It’s been an exciting week in the accounting world. The first full week of the traditional tax season is in the books with nine more left to go. As far as I can tell there have been no casualties.
Your favorite accountant is happy to report this is the smoothest tax season in years in his office. Three or four years ago I met Mr. Money Mustache and he put me on the map (Thank you, Pete!) it created a deluge of demand I was ill prepared to handle. The problem was I had no idea what I was getting into. Those problems seem to be fully resolved.
The added challenges nearly killed my practice. I had to learn new skills PDQ if I wanted to survive. Hiring more employees was a problem since nobody local had experience in what I was going through.
But, I am proud to say after several mental cramps I turned the corner. New policies and massive increases in technology have the office humming like a well oiled machine with stress reduced to a minimum. I’ll let you know if the psychosis returns.
Until then . . . I’m feeling much better now.
The smooth operation of our tax functions means I am still accepting new clients selectively. The bottleneck now is in processing the requests. To that end I hired a new team member to help with the follow-up of requests.
If you sent a request in the last few months without a response you should resend the request. Please include your phone number. Most do not. Amy will send an email with a follow-up phone call if we feel it’s a good fit.
The reason for the additional screening is to make sure it works for all parties involved. Sometimes expectations are different from what we can handle with our current structure. I’d rather discover early if there is a conflict or issues before we start. This is easier on both of us.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t get in. My team has managed to get things running smooth again after I overwhelmed the machinery. To keep it smooth we have to make sure we can do the job right.
Another Tax Bill
When you were looking the other way Congress passed another tax bill Friday. Yes, as in yesterday if you’re reading this the day I published.
The hoopla about the latest government shutdown was resolved with a major spending bill with lots of tax nuggets.
Here is why the spending bill is so important. The tax part of the bill retroactively renewed many expired tax provisions! This means many of the returns filed early are wrong!
The IRS is busting heinie to implement the changes. My software provider will update as soon as the IRS has their end fixed and ready to accept returns with the updates.
Here are some of the more common changes:
- Mortgage insurance premiums are back and will be the number one reason we will need to amend.
- Discharged mortgage debt is excluded from income again.
- The provision to deduct education expenses (qualified tuition and related expenses) up to $4,000 above-the-line is restored.
The remainder of the thirty or so renewed provisions generally affect businesses.
Because the IRS will need time to implement these changes you either have to wait to file (including possible filing an extension) or filing now and amending later. It’s your call.
I kindly ask readers to spread the word on the DIY tax software offered by 1040.com. This is the same software I use in my office. If you use the link on this page it supports your favorite blog.
This is a project close to my heart and means a lot. Thank you for considering the option. Many returns also qualify for free-file.
Remember we have a drawing for two cash giveaways next week Wednesday. Details are available on the Where Am I page. Be sure to open those emails with the latest TWA post to win!
Now let’s have some fun!
What I’m Reading
Every year at this time I make myself a promise as I head to the office each day that I will take an hour or two to read. This year, as in past years, the promise is unfulfilled.
I still read some early in the morning and at night after writing if I can keep my eyes open. The weekends are nirvana!
This week I worked on a book in progress, but mostly read from The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.
When I need to perform at my best I always look to my Stoic literature. If you don’t keep a copy of The Daily Stoic next to your bed you don’t know what you’re missing.
What I’m Watching
Just as time is tight for reading, time spent watching videos is also curtailed. As important as learning and relaxation are, tax season is a time when accountants sacrifice some of these hedonic pleasures.
SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy Rocket this week and I watched it live from my desk. It was the coolest thing ever! Enjoy if you haven’t already.
I also watched a few videos in the vein of the selection provided here. Mysteries intrigue me even if they are somewhat contrived. Old stuff grabs my attention hard. Here we see mysterious monuments from around the world.
What I’m Listening To
My listening tastes turn unique during these intense times. I think you’ll enjoy Beethoven’s Symphony 7 selection. The calming sound emanated from my office more than once this week.
When the coffee started to wear off I got silly. Something to break up the classical sounds.
Finally, as you read this your favorite accountant is probably sleeping it off or reading voraciously with drool running from the left side of his mouth.
I’m also planning a special post for Monday. We have enjoyed p/e ratios in the upper teens, 20s and higher on the broad indexes for so long people forget it wasn’t that long ago when the S&P sported a single digit p/e ratio and the average stock in the index threw off over a 6% dividend yield with many sporting even higher payouts!
Monday we will discuss what would need to happen to go back to those days of the late 1970s and early 1980s and the late 1940s and early 1950s. It’s been a while since we enjoyed such a market. I promise an engaging read.
Won’t you join me.
How many friends do you have? Thirty? More? Ten or less? It’s an interesting question because it determines a great deal of our happiness.
Loneliness is feared as much as the night. Losing a spouse or loved one cuts deep as we know how much we’ll miss the dearly departed.
Age can bring on acute loneliness. I wrote a Christmas post a few years back about a client who died shortly after I visited her Christmas Eve. Her name was Sophie. She died many years ago. I visited her because I understood how alone she was. Sophie was a client for many years and she spent the last years of her life in unrelenting isolation. Every time I think of her it brings tears to my eyes. I can still feel her weak hand squeeze mine all those years ago.
“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know . . .” is a familiar ballad that resonates because we all know how easy we could find ourselves alone. Deep down we all fear the emptiness.
The worst punishment in prison is solitary confinement. Cutting a human being from the stimulation of other humans is considered punishment. It’s really torture and any human forcing another into isolation deserves the death penalty. Isolation destroys the mind; destroys the human and any intelligent person undertaking such activity is the lowest form of life.
Personal Finance and Friends
It might seem strange for a personal finance blog to cover isolation as a topic. However, there are several correlatives between avoidance of isolation, the types of friends you have and wealth.
Some people like a certain kind of isolation. Personally, I like quiet time walking my farm and working with my animals. This is radically different from the kind of isolation Sophie lived through.
Isolation in a confined space is maddening. Sophie couldn’t get around those last years of her life and needed people to visit her. To the best of my knowledge she only had one friend who visited on a regular basis.
People are so desperate to avoid being alone they start to consider acquaintances as friends.
I have a lot of acquaintances, but very few real friends. I bet you’re the same.
Business owners tend to have a larger list of acquaintances. I meet people from all walks of life and learn very intimate and personal things about them. It’s my job! I have to know my client to advise wisely and prepare an accurate return. Even digging into a client’s life doesn’t guarantee I will not miss something. As I write, a client of many years emailed to ask why he didn’t get certain credits. He never answered the questions in the organizer so it was missed until he said something that triggered me to ask the question verbally. Good thing the returns are still able to be amended.
In my life I also have employees. They are acquaintances, not friends! Employers who are friends with employees are asking for trouble!
Then we have this blog. I meet loads of people due to this abstract. Some people I meet at conferences and many more via email, phone or the comments section.
You are probably different. Your acquaintances might be a group of people you socialize with at the bar. You might consider these people friends, but they are almost certainly only acquaintances.
Who constitutes a real friend then? Mrs. Accountant is top of the list for me. Deep down she is my only true friends. My daughters and extended family are friends in a way, but family is family. I get along well with my blood relatives. We don’t chum around, but make no mistake, we will defend our own vigorously. At best I maybe have two real friends outside my bride.
Life is like that. Our true friends are limited while our circle of acquaintances is vast. This is an important understanding to have if you value living a debt-free lifestyle with ample helpings of wealth.
The Lost Art of Small Talk
Valuable time is wasted on small talk. A typical greeting goes something like this:
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Great. Haven’t been better. You?”
“Happier than a whore on her day off!”
We say it with incredible choreography. We say these things so often we don’t even know we are saying it. We even think we’re a comedian with our witty repertoire.
But nobody is listening.
If you answered a “How’ya doin’” with a “Worst day of my life” you’d probably here the same rehearsed reply of “Good to hear it.”
Small talk is wasted breath! Small talk is something acquaintances engage in. Friends are much deeper.
A simple greeting can waste irreplaceable minutes of your finite life. Added together over a lifetime and you might be surprised to know the average person wastes 4 years and three months uttering and replying to meaningless greetings (I made up that statistic).
Unchecked, you can waste massive parts of each day in empty banter with people you are only acquainted with.
There is a way to tell if you are dealing with a real friend or a fair weather friend. Think for a moment what would happen if you left the group. Would these people stay in touch at a significant level or would it dwindle in a hurry?
My experience tells me most people will evaporate like the morning mist. Staying in touch via social media doesn’t count either! When I meet people at conferences we sometimes end up connected on social media platforms. But once time passes the “likes” decrease and the interaction stops. Sure, you can keep an eye on what your acquaintance is up to, but that’s nothing more than satisfying your curiosity about how things have evolved for a prior acquaintance.
Dealing with Fair Weather Friends
Fair weather friends can suck the life out of you. As long as you’re buying they are willing to lift a glass with a cheer.
In a manner of speaking clients are the ultimate fair weather friends. They are good people, don’t get me wrong. I love the people I serve. I also have no illusion we are not close buds.
Clients are similar to an employer/employee relationship. As long as you do good work and they keep paying for said work the relationship is golden. Do crappy work for a week and see how long the friendship lasts? Don’t get paid and see how long you feel friendly?
Fair weather friends are not bad people! Few people have what it takes to be a true friend. Most people wander through life focusing on the minutia and looking for drama. People who gossip are a perfect example of who will not make a real friend for anyone. They’ll cut you lose in heartbeat for their own petty dramas. And don’t worry. There is always something to feel righteous indignation about.
Before we deal with fair weather friends further we should discuss the interpersonal relationships between real friends.
It can be hard to look in from the outside and tell if the friendship is real or a friendship of convenience. Greetings between real friends happen all the time. Every night when I return home I inquire into Mrs. Accountant’s day. She asks about my day. Some days are only mildly informative. Some days we sit and talk for hours.
You can share a beer with a true friend as easily as with an acquaintance. You probably mix acquaintances and true friends at the same time.
True friends stick around when the going gets tough even if you are in the wrong. Real friends hold each other accountable but never dismiss the relationship over a disagreement.
Real friends have deep and meaningful talks. Talk is 99% superficial with acquaintances.
For people who enjoy traveling, tell me your stories. How deep are the relationships when you’re passing through? Your spouse or significant other is the only real friend you have in the room.
Even when people meet with common interests the friendships are superficial. How many people have you met at personal finance conferences? How many do you stay in touch with? How many are a deep and meaningful relationship? I understand.
Jim Rohn said you are like the five people you spend the most time with. I think this excludes to a minor extent people you work with and might include people you read and follow.
Deep, intimate relationships are built on more than casual nights to the movies or tavern. Real relationships have emotional attachments. If the relationship were to end you would feel pain.
Conversations in deep relationships are far more personal. Two guys (they don’t have to be gay and if they are, they are) can have a deep relationship built on trust, sharing and understanding. Think of the depth between soldiers in the foxhole. It gets real mighty fast or everyone is dead. There is no doubt when I see retired military guys meeting several decades later on a regular schedule to catch up they are real friends, even if the friendship was created by circumstances. When trust is that great it can’t die!
Research has shown if a skinny person has all obese friends the skinny person will put on weight instead of the obese group trimming down.
Heading to the shopping mall with crazy people friends who like to spend and you are more likely to overspend as well. I’ve even noticed this in the frugal FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community. The same people keep attending every conference as fast as they are organized. At some point you have to say enough.
Meeting with people of like mind is a wonderful thing to do in moderation. Time spent with people sharing similar thought patterns can be invigorating and FUN! But it is superficial! Most of these people are acquaintances only. You can learn a lot from them and teach a bit, too. But friends are what matter in life.
Everything in moderation. It’s not healthy for your favorite accountant to whine about traveling because I prefer to cocoon. Stowing away on my ten acres isn’t healthy either! I still need to get out. It’s a work in progess.
My preferred method of communication is writing. In the office plenty of verbal communication takes place too. But can you imagine if I only wrote letters to Mrs. Accountant and never verbally told her the depth of my love? Letters are special because most people don’t take the time to write them. I, on the other hand, need to assure I nurture the relationships that matter in my life with verbal confirmation. (I actually framed love poetry I wrote to Mrs. Accountant twenty years ago. It was my best attempt at a sonnet. She stayed so it must have worked.)
The things you read and study, the people you hang with, family and true friends play an outsized role in your success in life. Reading powerful leaders is important. Also read the classics.
The time you spend with people will influence your thinking more than you anticipate. Take the challenge. If you are deep in debt start reading debt-free blogs and books. Ask to hang out with people who save and invest a lot. Before long you’ll brown bag lunch because in your worldview people no longer have huge debts or spend like drunken sailors.
The opposite applies, too. Have too many people around you, even mere acquaintances, who are spendthrifts and within no time you’ll have some serious credit card debt to contend with. At least you’ll have an 8-mile to the gallon Hummer as a wasting asset in your driveway.
Don’t settle for friends or acquaintances who don’t share your values to avoid loneliness. Work hard to be a real friend and you will find true friends of your own.
Choose your friends wisely. The kind of life you live will depend on it.
It started with a simple request for an update to my personal net worth.
Over the years I’ve been mum about the subject, only exposing myself due to the Rockstar Finance Net Worth Tracker. I’m still undecided about discussing my *exact* net worth publically. It’s really nobody’s business and is only public because I write a personal finance blog.
(As an example: Recently I was told point-blank if this blog failed it would be no big deal since I could always do something else and I’m already rich enough. This remark was a jab at the hopeful opportunity to watch something I enjoy crumble. If I really felt that way I would never have started the project.)
The reader kept the emails coming fast and furious when I dodged the net worth question. I had a duty, I was informed, to share my personal life — details and all — since I was a business owner and have a semi-successful blog.
There was a hint of humor beneath the requests so I delayed blocking said intruder. Eventually we started a civil dialog with some serious questions about the current tax law and how it might ripple through the economy.
A week ago I was working in the barn and began formulating a post using many of the questions my intruder asked. I worked myself into a frenzy until it started coming out as a rant. I went to the house and took notes on all the topics I wanted to cover.
So this is it. I promised my intruder a nice post covering a large portion of his questions he had surrounding the TAX CUT AND JOBS ACT. Some of this is tongue in cheek so don’t take this post as hard and fast predictions of the near future.
Then again, I do have a point.
Doubling the estate tax exemption is industrial strength stupid. All this worry about farmers and small businesses losing a lifetime of work due to estate taxes is the dumbest thing ever thrust upon the people.
With the old tax law only a few thousand estates were subject to the estate tax in any given year. Now even fewer will pay the tax.
You can count the farmers subject to the estate tax on your fingers with fingers left over! Some small businesses pay an estate tax, but even that is rare.
What the adjustment to the estate tax did was line the pockets of the uber-rich! Even this blog with a very wealthy readership will not have much to worry about when it comes to estate taxes!
It’s time to stop calling the estate tax a death tax. It’s not a death tax; it’s a welfare tax!!! We keep hearing politicians complain about welfare draining the public coffers. Well, the estate tax is the biggest welfare tax there is.
I see some raised eyebrows. Let me explain. The estate tax is not a death tax; it’s a welfare payment to all the people getting a free ride due to the genetic lottery.
I don’t care what they do to the estate tax personally, but stop calling it what it’s not!
No amount of tax cuts will offset the accelerating wealth accumulation at the top. As the top keeps more due to lower taxes there is less available to spread around to the middle class. The middle class pie gets smaller and smaller as the middle class gets squeezed like never before.
Tax cuts don’t trickle down. And stop with the politics. If trickle down worked it should have leveled some of the income inequality by now. Remember, President Reagan came up with the idea back in 1981.
Tax cuts can stimulate the economy, however, and have been used as a tool to spur the economic growth on a regular basis in the past.
The latest tax cut is a bit weird. Normally the government lowers taxes to encourage economic growth when the economy is sputtering or in recession. This time we spiked the Kool-Aid after six or seven years of modest economic growth.
Cutting taxes with unemployment at a 4-handle (unemployment is 4 point something percent) could actually harm the economy as interest rates and inflation could accelerate destroying any gains from the tax cuts.
Time will tell.
The labor participation rate will collapse if a technical corrections bill doesn’t fix the myriad problems with the latest tax bill. Savers will be able to exit the workforce faster and the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement will make it easier than ever for people to check out early, further exacerbating the labor shortage.
Also, the tax code now punishes added payroll expenses significantly since if you didn’t spend on payroll the extra profits are barely taxed (big corps) or you get 20% of profits as a deduction without spending a penny (small business and landlords).
There is no doubt in my mind any increase in the labor participation rate will be short-lived. Also, businesses are more incentivized than ever to lay off workers at the first hint of slower demand.
Automation is cheaper than ever with bonus depreciation increases. Include the 20% business income deduction and I foresee plenty of staff reductions.
The automation was coming regardless. Now we don’t have time to adjust as the changes will come faster. Once installed the jobs are gone forever.
Major corporations will benefit most as the cost benefit calculations will favor more automation up front. Wal-Mart is a perfect example recently announcing a few bonuses and a higher internal minimum wage while experimenting with over 200 of their stores by replacing all cashiers with automation. Total payroll expenses to Wal-Mart will probably fall. So much for their altruism.
Don’t be fooled by the token pay bonuses either. Many companies are giving a one-time $1,000 bonus to select staff. This is less than a 2% temporary pay increase. If you paid attention, many of these companies announced a few days later layoffs which will reduce payroll by more than the bonuses.
Big business and the very wealthy know exactly what they’re doing (to you).
Now we get to my net worth. Know this, your favorite accountant will do rather well in this environment. Complex tax laws are always good for people with tax knowledge and a pulse.
We came into this story talking about a certain someone’s net worth. Here I confess I might have adlibbed a bit. The issue was net worth, but more to the point, how much was I going to haul home with all the tobacco company shares I own?
It’s true I own a lot of shares in tobacco companies. Unfortunately only my Altria shares will benefit from the tax cuts. Foreign tobacco companies — Phillip Morris International in my case — will not see a benefit from U.S. tax rate reductions for corporations since they derive all their profits outside the U.S.
This led to a discussion on how many shares of Altria I own. Ah, a lot.
Let’s look at what Altria might do to my net worth. The tax reduction could increase their reported earnings by about $2 per share from the tax reduction alone. Assuming a 10 P/E ratio this will eventually be reflected in the stock price increasing $20 per share. Bad news, kind readers. A twenty dollar increase in MO’s share price will get me a bit more than two-thirds of a million only.
Altria also likes to distribute about 80% of profits to shareholders. Currently MO pays 66 cents per share per quarter or $2.64 annually. Eighty percent of an additional $2 profit increase due solely to tax reductions is $1.60 extra per share per year for me (my favorite person) in dividends.
Your favorite accountant expects the tax reduction for Altria to add a bit north of $50,000 per year to his pocket on top of the current dividend. Not bad for a broke farmer in 1982.
On December 26th my net worth crossed the $14 million mark. Here, less than a month later, I reached $15 million. It took 14 years to amass the first million (age 18 to 32). Now I’m bumping off a million in less than a month. I can’t wait for the day I can brag I lost a million between sunup and sundown!
I am sooooo smart! I doubt anyone has seen their net worth climb in the current environment.
(Okay, the last part is total BS. I didn’t add my stuff up the day after Christmas. A back of the envelope calculation says I’m getting close to $15 million, however. Yes, even your favorite accountant can’t resist looking as his stash when it’s growing so fast. I keep reminding myself, “This too shall end.”)
This tax cut is different than the 1981 cut. Inflation and unemployment were double digits back then; now we have inflation and interest rates near zero with a 4 and change unemployment rate. Dropping a line of crack will not solve a meth heads issues! Stimulating an economy after 7 – 8 years of modest growth with the labor force fully or nearly fully employed is asking for problems.
At least I’ll be okay. I’m not so sure about you.
I could offer solutions, but there are none I can think of. There will be pain a head. You might want to keep that job for a while and eliminate debt. (Always eliminate debt.) For a few years (as long as the economy holds) it will be easier than ever to build a significant net worth and retire early (if that’s your goal).
Don’t worry. The government will print and borrow enough money to fund the upcoming inflation tax.
This entire post is opinion, of course. Many of these questions have come up again and again so I feel it is easier addressing them here for everybody to enjoy, ahem.
If any of these predictions comes true I take full credit.
If I’m off, let it be known I was only predicting the future and we all know the best we can do is guess at the future.
(Note: The light-hearted nature of this post is due to the flu epidemic affecting the nation. Some people are down and out. Your favorite accountant has been only modestly lucky so far. Some days I feel great only to spend several days so tired and exhausted I can barely think. Since I’m writing at a down point I felt it best to leave the serious discussions for a day when my head doesn’t feel like a balloon. There are actually people who follow my advice! Best to assure the advice has a reasonable chance of being right.)
Back in 1982 Wisconsin a young man could legally belly up to the bar on his 18th birthday. That didn’t stop me from getting a jump start on adulthood.
In my later years of high school there were several rural bars where the owners could care less how old I was. The police rarely showed up (they never showed up when I was there, but I heard stories) and the penalties were light if caught selling to minors.
So I unwound after a long week of farm labor and sloughing off at school with a cold one in Brothertown. I drove the distance to tip a brew with my buddy, Ken.
Ken turned 18 our senior year and he promptly dropped out of school. My grades improved immediately. Ken and I were as thick as ticks on a hound, but I was starting to grow up while Ken was dropping out.
Our friendship faded with distance. Alcohol still played a large role in my life.
I met a young lady in a place called Quinney. It’s not really a town. More like a curve in the highway with a turnoff to the shore of Lake Winnebago.
The part about Quinney was it was on the way to Brothertown. Now with Ken fading into the distance I sometimes took a right turn toward Lake Winnebago and a bar called Chuck and Sue’s.
The name (Chuck and Sue’s) has meaning since my engagement to my high school sweetheart ended when she settled into another man’s arms and I eventually met Mrs. Accountant who happens to be named Sue.
(HEY, EVERYBODY! The accountant guy let slip his wife’s name. Y’all gotta see this.)
Sorry about that. Nobody remember Mrs. Accountant’s name so she can keep some privacy. I promise to never say it again (here).
My consumption of alcohol was getting out of control as I clawed toward the age of majority. There were nights I don’t remember driving home. And then there was the night I decorated the side of my dad’s van. And the night I came walking through the house in my BVDs when my parents had company. And then . . .
I think you get the picture.
I was drinking. I was drinking a lot. I was doing things I’m luck someone didn’t get killed from.
My high school sweetheart was gone so I headed back to Brothertown and my old friends. I was still part of the crowd, but everyone knew I wasn’t “like them”.
It became abundantly clear one Friday when a group of guys planned on running to Fond du Lac to catch a movie. They left without me.
I was numb. My fiancé left me and I was walking in a drunken stupor more than I was sober.
The final straw came when I headed to Brothertown in the middle of the week when the bar we frequented was mostly empty. I shot some stick and drank.
I ran out of cash so I wrote a $20 check. It bounced.
The bar owner called me and Ipromised to run over and satisfy the debt.
True to my word I made the run to Brothertown, paid the bar owner the $20 (plus bank fee) and ordered my last drink. Halfway finished, I pushed the beer back and left Brothertown, a way of life and alcohol forever.
Or so I thought.
Then I turned 18.
The reflection in the mirror was hard to look at. I failed in so many ways. I had no idea what I wanted.
Farm life was something unappealing to me at the time. It was all I knew so I wanted something more. Working day and night for peanuts and popcorn had no hold on me. Deep down I wanted to be more than a poor farmer. I wanted to know what life was like for people with money.
1982 was a bad year for the economy. Living in the Rust Belt, the recession hit hard, harder than the 2008 debacle. Unemployment was 20%+ in the area. Businesses wouldn’t even give you an application. The answer was no so there was no need to waste a piece of paper.
I went from drunk to teetotaler in a heartbeat. Before my 19th birthday I put the bottle into my past and embarked on a journey of entrepreneurship and wealth.
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Sounds like I had a blast, right?
It wasn’t! I had no clue what I was doing. I tried everything. I sold stuff door-to-door, to retail stores and got serious for the first time about my writing.
Money came in bits and spurts. I saved it all and invested in mutual funds and some individual stocks.
But this story isn’t about my journey to wealth. I’ve told that before. No, this story is about facing myself in the mirror.
Who Is that Man?
I no longer recognized the person I’d become. The drunk was a stranger and now even the drunk was gone. It would be over twenty years before I took another drink.
The ride wasn’t smooth, but I eventually found my confidence and calling in life. As a side gig I prepared taxes without a clue the role accounting and taxes would play in my life.
Successes started to accumulate like an index fund in a bull market. I was happy and started to map a course to the life I wanted.
No longer inebriated on a regular basis I started to like the guy in the mirror. He had promise, if not a little crusty around the edges.
I met Mrs. Accountant while taking a few college courses here and there. That was the greatest stroke of luck I ever had. I won the trillion dollar lottery!
She didn’t know she was Mrs. Accountant at the time; I did.
You would think life would be a pretty smooth ride of luxury for a guy in his young 50s with an eight figure net worth. It wasn’t.
Life seemed to throw one challenge after another. The genius thing I did was never give up. Each obstacle was a challenge to conquer. And conquer we did.
Building wealth and even running a business can become rote formality. Saving at an insane rate was an ingrained habit sending my net worth into the heavens.
Mrs. Accountant and I traveled a bit. I hated every minute. The destination and learning was fun, but I soon discovered I preferred the world of my backyard. Eventually travel turned into something we did because business demanded it. In a way, business is the only thing that kept me from being a dweeb or hermit.
In the 90s I had a securities license for a few years. That required two trips every year. Before long I was frantically searching for a way out and I took the first opportunity.
Routine set in again.
Then I met the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community and felt like I found long lost friends!
The gloss would wear off.
The Best People in the World
Somewhere in the early 2000s I allowed myself a shot of whisky now and again. I drank a few times in the winter if I had a sore throat and rarely any other time.
When I choose to stop drinking and when I drank nil for many years I never had an arrogant attitude toward those who consumed alcohol. If somebody wanted to drink I didn’t care. I was happy as a clam with a frosty Coca-Cola Classic.
As the years went by my drinking increased for short periods and then went back to nothing.
I was happy and enjoying life. Travel was in my past (Thank God!) and I finally was back living on a farm.
The farming life I hated so much as a kid was actually in my blood. My 10 acres of the world are small in the scope of things, but it’s my 10 acres with hiking trails, animals and all.
The rote formality of business was growing old. I had one more dream to conquer before I cashed in my chips.
Several times I started a countdown clock to retirement only to find my anxiety became uncontrollable as the due date arrived. You would think I was facing an IRS audit or something.
The clock was sent to the landfill.
One day I happened across a blog by some strange character who called himself Mr. Money Mustache. This funky dude from Colorado had it figured out better than me. He even found a way to walk away from work and do whatever he wanted!
So we loaded by the truck and we moved to Beverly. Hills that is . . .
I could never give up work, but I was lucky enough to be doing what I wanted to so there was no hurry.
Regardless, I felt inadequate. MMM cashed his check at age 30 and here I was putzing along closing in on 50. How had I failed so badly?
Back to the Suds
I started attending conferences within the community because I felt obligated. My meeting with MMM (and becoming his accountant) forced me to finally start writing this blog.
This in turn led to more offers. I was traveling again. Drinking, too. The mirror started to bother me for the first time in decades.
The FIRE community knows how to drink. Beer mostly, but liquor, too. A shot of whisky (a shot) is something I don’t mind every once in a while. Beer is something I never acquired a taste for.
Well, my new-found buds drank suds and I was part of them now so I drank, to hell with the mirror. If you focus hard enough you can swallow anything and down the hatch went the beer.
Before we get too far, let it be known a local brew called Spotted Cow is palatable to me.
The social media feeds listed my new buds enjoying a cold one on a more than a regular basis. Not everybody imbibed, but by and large the group knew how to throw a party.
Breaking the Mirror
I’m not a traditional FIRE community member. I’m even surprised they let me in the door. (Some have started to close doors.)
The drinking thing returned home with me and the travel I whined about so incessantly caused people to comment on my new-found itinerary abroad. (Anywhere outside the county is abroad in my book.)
Many nights I would have a few shots of whisky and even drank beer. Before long the memory of Brothertown and the bounced check in the bar came flooding back. This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be.
I recently made it clear my attendance at conferences would be limited. Even one trip a year is a chore to me. I did promise Mrs. Accountant and the girls a trip to Iowa this year to see the Hoover Presidential Library. It’s a 4-hour drive; I’ll live.
Expect to see me at FinCon in Orlando later this year as well.
And if God loves me I’ll not travel another lick the remainder of the year.
Nor drink more than a few shots of Jack either.
I’m a big boy now; I can make adult decisions when required. There is no doubt I succumbed to peer pressure when not a single soul within the FIRE community forced me to drink anything. If I drank a soda there wasn’t a single sound of admonishment.
Peer pressure is like that! Most peer pressure comes from inside your head and not from out there. It’s all perceived.
More, I wanted to be like those people instead of living my life my way. I thought living their life would make me happy. It didn’t and it was starting to show.
So what if people think I’m a weaselly guy from Treefarm, Wisconsin. I’m happy. This blog has proven there are more like me out there (people who loathe travel and enjoy home life).
No longer do I feel obligated to attend more and more conferences. I can live the way I want to live.
Here is where you come in, kind readers.
A common refrain in my email involves people wanting to be like me. NO YOU DON’T! The planet has a hard time dealing with one of me.
You can learn from my experiences to build wealth and a happier lifestyle. But you don’t have to do the same things I do.
I like my small farm in the middle of nowhere. A serious percentage of readers here would become insane in the same environment. (First one to comment its already driven me insane gets one in the puss.)
All I’m saying is don’t drive to Brothertown. The only thing you’ll find there is a bounced check in a bar long out of business.
I was contacted recently by an old acquaintance. Brad is a reader of this blog and started to take exception to my style of writing. He felt any idiot could write a blog and I can assure you any idiot is writing this one.
He felt it beneath a CPA to write what I do here. I assured him I’m no CPA; never have been never will be. Brad was starting to feel disappointed in his disappointment in me.
His final argument was it took no skill or knowledge to write a blog. True. But then he said it was easy to make money telling tall tales. Yikes! (Okay now, bloggers. Keep the cussing to a mild roar in the comments when you explain how “easy” it is to make real money blogging.)
Brad had several more complaints I’ll address shortly. We have enough material for a good start, however, to learn some valuable lessons.
Brad was born in the same backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin I was. His wife was born so far in the backwoods maps generally list the area as Terra Incognito. What I’m saying is we didn’t come from grand beginnings.
Life hasn’t been easy for Brad. Life started hard and slid downhill from there. It was easy to develop an edge of cynicism. Several years ago the pendulum swung 180 degrees and opportunity knocked. Smart man Brad is, he answered.
Brad has a gift and can’t understand mine. He thinks writing is easy and a quick way to wealth. (Steady blogger friends.) All I have to do is tell BS stories or modified life events while sitting on the couch and watch people rush in.
Anybody can push a noun up against a verb. Heck, there are computer programs that will produce grammatically accurate sentences on demand. It’s not engaging reading, but it can be done.
There is a difference between what Stephen King does and what I do! There will be few arguments, especially from me, if people think King’s noun and verb pushing is better than mine. I think it has something to do with the order of the words. I think.
Brad’s gift is greater than mine and I understand it less. Whereas any literate person can write, few music lovers can create a sound pleasant to the ear.
You cannot believe the magic jumping from that man’s fingertips as he gently massages the strings of a bass guitar and I can prove it. He found his wife while performing before an audience sharing those soulful sounds. Okay! Brad doesn’t like it when I adlib and tell only part of the story. Truth is, his wife found him. That boy didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell once she heard what his fingers can do. (Read that any way you want.)
Brad has more heart than any man I’ve met. It takes honor and bravery to tell such a painful personal story.
Developing a Gift
There is nothing special about Brad or me. Our difficult beginnings were somewhat different, but the pain was just as real.
Brad argued I used my daughter’s medical condition to garner sympathy. Duh! I hurt. My child hurts! Sharing the story is a natural act.
His final arguments involved me telling only part of the story. Of course! To include every detail is called an info-dump; editors hate it and modern readers don’t stick around. If you want to read the info-dump of the century read The Lord of the Rings. Of course the Rings books are awesome. But the first 128 pages (you read that right) are world building. There isn’t much story before that.
A show of hands. How many readers would grant me the luxury of a 128 page info-dump to satisfy the need for absolute accuracy before getting to the point? Nobody? Thought so. That’s why I don’t do it.
The last of the two final arguments involves my personal life. Brad asked what my readers would think if they knew I wrote erotica for profit in the past. Ah, I don’t know? I’ve mentioned it before. I also did a stand-up comedy act in Seattle a year and a half ago where twenty minutes of the gig was on my transgender flash fiction writing.
For the record, a large percentage of successful writers have written erotica. Science fiction writers after the Golden Age resorted to selling short stories to Penthouse (paying $1,500 a story) and Playboy (paying $2,000 a story) in the 1970s. I’ve never heard any complaints against these writers. And if no one has noticed, 50 Shades of Gray is a, ahem, romance novel about training a woman how to please a man while she’s tortured. I doubt anyone cares I’ve written practically every topic known to man, including erotica.
I bring up all these arguments because they play a role in today’s story, minus the info-dump. I’ve made it clear often that my stories are true unless otherwise noted with material facts changed to fit the story into the context of the discussion at hand and to protect privacy in certain instances (I never name clients).
I have no idea why Brad is so good playing bass. I’m not even sure why my writing is gaining such traction. Most of my prior material got modest pageviews with exception to the skanky blogs (I actually wrote two transgender flash fiction captioning blogs to double the profit) where after about a year I hit a groove that went wild with millions of pageviews.
And yes, I made money doing it! I love writing, but I prefer writing fantastic (read high science fiction) stories. I even published a short story here on New Year’s Day. I love writing that kind of tear-jerker. But do you know how well men sell tear-jerkers? Yeah, me neither.
Song of Songs
I lied above and I’m certain Brad will call me on it. I said I had no idea why he was so good at bass, but I do.
Brad didn’t leave the womb with a massive desire to grab a hunk of wood covered with resin and wires and start plucking it. Somewhere in his life he found music was an escape from all the demons.
You might have noticed how the best artists have dark pasts. There might be truth in the adage that artistic greatness is built on rivers of tears and mountains of pain.
I have no answer why some people buckle under the assault of life and others find beauty deep inside and refuse to let go until they share it. At some point the pain was so much Brad needed an outlet. He chose music and the rest is history.
In his hands the guitar gently weeps; in my hands it would be the sound of fingernails across a blackboard.
But it’s easy! Any idiot can fondle the strings of a guitar.
True. But knowing which strings, in which order with the right feeling and soul takes practice.
L. Ron Hubbard (yes, the Scientology guy) was a big name in science fiction in the day. He once said it took a writer 500,000 words before they found their voice. I’m not sure if his number is accurate, but personal experience says you paste plenty of words to page before the fingernails lift from the slate.
Music is harder!
Writing is subjective. Someone who enjoys a mystery might not like a horror novel; someone who enjoys horror might hate westerns; and so forth.
If I make a mistake writing (I do often) the story still goes on. Readers frequently miss the faux pas. Some stories hit well, others not so much. Certainly Stephen King has nothing to fear from your favorite accountant.
But what about Brad? I prefer contemporary rock while still enjoying classical music when it plays, even an opera. Music is more broadly enjoyed and that’s the risk!
Can you imagine Brad on stage and missing a note? Fingernails are literally back on the chalkboard. If I make a grammatical error it is nothing more than a minor distraction to most readers.
Never quit. Never give up.
Two Geniuses in a Room
Brad and I share radically different viewpoints. We challenge each other with some serious remarks. Outsiders might find the barbs personal, but the banter is similar to bar buddies saying their friend is the best son-of-a, well, you know.
I share what I have and make no compromises on my desire to turn coin from my work. We can only share what we have. It is a call for sympathy. People with a heart respond to that.
It would have been easy for Brad or me to pack our bags and quit at any moment during our personal trials. Most people do quit!
I’ve included several YouTube videos to bring this story alive. Brad’s video of faith and redemption is powerful and moving. Highly recommended!
Please watch the Never Give Up! video. It’s important. Very important. Hearing the greatest people of our time saying again and again their true genius was in never giving up is motivational. Powerful and moving
The truth is, each and every one of us, kind readers, have a similar story. Life gives every single human alive a swift kick to the groin at least once in life. Going to a knee in pain isn’t the problem; staying on your knee is.
Brad is right. I make this look easy because I write a lot. Brad makes music look easy because he lives it.
You have a story inside you too. Maybe you have the gift to share it verbally or by spanking words to a digital page.
Or maybe you have to sing a song to move souls.
You never know, your wife might be listening.
2017 was one heck of a year. Business was good, investments were good, personal life was awesome. The good news never seemed to stop.
Many people like to make New Year’s resolutions. Not me. I forgo the whole ritual.
Instead, I plan all year round. When an idea strikes I write it down. It’s a rare moment when I don’t have a pen and paper within striking distance.
Ideas are impossible to control. A chance encounter, an overheard word can trigger a thought process. In moments another blog post idea is ready for recording. The same applies to projects in the tax practice and in my personal life.
It was all good news (unless you watch anything political).
Time is an investor’s friend and 2017 added another year to the schedule of growth. The stock market performed well.
Of course, some years business isn’t all roses. The stock market can decline and the tax practice can be more challenge than profit or fun. This wasn’t one of those years.
I’ll mumble this out the side of my mouth because people react incorrectly when they know what I’m about to say. A certain farm boy from the backwoods of Wisconsin saw his net worth scratch a quarter inch above the $14 million mark at yearend. There I said it. Now forget it.
My greatest fortune is my girls. For the most part Mrs. Accountant and the kiddos were healthy. Who could ask for more? And we had more time together even with the oldest now getting serious about her education. They’re smart kids. I’ll take credit because without a doubt it has everything to do with genetics. Care to take a bow with me, Mrs. Accountant?
The Greatest Gift
After struggling with growing pains and changes in my business, I found solace this year.
Traffic to this blog has grown significantly in the last twelve months and the growth in demands followed. Procedures instituted to manage the flow have eased the feelings of overwhelm.
The overwhelm still exists, but I’m handling it better. By clearing my mind I’m making better decisions. The final pieces are falling into place which should allow me to add new clients to my tax practice without always being so far behind.
This has always bothered me. I struggle with saying “no” and I hate working to exhaustion daily and never keeping up. 2017 saw improvements; 2018 should knock it out of the park if staff additions and training work out as planned.
And I have learned to say “no” or just ignore some requests. It’s always a loaded question: Can you help me? Frequently the answer is yes, but I can’t because I’m six months out.
The good news is I’m able to help more while learning to say “no”. This leads to balance and balance leads to more life satisfaction.
As if the world isn’t bright enough in this accountant’s world, I received the ultimate form of recognition: a Plutus Award for Best New Personal Finance Blog of the Year. I don’t think anyone understands how much this has meant to me.
Traffic and revenue are another form of recognition. Traffic has climbed steadily over the year and the first few days of 2018 are tremendously higher than the first few days of 2017. The trend is clear.
With traffic comes revenue; my favorite score card. Now that I’m committed to contributing the profits of this blog to charity I can focus on quality without a vested interest in the outcome. Money is the scorecard, a game of Monopoly if you will, to remind me the work I’m doing has value and that the value is growing.
All this said I still feel anxiety over issues I can’t control. I must constantly remind myself of the things I have control over and the things I don’t. Readers might recognize this as a Stoic principle. Well, I subscribe to the Stoic philosophy! Unfortunately, I’m not perfect at it. Consider it a work in progress.
With traffic comes comments from outside the demographic and from people whose only intention is to harm or irritate. I wish I could report my skin is thick enough to deflect all criticism. It isn’t. Sometimes I’m caught off guard and the attacks hurt. In taxes there is always another opinion. And just like law (taxes are the big section of the law library), everybody has an opinion. Too bad the Tax Courts around the country couldn’t agree. It’d make my job a lot easier.
Deep breaths, accountant. Deep breaths.
Planning for a Bright Future or Resolutions Writ Large
As awesome as the last year has been, the future holds even greater opportunities.
When I was at the top of my game I suffered a minor setback (my feelings were hurt) and I let’em have it with both barrels. I’ll be editing the bullets holes out shortly.
My primary goal is not to let people bring me down with insults or criticism. From the outside it must look petty. From the inside it hurts like heck! Everybody in the room isn’t going to agree with me. Thank God for that!
Having more followers means there will be differing opinions. Even when someone unloads it probably has more to do with their personal experiences than reality.
I also have to be careful with clarity. The last post for New Year’s Day was a short story with an underlying financial moral. It was an emotional story told in the first person. One reader emailed to say sorry for my loss. He thought my wife really died! It was a story and I need to make sure readers know the difference between story to illustrate a point and fact. It’s important!
Here are some plans for the next year that will affect you, kind readers. Call them resolutions if it makes you feel better.
Tax practice: This is still my greatest challenge in life. Outsiders must wonder why I put myself through this hell when financially I don’t have to. I wish I had an answer, folks. Wish I had an answer.
2018 will be a year of growth. Three or four years ago Mr. Money Mustache gave me a shout-out and nearly killed me. It wasn’t intentional; it was meant as a “thank you”. Still, when a guy with 5 million plus pageviews a month says, “Here’s my guy” you’d better be prepared. Unfortunately, service businesses are labor intensive and finding that many good tax people fast is impossible.
It took a few years, but I think I have it. I will actually be able to add new clients and get their work done in a reasonable time (a week or less for most). This troglodyte clung tenaciously to old school methods of running a tax practice. We now have serious additions to our automation.
A few years back I dropped over $50,000 a year on a new computer network to beef up security to the highest level commercially available. Good for me. (Good for you, too.) Too bad I didn’t engage all the other neat features available to make my life easier.
That’s all history now. Our system can scan faster and better than ever. Data entry work will be reduced by magnitudes of order. This frees my team and me to focus on the value added work: review and consulting. We put the computers to work doing the mundane while my skilled staff focuses on serving the client with outstanding planning services.
I feel better about the upcoming tax season than I have in five years. Wish me luck! (Luck has nothing to do with it. Planning and hard work deserve the credit.)
Personal Life: My introduction to the FIRE (financial independence, early retirement) community required (it felt like it was required) me to attend more and more events around the country. This took me away from family and reduced my personal time.
Traveling is something I try to avoid unless absolutely necessary. People started joking about how much I was now traveling when I keep saying I don’t like it. A series of events brought me back to my senses. I CAN SAY “NO”!
And so I have. As much as I love the FIRE community and enjoy meeting with like-minded people, my mental health is more important.
I will only attend one conference per year from now on. FinCon is my pick. FinCon 17 was mind-blowing. I’ll be better prepared for FinCon 18 in Orlando this time.
Other minor meet-ups, gatherings and conferences are almost certainly off the to-do list unless there is another reason for my attendance. (Keep reading to see what I have planned for my allotted conference plans.)
Hold onto your hats, kind readers, you’re not going to believe your ears. I am planning, yes, me, planning on a family vacation this year! Mrs. Accountant and the girls will all be there.
Where are we going, you ask? All the way to West Branch, Iowa, about a four hour drive. I know, I know. It’s not all that far, but just wait until I tell you what I have planed.
The crew and I are going to see the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. I bet you can hear my voice screech as you read the page.
It’s okay if you don’t share my enthusiasm. President Hoover always intrigued me and a recent read of his biography has given me an exalted opinion of the man and his life’s accomplishments. I’ll be writing at least once this year on some lessons Hoover has for us today.
I’m so excited!
Blog: I bet you’re wondering what I have planned for your favorite blog? Well, it’s a secret. Mostly because I don’t have a clue of many of things I’m sure to pull out of my hat over the next twelve months.
Okay, okay! Stop pushing!
I do have some plans. The first involves pushing cash into the hands of subscribers. Periodically (usually associated with some tax due date) I will pick a subscriber at random and give her a $250 Amazon gift card.
This is my way of saying “thank you” to people kind enough to subscribe, the lifeblood of any blog.
There is one more surprise, but it needs a formal heading.
Camp Accountant: When I introduced the idea of Camp Accountant I had a large influx of emails asking when and where.
Many readers here are also in the tax profession. Several requests asked if I could offer continuing professional education (CPE) credits for tax professionals attending so their employer would pay their way. I’m working on it.
The best part is where the first Camp Accountant will be held.
Ask me! Just ask me where the first Camp Accountant will be held!
Well, I had several offers from readers willing to organize the event. One offer came from Hawaii (someday soon if I know what’s good for me (Note: Mrs. Accountant has always wanted to go to Hawaii) I will accept that offer).
Southern Ohio is another possibility.
But then I got an email that forced me to palm slap my forehead.
A highly intelligent reader said, “Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) has a nice new MMM world headquarters in Longmont that would be perfect for a Camp Accountant.”
Sometimes a certain accountant in the room can be pretty dense.
Now before we get carried away, let me remind you I haven’t asked Pete yet if this will work for him. But my plan is to get the initial stuff out of the way during the next few months (with all the free time I have over tax season) and then plan the venue in May.
The goal is for the last weekend in August or September.
Now, kind readers, I know many of you know each other and a few know Pete personally. Don’t go blab to him what I have in mind. He might not like the idea of me publishing my plans without first consulting him.
And that boy can run. I do his taxes, so trust me. I’m an ‘ol farm boy and know from personal experience the mustachioed man from Colorado can run like the wind. He can whoop up on me too.
That’s All Folks!
There you have it. Your favorite accountant’s plans for the next year.
A real family vacation without a business motive. What readers around here call a walk around the block.
Sending out free money several times during the year.
A new and improved tax practice.
I couldn’t be happ. . .
Oh, $hit! Somebody already squealed to Pete. I gotta run!
We’re going to start the New Year out a bit different from what you’re used to in this community. Rather than talk about money I’ll be telling a story.
My stories are always true in this blog with modifications to fit the content, size of the post and to protect players. Today’s post is a short story; a work of fiction. It’s also a parable; a story with a moral lesson.
Money is so important as we strive for our goals we sometimes forget how wealthy we really are regardless the size of our bank account.
After I fleshed out this story I ran across a news article which moved me. I changed this story so there is a slight resemblance (the disease the woman had).
There was a time I wrote more fiction. It feels good to exercise those skills again. I hope you are as moved and touched by this story as I was writing it.
Where I Want to Be
The words crushed my chest. The world spun as the words sunk in, unreal.
Most people don’t know when they’re going to die; most don’t want to know.
“It could be longer, perhaps as much as two years,” the doctor was uncomfortable as he reached for any hope to offer.
Linda squeezed my hand.
The news wasn’t totally unexpected. Fourteen months ago Linda felt a small lump on her breast. It was so small it could have been anything. A cyst, maybe.
Then the bad news. Malignant.
Linda was always stronger than me. She had mentally prepared herself. I refused to accept the love of my life was about to be taken from me.
Linda and I dated on and off in high school. She was my first love.
College separated us for several years, but we caught up at our five-year high school class reunion. The flame rekindled and the rest, as they say, is history.
Eight months later we were married.
My family warned me about marrying Linda. They said she was too ill and would drag me down and hold me back my whole life.
There was plenty of truth to the warning. Linda was sick a lot in high school; age didn’t improve her medical condition.
None of the health issues were super serious, but they cut into the quality of life.
Linda suffered a list of maladies the worst of which included heart issues. Stress wore her out fast.
I wanted to travel the world when I was younger, but after Linda and I rekindled our relationship I knew that dream would never happen if Linda were to be a part of my life. Before long I convinced myself traveling was something I didn’t care for either.
Money was tight those early years. To be honest, money was always tight.
Linda picked up a part-time job at the local library. They gave her plenty of latitude when she was sick. Her heart could knock her out for days. Damn mitral valve.
I was a different story. Energy is in endless supply in me. It’s a good thing too. Somebody needed to keep the wolf away from the door and I refused to leave Linda alone when she was sick.
Her frail body worried me every day I was with her. I couldn’t understand how she could stay alive being so small, so thin. And the cough. Her body didn’t possess the strength for an effective cough. And winter cold and summer heat caused the cough. If we were lucky we had a few free weeks in the spring and fall.
Linda needed me. She didn’t have friends because she was sick so often. My friends went on with life as I stayed behind with my lovely bride.
Uncle George ran a machine shop and gave me a job. The money would be good if I was there full-time, but doctor’s appointments interfered.
Anyone else would have fired me. Uncle George warned me of the life I’d lead if I married Linda. He gave me a job anyway.
So much for a job in forestry. My dream of working in the outdoors evaporated with Linda’s health.
High school was a hard time for Linda. People stayed away from her because she looked so pale and missed a lot of school. Kids started rumors she had AIDS. Kids can be so cruel.
Fortune smiled on Linda during her college years. Books were her dream and she always wanted to be a librarian.
When we met again at our class reunion she had her first spell in years. It wasn’t bad, just enough to let you know the demons never left.
I still held dreams of visiting exotic places. In my mind Linda was a strong woman who would rise to the wonder of a brave new world.
My plan was to work hard and save like crazy. If my calculation were right I could cut back in ten years to spend more time with Linda and to travel. Then disaster struck.
The short days of December are dangerous. Linda worked late at the library since she was really adjusting well without too many medical problems.
Her shift ended at nine. Mist caused a serious glare on the windshield. And the serious drinkers were already intoxicated.
A drunk driver swerved across the centerline. Linda couldn’t judge the intrusion onto her side of the road due to the glare.
The drunk driver glanced off the side of her car. It was enough to send her into the ditch and set off the airbag.
The airbag is there to protect you, but when a small body like Linda’s is smacked full-force by an inflating airbag damage is certain to be done.
The police called. I rushed to the hospital.
The accident wasn’t serious, but the car was probably done for. Linda tried to shake it off. I knew she was acting for my benefit.
Her hand quivered. I held her hands in mine as I looked her in the eyes. She calmed.
“There are no broken bones,” she stammered.
We laughed as the tension broke.
“I could never bear to lose you,” I said.
It was amazing my hands were as steady as they were.
Linda recovered from the scrapes and bruises. Neither of us knew the real damage done.
The first sign of problems can only two weeks later. Linda wasn’t responding to her blood pressure and heart medication.
The doctors were stumped as they tried every medication in their arsenal. Linda’s body decided to react instead of respond. Her tiny frame had no reserves for this kind of stress.
Another two weeks and Linda was finally on the road to recovery. The stress was wearing me down, too. I missed most work, but tried to get out to clear my mind. The rest of the time I sat next to Linda holding her hand and watching her breathe as she slept.
Things were never the same after that.
Linda’s time at the library was limited now. The accident ended any hopes and dreams of traveling the world or building a retirement account. We lived paycheck to paycheck and had to accept a few handouts along the way.
It was hard for me to push down my dreams. Eventually I pushed them down until they were only vague memories.
The years started to walk by. Our love continued to grow and blossom as we spent all our free time together.
It was nice to get out of the house to see family. A few friends from college and high school eventually grew up and accepted Linda wasn’t some infectious woman.
Time does that; helps people grow up. We all think we’re so smart when we’re younger. Then life hits us in the head with a hammer a couple of times and we become less smart, but all the wiser.
Our friends understand Linda’s condition. Once in a while we catch a movie, but usually we stay home and play cards. By 10 o’clock it’s time for Linda to rest. Sometimes she stays up and listens to us talk; other times she goes to bed as I send our guests home.
We fell into a routine both of us enjoyed. Linda worked as much as her health allowed at the library and Uncle George gave me as many hours as I wanted. Some paychecks were really good. Then there were times I amassed no hours at all in a pay period.
We became masters at saving. Every storm we weathered. I am proud to say I never allowed Linda to suffer alone. I was always at her side.
It was so quiet when Linda was sick. I could barely hear her breath as she slept hour after hour.
I dozed in an old chair next to our bed. Late at night I would snuggle into bed with her. If she didn’t wince in pain I’d gently put my arm over her and hug her tight in the spoon position.
There was something about those moments when she was fast asleep. Her body was covered in a sleep film that felt so comforting. Holding her warm body next to mine was the greatest pleasure I ever experienced in life.
Shortly after our tenth wedding anniversary Linda started getting sick more often and for longer. In October she was sleeping almost all day and night.
I crawled in beside her and wrapped her in my arms from behind. I cupped her breast in my hand and enjoyed the softness of my wife’s body.
As I massaged her I noticed a small lump on her breast. I thought it was a pimple at first, but it didn’t seem right.
The next day I scheduled an appointment with the doctor. As soon as Linda was able to leave bed I got her in for an examination.
A biopsy was taken.
I already knew what was about to descend on this family.
Linda found her strength once the doctor broke the bad news to us. She was started on yet another medication and responded well to the treatment.
Not since college has Linda had such a strong stature. She looked healthier than I’ve ever seen her! She ate better, gained a few pounds and found never before noticed physical strength.
The doctor looked pleased at Linda’s progress. She never did so well when it came to medical issues. If I didn’t know Linda had cancer I’d have never guessed she was sick a day of her life.
Her smile was the best part. Many times Linda had a pale smile as she struggled for energy. Now she perked right up. It was almost too good to be true.
We started taking walks before or after work. And for the first time of our marriage we were able to engage in regular, well, you know, sexual activities.
In the past we seldom had relations. There is no pleasure in lust when your partner is in pain. We learned over the years to fill our needs by just being in each other’s arms. It was more than enough.
Now I was enjoying Linda’s company three or four times a week! Once or twice a month was a lot in the past; not that I’m complaining. Linda’s is a remarkably beautiful woman. If feels good to be inside her.
Winter passed into spring and then summer. The healthy times ended with the flick of a switch.
Linda vomited violently and ran a high fever the morning of November 2nd. I called an ambulance.
The doctor ran test several tests and returned a few days later with news we weren’t ready to hear.
“The cancer has spread to the brain.”
I was instantly numb. My lips were cracked with lose skin ready to rip in if pulled. I turned to Linda and understood she knew all along. The doctor had given her a little more life because the cancer was aggressive. Drugs gave her a temporary life, but at a cost. She never went into remission; she was giving me the last she had to offer.
I looked back to the doctor, unable to find words. He knew what I wanted ask.
The doctor was wrong. Before the month ended Linda was in the hospital to stay. Her body was failing fast.
The cough was back worse than ever and she had less strength than ever to clear her airways.
Linda knew what she was doing. The doctor told her there was no cure for what she had. She protected me from the news so we could enjoy the remaining life she had.
Now time was up. Six months seemed so short a time. Now I realized Linda may never see the New Year.
Each day I watched her weaken. Her skin took on the gray tone people get as the end nears.
Her skin was clammy. If felt strange kissing her blue lips, so cold and firm.
Our friends and family came for Christmas. Linda gave a thin smile. She was so tired she barely talked and when she did it was in a whisper. I hugged her parents and thanked them for giving me the chance to love the wonderful woman they brought into this world. We cried for what seemed forever.
My mother hugged me and said, “I’m so sorry.” Even my dad hugged me. He never did that before. “I’m proud of you son.”
Uncle George squeezed my shoulder and turned from the room. I was alone Christmas Eve in a hospital room listening to the last breaths my wife would take.
Christmas Day Linda was still breathing when I awoke. It was mid-morning. I never sleep so late. I was completely spent.
When she opened her eyes and looked at me I received the greatest gift of my life.
I talked quietly to her all day, recalling stories of our life together. I confessed to her all my fears and how I felt like I let her down. I told her how I wanted to show her the world, how she could have had a better man than me.
I kept reliving dreams long suppressed when I noticed Linda had drifted off to sleep.
Each day was worse than the last. I couldn’t understand how her body had anything left to give.
Soon I was praying to whatever god would listen to allow my beloved wife to live to the New Year.
New Year’s Eve Linda slept all day. The sounds of the machines keeping her alive were the only sound in the room. In the distance I could hear hospital staff working in hushed tones.
At 9:30 Linda stirred.
“How are you, honey,” I said as I gently wisped the hair from her eyes.
She smiled. “Keep telling me your dreams.”
I started to speak, but broke down sobbing. I lowered the bed rail and gently snuggled my head in her neck.
“I don’t want to lose you.” My mouth was so dry the words barely made it out.
She patted the back of my head. “It’s okay.”
She fought to gain her breath. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, honey.”
I lifted my head and sat back. I pulled the chair as close as possible to the bed and laid my head next to Linda’s. “I wish I could have taken you to see the world.”
“I was always where I wanted to be.”
Minutes later Linda’s breath slowed to an even crawl. Soon after I feel sound asleep next to the woman I loved more than life.
The next morning Linda was gone. The grief was so deep I was numb.
We were married twelve years, three months and six days. Three days later I laid my beloved wife to rest.
“Tom, Linda wanted me to give you this after she passed away,” Linda’s mother said as she handled me a sealed envelope.
I sat in the church pew and opened the envelope.
My Beloved Husband,
I know you are grieving if you’re reading this. I am gone from this world, but I’m still in your heart.
Don’t be sad, Tom. I loved you with every fiber of my being and know you loved me the same. My life was short. But we have nothing to complain about. I lived more in my short life than most people who live a hundred years. And all because of you.
Grieve. Take the time you need to heal. Remember to move on, as well. I am gone; you must accept that.
Your love is too strong to suppress. Someday you will find someone else to love. It’s okay! I want you to be happy.
I’ll always be in your heart so I am always there in a way. Tell her about me. Don’t hold back your love either. Love as you loved me.
I was sick most of our life together. I know how much you wanted to go out in the world and fly. I know why you stayed with me. For that I can never thank you enough.
Now you need to let go and live the life you deserve. I will always be with you.
I wiped the tears from my eyes as my mother-in law hugged me. “What is it?” she asked.
I held up the letter and said, “It took me twelve years, three months and nine day to understand I was always where I wanted to be.”
Think of the most beautiful sound you ever heard. I bet it was the sound of a child singing at Christmas time (or holiday of your religion).
The video above of children singing Christmas Canon for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a moving sound. It echoes into the heart and soul as their voices lift. Multiple sounds come from every direction to create a pleasant feeling inside.
Then it’s over. The song is done, the singing at an end.
And so it goes.
The beautiful and the vile all come to an end. But it’s the beauty that sticks to the soul and lingers; a song you can’t get out of your head.
We believe there is always another day to hear the sound again. We know when the sound is broadcast it also races into the depths of space at the speed of light. However unlikely, there is a chance a faraway species might someday pick up the broadcast and hear the beautiful sound for the first time.
We believe. But there are no guarantees. On day the sound will end forever.
One day the last child will gently murmur a joyous noise before it stops without hope beginning again. As with all things, it will end.
The end of such an incredible voice is impossible to understand by mere mortals. How can the children stop singing?
But it will happen; we all know it!
Maybe we destroy ourselves in a fit of rage, misunderstanding or ignorance. Maybe nature brings the Anthropocene to an end in a terrorist haste as it did the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Maybe we avoid those fates to await the aging of our sun as it expands, boiling the surface of Earth sterile.
Regardless our fate, the sound of beauty will end. We can take solace knowing electromagnetic waves carry the voices of our children deep into the ether. That is until the universe expands so much that the message is diffused so thin no technology can ever recover what once was.
And maybe there is nobody to listen. Or nobody able to hear.
Someday the music will end as all things do. A beauty so great it moved a people, will cease to exist.
The day may come tomorrow, in a hundred years or eons in the future.
But not today. Today we hear a sound. A sound of Christmas. A sound of beauty. A sound of children singing.
It’s the most beautiful sound ever heard anywhere in the vast universe and we are fortunate to live in a time and place where it is possible to experience the joy.
We must listen to the incredible sound; we must recognize out great fortune for someday it will be part of history as it evaporates into the emptiness of space.
But not now. Not today. Today we can hear the sound.
We are the few, the blessed. Never forget how fortune has smiled on you.
Merry Christmas, kind readers.