Light and Darkness

As far back as I can remember, there’s been a darkness inside me. Yes, I’ve hid it well. It’s the part of me that revels in my own genius, my ability to pull the wool over the eyes of those who seek to find me out. It’s the part of me that watches Criminal Minds and thinks, “yeah, I could do that.”

Perhaps you mistake me. Perhaps that last statement could be misconstrued. Let me make it clear. I’m not referring to the honorable investigators who seek out those criminals, capturing them and putting them in their place. No, I’m saying that I see myself in some of those monsters.

It’s a darkness that scares even me sometimes. Makes me wonder about split personalities and the nature of evil. It makes me realize how little we know about everyone else, even those closest to us, for we can never know what thoughts run deepest through even our most beloved’s mind.

Then I see the smile in my niece’s eyes, and her innocence, and I think that I would do anything to protect her. And I create fantasies in my mind of conversations I will one day have with my now unborn children, and the love I already have for them is so magnificent that it’s downright perplexing.

Perhaps it’s true what Mr. Black says, that we all have light and dark inside of us. Perhaps anyone is capable of anything, wonderful or horrible, and it’s just a flip of a coin which person they become. Perhaps he is right that who we really are is defined by what part we choose to act on.

I don’t know if I believe that last part. But it’s a nice thought.

I’ve Missed You

There you are. I’ve missed you.

I feared you were gone forever…gone for good. I haven’t seen you in many months, maybe even a few years. Where did you go? And why?

No, let’s not dwell on the past. You’re here now. I’m glad of it. I thought that I would forget myself when I finally saw your face again, but I find that I’m still remembering myself…in spite of your glory.

There are those eyes! So beautiful. The perfect combination of your mother’s and father’s. Dark on the outer edges, and lighter and lighter as I move inward, so that the light brown slowly fades to green and then to blue. A brilliant blue. I’d forgotten it. I’d forgotten how long you yearned for blue eyes, and then one day realized you’d had them all along.

I haven’t seen your eyes in many months. Maybe even a few years. I’ve seen bits and pieces of you, here and there. A flicker of light out of the corner of my eyes. A flash…and then you were gone again. Why did you have to go?

I searched for you. I left no rock unturned, no book unopened, no light unlit. I stood on my tiptoes and pushed myself to reach just a little higher, because maybe, just maybe, you were hiding up there. I dropped to my stomach and crawled around, desperately searching for you…searching for much longer than I care to admit. Searching for much longer than I should have. Searching for long enough that I should have found you.

But I never did. I tried. I really tried. Maybe you couldn’t see it, maybe others couldn’t see it, but I tried with all my might. I replayed the songs we used to love. I rewatched the movies we used to rewatch until we could recite the lines in our heads…the same ones I watched in other languages because I knew them so well. Because we knew them so well.

Nothing worked. You left me. And I couldn’t figure out how to get you back. I wasn’t mad at you. I’m still not mad at you. I’m mad at myself. Frustrated that I worked so long and so hard to get you back, and then out of nowhere you just came flitting up to me, like nothing had happened…like you had been here all along. Jumping out at me as though you’d just been hiding in the corner. Hiding for only a second.

But you hid for many months. Maybe even a few years. It’s been so long that I can’t remember now. But you’re here now. Let us forget the past. I’ve been remembering it enough lately for the both of us. I’m ready to be with you again.

I’m ready to be you again. I’m ready to break out of this shell that’s been blinding me to you. I’m ready to get off the floor, to rise on my two strong feet, and take you back.

Where have you been? Why couldn’t I find you? Why did you make it so difficult for me to find you?

I’m glad you’re back. I’ve missed you.

Unfinished

I love to read. I can get emotionally invested in a book three lines in, and occasionally I will spend an entire day sitting in my living room reading. Earlier this year, I read a 400 page book start to finish in one day (which, while not unheard of, was uncommon to say the least).

However, I have found that I don’t really enjoy reading short stories. I recently read Duck by Stephen Parolini on my Kindle app, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it (and highly recommend it), I finished it way too fast. I loved the main character, Thomas, and I was left wishing for a longer picture into his life.

It just felt so…unfinished.

I like to lose myself in a book. I’m currently reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and I find myself wishing I could sit and have a cup of ng-ka-py with Samuel Hamilton. I think that I like reading so much because I tend to see the characters in my books as my friends, and I enjoy going on adventures with them. In the same way that listening to “Livin’ La Vida Loca” instantly takes me back to being 11 years old and going shopping with my girlfriends for matching t-shirts, the nostalgia that I get from reading (and especially rereading) books makes me feel all warm and cozy inside.

“It’s like a long book that you never want to end. And you’re fine with that because you just never, ever want to leave it.” – Pam Halpert, The Office.

I get so invested in the characters that I never want the book to end. I just want to continue being a part of their lives for as long as possible. I want to settle in, burrow down into the covers, and live each day through and with these fictional creations.

And my writing reflects that sentiment. I spend so much time in the day-to-day lives of my characters, really fleshing them out and getting to know them, that the plot kind of falls to the way side. I have these individuals that I love and know so well, but I’ve written 50 pages about them and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. Perhaps this is why I like John Steinbeck so much? He’s rather heavy on character development and lacking on moving a story forward. I remember my favorite chapter from Grapes of Wrath was an early, very short chapter about a turtle crossing the road. Steinbeck literally spent four or five pages discussing in great detail this little reptile’s trek across the street. The detail and descriptions are so effortless and perfect.

My favorite book of all-time, in case it wasn’t obvious, is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In fact, my pen name is partly derived from the heroine of To Kill a Mockingbird and one of my all-time favorite literary females, Scout Finch. One of my favorite parts of the book are Lee’s descriptions of the fictional town of Maycomb:

“In rainy weather, the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then…Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”

Isn’t that just beautiful? It makes me wish that Harper Lee had written more novels after To Kill a Mockingbird. Her imagery is just so spot on, and her characters are unforgettable. There have been a lot of great dads throughout the history of literature, but Atticus Finch takes the cake. I’ve literally read this book more than twenty times, and it just keeps getting better.

The thing is, I’m realizing that if I’m ever going to FINISH a story, it’s almost going to have to be a short story, because I can’t seem to get it up enough to properly flesh out all the characters and story lines bouncing around in my head. I have a few stories that I’m currently working on, and I’m excited about them. I know I don’t get on here much and that it’s hard to keep current with me, since I can be so hit or miss in terms of consistency. But I feel like something great is around the bend. And if you love literature the way I love it, I think you’ll be excited about what’s coming, too.

Rest in Peace

I can’t say that I’ve ever attempted suicide, or that I’ve ever even come close. The abstract idea of it has briefly flitted through my mind during a few especially low points in my life, but it has never legitimately been a consideration for me.

However, I have thought about suicide on a more frequent basis than seems normal, especially for someone who has never come remotely close to choosing that path. I feel as though I’ve been trying to understand suicide for nearly my whole life, and I haven’t really gotten any closer to figuring it out.

When I was in the sixth grade, I had to create a brochure for a class assignment. I can’t remember what the instructions of the project were, but I’m thinking that it was mostly about teaching us how to use templates in Microsoft Word, and not so much about creating a well-written and informative piece of literature. I’m guessing that most of the other kids in my class turned in lighthearted brochures about camping or gymnastics or how to ride a bicycle. I, on the other hand, made a brochure about suicide.

And really, looking back, that should have raised some eyebrows.

Sixth grade is the first time I vividly remember being unhappy with my life. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I was in sixth grade, but more so that my older sister was a freshman in high school and was starting to get noticed for the first time. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I spent a lot of my childhood trying to outshine my older sister. Well, most of that came to a head when she entered high school and people outside our family began to realize how talented she was.

The moment my sister entered high school, I felt taken down a notch. While she played varsity in three sports, I struggled to get a hit on the softball diamond. While she became interesting to boys, I was on numerous occasions told by my peers that I “looked a lot like my sister, except not as pretty.” (Yes, boys actually said that to me.) I was awkward and dealing with puberty and middle school and new classmates, and she was killing it at high school.

So when I began creating my brochure, I guess I had a lot of pent up frustration about my situation in life. I remember writing about the reasons people commit suicide (or the reasons that I believed they did) and I talked about how hard life can be for some people. And then I put a picture of a pill bottle open on the ground (with pills spilling out) as the cover of my brochure.

Again, I feel like that should have raised some eyebrows. Maybe the teacher should have called my parents about that. If I came across that brochure today, I would at least be mildly concerned that the author might have some deeper things going on there.

I think that I’ve been dwelling on death/suicide recently because of what happened with Robin Williams. And I realize I’m kind of late here, but I didn’t feel up to talking about his tragic death before now. I’ve been subconsciously reflecting on it for the last month or so, trying again to make sense of something that I’m finding impossible to comprehend.

After learning of Williams’ suicide, my brother posted that it was the first time he had cried about a celebrity death since Chris Farley. Later that day, I came across this fantastic Cracked article about why funny people kill themselves (whether through suicide or overdoses), and after that I read this inspiring post by The Bloggess (one of my writing heroes). And they made me realize that I’ve only scratched the surface in my understanding of suicide, and that from my tiny little bubble of world experiences, I cannot even begin to fathom the complexities of making the decision to take one’s life.

I usually try to have some semblance of a purpose with my writing and I’m not sure I’ve accomplished that with this post. I think I’m emotionally raw today because I’ve spent the last week packing up the apartment for our big move out west. And because a good friend of mine from college lost his brother this morning. And because another friend from college lost his brother a few weeks ago. And because I still might not have fully processed my grandmother’s passing back in March. And because it’s after 3am and I’m still here writing.

I’ve never really been afraid of dying. I’ve always felt that being dead was the easy part; you die and it’s over and that’s the end of your time on this earth. It’s the living that are affected the most by death, because they are the ones left to deal with all the sorrow and grieving that follows. And I think that’s why suicide has always captivated me, because it is so incredibly tragic and exponentially more difficult for the living to deal with.

The Bloggess has done such an amazing job covering the complexities of depression/suicide in her writings that I think I will end this post with a message from her. She has already said it so much better than I ever could:

“You aren’t alone.  You are wanted.  You are good.  And you will get through this.  I promise.  And when you doubt your worth, imagine your younger sister or your best friend or your child having these same doubts and realize that that same sense of angry disbelief that the world would ever be better without them is the exact same disbelief that your friends and family would feel if they lost you.  You are as special and irreplaceable as the people you love most.  Your differentness makes you unique.  It makes you who you are.” – The Bloggess, “Strange and beautiful

 

Military Travel

I’m being forced to move to Arizona. There, I said it.

As I mentioned in this post, my husband is in the U.S. Air Force…and I haven’t always been super excited about it.

When we got married almost two years ago, I moved from the Midwest to the South to join him (he had already been living down here for a year before we got married). At that time, he had less than 3 years left of his active duty commitment. We had agreed before we got engaged that he did not want to stay active duty long-term, because we didn’t want to be moving our kids around every couple of years (although he does plan to stay in the reserve or guard).

I wasn’t very excited to move to the South. I love where I grew up. There was a period during college when I thought I wanted to move to the northeast, somewhere in New England, or along the east coast around Delaware. Then I did a summer semester abroad in Spain and realized just how much I loved my home state (not that I didn’t love Spain, because I did, I just realized I didn’t want to be living so far away from my family, especially since my grandfather passed away while I was over there).

Everything I knew about the South at that point came from one family vacation to Myrtle Beach, a few short trips to different areas of Florida (mostly Orlando), and movies. I was expecting palm trees everywhere, Confederate-loving rednecks, unbearable heat, and accents galore. So the first time I came to visit my husband down here, I was surprised at all the pine trees (no palms in sight). And while it was August, I didn’t feel all that hot. And considering we live in a city full of military families and college kids, I quickly realized that most of the people I came into contact with had little to no accent (I wasn’t too far off about the rednecks, but that’s another story for another time).

I flew down 4-5 more times before the wedding and each trip made me less anxious about moving. I began to find things that reminded me of where I had grown up, and I quickly came to realize that most of my prior stereotypes were wrong. I started to understand that you can’t make sweeping brush strokes across an entire subset of the country, and that you can find similar personalities and life experiences just about everywhere you go.

You would think this would have made my current move easier to stomach.

My husband was put on the vulnerable-to-move list in January. We were actually really excited about this. Although we’ve come to love living in the South (and there are many aspects that we’re going to miss), we were both kind of over our current jobs and ready for something new. Plus, his contract was due to end in June 2015, so we knew that anywhere we moved, we would only be there for a year or so. We could look at it as just a fun adventure and really soak up the new culture. Hell, I can live anywhere for a year.

I was hoping he would get assigned to Langley AFB, which would’ve been closer to our families and somewhat close to D.C. Plus, we already knew people who were stationed there. Or even one of the small bases in Illinois. Or Wright-Patterson in Ohio. There were so many great choices that were CLOSER to where we grew up. He came home with a list of bases that had openings, and we were asked to highlight all the ones we would be interested in. This was so that our choices could be taken into consideration before an assignment was made. Almost as if the Air Force actually cared where we wanted to go…

Around March 15th, my husband called me at work. He rarely does this, so I was already expecting some kind of news. He said, “what do you think of Arizona?” And I replied, “does it matter what I think?” I knew from his question that we had been reassigned (note: of all the places I had highlighted, Arizona was more than a thousand miles from the closest base on my list), and while I wasn’t at all interested in living on the west coast (and being in a different time zone! Ugh!), I figured, “hey, it’s only a year.” In fact, we weren’t even scheduled to move until the end of September, so it would actually be closer to 9 months. Great, we’ll have our little adventure, and be back in our home state within the year.

It wasn’t until I got home that I got the WHOLE truth from my husband. Yes, we were being reassigned to Arizona, but he was also having his contract extended another 15 months. The job he had been assigned required a two-year commitment. So instead of being out June 2015, this effectively moved our separation date to September 2016.

I immediately broke into tears. I already wasn’t thrilled about Arizona and I felt like that only thing keeping me together was the knowledge that we wouldn’t be there for very long. And while I realize that the difference between 9 months and 24 months isn’t HUGE and that a lot of military families endure much worse assignments than Arizona, in that moment, the extra 15 months seemed like a lifetime.

It was going to be almost impossible for us to visit family as often as we had living in the South, where a drive could be made in just 9 hours and a direct flight could be bought for under $300. We were now moving ACROSS THE COUNTRY. We were moving across two time zones (and since Arizona doesn’t recognize daylight savings, sometimes three time zones), across nearly 2,000 miles into a completely different atmosphere. If the South was foreign to me, then Arizona was the moon.

Plus, we’re planning to start a family soon! So now I’m going to be pregnant and all alone out in middle-of-nowhere Arizona?! Where my closest relative, outside my husband, will be more than 24 hours away? I mean, I like living in the South NOW, but my first couple of months were brutal as I tried to find a job and meet new people. I spent most days alone in the apartment while my husband was at work. It was the loneliest I had ever felt, even including Spain, because at least in Spain, I was surrounded by 30 others students who were in the same situation as myself. And now I’m going to navigate that with a pregnant belly in tow?

The next month or so was difficult for me. Two weeks after we got the news about Arizona, my grandmother passed away. Two weeks after that, April 15th and the end of busy season hit, culminating in seven-day work weeks and boatloads of stress.

But it has gotten easier. My husband and I are flying out to Arizona next week to look for places to live and to familiarize ourselves with our soon-to-be home. And while I didn’t handle the news all that well initially, it is becoming easier to accept. When we got married, I told myself that this was my time with my husband. My family had me for 24 years, now it’s my husband’s turn. And even though we’ve almost been married for two years, I still sometimes find myself prioritizing the bond with my parents and siblings and cousins over the bond with my husband. One thing I’ve learned from marriage (one of many things) is that you really need to let your past go. I get so caught up in worrying about my high school friends that I’m growing distant with or my cousin’s new baby that I haven’t even met yet, that I forget about my relationship in the here and now with my husband. I remember what it was like living close to my family and apart from him, and it was miserable. So while I don’t necessarily like that I HAVE to choose one or the other, I know that, since I do, my husband is going to take precedence. Every. Single. Time.

And ya know what? I’ve NEVER EVEN BEEN to the west coast. I have these ideas built up in my head of cactuses (according to Oxford dictionary, that’s an appropriate pluralization, and I think it sounds better than cacti, so I’m using it…even if WordPress is giving me a red squiggly) and brown dirt as far as the eye can see; of temperatures so hot you can cook an egg on the sidewalk; of Mexican restaurants on every corner (although I might actually be looking forward to that). It’s the same kinds of stereotypes I had about the South before I lived here. And while I’m still nervous about this move, I’m starting to get more excited about it. I’m past the self-victimization stage where woe was me and my life was so much worse than everyone else’s because I had to move to Arizona. I’m past the fear of continuing to distance myself from my childhood friends. And now I’m just starting to fantasize about finally using my Spanish minor, seeing the Grand Canyon and California, hiking beautiful mountains with stunning sunsets, and even playing the slots in Las Vegas. There’s so much to the west that I haven’t experienced. I said I wanted adventure, so here it is!

Plus, I mean, I can live anywhere for 2 years…right?

Don’t Marry a Youngest Child

I wanted to write about my grandmother’s advice on not marrying a youngest child. I wanted to talk about how, even though she was happily married for over 50 years to a youngest child, she still understood the difficulty of putting up with the baby of the family. I wanted to mirror that with my own marriage where both my husband and I are youngest children, and talk about how I now understand what she had been telling me for all those years.

I started this post over four months ago. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time and I just can’t seem to figure out how to get it out. I decided to revisit it again this week, but it just ended up seeming too forced and I came off way too self-important (which, funnily enough, is a result of my being a youngest child).

So forget what I wanted to say. Here’s what I’m going to say:

I’ve mentioned in previous posts (here and here) that I am a youngest child. I think that nearly all of my personality traits stem from this fact and, for the most part, I’m okay with that. It’s true that I am selfish, but that selfishness has led me to stand up for myself in situations where I wasn’t being treated fairly. Because I am often thinking about myself and my own well-being, I very rarely get taken advantage of or used by others. It’s also true that, as a result of being a youngest child, I’m stubborn…and impertinent…and constantly feel like I have to prove myself. And those traits occasionally antagonize others.

I’m painfully aware of all of this.

But at the same time, I’m a big believer that there’s no such thing as a true virtue or flaw. There is good and bad in both virtues and flaws alike. As mentioned above, while being selfish isn’t exactly a good quality or something to be proud of, good things have stemmed from it nonetheless. Another trait of mine that has resulted from being a youngest child is that I’m very driven. Growing up, I always felt that I didn’t get enough credit for my accomplishments, and so I worked extra hard to receive accolades. Being driven is usually considered a virtue and I won’t deny that it has benefitted me many times over, in both my career and my relationships. However, being driven has also led me to create competition where there shouldn’t have been any; it has led me to resent those that I can’t beat; it has propelled me into depression and apathy when I couldn’t meet the expectations I set for myself; and it has caused me to go after things that I didn’t really want just to prove that I could get them.

My husband and I fought a lot our first year of marriage. Like, a WHOLE lot. And the overarching theme of almost all our fights boiled down to one thing: we are both youngest children and want to be acknowledged. We were both overshadowed by an older sibling for most of our existence and the effects of that are still prevalent more than a decade after living in the same household as said sibling. We’re both bull-headed and self-interested and just want to be heard and considered. And once we figured that out, our fights significantly decreased. While the fights haven’t and likely never will fully cease, they have become more tolerable, which is really all I can ask for in terms of marital squabbles.

In my grandfather’s case, being a youngest child meant that he always expected to get his way. There was a relatively large gap between him and his closest sibling and as such, he was very much the baby of the family in every respect. In the 20 years that he and I shared this planet, while I loved and adored him, I saw this side of him all too often. And maybe this is why I was the closest with him of all my grandparents, because I saw myself in his actions. Because I recognized his youngest child syndrome in myself.

My grandmother passed away on March 31st this year. It was smack dab in the middle of busy season and added yet another burden to my already overloaded shoulders. In the days that followed, amidst the last-minute travel arrangements and the harrowing reminiscences of her life, I kept wondering what advice she still had yet to give me. Coupled with that were the flashbacks to my grandfather’s passing, in which I missed his funeral because I was studying abroad in Spain and couldn’t afford to make it back in time. And it is because of these memories that I wanted to get my grandmother’s advice out into the world, even if the advice was mostly in jest on her part.

My grandmother showed me that it is possible to love someone even when there are things about them that drive you nuts. That is the biggest lesson I have taken into my marriage and I will be forever grateful to her for teaching me such an important truth. I continue to miss her, but I know that her guidance will endure throughout my marriage, and whenever my husband is on my last nerve, I can think back on my grandparents and remember how happy they were, even when they annoyed the hell out of each other.

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned About Tax

Yesterday I was working on a tax return where I had to allocate rental income across two states and couldn’t figure out how to get the correct amount to show up on the return. After doing some research, I finally figured it out. I showed my partner and she was so happy we had solved the problem. Then she looks at me and says, “does this mean we’ve been doing it wrong all the other years?”

And this is when I realized that nobody, not even CPAs (certified public accountants), actually knows what they’re doing when it comes to taxes.

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh. It’s not necessarily that these supposed accounting specialists don’t know what they’re doing. It’s more that tax is a fluid subject, meaning that it is open for interpretation. Also, there are a lot of rules that would be impossible to memorize, and there are also a lot of software issues that have to be overcome in order to make the final return agree to all the rules. It’s so bad that I have often felt like even my superiors have no idea what’s going on and are just doing things by the seat of their pants.

And we’re the people that you all trust to do it right! That makes you feel good, huh?

I just finished up my fourth busy season and in that time, I have learned a thing or two about preparing tax returns. For your reading pleasure, I am going to share this knowledge with you, in hopes that it will help you better understand what your accountant goes through while preparing your return. Get excited.

1. The people who do your taxes don’t have all the answers

This is an important one and something that I touched on in the above paragraphs. As I mentioned, there are a lot of rules in the tax world, and each of these rules has its own subset of rules that apply to most every specific case you can think of. So while I may have gone to school for five years, have two degrees in accounting and have four years experience in the field, I haven’t even scratched the surface. So when you call me about that house you just bought and sold in New Mexico and ask me how this is going to affect your tax return, don’t expect me to be able to answer immediately. Don’t even expect me to be able to answer within 24 hours. I’m going to have to research the shit out of a whole lot of really boring material in order to even have an idea of how New Mexico’s taxes work. And on top of that, I’m going to need way more information from you before I can figure out how this will affect your return.

First, I would need to understand how you’re doing income-wise as compared to the prior year. Did you get a pay raise? Have your interest and dividends from investments gone up? Have you taken out a second mortgage? And since you’re probably calling me about this in August and your next tax return will cover the period from January to December, I’ll also need an estimate from you of how you think the rest of the year will go.

On top of that, I’ll need the nitty gritty specifics, such as dollar amounts involved in both the purchase of this house and the price it was sold at, in addition to all the expenses incurred on your part. Then I’ll need to know how much in taxes you’ve had withheld from your paycheck so far this year, to get an idea of what your overall withholdings for the calendar year will be. I will run a projection and after all of that, I’ll come up with a VERY rough tax return, based on estimates and incomplete information that you have given me, and I’ll use that to guess what your eventual tax due will be. Basically, I’m creating an estimate based on estimated data. If I’m even remotely close by the time I actually prepare your taxes, then I consider that a win.

2. You are not my only client

I get it, in your mind, the world revolves around you. But here’s the thing: during busy season, I work on anywhere from one to fifteen returns every day. Even if I prepared your return three days ago, I’ve likely touched 20+ returns since then. I don’t even remember the return I worked on three hours ago; you really think I’m going to remember the specifics of a return I worked on three days ago?

Another thing to consider is that I’m not the only person working on your return. After I’m finished, the return goes to my partner for review, and she’s reviewing returns from me and two of my colleagues, so she has three times the clients that I work on. So even though I may have finished your return three days ago, she likely hasn’t even had a chance to look at it yet. Once she gets a chance to look at it, she’ll inevitably have review notes for me (because hey, I’m not perfect and I don’t know everything), and I’ll get the return back and make changes. Then the return goes back to her, where she STILL might find more changes that need made. We may end up going back and forth three or four more times before this return is signed off.

So when you call me randomly and ask the status of your return, I have no fucking idea. Even if I DO remember working on your return (which, let’s face it, I probably don’t), I haven’t a clue of whether or not my partner has looked at it yet. I may have finished my first run through with your return two weeks ago, but it might still be sitting untouched on my partner’s desk for all I know. I’m not too concerned about it, because I have about forty more returns piled on and around my desk that I’m working on getting a first run or second run or fifth run through. The deadline isn’t for another month. Stop calling me.

Also, I’m charging you for this phone call.

3. I’m charging you for everything

I live and breathe billable hours. Seriously. I have a quota that I have to meet each week and each year. Any time of mine that is not directly billable to clients is deemed worthless by my employer. So if I have to sit on the phone for 20 minutes answering your relentless questions, you bet your ass I’m charging you for it. Even if I didn’t touch your return at all during that time, even if most of the conversation consisted of you droning on about your kid’s upcoming graduation or your recent divorce, I’m charging you for it. Any minute of my time that you take up, I’m charging you for it.

In addition, any extra work I have to do because of your laziness or disorganization, I’m charging you for it. You just handed me a shoe box filled with receipts with no explanation that I now have to go through piece by piece? You chose not to fill out our handy tax organizer and just stacked your documents willy-nilly inside an envelope? You’ve lost your property tax receipts and now I have to go to the county auditor’s website and search for you by name and parcel number to see what you paid? I’m charging you for ALL OF THAT.

Here’s a tip: do as much work as you can yourself. If you’re worried about my fee, then shoulder some of the labor. You run a small side business? Keep track of income and expenses in excel and print me a summary. You gave donations to thirty organizations and have forty-five pieces of supporting documentation? Make me a summary. You had medical bills from three different hospitals and eight doctors throughout the year? MAKE. ME. A. SUMMARY. You should still give me all those documents and receipts, but all of the time it takes you to summarize them is time that I don’t have to spend doing it. And my time likely costs a lot more than yours does.

4. I’m totally judging you

I often wonder if people ever think about how their accountant judges them. For about 90% of the returns I work on, I’ve never actually met the person (my partner has met them all, but as I’m just a minion, I don’t sit in on too many client meetings). So my whole view of you comes from the documents laying on my desk.

Case in point: I worked on a client this past year who ran a small side business buying high end fashion items (clothes, purses, etc) in New York and reselling them at markets. She was one of the clients that always complained about her fee and she even fired us this year, only to rehire us a month later when she realized no one else would do her work for our price. Preparing her return consisted of going through her monthly credit card statements and organizing them in a spreadsheet to come up with total purchases, sales, expenses, etc. As you can imagine, it took some time to create this spreadsheet (she could have saved money by shouldering this work herself, but she refused to, and then couldn’t understand why we charged so much). While going through her statements, I noticed that she had a cumulative bill on one card of over $6,000, yet each month she was only making the minimum payment on the card, which was maybe $150 or so. As I made her spreadsheet, I had a column for “interest expense paid” and I quickly realized that she was spending anywhere from $100-$300 a month on interest alone, due to this large bill that she was only making the minimum payment toward. Now, our total fee for preparing her return was MAYBE $500, and it was likely less because of how much she complained. Yet she willingly paid over $2,000 last year in INTEREST.

I’ve never met this woman, but I have judged the hell out of her.

Another case in point: this year I prepared returns for two brothers whose mother recently passed away and left them with a very large inheritance. They each had gross income of over $1 million. One of the brothers had charitable contributions of over $600,000 for the year, and the other brother didn’t even have charitable contributions. He grossed over $1 million and didn’t give a dime to charity. Now, this might be specific to just me, but if I see that you made that much money and didn’t give anything to charity, I judge you, harshly. My gross income was only five digits last year and I still gave a couple hundred dollars to charity. What made it more interesting is that the brother who was charitable was still married, while the other brother was going through a nasty divorce. Who says that a tax return can’t tell you anything about a person?

5. A large tax refund does not necessarily mean your accountant did a good job

This is the most important one to me and the one that aggravates me the most. While it might feel good to get a large refund, that really isn’t a great thing. It just means that you overpaid your taxes during the year. That refund that you get is money you have already paid; it’s not just free extra money coming to you. Your large refund is merely an interest-free loan that you gave to the government.

I had a tax professor in grad school who always stressed this point. He told us that the best position to be in on your tax return was to owe just a little bit (like $100 or so). That way, you knew that you hadn’t given any extra money to the government. I get frustrated when I see car commercials around tax time saying “bring in your tax refund and we’ll give you a car.” First off, the size of your tax refund says NOTHING about your ability to finance a car. Second, it’s ads like these that make people believe it’s good to get a large refund.

As an extension of that, owing money on your taxes isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either (and it also doesn’t necessarily mean your accountant did a bad job). If you owe money on your return, then one of three things has happened: (1) You made more money, which is great and means you’re still netting more money in the end even after taxes than you had last year. (2) You had fewer deductions, namely medical expenses, mortgage interest, and property taxes, which is great for you and means you actually saved money throughout the year. (3) You had less taxes withdrawn from your paychecks. The first two items are both good things. Making a larger income and/or paying fewer medical expenses means that overall financially your year was better than it had been in the past. The third item is good for you in a sense because it means that your paychecks were likely comparatively larger than in prior years. So the money that was hitting your bank account each month was larger than it had been the year before.

Basically, if you owe money on your tax return, then congratulations on doing better than you had the year before! Go you!

The most important thing that this past year has taught me is this: I don’t want to be in public accounting anymore. I’m not sure where I want to be exactly, but I’m sure as hell this isn’t it.