This wasn’t the first time that Susan Goldfein had considered a transition. But in her early 70s, the part-time Palm Beach resident saw the ending of the job she had given her all to, and at a point where many consider retirement, she found that “‘retire’ was like a four-letter word,” she says.
So instead of taking those feelings with her into the sunset, she wrote them down and started a new career, invariably staving off the sunset for the time being.
“I was searching for something else to keep me stimulated and interested,” says Goldfein, 78, now the award-winning author of two books, 2015′s “How Old Am I In Dog Years” and the more recent “How To Complain When There’s Nothing To Complain About,” which won the Gold for Humor in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award as well as winning the 2019 International Book Award for Humor.
“Nora Ephron did it,” she says, invoking the late beloved filmmaker and writer, who channeled her own feelings about aging into bestselling essays. “Why not me?”
She will be signing copies of “How To Complain When There’s Nothing To Complain About” on Nov. 13 at the Palm Beach Bookstore. Besides her blog, “Susan’s Unfiltered Wit,” she also writes a humor column for two senior-targeted papers, Lifestyles After 50 on Florida’s west coast and the Vegas Voice, in Las Vegas, and is syndicated with a distributor called Senior Wire. She has also been published in The Palm Beach Post.
Writing has given the author and speaker, who splits her time between a sun-drenched waterfront home on Palm Beach and one in Connecticut with her husband Larry, a new purpose. And she hopes to provide inspiration for others of her generation who find themselves with similar disinterest in consigning themselves to the golf course.
“The population I had worked with was the elderly, and now I was one of them,” she says, laughing.
Goldfein has a Doctorate in speech pathology from New York’s Columbia University and was an adjunct professor there,
Her writing career began as her previous one as consultant for the New York chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association was involuntarily winding down, a situation partly attributed to disgraced investment advisor Bernard Madoff. His ransacking of the money of some of New York’s wealthiest people meant that “donations dried up, and they let me go,” she says.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Goldfein admits, so when she and Larry retreated to their Palm Beach home, she poured herself into a series of writing classes offered annually at the Kravis Center called The Writer’ Academy, conducted by instructor Julie Gilbert.
Although “I’d never done any serious writing” outside of professional papers, the fledgling wordsmith says she found that when she attacked the assigned writing prompts, the result “invariably…would come out humorous.”
Instructor Gilbert noticed, too, and “put a Post-It note on (an assignment) that said ‘You have a real talent for this. You’ve found your voice,‘” Goldfein remembers. Wanting to explore that new voice, but with “absolutely no track record” as a writer, she pondered what to do with her newly-discovered gift, so she entered a realm usually associated with writers decades younger than her – blogging, although “at 71 years old, it was like ‘Forget about it,’” she jokes.
Goldfein decided not to let the daunting technical aspects of blogging stop her, so she got help putting together a blog and mailing list. The writer says that she saw her niche in the realm of writers like Erma Bombeck and Ephron, who, like her “explored the peculiarities of being a woman and the stupid things we focus on.”
And it’s a niche that apparently needed to be filled, as she found “a core audience of women, who write to me after every essay, and I write them back,” she says. “I feel like I have this friendship.”
That audience, including her more than 5,000 Facebook followers, grew, and began “encouraging me” to turn her twice-monthly essays into a book. But she realized a truth that many writers before her have, in that “publishers won’t publish you if you’re not a well-known person, but if they’re not going to publish me, how can I become a well-known person? I would hear ‘This is good and funny, but not for us, but keep writing.’”
Not one to be deterred, Goldfein published her first book independently. even though “I didn’t expect to become an author at 74.”
“How Old Am I In Dog Years” went onto win the 2016 Delray Beach Library’s Authors’ Showcase, a Silver Medalist in the 2016 Independent Publishers (IPPY) Book Awards in the humor category, and won the prize for humor in the 2017 NYC Big Book Awards.
As proud as she is of the accolades, Goldfein is heartened because she believes she’s tapped into the frustration that people her age feel with what seems their inevitable path.
“I’ve had a few people talk to me about retirement and it scares me. I think part of you disappears,” she says. “I’ve identified as a working person and I really don’t want to give that up. (For my generation) the question is ’How do you know that you’re ready for a transition? You know there’s gonna be a vacuum…You need to be intellectually stimulated. Medicine has extended our lives, and given us these years. There’s no handbook for what to do with them.”
Goldfein’s advice? Do what you feel.
“Volunteer. Start a new business. Don’t do that ‘You’re too old’ thing,” she says. “If you think that way you’ve got to slap yourself in the face.”
And maybe, then, write your next chapter, just like Goldfein did.