Woog’s World / Late-in-life career change rewarding for local author
The last time we checked in with Susan Goldfein, the longtime Westporter had just published a book. “How Old Am I in Dog Years? And Other Thoughts About Life From the Far Side of the Hill” was a clever, snarky collections of essays.
Goldfein took ordinary events — marriage, stiletto heels, the fact that both her husband and dog were hard of hearing — and gave them clever, AARP-like twists.
The author knew what she was talking about. She was 74 years old, but this was her first book.
Goldfein may have been nearly a decade into Medicare, and perhaps on the other side of the hill, but she was far from hitting bottom.
With a Ph.D. in communication disorders from Columbia University, she had enjoyed a successful career in New York as a speech pathologist, teacher and consulted. She and her husband Larry — confirmed city dwellers — had owned a second home here since the early 1960s. They moved here full time in the early 1990s, “when New York seemed to be getting less wonderful.” Or maybe, she muses, “we were getting older and crankier.”
Goldfein volunteered with the Jewish Home for the Elderly, and the local Alzheimer’s Association office. She and Larry eventually became part-time Floridians. But they return often — their daughter and grandchildren all live here — and Goldfein enjoys Birchwood Country Club, the Westport Country Playhouse and the dog park (her old dog died; she has a new, “transportable” one).
A decade ago, Goldfein found it “a little scary” to be retired and living part-time in the Sunshine State, then she discovered a writing class. Her teacher liked her voice, but when Goldfein submitted essays for publication, she received a stack of rejection letters.
So she did what any 70-year-old would do: She started a blog. Called “1,000 Things to Say Before I Die,” it evolved from a pass-around-to-friends thing to one read (and enjoyed) by strangers.
Then came her book and three awards for humor writing.
At a time when many people slow down, Goldfein was just catching fire. She began a column for a monthly Florida publication; “Senior Wire” syndicates her work too. “I’m very big in Montana,” Goldfein jokes.
All of which led to her second book (“I didn’t want to be like a one-hit pop star,” the author notes). “How to Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About” came out last year.
Recently, it earned a gold medal in humor writing from the Foreward Indies Book of the Year contest, and the 2019 International Book Award for Humor. That’s in addition to a previous honor: a bronze Independent Publisher Book award.
“I feel like I’ve won the Triple Crown of indie publishing,” Goldfein says. “I have nothing to complain about. But I’m sure I’ll find something.”
Her book with the similar title includes gentle yet dead-on riffs on topics ranging from marriage to the realization that as people age, their fingerprints disappear.
Among the book’s 50 essays, one of Goldfein’s favorites is about her husband’s discovery of Costco. Every time he goes, he gets excited about something new they sell, from clothing to alcohol. “Sure, enormous bottles of scotch are great,” she says. “But now we need a new cabinet for them.”
Goldfein’s late-in-life career has been rewarding and eye-opening. She continues to take writing classes, because they push her to express herself in unique ways. Her work, and its embrace by the public and contest judges, gives her new confidence.
She has also developed something important for any writer in today’s world, but not always easy for one nearing her 80s: a strong social presence.
Goldfein has several thousand followers on Facebook. She communicates with “friends” she’s never met. “I feel like I now have so many pen pals,” she says, using a dated term but one that well describes her life as a well-respected, widely connected author.
She’s enjoying her summer in Westport. It’s a lot greener than Florida, she notes. And though winters there are great, she’s a “Northeast kid” who loves the change of seasons.
Goldfein’s writing debunks many stereotypes of older people (and Florida). Her friends there lead active lives — playing golf, going to the theater and out to dinner — and she’s noticed a big influx of young families. “They’re raising their children there. It’s their home!” she says with wonder.
She is grateful for her success as a writer. But, perhaps with the wisdom of age, Goldfein has no illusions.
“Unless you’re famous for something else, like Amy Schumer, personal essays are not big sellers. Unless something fabulous happens, this will not be a best-seller,” she says. “I’m still waiting for Oprah to call.”
To learn more, visit Susan Goldfein’s website: www.susansunfilteredwit.com.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.