This is 40: Alice Driver responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire.
"I am eternally 8 and swimming in the Little Mulberry River in the Ozark Mountains where I grew up."
(Subscribers: I’ve just realized this only went out to paying subscribers yesterday. I’m re-sending to everyone now.)
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, journalist and photographer Alice Driver 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 am eternally 8 and swimming in the Little Mulberry River in the Ozark Mountains where I grew up. Water is my home, and those memories shaped me.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
I feel young for my age but my life is atypical for a 40-year-old woman. I have no partner or children, and I am writing full-time which is what I wanted to do ever since I can remember. My mom is 72 and the other day she said, “Nobody even knows that I was a competitive runner anymore.” We all want others to see us and recognize our power, and, especially for aging women, that is rarely acknowledged or celebrated. My mom was a faster runner than I will ever be, and I hope she knows I remember that.
What do you like about being your age?
I’ve realized that the people I love - I love them because of their flaws, because they feel comfortable showing their full selves to me. And I want to be the kind of a person who loves and is loved for that kind of honesty and transparency. I now recognize the many forces trying to exploit women, underpay us, insult us, and steal our work, and I am sure enough of myself to say “no” or walk away.
I did not expect to turn 40 during a global pandemic, to get Covid, or to be living with my parents.
What is difficult about being your age?
I feel weary that men in positions of power continue to gaslight me and try to steal my work. At this point in my writing career, I’m doing good work. You may or may not like it, but the work is good. During the pandemic, I had a male editor tell me my work was “a mess” and then try to add his byline to the article I wrote on publication day. I’ve realized that plenty of men in power have no original ideas, so they have to insult women until they break them down and force them to relinquish good ideas and work. My only consolation is that the editor who did that to me didn’t get a book deal in 2021, and I did.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
I did not expect to turn 40 during a global pandemic, to get Covid, or to be living with my parents. During this tumultuous time, I got a book agent and sold a book. I love surfing (not well, but with gusto) and surfing documentaries and often think of writing in terms of catching waves. You never know when a good set is going to roll in, so every day you paddle out. I try to remind myself that those periods when nothing seems to be going on, or when life seems to be going to hell, well, a wave is gathering somewhere. And I want to be ready to ride it.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
I had Covid in November 2020, and I spent about a month in bed with intense fatigue. Recovering from that experience, I have tried to find joy and meet it, and I have also tried to worry less about my writing projects and the constant financial instability of my choice to write. I wrote a Jill Lepore quote in one of my notebooks that sums it up, “Do the work. Deliver on deadline. Don’t sweat the nonsense; you’re not dead.” I want to be kinder to myself and to others because many people are going through more than we could ever imagine right now.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
I still feel like I’m 28, but now I like a good bed and I don’t want to sleep overnight at the airport to save money. On a more serious note, I worry about my parents aging, and like many women, can foresee that I will be their primary caregiver.
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 love seeing where my curiosity leads me and diving into life with heart and emotion. I don’t want to wait for a milestone to celebrate, to love, to travel.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
There is a saying in Spanish about the devil being wiser from old age than from being the devil. I like where I am, and I want to be a wise old devil and embrace that knowledge (and power, even if women are asked to relinquish that as they age).
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
My mom started graying at 18, and by the time I was born, her hair was all white. At 72, she is rebellious, funny and most often found in her garden. She swims naked in the creek, hates bras, and wants to take to the streets to protest the Texas anti-abortion law. I think, “Keep rebelling, momma, keep rebelling.” I want to be like her.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
In the pandemic, I started running almost every day. It has reminded me that any daily practice makes you strong, and I love that. I have some of my best writing ideas when I’m running. I wear sunscreen regularly. Style-wise, I still wear clothes from high school and college - mainly because if I have money I spend it on travel and writing projects - not on clothes.
There is a saying in Spanish about the devil being wiser from old age than from being the devil. I like where I am, and I want to be a wise old devil and embrace that knowledge.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
I refuse to diet, get Botox or dye my hair - no Instagram Face, thank you. I want to keep living a creative life and to spend my money on those kinds of experiences. Society continually makes women hate themselves with the goal of getting us to spend our money and time fixing things that were never wrong.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
Growing up, I was shy, and I would pretend I didn’t care about birthdays. I remember years when I didn’t even tell anyone it was my birthday, and then I was sad. The truth is I love a big celebration with friends, so now I recognize and own my birthday energy. This year, I organized a swimming birthday party in the Ozark Mountains. It rained and we swam in the rain, and it was everything I wanted.
Alice Driver is a writer from the Ozark Mountains. She is represented by Kirsty McLachlan, and she is at work on her second non-fiction book.