Essays > Tax Day Losses -- Not All Bad?


It’s Saturday morning and, on my second cup of green tea, I’m sprawled on the carpeted floor of my upstairs office, still in my thick black bathrobe. Around me are piles of papers:  1040s, 8829s,  4562s, W-2’s, water and electric bills, receipts from that business trip to New York, letters from various charities thanking me for my deductible largesse.  There’s a pile of slender tickets from Goodwill, detailing clothes and books and dishes dropped off in March, April, June and September.

Since I plunged into this task straight out of bed, having procrastinated until the last possible hours before my afternoon appointment on this very day, my hair is askew and I haven’t even bothered to wash the sleep out of my eyes.  I wish I could stay in this comfy robe all day and teleport the chaos straight to Linden Road without me actually being there, but this is part of my vestigial Puritanism, the part that thinks I need to face the consequences of my disheveled life. 

Two hours later, I have it all as organized as it’s going to get, and after a fortifying breakfast (double espresso and a South of the Border omelet) at Steady Eddy’s, I head out for my haj to my CPA, a consummate gentleman who knows more about me, in a way, than either of my husbands. 

In her book Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions On Writing and Life, Anne Lamott quotes a friend of hers admonishing, “The evidence is in, and you are the verdict.”  Oh, man. That could be the itchy epigram for this spring comeuppance. There should be a ritual to go with the mortification:  something involving bitter herbs and a stern, but not too painful, swat with twigs of birch.

On the contrary, my CPA’s office is quite a pleasant place. It has a big window, and outside there’s a nice little tree with a bird feeder dangling from a low branch.  There are purple finches, cardinals, a squirrel who hangs by his paws.

I hand my piles across the desk to Greg and there ensues a moment of unnerving silence. Then he starts clicking and clacking and I stare out at the birds, pretending I don’t care about money, or about the past or the future. What the hell, I’m supposedly an old hippie.  What’s the big deal about material success?   Be here now, I silently intone, not even slightly convincing myself.   Greg lets out little grunts and ahs, like a doctor or a shrink. 

“So tell me about this Infospace thing,”  he says.  I look into my lap, remembering this ancient debacle.  Many years ago, my broker (now ex-broker) talked me and my husband (now ex-husband) into buying 170 shares of this supposed tech wonder at $42 each.  Even I can multiply: that’s more than seven grand.  But the stock tanked soon thereafter, leading to a class action suit claiming securities fraud:  the usual, really.  All us sheep bleated that we’d been fed false statements about Infospace’s probable future, causing the stock to trade at artificially high prices over the next year.  In the settlement, I received a check.  I think it was $11.  Just wanting to forget, I never sold the stock.  Hey, it was a whole other life. Eventually there was a 10 to 1 split, leaving me with 17 shares.  Their value when I finally raked them off my trading compost heap:  $268. 

“I see,” Greg says, shaking his head.  “You lost $7,000.” 

“Oh goodie, a loss,” I say.  “That will help me this year, right?”

Greg avoids looking at me directly, but I see what’s on his face as he busily examines my papers:  a mix of incredulity and compassion.

“Well, nobody wants a loss, really,” he says gently.  “You lost a lot.”

Well, yes, I know that, I want to say.  But perhaps my patient and tactful accountant doesn’t get it:  I’m a poet.  We thrive on loss. We’re used to it.  It’s what we euphemistically call “material.”   Half my opus has to do with loss.   

And, as if to further accommodate my professional needs, once again, my writing business racked up numbers in the wrong direction, even in the year I received three royalty checks and a sweet little paying gig at a writer’s conference.  You see, I simultaneously dropped a bundle on marketing.  And my reading public, I gather, keeps passing the same single copy of Night Blind around without actually buying any new ones.  Not that I’m complaining! I love my readers but…nope, no, nein, dear friends, you and I once again guaranteed that I did not end up in the mythical territory known as “the black.” 

In summary, I’m lucky.  Unlike all the other chumps out there in their bathrobes, piling things up to face another round of humiliation in various tax confessionals, for me it’s all good.  It’s all grist for the next poem, and the next.  After signing on the right line, I pack up and glide back down Court in the red as always, to await, after all, a not-insignificant refund. 

Phew:  I actually feel invigorated. I know what it is:  what a relief that I will not be burdened, for one more year at least, by all those pesky problems of success.