For a few blessed hours this week, I nearly forgot about my cancer. After seven weeks of thinking/breathing/eating breast cancer, I got a reprieve and, oddly enough, I have Uncle Sam to thank.
Since the day the C-bomb dropped (January 29th), I’ve been upset about the fact that the IRS really expects me to pay taxes on April 15th. I’ve never heard such crazy-talk. Everyone with cancer should automatically get an extension on their taxes because, when you have cancer, doing your taxes–much less on time–is the absolute last thing you can (and should) worry about. But I’m a worrier. Therefore, I’ve been worried about both my stoopid cancer and how in the hell I’m going to do my taxes. And by “do” I mean paying someone else to do them because I’m too worried I’ll screw them up.
I usually do my taxes in late January or early February. I close the door to my office, crank up the space heater, and let the receipts pile up like snowdrifts. I like the routine. I like the predictability. But, most of all, I like the office supplies. I adore office supplies. Last December, my Christmas stocking bulged with a box of my favorite pens, a collection of fashion binder clips, and six different styles of Post-it Notes. Normally, I stash these treasures in my desk and dole them out carefully throughout the year, but at tax time, I indulge my every office-supply fantasy. Everything from flower-shaped Post-it Notes to neon highlighters, even my fancy binder clips come into play. But this year, not even the sight of pretty office supplies could coax me out from under my cancer rock.
So, last week, in a session with my new cancer shrink, I fretted about my taxes. We agreed that baby steps were needed. So, Friday afternoon I dug my 16-page tax booklet out from under three months worth of crap and called it a day. On Saturday I gazed at the sad, empty pages of the worksheet and I felt myself getting sucked in. The pull of the familiar. The comfort of routine. Yes, the lure of my taxes.
Sunday, as I started penciling in numbers, rubbing out mistakes with my over-sized pink eraser, and guiltily writing off my zillionth pair of yoga pants, I noticed something weird happening. The more progress I made on my taxes, the more my mood lifted. To be honest, my taxes weren’t the only thing I did last weekend, but I’d like to think they were instrumental in jolting me back to some sense of normalcy because then at least I’ll know they are good for something.
Tomorrow afternoon is my appointment with my tax lady. And, yes, she is someone you’d describe as a lady. In fact, she resembles the Church Lady in poise, hairstyle, and demeanor. Right down to how she purses her lips when I mention my “partner.” I’m pretty sure, after I leave, she kneels down in her wood-paneled office and prays for my heathen soul. But, hey, I live in the middle of Indiana–a girl can’t afford to be choosy. So, maybe I’ll play the breast-cancer card in hopes that she’ll give me a 10 percent discount or offer to file an extension for me for free. Or, maybe, just maybe, I’ll forget to mention it.
There is nothing–nothing–like data entry. Whenever I am overwhelmed, I think back to the marshmellow comfort of my mid-twenties filing elevator permits for UCSF. I wish you many near-future opportunities for concrete tasks with immediately observable outcomes: the freedom of the sorted desk, the bliss of the alphabetized bookshelf, the nadir-to-zenith ride of a purged fridge.
Thinking of you often. Andrew. (And Robert, too)
I just discovered your blog, and read and read and. . . I’m so sorry. Just so sorry that you’ve had such rough time. I also was blindsided by breast cancer (last spring for me,) and your posts caused me to revisit some of those emotions and feelings.
I said a prayer for you and Mary tonight that you will find strength for the battle ahead.
Oh, and your love of office supplies? Me too!
I thought I was alone in my secret enjoyment of the tax ritual. Mine started when I was self-employed, and though I no longer am, I have retained some of my old habits. Like yours, my routine is amazingly low-tech. None of the fancy tax programs. Nope. Just me and my pencils (with erasers, essential) and my box of paperclips and a manila pad of paper. First sorting the receipts into tidy piles (the paperclips come in here), then adding up each category with a tiny hand-held Radio Shack calculator. (The receipts, I might add, are anything but tidy for the rest of the year – I toss them all into one huge manilla envelope, not to be seen again until the Day of Reckoning). A yellow (not multicolored) sticky gets affixed to each pile with the total, which may change as I locate those last stray deductions. Having once been self-employed has surely made me more aware of what I’m able to deduct. That coffee and chocolate-goody shared with a colleague as we lamented our waiting stacks of grading? absolutely necessary for my continued ability to do my job, right? I similarly take great pleasure in getting this done early – I like it all together by the end of January so as soon as that last W-2 or 1099 or 1098 rolls in I can send the whole thing to my accountant (who would not purse her lips, I don’t think, at the word “partner”). But here is the difference – having left the double-FICA world of self-employment, I now look forward to tax refunds each year. Being savings-challenged, I declare zero dependents so I’m sure to get a refund. So of course I want the thing done early – my tax refund feels like my annual bonus. When I had to pay thousands every quarter, doing my taxes was far less pleasurable.
This year in Algeria, doing my taxes took on the additional meaning of connecting me back with my world in the States. Yes, I brought the big manilla envelope with me, and as I added up the tiny receipts I could call up memories of meals at the Uptown, at Farm; I could remember the trips to Borders for a last-minute purchase of a book that had suddenly become essential for the paper I was working on.
Next year, I’m going to add Office Supplies to my tax ritual – I’ll indulge in some multicolored post-its and fun paperclips (and then deduct them, of course). And I look forward to a Bakehouse (or perhaps Blu Boy!) date with you to indulge in our shared secret enjoyment of the tax ritual.
Uhm, you want to do our taxes? You people are weird. Taxes are awful. I swear I have so much student loan debt in large part because I hate filling out forms, and thus didn’t apply for grants and other funding. How sad is that? ugh. I even had my ex doing my taxes for years and years, till we finally stopped talking except once e year, right around March . . . she wasn’t falling for that routine any longer.
Oh well, good thing cancer saves the day and makes even taxes look inviting. Go cancer!
Nobody said anything about liking to DO the taxes! That nasty chore gets handed to accountants. What we like is the satisfying ritual of sorting a bunch of seemingly random stuff into some kind of order. This can feel especially soothing when other parts of life seem so out of our control.
you are definitely one big freak-o-matic Catherine. although i do understand the office supply fetish because Emma had one for many years, which made it very easy to get cheap Hannukah presents for her by simply stealing from the office. Hang in there yogiberra and gird your proverbial loins for one of my mojitos when i get back.
Are you getting a refund?!