No, I'm not kidding.
I've been called an angel, a prophet, a divine messenger, but no one has ever called me a god before. In the midst of being called a "god," I received my first book contract of 2018. It's the first of two from the same Disney-owned publishing house. Both books are part of a health and wellness series. Then, on October 10th (or #1010), my second chapter on American Millennials and sexuality debuts for the Book Hub series on mental health. But, that's not all....
Sadly, it's all I can tell you about--at least, for now. Well, there is that Dinty W. Moore anthology coming out this year, too. Penn State named me as one of a handful of "notable writers" included in the book, calling it nothing short of "spectacular." When I look at things like that Penn State review, and think of certain former "colleagues"--the ones who seized on any difference they possibly could to make my life utterly miserable (for years, mind you)--I can't help but laugh a little. Okay, I laugh a lot. The lesson, of course, is that when people try to convince you that you are bad at something, you should ALWAYS know that those individuals have targeted you--not because you are what they say you are--but because you are actually AMAZING at whatever it is you are supposedly bad at.
Today, my books are sold in a ridiculous number of countries and languages. My blog has well over 2-million readers from 124 countries. I have new book contracts as well as multiple peer-reviewed publications in the can. But before any of that happened, I taught writing at a Doctoral-granting university in New York where I was nominated for eleven teaching-excellence awards in a six-year period, earning five. And, not five awards for teaching jut anyone--five awards for teaching disabled students, deaf students, first-year students, non-traditional students, and students who spoke English as their second language. I wasn't just a good writing teacher--I was great. But, I'm also a woman. And, disabled. I'm part of the LGBTQIA community and have transgender friends and relatives. None of which was appreciated by my mostly male (and straight) colleagues. There were female colleagues who didn't like me too much either--but I think that was because they were under the influence of the patriarchal culture. Hey, it's hard to stand up for other women when you see a group of men going after one--you could be the next target if you don't go along. For example, I had a male colleague at this particular university come up and study my face during a department meeting before saying this:
"You sure you don't use Botox? You have no wrinkles whatsoever."
Now, I ask you, how is it even remotely relevant in a department meeting whether or not a 35-year old woman has wrinkles??? It isn't. And, wasn't. Yet, I was still asked. In front of everyone, by the way. My medical history was also questioned. I was threatened multiple times. Told I was a "disease" that needed to be "burned away." Yes, like Jews in the Holocaust, because I have Jewish ancestry. And Christian ancestry. And, many, many Muslim friends and relatives. Many Buddhist friends. Many Hindu friends. My DNA shows I'm connected to nearly everyone from all over the world--Asian, Native American, Middle-Eastern, European, and African. Egyptian DNA. Greek DNA. Ukranian. German. Irish. An eye-doctor once told me my eyes were "too far apart to be Caucasian." Again, it was one of those moments where I wondered why that was relevant in what was a routine eye-exam, but nothing surprises me anymore.
I wasn't allowed to achieve tenure during my tenure with the misogynist, sexist, racist, anti-Semitic colleagues, even after a decade of teaching at this same school and more peer-reviewed articles than any of my colleagues had published in their entire careers--unless you count the hand-sewn books they made together in the park that one time. A professor is typically considered for tenure after six years of teaching and at least one peer-reviewed, published article; I worked four years beyond that point and still wasn't given my shot. To add insult to the overall injury, the resistance to promoting me came after being paid a whopping $13,000 a year (before taxes!!!)--a $30,000 (minimum) difference from my male colleagues who started at the same time in the same rank but had less publications, and often, less education. In order for me to be paid more, I had to agree to teach 12 classes 30-weeks per academic year. In case you're wondering, full-time teaching is six classes 30-weeks per academic year--possibly seven or eight, depending on things like student-enrollment and faculty-availability. Basically, I was required to teach three-times more than anyone else just to earn what was still $15,000-$20,000 less than at least three other male colleagues, several of whom started after I did and absolutely did not have a resume even close to mine. Never mind the mountain of positive student evaluations I had....
Of over 200 student evaluations I'd receive each year (thanks to my teaching so many classes), I'd perhaps have a handful of students who were less than happy--not more than five or six reviews. That's roughly 3% of the total number of students who filled out an evaluation. My average rating was 4.8/5--equivalent to getting an "A."
I advised student clubs, started a writing contest and scholarship, began a writing club, a movie-club, and created an e-zine for students...I also sat on committees at every level, even did state and national service. Essentially, I was working ten-times harder and producing twice as much as anyone else in my department...and all to barely make $35,000 a year. After taxes and contributions to my family's health insurance, I wasn't even bringing home $15,000 a year. That number is well below poverty level. SO, when I talk to you about life being unfair, or people treating you poorly for no reason, or bad things happening outside of your control--please know that I've LIVED it. I have a Ph. D. and a Masters, but I have NEVER been paid even close to the national average for women in my field. Makes me wonder if those numbers are correct. And, I live in America where freedom is supposed to ring because there are "laws" to protect individual rights. But in my experience, and the experience of many other Americans who are somehow different from the dominant social group, those laws protect no one outside of those with the money and power to invoke them.
Nasty colleagues are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. If you're a frequent reader, you know I've somehow survived high-grade malignant cancer--more than once! It's 27 years this year, but I was given only two in 2001. Doctors look at me like I'm a freak of nature. A comic book character come to life. But maybe my Yogi friend is more right than I know--perhaps I'm a god dressed in a human suit? Obviously, I'm still susceptible to things like human disease--yet I live, even when I'm not supposed to. In Ireland, such humans were called the Tuatha de Danaan. Tolkien called them Elves. I think it's more likely that I'm just a typical woman, except, I've been forced to evolve. Adapt. Darwin would be happy, but his cousin Francis Galton wouldn't be too thrilled.
Part of what has made me "immortal" is my belief that things are better than they are. That, people are better than they are. I believe in people so much. Not because I have to either. It would be easy for someone like me to play the part of the victim. But defeat isn't something I inherited from Africa, the place where all life began. I did not learn to give up from my Israeli or Egyptian ancestors either, or, the Huns, Vikings, Greeks, Irish, Germans, Russians, nor from my Native American great grandparents. Look around the world. Wherever you are from, whatever you believe in, whoever you are--you are also built for success. We're probably even related somewhere down the line. That means you're a god, too. Maybe an angel? A prophet? Divine-messenger??? Take your pick!
None of us are put on Earth to suffer. There's plenty of suffering though--because, humans create it when we don't have to. All the more reason to rise above! Every single thing I've ever accomplished was hard-fought, hard-won, and hard-earned inch-by-tedious-inch. No one has ever helped me or made my life easier. I had no contacts in teaching or publishing--how could I? I was the first in my family (as a third-generation American on my father's side and half of my mother's side) to earn a graduate degree, a post-graduate degree, to write a book, or frankly, to publish anything at all. And, I did all that AFTER being a teen mom, single parent, and surviving my first bout with cancer. I wasn't born in NYC or LA. I had no famous friends or relatives. Everything I've done, I've EARNED. The hard way, because, the hard way is the ONLY way a "normal" person who isn't also white and male can achieve anything at all.
I want each of you reading this right now to know that you CAN succeed, no matter what obstacles are in your path. You CAN rise above the negativity. You CAN do more than the "haters" say you can. By the way, the only reason you have any haters at all is because you are EXTREMELY talented. If you weren't, everyone would like you. The fact that not everyone does is not a reflection on you either, but on the individuals who choose to perpetuate negativity. Unless you're a ruthless relative who abuses the trust of a child, or, a man that feels hurting a woman on any level is acceptable. Then, people may not like you simply because you're an asshole. Not the kind of talent we should promote, especially as a species who thrives only through cooperation and community.
All any of us may ever do is strive to live our best lives. That does not mean the world will always cooperate when we do. Whether we are gods or not. It does not mean that life will be perfect. It does not mean you will find true love, or, when you do, that you can keep it. Living your best life means striving to be the best you can be that day, that hour, that minute. No matter what.
Despite the inequities we may face as human beings, there will always be a new beginning. There will forever be a new door or window. A second chance at a second chance. Another sunrise. When you're in the midst of persecution, you might feel like death is better than whatever it is you're facing--and, that might be true--but what is 100% true is that, if you survive whatever you're going through, you WILL get another shot at redemption. Renewal. Reconnection. Rejuvenation. Resurrection. And, you (and all those connected to you) WILL reap MAJOR rewards as a result.
This great Japanese saying talks about how, if you fall down seven times, you get up eight. That's life. Anyone who judges you for falling--or getting up, for that matter--is not worth your time or energy. Period. You are above such negativity. You cheer people on, regardless of who they are or what they can (or can't) do for you. You believe that the world can be better. Look at movies like Black Panther and Wonder Woman...African-Americans and women were not treated with respect in the States. Both groups were looked at as property--something to be owned. Which meant, something that could also be discarded. And, even after each received the right to vote (although 50 years apart), it took another 100+ years for those rights to be properly recognized. Even on the cusp of the third decade in the 21st century, there is still rampant racism and sexism. Yet, Wonder Woman and Black Panther broke records in the box office. Wonder Woman, with a cast lead by a Jewish-Israeli woman and directed by a woman, earned $200-million in the first three days after its release! Black Panther, a film that was written by, directed and starred African-Americans, also made $200-million in the first three days.
Wow. All those generations of white guys were totally wrong. So very, very wrong....
Of course, as individuals, we don't have hundreds of years to wait for society to catch up to us. But we can see--thanks to comic books and movies (or, art)--that there is hope for a much better future. A future where women will be paid at least as much as male peers. A future where everyone will have equal job opportunities, equal opportunity for promotions and raises, and never have to be physically examined in a department meeting and asked why they were pretty, or how that was possible without injecting a disease into their face.