Woog’s World: Former Westporter’s advice on ‘write’ way to retire
Susan Goldfein was a confirmed New Yorker. Born in Brooklyn, and still proud of the borough — the Mets won last night!” she said last week. “The hell with the Dodgers. They should nver have left!” She discovered Westport back in the 1970s.
The man from Manhattan she married — Larry Goldfein — had owned a house on Valley Road since the early ’60s. It was a second home — for weekends and summers — but she joined him in loving all the town offered, from Longshore to the arts.
The Goldfeins raised their children in the city. But around 1990, when they became empty nesters, they felt they needed a change.
“New York seemed to be getting less wonderful,” Susan recalls. “Or maybe we were getting older and crankier.”
Whatever the reason, they moved here full time. For the next decade, Westport was their main residence.
“I never regretted it,” Goldfein says. She became more deeply involved in the community, volunteering with organizations like the Jewish Home for the Elderly and the local Alzheimer’s Association office.
Eventually, the couple sold their house and headed south to Florida. But they return frequently — especially in summer — to visit family. Their daughter and grandchildren all live in Westport.
Goldfein has gone through other life changes, too. She earned a Ph.D. in communication disorders from Columbia University, and enjoyed a successful career as a speech pathologist, teacher and consultant.
After all that, she found it “a little scary” to be retired and living in the Sunshine State. Nearly 70 years old, she began looking for the next meaningful thing to do with her life.
Goldfein discovered a writing class. She’d always enjoyed putting words on paper. Now she had weekly assignments. The short essays she wrote turned out to be quite funny. Her teacher commented, “I think you’ve found your voice.”
She had. Goldfein wrote about the humor she found in daily life. She submitted them for publication — and received in return a stack of rejection notes.
So she did what any 70-year-old woman would do: She started a blog. Called “1000 Things To Say Before I Die,” it caught the fancy of her friends.
You can guess the next step. “If Nora Ephron can write a book,” she thought, “why can’t I?”
She could. She just could not get it published.
Goldfein’s collection of 50 essays did not interest any agent or publisher. “If you’re not famous, no one cares what you have to say,” Goldfein learned. Of course, she wondered, “If you’re not famous, how do you get famous?”
Good question. So now — at age 74 — Goldfein is embarking on a new adventure. She’s just self-published her first book: “How Old Am I in Dog Years? And Other Thoughts About Life From the Far Side of the Hill.”
It’s a clever, snarky collection of essays that take ordinary events, and turn them on their head.
Topics range from marriage to stiletto heels — all with an AARP-ish twist. A press blurb asks, “Where else can you find reality TV with a senior slant, or organic food shopping with a side of wry?”
One of Goldfein’s favorite essays bears the same title as the book. Poignant as well as humorous, it came out of her realization that her dogs were growing old too. One of her lab retrievers is now 16 (in actual years). “We share geriatric symptoms,” she says. We both have arthritis. Both my husband and my dog are hard of hearing.” There’s a bit of Westport in that essay, because one of Goldfein’s favorite spots in Westport is the Winslow Park dog run.
Another essay describes her transition from city dweller to suburbanite. One upside: appreciating drive-throughs. A downside: not seeing first-run movies the moment they’re released. “I no longer live in ‘selected cities,’ ” Goldfein notes.
The reaction to “How Old Am I in Dog Years” has been very positive, she says. The Westport Barnes & Noble carries it — not bad for a self-published book.
That led to a post on her blog (which will soon change its name to “Unfiltered Wit”). She talked about the thrill of seeing her book on the shelf, its spine next to Nora Ephron’s.
“She’s an ‘E,’ I’m a ‘G,’” Goldfein says. “There’s no ‘F’ in the way.” She laughs. “No effin’ way.”
Then the humorist turns serious. “We’ve been given, through medicine and science, a lot of extra years to live. People today fear retirement, and rightly so. If you’ve worked a long time, and you like what you’ve done, there can be empty space.
“But you can also find meaningful things to do. And it behooves you to do so. There is definitely life after retirement. Don’t let the idea of ‘old person’ keep you from trying things.
“I found my thing,” she concludes. “You can, too. Don’t worry about the number of candles on your cake.”