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This is 67: Filmmaker Michael Maren Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"I have vivid images of my immigrant grandparents when they were my age. They were old, really old. "
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, filmmaker and former journalist Michael Maren responds. - Sari Botton
Michael Maren began his film career 25 years ago at the age of 40 after spending 17 years as a journalist writing for The Village Voice, Newsweek, New York Magazine,The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The New Republic, and others. Most of that time he was in Africa, covering wars and famines, publishing two books including The Road To Hell, about his years in Somalia.
The Road to Hell was optioned by HBO and Maren wrote the screenplay, which then turned into assignments from Killer Films, HBO, Sony Pictures, Phoenix Films and more. In 2013 he decided to write, produce and direct one of his scripts. That became his first film, A Short History of Decay, starring Bryan Greenberg, Linda Lavin, Harris Yulin and Emmanuel Chriqui.
A Little White Lie is his second feature. It will be released tomorrow, Friday, March 3rd, and will also be available via video on demand.
He lives in Litchfield County Connecticut with his son and wife, Dani Shapiro, whose memoir Inheritance he as adapted for Killer Films and which will be directed by Agnieszka Holland.
How old are you?
I just did the math. I’m 67.
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
I’ve often said that I perpetually think of myself as being 35. Until this question I’ve never considered why that is. Perhaps it’s because I don’t feel I’ve changed much since then. At that age I was having success as a journalist, traveling in Eastern Europe and Africa, and feeling confident in both physical and intellectual capabilities. Another way of saying that is that’s the age when I began, finally, feeling like a grown-up.
An experience I often have these days is meeting someone and assuming that they’re older than me, treating them (in my mind at least) as elders; and the oh-wow realization that they’re actually five years younger.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
Young, most definitely. I have vivid images of my immigrant grandparents when they were my age. They were old, really old. My parents, less so. An experience I often have these days is meeting someone and assuming that they’re older than me, treating them (in my mind at least) as elders; and the oh-wow realization that they’re actually five years younger.
What do you like about being your age?
I’ve begun feeling total freedom. My son has graduated from college. I no longer have major financial worries—something that as a writer married to a writer was a constant burden. My wife and I are starting to focus on what we want to do, rather than what we must do. I no longer crave things, which has been liberating. Rather I’m looking for experiences. I lost a productive year of my life to cancer in 2019, and then we all experienced 2020. Both of those experiences distorted my concept of time. As a result I’m constantly aware of the mercurial nature of time and my desire to capture it.
What is difficult about being your age?
Forgetting that other people don’t see me as 35. I often catch myself talking to younger people as if we’re peers and then someone will respond in a way that reminds me I’m older than their parents.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
As a filmmaker I’m very much working in a world where almost everyone is younger than I am. I hear about ageism in Hollywood; I just have not experienced it. Also, I occasionally still do things that might be regarded as “irresponsible” or juvenile and don’t feel silly.
I was born 10 years after the end of the Second World War. Someone who was 67 when I was a baby was born in 1888. Our lives span epochs. The world is a wonder.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Perspective on time. I was born 10 years after the end of the Second World War. Someone who was 67 when I was a baby was born in 1888. Our lives span epochs. The world is a wonder.
I don’t go jogging anymore. I want to protect my joints.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
It really has not.
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 can’t think of anything I’m looking forward to. I don’t plan on ever retiring. I want to continue to write and make films, go on as I have been. In terms of what I’ve missed, I went to a private boarding school so the entire high school experience as portrayed in films is foreign to me.
I lost a productive year of my life to cancer in 2019, and then we all experienced 2020. Both of those experiences distorted my concept of time. As a result I’m constantly aware of the mercurial nature of time and my desire to capture it.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
When I was 40 I spent a good part of that year in Somalia and other parts of East Africa, often putting myself in physical danger. The thought arose in me any number of times that “I’m getting too old for this shit.” I started to rethink my life and relationships. Later that same year, at a party in New York City, I met the woman I would marry seven months later. That entire year was a fulcrum, or the seam that stitched together two epic chapters in my life.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
I just spent an evening with my friend the writer Richard Russo, 73. He has a new novel about to come out and is excited about his next novel as well as new film and television projects. The lesson is to keep doing the work you love and never get jaded enough to take success for granted.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
Style-wise, I dress the way I’ve dressed since I was an adolescent. Blue jeans with T-shirts. I have started moisturizing and recently bought an air fryer to make vegetables more enjoyable to consume. Oh, and Pilates. I’ve been doing Pilates and doing my best to maintain good posture.
I occasionally still do things that might be regarded as “irresponsible” or juvenile and don’t feel silly.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
I refuse to become a politically conservative baby boomer obsessing over my 401K and fearing the waves of cultural change that are eternal and inevitable. I refuse to fear the future. The kids are alright.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
I understand that milestones are important to some people. They are not and have never been for me. I had a big party at 50, hundreds of guests and a jazz band. I spent 60 in bar with close friends. Since then I’ve quietly enjoyed the day with my wife, and my son if he’s around.
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