This is 58: Michael A. Gonzales responds to The Oldster Questionnaire
"I'm 58 but I've been an old man since I was a kid."
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, essayist and short story writer Michael A. Gonzales responds to The Oldster Questionnaire. - 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?
Not really, but I do often think about when I was in my 30s, because that was one of the more exciting times of my life both personally and career-wise. When I was 38 my longtime (eight years) girlfriend died, which is something that still haunts me...so, I suppose 38 is the age I often associate with myself.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
I'm 58 but I've been an old man since I was a kid. Now, though, I feel young for my age. I suppose not having children helps in that department. Sometimes I really feel my years, especially when I have to walk distances or when I make those weird noises getting out of bed.
What do you like about being your age?
I like being an elder, having a sense of history that I use in my work. I’m a writer, primarily an essayist and short story writer. I love writing “back in the day stories” about pop culture or my personal life in the ‘70s, 80s and ‘90s. As a Black man I like my age, because white police officers call me “sir,” and random pedestrians and store owners don’t automatically see me as a threat. I remember when I was in my 20s I got stopped by cops a couple of times and a white woman boutique owner accused me of having robbed her store the week before. Ten years ago, I was shot and the police treated me like I was the bad guy instead of a victim.
What is difficult about being your age?
Memories of the messed-up things I’ve done in my life. I’m a Cancer (June 23rd), so I often obsess about bad things I did decades past. I’m in a constant state of feeling guilty. Also, I get tired (or bored) fast, so I’m not the social butterfly I once was, preferring to stay home writing, reading, listening to music and watching movies. I also fall asleep earlier and wake-up, on most days, at dawn.
I like being an elder, having a sense of history that I use in my work…I love writing “back in the day stories” about pop culture or my personal life in the ‘70s, 80s and ‘90s.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
Truthfully, I’m always surprised that I made it to this age. So many of my friends died young from various things including AIDS, drugs, and cancer, I just assumed that I too would be on that list. In 2011, I was shot three times in Brooklyn in a case of mistaken identity, but I made it through to tell the tale. People told me, “You lived for a purpose.” I suppose that purpose is writing.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
It’s given me a wealth of experience to write about and it’s taken away a lot of people that I love dearly. It’s given me many friends who are literally like family, but it’s also given me the perspective to be cautious of the bullshit that folks peddle on a daily.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
Getting older has made me a more prolific writer, because I feel as though I wasted too many years not writing what I wanted to write. My buddy Carl gets mad when I say I’m not going out because I want to write. “You can write any time,” he’ll reply. But, can I really? In my mind, every day could be my last, and I work with that in mind.
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?
As I’ve gotten older, I began to regret never getting married or having kids. On the summer day my girlfriend died in 1999, she asked me, after our eight years together, “Are you ever going to marry me?” Though I answered “of course,” I often wonder if I was truthful. As for children...I’ve always loved kids, but when I was younger I always joked that I was too busy to have any of my own. One friend accused me of being selfish and, though I didn’t agree then, I see it clearly now. People tell me “you’re never too old,” but I’m not trying to be in my 60s picking-up kids from school.
In 2011, I was shot three times in Brooklyn in a case of mistaken identity, but I made it through to tell the tale. People told me, “You lived for a purpose.” I suppose that purpose is writing.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
My favorite age depends on what day you’re asking. Today I’ll say 28 (1991), because that was how old I was when my only book, Bring the Noise. A Guide to Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture, came out (November), when I met the love of my life Lesley Pitts, when I wrote my first story of many to come for The Source, and when I broke my foot after too many tequila shots at my formerly favorite Lower East Side bar, Nightbirds. Although I was born and raised in New York City, I didn’t become a real New Yorker until I had to navigate through the city with crutches. I was cursing out rude people constantly.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
My aging idol died this year. His name was Walter Blount and he was one of the coolest old dudes I knew. I met him through his daughters; his youngest Ericka Blount is a fellow music journalist. Mr. Blount had worked in music for years, and we talked about everything from Sun Ra and Public Enemy to Burt Bacharach and Nina Simone. He was also well-read and loved old TCM-type films as much as I do. Another aging idol is my friend Don Palmer, who is about seven years older than me, but still socializes, alongside his wonderful wife Beth, as though they were decades younger. Both Walter and Don have taught me a lot.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
I did start taking vitamins, but I also stopped drinking as much. When I was in my 30s and 40s I drank almost everyday...not anymore. Nor do I take any drugs not prescribed. That wasn’t always the case. I also drink lots of water these days too.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
When I turned 26 I can remember crying, because I hadn’t done “anything” in my life. That was a first and last for me. I’m usually torn about parties and celebrations, but my birthday is June 23, just as summer is beginning, so my friends have often thrown me wonderful parties. Some were big, some there were only seven people, but they’re always fun. When I’m alone, I pray and thank God for giving me one more year. I’m not the most religious person when it comes to going to church, but I do believe in God and try to “talk” to her/him often. I’m a former altar boy, so I suppose I’ll always have God in my mind and heart.
Essayist/short story writer Michael A. Gonzales has written for The Village Voice, Pitchfork, The Wire UK, The Paris Review, Longreads, CrimeReads, Catapult and Soulhead.com. His short fiction has appeared in Killens Review of Arts & Letters, Black Pulp edited by Gary Phillips, and Brown Sugar 3 edited by Carol Taylor. Upcoming work will appear in Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985 edited by Andrew Nette & Iain McIntyre, Obsidian Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, and The Book of Femmes Fatales and Dangerous Women edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Find him on Twitter at @gonzomike