This is 36: Michael Seidlinger Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"I’ve sort of felt old most my life."
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, writer Michael Seidlinger—author of the new craft book, Runaways: A Writer’s Dilemma— 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?
I’m pretty bad about keeping track of ages—both my own and others’. In fact, I’m usually that person that forgets his own birthday. Add to that other people’s birthdays too. Still, those benchmark ages stand out in my mind—21, drinking age; 27, age of inordinate number of suicides; 30, your twenties are gone and it’s all downhill from here. At age 36, it feels so much like “going the course.” I’m alive and yet have amassed injuries and experience that come with having been on this earth for three decades.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
Yeah, but I’ve sort of felt old most my life. So much of life isn’t looking back or looking forward; it’s being present in the moment, probably because I have this relative understanding that we aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow. Moments are so easy to waste but I’ve already done too much of that. It’s about being able to enjoy the present moments and acknowledge the luck and opportunities one has; seeing so many either disappear or have simply lapsed into that thing we call the past, I get it now. I get that we have only so much that we are able to handle. Maybe that’s being “an old soul.” Guess I was born already mindful of just how temporary things are.
Best part about being in your 30s is definitely coming into your own in terms of your wants, your needs, and most of all your life.
What do you like about being your age?
Best part about being in your 30s is definitely coming into your own in terms of your wants, your needs, and most of all your life. By the time you get to your mid-30s, you understand that time runs out quickly. You begin to prioritize certain tasks, certain hobbies. I feel like all the frivolous networking and clout chasing I did in my twenties has worn out. I’m looking for real connections, people who stick around and choose to share their time because they want to have good experiences, good conversations, and grow bonds that make living all the better. It can be hard to find that in New York City, but that’s what your 30s are about: forging lasting bonds and saying fuck off to all the noise.
I used to be the sort of driven person that would sacrifice pretty much everything for more time and focus on whatever it was that I obsessed over at the time. It could be something as simple as planning some party all the way to writing a book. One thing I've realized is that we shouldn't feel a need to undervalue and/or push off different interests, even if they are purely a hobby, a thing you do because you enjoy it. Not everything needs to add up to some career goal, some valiant step forward. Some hobbies I've gone back and cultivated from years of neglect are video games and skateboarding. I've been doing a lot of skating lately. It's remarkably therapeutic and helps create space for myself away from all the creative, social, and career pressures that persist with no end in sight. I have no goals or agenda for skateboarding except to skate. Same as with video games. No plans on making a game; I don't even care if I beat most of the games I play. I just play them to enjoy them. I've been buying up older consoles too, like the Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, modding them to be all modern and to run the entire library of games from a single SD card. It's fun and with no other goal than to be able to sit in this skin and enjoy the moments spent playing, skating, modding, etc.
What is difficult about being your age?
Definitely body pain and endurance. The body can be in great shape and still feel like shit some days. I work out six days a week and am nearly in the best shape of my life. Still, all it can take is maybe not warming up or stretching enough and suddenly a muscle tenses/cramps up and boom, you have a sore/torn muscle for like a month.
One of the biggest wake-up calls I’ve had is seeing how the body can suffer and endure different afflictions and minor injuries. There’s no telling how surprised you’ll be to find that some part of your body can suddenly cramp up, feel tender and sore. That resilience of my 20s, man I miss it.
I’m alive and yet have amassed injuries and experience that come with having been on this earth for three decades.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
I do find that my friends who are also in their 30s are more open to sharing the various injuries, pains, and problems they have, both mental and physical. That wasn’t always the case in my earlier years. I do feel like I contributed to the same leveling off of any possible problems for fear of being judged, deemed somehow lesser, to anyone that I might confide in. Now that I’m 36, I realize that’s basically bullshit. If someone judges you or paints you in a less than pleasing light because you opened up to them and said, I don’t know, that you were feeling super depressed or have been dealing with a lot of mental health issues, that person should be cut out of your life immediately.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Aging gives more clarity of the past while taking more of your future.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
I know who I am. I can’t say I know what “happiness” is but I’m close to it. Getting older helps with recognizing what you want out of life, out of craft, out of career. Hopefully it helps you make sense of all the toxicities surrounding you too.
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?
To be honest, I want nothing more than to keep my sights focused and to stop undervaluing my own time.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
I don’t have a favorite, but I would kill to go back to that pocket of time right before becoming a teenager, smack dab in the middle of the 90s, to enjoy all those seemingly long, never-ending days of doing nothing but playing video games, skateboarding, etc. I know I’ll never be able to experience a day or even an hour without the pull of different responsibilities, social pressures, and self-doubts. Those never go away. You just learn how to balance and understand them.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
I wish I said I did, I really do. No idea what that says about me.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
I’ve regained a sustainable diet and workout routine. I’ll never get my boxing days body back but I’m as close as I could be. Fashion has become an expressive touchstone for me since my late twenties and it hasn’t lessened in my thirties.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
Hmm, maybe I’ll finally do what I’ve been saying I’d do for years now: Move to a new country and fully embrace its culture. I’ve lived in different cities across the U.S. but I’ve never found a place that I could call home. I have lived, yes; but I don’t know what “home” is. I would like to know what that feels like someday.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
I don’t celebrate my birthday. Close friends already know not to really entertain it because it triggers me. Let’s just say spotlighting a person on their birthday, when I’m in that spotlight, causes a lot of anxiety. Writing about it causes some anxiety too. Maybe I should look into that a bit more. Anyway, the only thing I do now is to make sure I have a good dinner.
MICHAEL J. SEIDLINGER is a Filipino American author of Runaways: A Writer's Dilemma, Scream (part of Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series), and other books. He has written for, among others, Wired, Buzzfeed, Thrillist, Goodreads, The Observer, Polygon, The Believer, and Publishers Weekly. He teaches at Portland State University and has led workshops at Catapult, Kettle Pond Writer's Conference, and Sarah Lawrence. You can find him online on Twitter (@mjseidlinger) and Instagram (@michaelseidlinger).