For today, we have two ‘advice’ books on troubling topics; both have strong local ties, and both suggest happy endings. The first book deals with one of the worst things (except perhaps for a disastrous medical diagnosis of yourself or someone you love) that can happen: losing your job when you’re more than 50 years old. It happened to Bob Sloane of Old Greenwich, who was “corporate-downsized” out of an executive job when he was over 50. In the course of reinventing himself to move on, he was obviously not alone in his plight and he teamed up with his co-author Tucker Mays, as the cliché has it, to make lemonade out of the lemons life had handed them and set up a company called OptiMarket LLC to coach over-fifty unemployed businessmen on how to move on, often to bigger and better things.
They have collaborated on a handy little book called Fired at 50, which is subtitled How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge. I was impressed with their effort. Unlike many ‘self-help’ books this is not a string of optimistic slogans or New Age mantras; it is a crisp, business-like manual for tackling this challenge. They offer workable suggestions for getting good advice up front, for overcoming the age bias by making your age and experience assets, checklists for recognizing promising targets, serious as distinguished from yak-yak networking (hint: 80 percent of jobs come from people you didn’t know when you started to look - not from your existing buddies), how to convince potential bosses who are younger than you that this will not be a problem – for you or more importantly for them, tips for successful interviewing, and the big things to look for in salary demands or other conditions when you are offered a job. If you or someone you care about is in this position, this book will be a valuable asset.
Another terrible situation is an abusive relationship, and another author with strong Old Greenwich connections has written a scary, but ultimately optimistic, account of exactly that in her brand-new book Tornado Warning, subtitled A Memoire of Teen Dating Violence and its Effect on a Woman’s Life. Elin Stebbins Waldal grew up in Old Greenwich. I knew the family and dined with them fairly often: her father, hard-rock geologist Bob Stebbins, her erudite and witty mother Elinor (a former WASP pilot in World War Two, ferrying planes around for the Army Air Corps), and her siblings. Elin was a year younger than one daughter and a year older than my son, so they moved in intersecting kid orbits as when Elin was in her early teens. I mention this because it clearly illustrates one of the diabolical aspects of date and relationship abuse: neither I nor my children who had known Elin well had a clue as to the terrible experiences in her past.
When Elin was 17 she was smitten with “a guy who was older, living on his own, and running his own business.” She calls him Derrick, and came to learn that his mother was slapped around by her live-in male and that Derrick was regularly beaten-on by his older brother who actually hit her as well (all unthinkable behavior at the Stebbins house). Elin was too young and innocent to realize that abused kids of abused mothers can readily become abusers themselves. Derrick was of course “picked on” by the cops, whined constantly and was regularly disrespectful of her. As she says, “abusive behavior erodes a person slowly.” Like many victims, first she felt “really sorry for Derrick (who) looked so sad when I said goodbye to him.” And her “parents had no idea about the red flags of abuse…. I managed to cover myself in long garments that hid the cuts and bruises.”
After several years of this torment, during which Derrick both abused her and tried to control her education and every aspect of her life, Elin broke free, became a wife, mother, and founder of a group called “Girls kNOw more”, geared to building the self-esteem in middle-school-aged girls that makes them resistant to abuse. Her book builds her story from her teen-aged diaries and correspondence, and her own memories. I think it is worth reading for any young woman, and especially for parents of teen-aged girls. This tale of horrific abuse is not something than happened in Dogpatch or on Tobacco Road; Elin grew up in a nice family right here in Town (sure, they had their issues; who doesn’t?) whose only contribution to their daughter’s ordeal was to be innocently unaware of the subtle signs of abuse - signs which are routinely denied and concealed by the young victims like her.
In local literary news, the novelist Amor Towles, whose romantic novel Rules of Civility hit the New York Times best-seller list, will speak in the Cole Auditorium at the Greenwich Library at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15. The event is free, and the doors open at 6 p.m.
*Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the introductory paragraph.