, possibly travel somewhere far. This year, I’ll be exploring an abandoned ski resort with a small group of friends—and taking myself to LA where I’ll meet up with one of my best friends for a drive to Arizona to see Chelsea Handler, then Las Vegas to see Lady Gaga.
Blake Pfeil is a multidisciplinary performance artist & writer whose original songwriting and theatrical work has been featured in notable stints at Joe's Pub, 54 Below, Rockwood Music Hall, the Highline Ballroom, NY Live Arts, Kasteel Well (Well, Netherlands), Icaro Teatro (Queretaro, Mexico), Gyeonggi English Village (Paju, South Korea), Concordia College, Emerson College, Purchase College, the National YoungArts Foundation, Shakespeare Theatre of NJ, Huntington Theatre Company, New Repertory Theatre, BSP Kingston, Denizen Theatre, among others. Blake's debut album Wallpaper is available anywhere you can stream/buy music online. He is the creator of the Joni Mitchell-inspired theatrical creation THE BBC, 1970 and is currently working on All-American Ruins, a collection of stories based on his experiences exploring abandoned buildings across the United States. Blake is one of the cofounders of NYC-based folk-fusion collective Macabre Americana, hosts "The Pfeil File" on Radio Kingston / WKNY (107.9 FM / 1490 AM in the Hudson Valley), and currently serves as Operations & Programs Manager at TMI Project. BFA, Emerson College; MA, Purchase College.