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Interview with C.J. Golden, Author of "The Tao of the Defiant Woman: A Guide to Life Over 40"
We are very pleased to have with us CJ Golden, who recently published a book that is a resource for women dealing with life changes. Welcome to Reader Views.
Irene: You recently wrote a great book for women who are dealing with transitions to another stage of their lives. Please state the gist of your book.
CJ: Thank you for calling the book “a great resource for women.” In essence, it is a guide to follow as we go through life’s transitions and challenges. My narrator, Taogirl, is someone who inspires us to remember to embrace the ancient Taoist philosophy. It also reminds us to pair it with a defiant attitude: an attitude that defies old-fashioned stereotypes, limitations, and self-defeating attitudes.
Irene: What inspired you to write this book?
CJ: Quite honestly, I needed to write this book for myself. Every year I have had an extremely hard time accepting my birthday – realizing that I am getting older and not knowing how to “be” at each new age and stage. I wanted to live a more active and vital life than my mother, I wanted to be more like my daughter, but I didn’t know how to do it. Or if it was even possible. Back then, I was completely caught up in our youth-oriented society.
Irene: “The Tao of Defiant Women.” Your book title seems contradictory. On the one hand, “Tao” refers to harmony in life, and on the other hand, “defiant” refers to a person with an attitude. Please give us insight into how the two can meet in the middle and create the harmony of the Tao.
CJ: Taoism recognizes that we are all part of the Universe, and since the Universe follows a natural path, so do we. That being said, Taoism is not complacent, it does not tell us to give up and give up when faced with challenges. Taoism also teaches that a healthy soul requires a healthy body to support it. Now we come to “defiance”. The dictionary defines it as bold. Attitude (or not) comes when we realize what it is to resist. As I stated above, this defiance is a fight against stereotypes and negativity. Nowhere in the book do I tell women to defy aging or to rise to a challenge in their lives. I recommend resisting anything and anyone – including yourself – that prevents you from continuing on your journey through life joyfully and vibrantly.
Irene: I agree with you when you tell us to defy stereotypes and rewrite the scripts. I often think back to when I was growing up and how there was an idea in my cultural community that once a woman reached menopause she was considered “old”. When I look at pictures of my grandmother when she was 10 years younger than me, I see a very unhappy old woman. Do you think stereotyping started in cultures? Or how it started?
CJ: Irene, I’m not a sociologist, so my thoughts are just that – my thoughts based solely on my own beliefs and not on scientific study. Now, having said that, I will answer your question: I have seen cultures here in the States other than ours that admire old people for their wisdom and spirit. Even Native Americans seem to honor the older members of their society. My friends in Europe (note the past tense) recognized the beauty of an older woman and did not discount the physical changes that the passage of years brought. Still, I recently received a letter from a woman in the Netherlands who bought my book to help her embrace her advancing years. When I asked why she felt that way, she said that we Americans are sending our youth-oriented culture across the ocean and they’re buying right into it.
However, you mention your grandmother who looked very old and very unhappy. Some of this generation have accepted their age with contentment. The part of my philosophy that seemed to be missing was defiance – the joy of staying vital and active. Today’s medical science has made it possible for our bodies to stay “younger” longer. It’s our attitudes that need “tuning” now.
Irene: You have dealt with hundreds of women who are transitioning into different stages of their lives. Do you think turning 40 is the hardest transition and why?
CJ: I have to say 40 was the hardest transition for me. My children were grown, left the nest, so I was not needed as their mother, as I had become accustomed to. Even though I always worked outside the home, I still defined myself as my husband’s wife and my children’s caregiver. That was changing, and I wasn’t entirely sure that there was still a life ahead of me—one that could be more self-centered. For some women, the hardest transition comes later. For a couple, earlier. Ten-year birthdays (or even the last year before a new decade) always seem to be the hardest. However, our transitions don’t always revolve around our age. There are changes in our health, relationships, families, business lives and the world around us. All of this is difficult.
Irene: Why do women have trouble transitioning?
CJ: It’s always hard to let go of the old and embrace the new. We knew what we had. No matter how difficult the situation might be, she knew. And if it was great – well, who wants to leave “great” behind? Being thrown into a new situation usually brings some anxiety. how will we feel what will happen to us What will life be like in this new situation? These are all very real concerns. Women in particular often put their lives on hold to take care of their families. They often don’t understand who they are or what skills and strengths they really have. This is where the combination of Tao and defiance comes in – accepting what we must (the loss of the old) and doing everything we can to remain vital and joyful (the acceptance of the new).
Irene: Is it different for men?
CJ: I suspect not, though I’m certainly no expert. We are all human beings with the same fears and anxieties. Men may struggle with different issues than us women. And they may express (or not express) their fears in different ways, but I bet they all have some area of life or transition that presents a challenge
Irene: What stage is the easiest for women to transition into? And why?
CJ: Wow. I’m not sure I have an answer to that. Each of us transitions differently. I had an extremely hard time just knowing I was getting old. Many women say they don’t have a problem with it. Some have trouble accepting their new, older, physical characteristics. Others don’t care about gray hair and wrinkles at all. One woman may have gone through empty nest syndrome; divorce; a career change, while another finds it more difficult to deal with one or more of these transitions. We are all made up differently. However, one thing I know for sure is that it is possible to accept these challenges and continue living life to the fullest no matter what changes lie ahead.
Irene: For you personally, what has been the most difficult transition so far? How did you find a way to calm down about the transition?
CJ: I’ve had to deal with my divorce, my parents passing, my kids growing up and becoming independent young adults, a few minor illnesses, but the hardest transition I’ve faced happened just five short years ago. I did not want, in any way, no matter what, to become a grandmother. Of course, that meant I was getting really old. No matter how much I hid from my birthday, the little kid who gets to call me Grandma spills the beans. Everyone would know I’m not twenty-five anymore. (Of course I looked a very elderly and haggard twenty-five year old, as I was really fifty-seven). One of the stories in the book is about Joanne who worked in a craft store. One day she met an older woman customer who was wearing a very cute baseball cap covered in studs and buttons. When asked about the hat, the women said that as long as she was a grandmother, she would be a “quirky” grandmother to these children. After all, “every child deserves an eccentric grandmother”, she concluded. Joanne took it to heart and so did I when I heard the story. Now I love being the “eccentric” grandmother of my three grandchildren. What joy they have. I learned that being a grandmother does not make me “old”. It didn’t stop me from still being vital and joyful. The “old” was only in my head and I didn’t have to let it up there holding me back anymore. How much I would have missed if I hadn’t learned that lesson!
Irene: TV and movies often define a woman by her body shape. Most of us are not what the media portrays us to be, we know it’s superficial, yet we desire the bodies of a youthful figure.
CJ: That’s a shame, isn’t it! And every time we allow ourselves to go under the knife, get liposuction, medically alter our bodies or faces, we perpetuate this myth and culture of the “perfect youthful body.” I know I need to lose weight – not because I don’t like the way I look (it’s pretty good, thank you – somewhere between Sandra Bullock and Queen Latifa, and they both look amazing the way they are). My desire to drop the numbers on my scale is based solely on maintaining the most desirable weight for optimal health. Maybe if more of us stop falling into the “be young and thin to be beautiful” trap, we can slowly change the cultural perception of beauty. How cool would that be?!
Irene: CJ, you are very encouraging to women facing transition. The important thing is that we realize that we are constantly transitioning – from the very beginning of our birth. It just seems harder as we get wiser. Your book “The Tao of Defiant Women—A Guide to Life Over 40” gives us permission to be who we are and embrace the wisdom we’ve gleaned along the way. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your book?
CJ: I hope that not only the book, but the philosophy will travel the country and help women through these very difficult transitions in life. We need to gain strength by being role models for each other and creating a community of caring. I call such communities “Taogirl Gatherings” where we gather in small groups for support; learning from each other and recognizing the power we have as a group of individuals. My website was created to help all Taogirls come together and share. On it, women will find a question and answer page, information about my travels as I travel the country doing workshops and speaking events. There’s a Taogirl Wisdom of the Week—a light, uplifting quote—that you can sign up for and receive by email every Sunday. A sequel to THE TAO OF THE DEFIANT WOMAN is in the planning stages and will be written by those readers who are willing to share with me their experiences as they walk their own path of Tao and defiance. Information about this is also on the website. I sincerely hope that women reading this will visit http://www.taogirl.com. I would also like to hear them in person; maybe help them start their own Taogirl Gathering. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Irene, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you. It has been my pleasure and always exciting to share my Tao philosophy and Taogirl defiance.
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