This is 52 (Sort Of): Marcy Dermansky Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"Strangely enough, I do not like prime numbers. I’ve decided that I will remain 52 for another year and then skip ahead to 54 on my next birthday."
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 invite them to take “The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire.”
Here, novelist Marcy Dermansky—whose latest book, Hurricane Girl, comes out tomorrow— responds. - Sari Botton
How old are you?
I am 52.
I actually just had a birthday last week that changed my numerical age to a prime number, and strangely enough, I do not like prime numbers. I’ve decided that I will remain 52 for another year and then skip ahead to 54 on my next birthday.
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
I feel like I should still be in my thirties. I would prefer to also go back to single before having ever been married and divorced. I would like to return to that lighter feeling of being. Like one of those movies like Big. If I had a redo, I would do some things differently. But then I would not have had my daughter. When this happens in the movies, the time traveler has the same family when they return to the present only everyone is much happier than they were before.
I would prefer to go back to single before having ever been married and divorced. I would like to return to that lighter feeling of being.
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. I have been wearing Kiehl’s SPF moisturizing face cream since my twenties without any great plan and I am less wrinkled than many of my peers. I also feel very much out of step with my peers, maybe for never having gotten a proper job or buying grown up clothes. I feel like there is a different kind of oddness that is recognizable in other writers, but most of my writer friends live far away. I recently did become a homeowner and I have started worrying about the price of gas and groceries and home repair and that is definitely very grown up. Very age appropriate. I love having my own house.
What do you like about being your age?
That I am a homeowner. Really. That, as a single, self-employed person, I am mainly in control of my own destiny. That I can buy as many flowers in my yard, because I have a yard, and when my daughter Nina tells me that I have a flower problem, I laugh it off.
What is difficult about being your age?
Not sleeping through the night.
Also, the whole grey hair thing. I really blew an opportunity by not going grey over the pandemic. At a certain point, maybe a year in, I couldn’t bear looking at myself and I dyed my hair at home, and now I am I am stuck back in that hair dying cycle. Maybe after my book comes out, I’ll try again. I hold up Amy Hempel and Alice Elliot Dark as writers with that kind of long white hair that I truly desire. Also Jane Green, and you, Sari Botton, who sent me this questionnaire. I love Sari’s short bangs, but I can’t pull off bangs. (Ed.: 😍) Not now. Not even when I was a kid, because my hair is too thick and they become puffy.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
Oh gosh. My mother is constantly telling me how hard it is getting old. And telling me all the sad stories about her friends. I love my mother so much and hate how she makes me aware of how hard/dreadful it is. I am somehow denying the possibility that this will happen to me.
I really blew an opportunity by not going grey over the pandemic. At a certain point, maybe a year in, I couldn’t bear looking at myself and I dyed my hair at home, and now I am I am stuck back in that hair dying cycle.
I don’t feel pretty anymore. I know that is a state of mind and I am aware that I am in the wrong state of mind. I look at my daughter and she is just so beautiful. I didn’t know that about myself when I was 12. Maybe, now, I really just need to start buying better clothes. I look at so many women in their fifties, sixties, seventies and they are gorgeous. So, here I am, still not good at being kind to myself. I am trying. Getting better.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
I really hate when I am talking and I can’t find the right word or even worse, I say the wrong word. It’s given me the confidence to mainly stop caring about what people think about me. Actually that’s not true. I still care, I just don’t conform anyway.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
I wake up and I try to make a plan for that day. I continue to have expectations for myself. I never won a writing prize for young writers under 35 because I was 36 when I published my first novel. I still want to win a writing prize. I have never depended upon my youth for success, so that’s a good thing.
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 had the most lovely 50th birthday. I rented a hotel room with a beautiful pool in Asbury Park a block away from the ocean. I let my daughter take a day off from school. It was just the two of us. I had the nicest time. I think she did, too. I didn’t worry about having a big party, but I did do something special for myself. I am lucky to have a June birthday because it is almost always warm enough for me to go swimming outside and that is what I want to do every birthday.
Last week, actually, was my birthday, the one where I turned the same age. I had plans to go to the beach on my own, but my novel Hurricane Girl is about to come out, and I had a podcast interview. I was disappointed, but rallied quickly—lucky to be asked to do a podcast I had never been asked to be on before. I am fortunate to have a friend in town who has a pool in her backyard and I swam there in the morning. I ordered Indian food for dinner and it turns out my daughter really likes Indian food. That was fun. I think it’s important to make sure birthdays are good days.
It was really fun to be in my twenties and live in San Francisco and do what I wanted and make bad choices and no one had to know.
I just remembered something. My first job out of college I was a lifeguard at a pool on the roof a building for seniors in Philadelphia. One of the things that I noticed is that the people who swam laps were the most appealing to me. Not just in appearance, but their minds. The conversation they made. This makes me think that I am may be taking better care of myself than I thought. Always swimming laps. Maybe I need to rejoin the YMCA in the fall, but I prefer swimming outside.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
It was really fun to be in my twenties and live in San Francisco and do what I wanted and make bad choices and no one had to know. There weren’t consequences, even, because really, I never did anything all that wild. I loved feeling aimless and young and far from home. Independent.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
Definitely Patti Smith. She is uniquely herself. She never stops making art. Long grey hair. I saw her perform once in a church in Montclair. The sun was setting through stained glass windows and it was magic.