PP: I first discovered Oldster Magazine through Cheryl Strayed, who recommended your Substack on her social media. I was immediately curious and thought, what is an ‘Oldster?’ Sari, can you share the Oldster Mag origin story? How did you arrive at the name and concept? And what does it mean to be an “Oldster.”
SB: Yes, it was thrilling when Cheryl Strayed took The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire™, a regular weekly feature! Oldster grew out of my longstanding fascination with getting older, and which milestones you are supposed to reach when, something that began for me when I was 10. On my birthday that year, my uncle said to me, “Wow, you’ll never be one digit again,” and it blew my little mind. I’d just passed through a major milestone I’d been unaware of. What other milestones did I need to pay attention to? Adding to my anxiety was that I was always out of step with my peers, either doing things too soon or too late, or not at all. (Like, I never had kids.) Decades later, in my fifties, when I started to feel the effects of menopause and aging but internally still felt much younger, I became even more fascinated with what it means to get older. I wanted to hear from other people what their experience was. One night, I had a dream that I started a magazine called Oldster, and then I woke up and did it. It’s been an amazing two years of “Exploring what it means to travel through time in a human body at every phase of life.”
PP: Your mission to de-stigmatize and normalize aging by demonstrating that it’s happening to everyone of all ages, all the time—this feels so right on! If you had to choose one piece of wisdom you’ve garnered from this pursuit, what would it be?
SB: Everyone is the oldest they have ever been, and so everyone, regardless of their chronological age, feels old. That’s what I tell the eldest among my subscribers when they don’t understand why I sometimes feature much younger people. I’m interested in everyone’s experience of being the oldest they’ve ever been. I’m also trying to create an inter-generational conversation, so that people learn about the perspectives of others in different age groups. When you have a publication that’s only for people of a certain stripe, it’s an echo chamber. Only the people of that particular stripe (be it age or gender or race or other identity marker) will hear each other. I want everyone hearing each other about the experience of getting older.
PP: You edit and publish several times a week on Substack, including personal essays, interviews, and questionnaires. How did you develop these formats, and what do you hope to offer to both your contributors and community through these lenses?
SB: I’ve worked as a journalist, an essayist, and a teacher of writing in various capacities throughout my career. Above all, I’ve been a champion of personal narratives, and making sure that those who normally don’t get to be heard in this culture can have a chance at that. I worked for eight years as a curriculum developer and workshop leader for a wonderful nonprofit called TMI Project. I was the essays editor at Longreads for five years. I’ve taught memoir and personal essays in various places, including MFA programs. This is the work that matters most to me, and now I am applying it to aging, an area where there is a lot of stigma and a lot of shame. I’m trying to counteract that with true storytelling, in the form of essays, interviews, and questionnaires
PP: That is a lot for one person—clearly, you love the work! I admire your commitment to storytelling. Can you offer some advice on living a vibrant and creative life?
SB: Whatever you have to do in order to give yourself permission to be creative, do it. Read books about taking creative leaps, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Elissa Altman has a book called On Permission: A Manifesto for Writers, Artists, and Dreamers coming out next year that I can’t wait for. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a classic that was recently re-released, is always inspiring. One of my favorite takeaways from that book is that you should take yourself on weekly “artist dates,” where you just fill up your internal well by going to see art, or a movie, or a play. I took myself on one of those last year, and it freed my mind to come up with a zillion new ideas.
PP: We’ve had a lot of fun creating the iconic Oldster nameplate necklace with you—pure serendipity! What was the impetus behind the design? And what are your hopes for this collaboration with Waxing Poetic?
SB: It’s been fun for me, too! It was also a stroke of great synchronicity; I had been thinking about looking for a company that could make Oldster nameplate necklaces when you contacted me out of the blue. It felt meant-to-be. As a Gen Xer like (the fictional) Carrie Bradshaw, I love a nameplate necklace. This one was made using the same font I use for the magazine, Bauhaus 93, which I chose because it was retro, but also kind of eternally hip—old and new all at once, like all of us. What’s more, this is me encouraging people to own a word that was once a borderline slur. I’m reclaiming “oldster,” using it subversively, and a little tongue-in-cheek. In my mind, everyone who is alive and moving through the milestones of life is an oldster, and I’m inviting all of us to wear this term proudly, and with a little humor.
About Sari Botton
Sari Botton's memoir in essays, And You May Find Yourself...Confessions of a Late-Blooming Gen-X Weirdo, was chosen by Poets & Writers magazine for the 2022 edition of its annual "5 Over 50" feature. An essay from that book has received notable mention in The Best American Essays 2023, edited by Vivian Gornick. For five years, she was the Essays Editor at Longreads. She edited the bestselling anthologies Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving NewYork and Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York. She publishes Oldster Magazine and Memoir Land on Substack. She was the Writer in Residence in the creative writing department at SUNY New Paltz for Spring, 2023.