Senior Living: Oldster website focuses on moving through life’s phases

Creator Sari Botton says she wants to normalize the aging process and destigmatize it for everyone

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When I was in my mid-30s, I interviewed the esteemed Toronto journalist, author and activist June Callwood. She was in Edmonton to speak to a women’s group and I fell in love with her over lunch. In her mid-60s at the time, Callwood was smart and kind and open. Just being around her and soaking up her energy made me brave enough to ask this question: What’s it like to get old?

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The question surprised her and she reddened slightly: “You’re looking at it,” she said, holding her hands out, spreading her fingers wide.

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I’ve thought a lot about Callwood’s reaction over the years; I worried that I had hurt her feelings by placing her in the old category when she was obviously a vibrant and successful role model for any woman at any age. Now that I am the same age as her when we met, I wish I had asked a better variation of the question. I’m sure Callwood (who died in 2007 at age 83) had a lot to say about what it meant to be older, to be aging. I could use that wisdom now, as I navigate my 60s.

Recently, however, I found another great resource to be my aging guide, to help and inspire me at this stage of life. It’s an online magazine called Oldster, a Substack publication devoted to “exploring what it means to travel through time in a human body at every phase of life.”

Created by journalist and editor Sari Botton, who lives in Kingston, N.Y., Oldster was launched in 2021 and has some 26,000 subscribers (six per cent are Canadian). In an interview over Zoom, Botton said her lifelong obsession with getting older — a perspective that began when she was but 10 — inspired the magazine.

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“When I was at my 10th birthday party, my uncle said: you’ll never be one digit again. And I thought, ‘oh no. Have I just passed through a portal?’” says Botton.

From that day forward, she felt a heightened awareness of the passing of time. For a variety of reasons — she was a late bloomer, she never had kids — Botton has often felt out of step with her peers and this led her to wonder, more or less constantly, whether she was doing the right thing at the right time. While in her early 50s and an editor at Longreads, Botton launched an essay series about age and aging called Fine Lines. After she left the magazine, the idea stuck with her and in 2021, she began Oldster.

“With the name Oldster, I am reclaiming a slur, it’s tongue-in-cheek. We’re the oldest we’ve ever been and we all feel old and we all feel time passing,” says Botton.

Oldster, however, isn’t limited to stories about being a senior citizen; contributors range in age from about 25 to 90.

“I remember being 32 and being told by a guy I was dating, who was 36, that I was too old for him because he didn’t want the pressure of having children,” says Botton, 58. “Why leave that experience out of Oldster when women (in their 30s) are being told that they are too old to partner with somebody?”

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Oldster explores any and all shifts that occur as we age, including issues around health, employment, relationships and children. One of my favourite features is a weekly questionnaire called “This is (whatever the age)” in which Botton invites contributors to reflect on their own reality at their age.

“My main mission with Oldster, beyond stating my curiosity, is normalizing aging and destigmatizing it by showing that it’s happening to everyone all the time,” says Botton. “I didn’t want to create an echo chamber for women or men of a certain age. It’s for all backgrounds and ages so it’s an intergenerational conversation.”

Between the questionnaires, personal essays and roundups of aging-related features elsewhere, Botton posts three to five times a week on Oldster. Each post is like having coffee with a clever and thoughtful friend; it is revelatory, inclusive and even funny. Oldster is not a Hallmark experience and it’s not always an easy read; parts of getting older are just plain difficult — such as losing people you love, or experiencing physical decline (neither of which are confined to folks over 60). But unexpected joy also comes as we age. There can be a new love, a different career, a fresh vocation or location.

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“This is about people sharing insights they have gleaned from getting older and being the oldest they have ever been and I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful readership that responds,” says Botton. “It’s a supportive environment. We’re not age-shaming anyone in either direction.”

I love Oldster’s attitude. Age-related change is a lifelong experience, so it feels right to focus on getting older — a daily reality for everyone — rather than being old. If we’re all just moving forward, together, there is less to be frightened of, to worry about. If that’s what it means to be an oldster, well, that’s just fine with me.

— Liane Faulder writes the Life in the 60s column. [email protected]

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