This is 69: Susan Turner Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"It’s a 30-something woman who looks at the world through my nearly 70-year-old eyes."
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, book designer Susan Turner responds. - Sari Botton
Susan Turner is a senior book designer at Penguin Random House. She lives in Connecticut with her wife, the writer Elissa Altman, their dog, Pete, and their three cats, Charlotte, Arthur, and Pip.
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 always surprised to realize I’m not in my 30s—I’m shocked when someone who actually is calls me “m’am” or, even worse, “dear.” I’m not sure why. Maybe that’s the age when the core of who I am as an adult first gelled? Whatever the reason, it’s a 30-something woman who looks at the world through my nearly 70-year-old eyes.
I come from a family (the women, anyway) who just got on with it, regardless of their ages. They took care of their homes, mowed their lawns into their 90s, drove their cars—probably far longer than they should have…None of them went quietly into old age, and I don’t imagine I will, either.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
I feel all three at different times, but more often young for my age. I come from a family (the women, anyway) who just got on with it, regardless of their ages. They took care of their homes, mowed their lawns into their 90s, drove their cars—probably far longer than they should have. My Aunt Sophie broke her arm in her mid-80s shoveling snow off the roof of her porch. A few years later, we found her hauling a tarp full of leaves from her front lawn into the woods behind her house just one day after being broadsided (and her car totaled) by a truck towing a paving. My mother, with severe congestive heart failure and unable to get from a chair in her den to her kitchen comfortably, asked my wife and I if we thought she’d be able to trim her eight-foot-tall hemlock hedge that year. None of them went quietly into old age, and I don’t imagine I will, either.
What do you like about being your age?
In 2014, I found out that I’d spent the first six months of my life in a Catholic orphanage. I was, according to the social worker’s notes, the nuns’ “favorite”—likely because I learned to keep quiet and not make demands. As an adult, I’m still very quiet and reserved. I used to worry about that almost to the point of catatonia in social situations and it still presents challenges, but age has allowed me to understand and accept that this is who I am at a very deep level, and it’s just fine.
What is difficult about being your age?
The inevitable physical limitations. I’m pretty active and don’t let too much get in my way, but I have bad knees and a wonky back from years of playing a variety of sports. I miss being able to trust my body —I’d give a lot to be able to run full out without the fear of snapping off at the knees.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
I’m surprised by the way aging has sharpened my attention to the natural world and by the gratitude I feel for every day I’m able to open my eyes and take it in. Everything feels like a gift.
In 2014, I found out that I’d spent the first six months of my life in a Catholic orphanage. I was, according to the social worker’s notes, the nuns’ “favorite”—likely because I learned to keep quiet and not make demands.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
It’s given me myself. It’s taken away my ability to stretch a triple into a home run. It’s not such a bad trade.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
It’s allowed me to settle into myself and to stop trying to fix or hide what isn’t broken, just different.
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’ve had ungodly commutes for most of my working life (5 ½ hours round trip for almost 30 years) until the pandemic forced remote work, so I haven’t had the time or energy to pursue other interests. I’m planning to work a few more years because I enjoy what I do (and now have a 5 ½ second commute), but once I finally retire, I’m looking forward to the luxury of time. Time to read, time to garden, time to get back to drawing and painting, time to travel.
Aging has given me myself. It’s taken away my ability to stretch a triple into a home run. It’s not such a bad trade.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
I’d have to say now is my favorite age. There are many that I’d love to go back to for a day or two, but I’m content to be where I am.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
They’re all gone now, but my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts were all inspiring to me. Most of them lived into their 90’s, with one aunt living to 100. My grandmother was 101 when she died. They all seemed to adjust (albeit not entirely willingly) to the inevitable changes that came with that kind of longevity and never lost their senses of humor.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
I had melanoma surgery on the bridge of my nose recently, so that’s meant a scar, sunscreen and a floppy hat—style/beauty/health adjustments all rolled into one. I’ve also had to learn to listen to my body if I want it to function the next day—four hours of yard work a day over two days rather than pushing through a full eight-hour day, for instance. I’m hoping to be realistic about ongoing adjustments as they come up, too. I’d like to be the woman who uses a walker if it means I can still go out rather than the woman who refuses due to vanity, falls, and never walks again. We’ll see how that works out.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
Velcro shoes. I get it, but no. My hair started turning gray in my late 30s and I’ve never dyed it, nor will I ever. And I hope never to carry a wadded-up tissue in my shirt sleeve.
We don’t do birthday parties as a rule, and we don’t lie about our ages, despite constant encouragement to do so from Elissa’s mother, who seems to be getting closer and closer to my age with every passing year.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
I used to be rather ambivalent about celebrating my birthday, but they’re very important to my wife, and they’ve become so for me, as well. We both take our own and each other’s birthdays off from work. We have a tradition on my birthday of playing a round of golf (it’s the one sport that doesn’t bother my knees too much) and having dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, always ending with a candle and a wish for the coming year. On Elissa’s, I usually plan a surprise trip to a beautiful local garden or the ocean. We don’t do birthday parties as a rule, and we don’t lie about our ages, despite constant encouragement to do so from Elissa’s mother, who seems to be getting closer and closer to my age with every passing year.
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