Diary of a 99%-er: The Struggle Between Survival and Creative Expression takes a humorous look at the contrast between struggling to survive financially and expressing oneself creatively. This novel also delves into: politics; healthcare; work and micromanagement; spirituality; and yoga.
This fictional novel is based in Orange County and references several venues in OC including Dana Point, Laguna Beach, the Ramakrishna Monastery and the Helena Modjeska Historic House and Gardens, a National Historic Landmark.
This is a fictional novel about a couple, who are both part of the 99%, and their humorous trials and tribulations as they try to make ends meet in beautiful Orange County, CA, against the backdrop of recession.
Who comprises the 99%?
We are the majority of Americans, who have to work for a living, sometimes struggling to just keep a roof over our heads.
If this is you, you can relate to this novel.
This book was inspired by President Obama recognizing the 99%. Here is a link to an article that references the origin of the term 99%: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105
If you’ve ever had a micro-managing boss, you can relate to this novel.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, how did I get into this dead-end job, and how can I get out of it, you can relate to this novel.
If you’ve ever yearned to express yourself creatively and make a living doing so, thereby extricating yourself from the 9-5, paycheck-to-paycheck treadmill, you can relate to this novel.
If you turn to spirituality and yoga to cope, you can relate to this novel.
“Whether it is clear to you or not, the Universe is unfolding as it should.” – Max Ehrmann
Well, Max, upon this particular day it is not abundantly clear that the Universe is unfolding as it should. Here I am, Toni Kelly, living in one of the most affluent areas in the Universe – a veritable mecca of BMW’s, Botox and bleached blondes. And, here’s me with my natural breasts; kinky, red hair; and teeth that have moved so far out of alignment that they’re practically in someone else’s mouth. I’m driving my beat-up ‘95 Chevy Malibu, with no air conditioning (summer is about to start soon, yea!), replete with red duct tape holding up the torn-and-tattered interior upholstery. Did I mention this is in Southern California? Yes, I am one of the 99% in a county known for the 1% who have made it famous, or infamous, depending on how you look at it. This is Orange County, CA, home of The Irvine Co., Real Housewives, and Kobe Bryant.
I’m driving to my full-time job at a private company that conducts academic and scientific research. The working environment is intolerable to me because of the pissy micromanagers. The refrain from the Talking Heads song, “And, I ask myself, How did I get here?” rolls through my head.
I think back to Valentine’s Day last year, the day my boyfriend, Simon, moved in and how auspicious that date seemed. And, how he promised me that he’d get a job as soon as possible. But how now, more than a year later, we are still squeezed into the same 580 s.f. apartment, which is smaller than any place I’ve ever lived in by myself, and costs almost $1400 a month!
So, here I am, an Ivy League grad living with my unemployed boyfriend - who, bless his heart, has been trying to find work here in Orange County – a cornucopia of abundance and prosperity, for the most part, since it was genetically engineered by the Irvine Co. out of beige wood. And, yes, while plenty of people have been laid off in the past few years, including me and Simon, there are still tons of luxury cars on the private Toll Roads every morning, which I pay for as my one splurge, since it saves considerable time and stress, considering the ridiculous traffic on the freeways here in SoCal.
The good news? Simon gets food stamps since he’s been unemployed for so long. He doesn’t get unemployment benefits anymore since he’s already exhausted multiple extensions. He really is an upstanding, industrious type. He just got burnt out after working for 15 years, raising a family, and going through a divorce from hell. And, he’s looked for work in the whole gamut of industries – from Starbucks to the niche he used to work in, selling high-end amenities, which of course, were the first to be ditched during the recession.
All I want – well I want a few things: First, I want to get AC back into my trusty Malibu so I don’t have to melt my way through a second SoCal summer. I tried to equate last summer’s misery to doing hot yoga in my car, without actually having to do the yoga. Sweating out the toxins while driving – yea!
But what I really want, the Holy Grail, is to manifest enough abundance and prosperity to buy myself freedom and autonomy. I know - that sounds like a mouthful. All it means is I want to create wealth with my own skills and talents without working for someone else. At this point in my life, freedom and autonomy are more important than anything else. I don’t want a McMansion or a BMW or any enormous material assets. After working my entire adult life for other people, I want my freedom. And my MTV (80s joke). I must have been a wild animal in my previous life because my desire for freedom is so strong and primal.
But since I’ve only worked for other people, breaking this paradigm has been a little challenging, to say the least, especially in the middle of a recession. Exacerbating this challenge is the sad fact that there are no female role models in my family’s history that I can even try to emulate, like an Aunt Emma who sold antiques and became fabulously wealthy. Not one female in my family has attained wealth on her own. I come from a pretty traditional family where the men work at high-paying jobs, i.e. engineering, medicine and law, and are the providers for the entire family. So, the wives depend on them. My mom did work before she married my Dad and also worked for brief stints during their marriage. But she mostly was a stay-at-home mom and never the sole or primary breadwinner. Same for my sister.
So here I am, trying to break the space-time continuum and create my own wealth, without having to rely on anyone else. But I can’t really share this pipe dream with other people, because the only response I would get back is, “Are you frickin’ crazy? You should be grateful to have a job during this recession.” I pretty much hear this all the time anyway, even without any prompting.
But here’s the rub. It’s incredibly difficult to be grateful for something that makes me feel so miserable and stifled. On David Hawkin’s vibrational scale, my job environment rates pretty low.
The real issue is that as a journalist for most of my professional career, I had gobs of freedom and autonomy – going out to interview people by myself, writing the stories by myself, and then, thankfully, having them edited by an editor - an imperative, especially in this day and age, with every blogger thinking they’re a journalist. But the point is, I didn’t realize how lucky I was and how SOL everyone who works in an administrative, bureaucratic environment is, with all the ridiculous rules, regulations and protocols. The control and micromanagement is off the charts. I have never experienced anything like it in my life. So, having to go from journalism to administration, because of the Internet’s effect on journalism (a lot less strictly writing jobs and the ones that are mostly going to recent college grads for pennies in salary) combined with the recession’s effect on almost all professions, is like hell for me. And, that’s just the big picture. Then you add in pissy micromanagers and ridiculously repetitive, mundane work, and it’s a miracle I haven’t slit my wrists.
So what am I doing to raise my vibration while I try to extricate myself from this environment? For the past few years, my spiritual practice has gotten me through. I have a trifecta of spiritual sherpas to guide me; ironically their names all start with E. I’m sure that means something. I just don’t know what.
First is Eckhart Tolle. His book, The Power of Now, was my portal into the workings of the inner mind. I learned more from that book than from any other book I’ve ever read. So, E.T. keeps me present, reminds me to watch my egoic thoughts and not react to them, and taught me a whole slew of other fabulous techniques. In my opinion, this should be required reading for everyone on the planet.
Then, there’s Ernest Holmes. His writings and philosophy enabled me to take things a quantum leap farther by teaching me that the thoughts I intentionally create mold my reality. So, instead of just being aware of my monkey mind and monitoring egoic reactions and emotions, I can take a more active role in creating what I want and how I want to feel. I’m not saying this is easy. It’s extremely challenging, since our brains are hardwired a certain way and our egos originally protected us from danger back in prehistoric times. The challenge is that those primal fears, like being eaten by a woolly mammoth, are thankfully gone, but the ego is still trying to protect us and micromanage our affairs and in doing so, creates all sorts of paranoia, judgments, over-reactions, etc. It’s our job as mindful thinkers to just be aware of this and be the silent witness behind all these egoic thoughts, according to Tolle. Love him for making this so clear!
Then there’s Eric Butterworth, author of Spiritual Economics, who got me through my first layoff and is my go-to guide in times of financial crisis.
Yoga and meditation are also essential parts of my spiritual practice, keeping me grounded and present for the most part, and better able to go with the flow and just let things unfold, without always trying to figure out or predetermine the outcome. Although, I do have my moments and my meltdowns. I’m only human.
Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote one of the greatest books ever about the journey of self-inquiry,Eat, Pray, Love, I have never felt the urge to get a guru or go to India. My three E’s are like a
council of wise elders that I can refer to at any time, without having to go anywhere, since I have their books at home.
What I do want, however, is free time to work on my own creative writing projects, which right now include a book and a play. I yearn for creative expression so deeply and write every chance I can, although my attention and energy are usually depleted after a day immersed in mind-numbing administrative work. Whose aren’t in this age of information overload?
So, as I pull into the parking lot at work this morning, I repeat the intention that I’ve been saying every day recently. “I am a blessed child of the Universe. I experience abundance and prosperity. I am free and autonomous.” I say it again, a little louder, then a little louder. Now, I’m practically screaming it. I make sure my windows are rolled up, as I maneuver into a parking space. I envision everyone in the parking lot can hear me, but I know they can’t. Still, I take it back down to a whisper anyway.
As I head to my office, I brace myself for the onslaught of emails in my inbox this morning. Thankfully, there’s only 100 staring me in the face - not bad for a Monday morning.
Later that evening, doing my daily yoga practice at home, I pause in downward dog. I take a deep breath and just let all the stress of the day melt away. When I’m done, Simon gives me a back rub. And, then we eat the lentils and rice he’s just cooked, our daily staple.
Before I go to sleep, I give thanks for Simon, his presence in my life and what a good cook he is.
“Every day, every moment, every second, there is choice. If it were not so, we would not be individuals.” – Ernest Holmes
So how did I get to be one of the 99%? Because of my chosen profession. I grew up in an upper-middle class family on the East Coast, a family in which both parents were not only the first to go to college, but attended Ivy League colleges and graduated Summa Cum Laude. This is why they inculcated my sister and me from Day One with the zealousness of a patriot that going to college was not a choice, it was a requirement. And that an Ivy League college could get us much farther in the world than any other college. So, my sister and I applied to some Ivy Leagues and, lo and behold, we both got in. How that happened I will never know. So, I ended up going to Dartmouth and my sister to Brown. We both did the work-study thing because Mom and Dad made barely enough to send us to these venerable institutions, so thanks again M&D!
Because writing was my passion from early childhood, I decided to become a journalist. I always assumed that with each passing year, each promotion and each new job, I’d receive more money and more stability. So, I never looked too far into the future, trying to take a more go-with-the-flow approach. In the beginning of my career, that worked like a charm, but with the Internet, which no one envisioned when I was in college, coupled with the Great Recession, the journalism field floundered like a beached whale, with newspapers either being consolidated, going online only or becoming altogether extinct, like the sad fate of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009. I never worked in high-tech – the upside is I was not affected by the dot-com bubble bursting in the early days of the new millennium; the downside – I never received one stock option that I could cash out to become a gazillionaire.
So, while my parents went on to achieve as much wealth as you can working for others – through my dad’s job as a manager for a large insurance company– I have never been able to even come close to their wealth or ever consider buying property of my own, after growing up in a mansion. Luckily, the material side of wealth has never been that important to me. I’ve been content with roommates and tiny one-bedroom apartments and my trusty Chevy Malibu.
So, to finish up this explanation. As each year passes, I definitely crave financial stability and with this recession, that craving is firmly colliding with my innate urge toward inquiry and self-expression, the two predominant factors that inspired me to become a journalist in the first place.
“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” - Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau knew a lot about nature. In fact, he wrote the book on it. If he had ever left his beloved Walden Pond and visited Orange County way back when, I think even he would have been transfixed by its natural beauty, especially when it actually lived up to its name, with acres and acres of orange groves.
Coastal Orange County is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. In the summertime, it is truly magical. The beaches are fairly accessible, there are a lot of them, and some of them are intimate coves that are mainly frequented by locals. Laguna Beach, in particular, sparkles with myriad outdoor art festivals, including the uber-unique Pageant of the Masters. Cute little trolleys roam up and down Pacific Coast Highway, ferrying tourists, bikini-clad locals and surfers, free of charge.
I have lived in other places around the country, but the allure of Laguna Beach is irresistible. Same for Dana Point, especially driving down Golden Lantern. When you come to the top of the hill, the Pacific Ocean is splayed out in front of you like a sparkling jewel. Since living in OC, I’ve had no desire to travel to Italy because we have our own slice of the Mediterranean coastline right here in our backyard. It takes my breath away every time I see it, no matter what the time of day or season.
The Dana Point harbor also possesses stunning views for walkers and I try to walk there as much as possible. At the far end of the harbor, near the Ocean Institute, are some benches on a small bluff overlooking the ocean. Simon and I have dubbed this area “Chi Corner” because of the fabulous fresh and ionic air there. Pelicans abound, and tourists and locals come to sit and gaze upon the ocean.
But there is also a sacred, sensual underbelly here in Orange County that you may only be aware of if you live here. When there’s a full moon, a gigantic drumming circle coalesces around the fire pits at a beach in Laguna, while a few feet away fire dancers perform their electrifying art. Hundreds of people come out with their drums and tambourines and revel in the lunar energy. And, there is a goddess temple tucked away in one of the most mundane, industrial office parks you can find, deliciously close to John Wayne Airport and the macho energy embodied in his spirit. Airplanes thunder overhead, but inside is a sacred stillness, with shrines dedicated to goddesses representing the different seasons. It is a luscious vortex of divine, feminine energy – a miracle in a county that for so long was dominated by conservative white men, who wouldn’t recognize their own Shakti if it rose up their spine and hit them in the head. It’s like the county suddenly had its own Kundalini awakening and sprouted these magnificent rituals and places to honor nature and the seasons and remind us that we are all part of the constant flux of divine energy.
And, although OC has gotten a bad rap for decades because of its conservatism -- and deservedly so -- in the past decade it has become remarkably more diverse. There are two Hispanic Congresswomen representing the area, who happen to be sisters; there are large Asian enclaves in Garden Grove and Westminster; and more people than ever voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections.
And it hasn’t always been wine and roses here in OC. Infamously, it was the biggest county at the time (1994) to go bankrupt, to the tune of $1.64 billion, based on a dicey investment strategy by the treasurer/tax collector at the time.
Despite the bankruptcy and the recent recession, OC is still a huge tourist destination and an incredibly expensive place to live. The residents are primarily the wealthy 1% and the service industry that makes minimum wage serving the tourists. The middle class, which used to be more vibrant, is disappearing like quicksand – either moving to other states or the Inland Empire. For the 99%, making ends meet here in OC is a supreme challenge.
All that being said, the aesthetic beauty of Orange County has made an indelible imprint on my heart, so I want to stay and make it work with Simon. More importantly, I want to do so from a place of financial abundance.