Less than two months ago I faced the second largest ethical dilemma of my career. About eight years ago I faced my biggest ethical challenge. I will share both stories here today and the outcome. My struggles should prove fertile ground for contemplation of your own moral judgment.
As a society we think of certain people as more prone to ethical lapses. This might be the result of the professions involved. Police officers make repeated ethical decisions every day. Judges, prosecutors and even jury members must deal with their personal ethics and that of others. But law enforcement or military personnel aren’t the only ones thrust into serious choices. Attorneys and doctors are forced into making decisions that might not seem ethical at first, but they are often forced to make a choice and fast. No choice is an ethical choice all too often with serious consequences.
Your favorite accountant also faces ethical issues. I’m enrolled to practice before the IRS (EA) and that means I have an ethical code of conduct forced upon me (Treasury Circular 230). But it isn’t enough! Every decision I make in my office has some level of ethical consideration involved. The bare-bones guidelines governing EAs is only a framework. Many decisions must be made quickly in the gaps.
Non-professionals also deal with ethics. The demand to choose the most ethical route might be less rapid-fire, but everyone still faces tough choices from time to time. By revealing my two most difficult decisions of my career I hope to get you thinking about choices you make in life and the moral and ethical issues involved. There is no doubt the comment section will be lively with this one as opinions vary widely when ethical choices are discussed.
I Did it Right and Paid Hush Money
This one happened less than two months ago and is still a festering thorn in my tail.
In Wisconsin we have a personal property tax for businesses only. In January a form comes in the mail to list all the business assets outside the building. Computers are exempt from the tax, but desks, phone systems, copiers and faxes do count. The value of the property is decreased each year for depreciation in estimated value. The value is then taxed at the rate real property rate.
My client received his personal property tax forms in January two years ago. The report is due March 1st. This is a serious issue. Most business clients don’t have their financials in to me by the time I need to file the personal property tax report. When most clients are quizzed on new purchases they generally draw a blank until they need a deduction on their income tax return. By then it’s too late for the personal property report.
As preparer I’m required to sign the return attesting the report is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge under threat of perjury. Even though the return might be wrong, I don’t know this until after the fact and usually after the due date.
The client in question purchased a large piece of equipment two years ago. It was missed on the first return for the reason listed above. Then, last January, we added the new equipment to his disclosure. This added close to $100,000 to his business’s personal property. His bill from the municipality would jump from a few hundred dollars to $2,000.
Last December the bill came in and he flipped. We did everything right, but he was mad we didn’t cheat on his personal property tax report. After several rounds of debate he demanded I pay him half the tax owed.
Here is where the ethical dilemma turns ugly. His business and personal return alone isn’t enough for me to even consider such an outrageous demand. But he’s connected to one of my five largest clients. Losing all that business will be noticeable. I paid the $1,000.
You can grill my tail in the comments. You are 100% right. I was wrong to pay half his tax bill in the name of saving a client.
Of course, you know what happened next, right? Well, in December he got his personal property tax bill and in January he got the forms to report this year’s information. My office manager filled it out last year and filled it out the way the client wanted this year and put my name on it to sign. I refused. I made it abundantly clear this office will neither prepare nor sign another personal property tax report for this client ever again! If he wants to cheat I will have no part of it.
My office manager hand delivered the personal property tax forms back to the client with my response. She pointed out the offending machine and he made it clear he will not report it.
Things have been frosty since. I did the right thing except for writing a check. In the end it is almost a certainty I will lose one of my biggest clients and all work connected to them. It probably would have been better if I cut ties immediately.
The ethical dilemma above is clear to see in hindsight. I did a lot right and also committed what I consider a grievance error.
Every option available creates an ethical problem. If I comply I’m an accomplice to fraud. If I do what I did I only pushed the unethical act back on the client. And if I fire the client I push the ethical issues to the next tax professional. As you can see, even no choice, standing like a deer in the headlights, is still a clear choice with ethical implications.
What would you have done? Do you think I was wrong? Would you have written a check to keep a client? Paying a client’s tax isn’t illegal. I committed no crime. I was only asked to prepare a false return and refused. Morally the ground I stand on is higher. But we are talking ethics, kind readers. The decision isn’t always so clear cut in such cases.
My Greatest Ethical Challenge Ever
I have a reputation for handling very difficult cases against the IRS. I have a tax attorney in D.C. on speed dial. Her rate starts at $1,000 per hour. For the dirtiest cases we call her in.
The case in discussion here didn’t involve outside help. I did this one all on my own.
Sometimes when an accounting or tax firm gets into tax trouble I’m called in. It makes for a unique situation, for sure. The IRS usually laughs when they see me defending the competition. When I was done with Revenue on this case the laughing had stopped.
The tax firm involved had about $800,000 of profits annually. They are a slightly larger firm than mine. An audit revealed some irregularities and the IRS assessed them with $1.2 million in back taxes, penalties and interest. It was rightfully owed.
The auditor made a few errors in assessing tax. When I pushed back I was threatened with preparer penalties. I was called into the IRS office. I brought the only paperwork I would need. The agent made it clear I was in serious trouble. This is when I pulled out the federal court paperwork already filled out. You see if you want to attack a tax professional you don’t do so in Tax Court where you need to prove your innocence. You go to federal court where you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. I finished my argument with, “You file any penalties against me and I file this in federal court. I want to see the prosecutor dumb enough to get his butt chewed by a federal judge over preparer penalties against an individual who DIDN’T PREPARE THE RETURN!”
The auditor swallowed her tongue. I remember her words clearly, “I’m glad you told me this.” I’m sure she did. Of course she could have looked at her paperwork before she levied the threat to back me off a case. As I left I turned back and very quietly said, “You’re going to regret doing this.” I was pissed.
Six months later the IRS couldn’t collect a penny and the auditor was gone.
Through a series of procedural maneuvers I backed the IRS into a corner. Eventually they sent a guy from the appeals office in Dallas. That’s a long trip for little ol’ me.
The meeting with the appeals officer, client and me happened in my conference room. My client was grilled for assets. He kept professing he had few assets. Most of the client’s income was off the table. (That story would be a long post in and of itself.) At one point the agent asked the client if he had any expensive jewelry. My client said no.
But that was a lie! He just bought his wife a $25,000 ring. I saw the receipt. That was one nice rock!
When the inquisition was finished I filed the coup de grace and had my client deemed uncollectable. Not bad for a guy who owed over a million and pulled in close to a million annually.
One of my CPAs at the time asked me if what I did was ethical. I defended myself by saying it would have been unethical of me NOT to defend the client to the nth degree. After all these years I’m no longer certain.
As happens all too often, the client dodged a bullet and went right back to the well. This time he brought a bigger shovel. I took a pass. He was no longer a client. But there is no doubt in my mind I enabled his behavior.
I take a big chance sharing these stories. I kept the details vague for a reason. All information that would lead to identifying the client has been removed.
Tax professionals are a large part of this blog’s readership. IRS agents and state revenue departments also drop in unannounced. By sharing my ethical standards I expose myself to risk of sanction or retaliation. However, these issues are too important to ignore. Hiding from the truth doesn’t make my profession better. Only by sharing my experiences and choices can the demographic grow.
When over a million dollars are on the line we are starting to talk serious money. The ethical implications are huge.
I never said a word when the agent asked my client about jewelry. If I were asked I would have told the truth. But I wasn’t asked and the IRS agent had no reason to believe I had additional information.
What are the ethical implications? If I spoke up I would have betrayed the client I was representing. Can you imagine an attorney throwing his client under the bus? I felt it was the same thing. Now I’m not so certain.
Enrolled agents have virtually no privilege with clients. People need to understand licensed tax professionals (CPAs and EAs) have to comply with most IRS requests for information or face penalties and/or sanction. Only attorneys have privilege with clients.
This final story bothers me on two levels. First, the size of the amount due was large. This wasn’t a minor issue. Once you cross into seven figures the gloves come off. The second problem for me was my actions enabled the client. He went back to digging a new hole.
The worst part of this ethical dilemma was why I did it. An IRS agent pissed me off by her low level of professionalism. I used my 30 years of experience to gut her just because I could. It sounds like smart talk, but because I won the game I actually walked the talk. And when the dust settled I had to contemplate my CPA employee’s comment: Was what I did ethical?
The real questions should be: Why don’t I fight at that level all the time? For one I don’t have the energy. And second, most cases don’t have the facts to accomplish what I did.
Time for a Debate
This is where you can tell me how wrong I am. The second ethical issue above is a large number while the first issue above is highly questionable.
What would you have done? If you hire a tax pro would you expect that kind of defense? When it comes to taxes is it anything goes? I hope not. I think my moral compass is better aligned than that.
Treasury Circular 230 is clear on the matter. Section 10.21 states tax professionals governed by the rules of Treasury Circular 230 must inform the client of errors and the consequences. In other words I have to tell you if you are cheating when you probably already know you are cheating! I also have to tell you the potential penalties. There is nothing in there saying I have to fire the client! However, I think it’s clear I’m not allowed to sign a return attesting its accurate when I know it isn’t. But I can still keep representing the client. Talk about a conflict of interest (which is covered in the circular, too).
I hope we can get a lively debate in the comment section. The personal property report issue is what triggered this post. I’m very interested in how you would handle the situations I had.
My goal is to get you to think about the ethical implications of your decisions. Many times life gives us all bad options and not much time to make said choice. Doctors make life and death decisions in a heartbeat. The police, prosecutors and judge can destroy an innocent life with one bad decision.
And tax professionals can make or break the personal finance issues of clients. Retirement, early or not, is affected by tax choices. The answers are rarely crystal clear.
This isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about making a choice when all the answers are wrong. About making the most ethic choice of those available.
The accounting industry has been consolidating for decades. When I started my practice in the 1980s the local newspaper had several pages of business card sized ads hawking the wares of local tax offices and CPA firms. Today you would be hard pressed to find an ad (outside the massive DIY tax software) by any tax or accounting firm even in the depths of tax season.
There are several reasons why the corner mom and pop tax office is dying. The tax code has steadily increased in complexity. If I didn’t have a background of knowledge to build on I might not consider the tax field if I were starting today.
Finding qualified tax/accounting professionals is harder than it’s ever been. The number of graduates coming out of college with a desire to work in accounting has declined. Those who do choose the tax/accounting field are picked up by government agencies and larger firms, all who have deeper pockets to pay new talent.
Stress is probably the biggest factor in the decline of the field as a career choice. Recently I had lunch with two young ladies who started their tax/bookkeeping office two years prior. I accepted the dinner date with the intention on building a relationship to possibly share new clients. Before the meal was served I was informed the two young ladies were so busy they couldn’t take any new clients. In two year they were full-up. They contacted me because they wanted to see the guy in sunglasses writing the crazy accounting blog in the Fox Cities.
Looking for the Exit
Long, stressful hours call my sanity into question every tax season. It always starts nice, but then every client wants a piece of my time to chat. Then I get behind and more tired by the day. By March it physically hurts really, really bad. If you ever want to buy a tax office cheap, make the offer in late March or early April. Just a wise piece of advice.
I get my fair share of offers to sell. A year doesn’t pass where I don’t see three to five offers. The big franchise names always make at least one pass. H&R Block wants to slap their pukey green on the side of my building so bad it hurts. I toss the offer before reading it. The answer is no.
Serious offers I might consider also arrive. Sometimes attorneys show up with paperwork demanding I give them a hearing. My location and time on the job has created a modest amount of value in my neck of the woods, I guess. Some offers show up in the mail, others with a phone call. For some strange reason local tax/accounting offices think I want to sell in August or September. Are they kidding! Running my practice is a breeze in late summer. Why would I ever want to sell when I have full control of the volume of traffic?
A word of advice to anyone looking to buy an accounting office cheap: make the offer late in tax season. From personal emotions and attitudes, I actually would consider an offer at such a time. Anything to release me from the physical and mental agony of unrelenting demands on my time. I’m also more open to negotiating the sale price in late spring. Just sayin’.
I Hate My Job!
You can love any job! I grew up on a family farm (virtual forced child labor) shoveling manure. Believe it or not, cleaning the barn was one of my favorite jobs! I could see my progress with each pass of the tractor. There was something intoxicating about working in shit.
I hated milking cows, however, but look back fondly on the experience now. I learned to accept the long hours in the milking parlor listening to tunes and caring for my ladies, the cows.
Cleaning the barn meant more open space to enjoy the outdoors. Milking cows was managed from the concrete pit of a milking parlor. It was cold and damp. I milked cows for about eight hours a day when I was in high school. There wasn’t much time for a life in such circumstances. I quickly learned to hate milking cows and farming. The pay was microscopic, the work hard, the hours long and I had virtually no interaction with people. The milking parlor was a one man job. I kept twelve cows filling the bulk tank simultaneously for hour after hour. To this day I can still see the fan blowing fresh air into the parlor as I milked cows during a summer thunder storm. If only I could enjoy the rain outside.
I hated my job. It was also 1982, a very bad year for the economy in the Rust Belt. I was trapped and acted as any trapped animal does. Late that year the family farm finished a bankruptcy. I had mixed feelings. I didn’t want to go back into farming and sure as hell didn’t want to milk another cow!
Love What You Do
Accountants see strange things walk in their door. The most perplexing is a young individual who is only a few years out of school complaining how much they hate their job. They’ve been reading some blogs (sometimes even this one) and are invigorated to pursue early retirement. I can’t help but think, Why would anyone spend years in college pursuing a job they didn’t like? I sure hope to God it wasn’t only about money. That would be short-sighted and shallow.
Dream jobs still have their days! Difficulty causes stress, but shouldn’t diminish your love for the task at hand. After growing up working endless hours farming I moved to town for a few years, started my practice and then moved back to the country to a small farm! It was in my blood. Raising animals and the land had an irresistible pull on me. I don’t milk cows on my hobby farm, but there are still jobs I don’t care to do. It comes with the territory.
I was too young to know how good I had it! If I’d have grown up in the big city my early life might have been easier. Then again, maybe not. Kind readers from said big cities might beg to differ. Their life wasn’t all roses either.
My formative years made me who I am. For that I am grateful. The stories I share on this blog and my other writings are only possible because I milked those cows, cleaned those barns and fed those calves. The work became a part of me. A good part.
It took me a long time to grow up and realize anyone can love any type of work. If I worked in the sewers I could learn to enjoy the moment. Cleaning barns has similarities and I liked that job.
Finding work you love is easy. Don’t limit your mindset to preconceived notions of what a “good” job is. Working at a fast food restaurant might not pay a lot, but can easily provide massive amount of personal satisfaction.
My news feeds are filled with stories of people retiring young. How can so many people have chosen the wrong profession to want to quit so badly? Some even spent massive amounts of money and time in college to hone their craft. And still, within a few short years they want out so bad it hurts.
Regardless the age you retire, in my office I see people returning to some form of organized labor. Life is meaningless for many without the companionship of co-workers and clients. “Work” is about serving your fellow man (or woman). That’s the magic potion searched for throughput the ages! The meaning of life is to serve! When you Pay it Forward to help another it gives your own life massive amounts of added value too!
After a long day of work it feels good to be home. There is nothing wrong with that. Just because you love your work doesn’t mean there are days it hurts or doesn’t satisfy. It’s okay to feel like you need a break. (Might I suggest a break?)
Early retirement—retirement at any age—is not about checking out of life. No satisfaction is to be found there. A change in career, pursuit of other interests and a short sabbatical are great options you have every right to consider. Traditional retirement is a trap! Providing value is the true meaning of life.
Now we return to your favorite accountant and notice the time of year. Yes, we are approaching mid-March as I write this. S-corporation and partnership returns are due in just over a week. I filed over 40 extensions of these entity returns today alone. Many will be completed on time if clients bring in all their paperwork so some extensions are only filed just in case.
I’m also tired. I don’t feel good. Exhaustion is part of every waking moment. My back hurts from sitting too much. My eyes burn from staring at the computer screen all day. The price of my practice dropped 15-20% since early February. I want to sleep. I want to read a book. I want to go home.
Some smart cookie will read this post and realize now is the time to pounce. In August I laugh sales offers right out the door. Now that we are in the dog days of tax season an offer will not be laughed out the door. I’m too tired to laugh. Should such an offer arrive in the next few weeks I’ll stare for several seconds as I attempt to digest what is happening. I’ll get a visual of life without the work I love and usher you out the door, open or closed.
I love what I do. I love my work! This is who I am; what I want to do. I’ll quit the day they begin lowering my casket into the ground and not a day sooner.
I’ll even milk a cow if I have to.
Every writing conference I’ve ever been to has a breakout session titled: PANTSER OR PLOTTER?
Beginning writers flock to these things because they think it’s an important part of the writing process when the question is really a matter of personal work habits.
Many successful writers plant their tail in front of the keyboard and start pounding out copy while others need a detailed plan before the muse flickers to life. Plotters take the risk they’ll plan until infinity before rolling up their sleeves and working; writing from the seat of your pants can lead to rambling pros in need of heavy editing.
The longer the work the more need for at least a few details before you start. Novels need a plan (which usually changes several times before reaching the conclusion) while a short story can start as a vague concept and move to the page rather quickly.
Bloggers are desperate to get something published. Once upon a time you had to write until your fingers bled to improve your voice and acuity on the page. The only true way to master the writing craft is to write. A lot!
Traditional publishers want polished work. Polish comes from experience. Experience comes from practice. It takes heart to write endlessly perfecting your craft without much reinforcement.
The publishing world has changed tremendously over the last several decades. Self-published books were universally bad in the past. Today many of the best books on the market either are self-published or started as a self-pub.
Bloggers are like any other writer. They want to see their stuff out there as soon as possible. Rushed work looks, well, rushed.
I’ve received several requests to discuss my writing habits. Most people realize publishing a half million words a year on a personal finance blog is a lot of work. They want to know where I get my ideas, do I plot or write by the seat of my pants, when do I write and how fast do I write.
I imagine the Plutus Award for Best New Personal Finance Blog of the Year has something to do with it. Another part is my story telling. People expect boring facts when they see “Accountant” in the title. Surprising the reader with engaging storytelling mixed with useful information grabs them early and keeps them.
Some questions are hard to answer. One reader asked how I come up with such awesome post titles. I didn’t have an answer.
Writers have a difficult time explaining what makes a good piece of writing a good piece of writing. At first glance it appears I just sit down and peck out a story, hit publish and people get Ooooo lips.
Rather than give you stale, dry description on how to write an engaging blog post people will want to read and will keep coming back for more, I will show you how I do it. My way isn’t right for everyone, but it does give you an idea on how my creative process works.
How I Write
Ideas hit me all the time. Reading a book, watching a movie, talking with friends, thing jump out at me and demand recording. The working title of this post was the title of this section. Of course, if I want anyone outside my regular readers to become “engaged” in this post I had better come up with a better title.
When ideas hit I take notes. At home, at the office, on the road, I keep paper and pencil handy. Yes, even beside the bed is paper and pencil. I sleep on the couch about half the time and in bed the other half. On the couch I’m surrounded by books and papers. When my creativity is highest I wrap myself in the literature and recording utensils.
Rarely do I sit and write spontaneously. After a long day, writing a quality post requires some advance planning. If I had no previous ideas to mull you wouldn’t see a new post the next day.
There are 64 unwritten posts in my WordPress queue. You need a title to save the idea, but every title is accompanied with a few sentences outlining a theme I wish to address. Sometimes the notes are detailed and run several hundred words and links to resources. Most descriptions are short. This post has two sentences as the material for pumping my creative energy.
Most ideas die in my little notebooks. After thinking about them for a few days it becomes clear the idea doesn’t work or the project would be 20,000 words. (As an example: I had planned a post on climate change and why it doesn’t matter, plus how it affects personal finances. The material I gathered kept growing until I realized it would be a veeeeery long post. It would also cause people to throw things at me since it’s such a politicized topic. I had planned a second post on mass extinctions and why we are not in the sixth great extinction. The natural world is becoming more diverse even as people think humans are killing everything off. The work on both these posts would have ended up short books in their briefest form so I shelved the projects. I did get to read several really good books on the subject so all wasn’t lost.)
(Good blog posts also try to avoid long paragraphs.)
Three times a week I publish on a topic of interest in the personal finance community (I hope). On Saturday I give readers a glimpse inside my personal life.
Every day I am thinking about writing! When I take a break or eat I’m thinking about what I’ll write in an upcoming post. The thoughts are never more than a few inches away.
By the time I punch the first words onto the digital screen I’ve played the idea through my mind countless times. I start the story and then toss it when it goes down a dead end road. As I work around the farm or workout at the gym I’m playing with possible scenarios.
The Fun Part
Most days I have a good idea which posts I’ll be writing for at least a week out, including the “Stalking the Accountant” post on Saturday.
This gives me time to work the idea out in my head. Plotting is something I rarely do even when writing a long novel. (Eight years ago I wrote a 180,000 word science fiction novel from a three sentence note. I knew where I wanted to go and started building the story. It ended up someplace different and a better story that is now the first book of a trilogy.)
Pantser writing has a huge risk. Plotting is drudge work. I like to write. After plenty of time thinking the idea through (sometimes with and sometimes without notes) I set to work. Writing from the seat of my pants means there are times I write a post and get the dry heaves when reviewing. Yes, I have to start all over. The idea I regurgitated is dead and gone once that happens. Those are tough days when I have self-imposed deadlines.
Most of the deleting these days happens in the editing process. Maybe a dozen or so posts get completely rejected per year. Most can be salvaged with work. On good days (when the whisky is flowing freely) the necessary editing is light. Those days are rare.
What comes next is the part people seem most interested in. They want to know “how” I write.
Most posts, including this one, are written the night before they are published. The clock reads 10:05 as I type these words.
On a good night I can stamp 1,000 words of rough draft to the laptop’s memory banks per hour. On a bad night I start to wonder if I’ll get any sleep before sunrise.
Normally, rough draft takes two hour or so for posts on this blog. If more research is needed or if I want to add more links for readers to dig deeper into certain points I don’t have space to adequately cover in the post the time commitment increases.
It seems easy at this point. Some crazy guy from Nowhere, Wisconsin types for a couple hours and calls it a day. If only it were so easy.
Dozens of hours of thought entered the scene before the first word was typed. Sometimes I read entire books or pull information from several books to build a quality post. I don’t show books just to get an Amazon sale! These books really add to the learning process of the reader!
Writing rough draft appeals to beginning writers. I don’t know why. From the outside it must seem like that is all a writer does.
The hard work reignites the next morning. Editing also takes several hours as I rework the words until they communicate what I demand them to. Time constraints can be an issue.
I read every post out loud to Mrs. Accountant. Reading aloud is the most powerful editing tool I know of. If Mrs. Accountant will not sit still to listen to you read your work to her you can still read aloud to yourself. Trust me, it works.
Important note: Stephen King in his book On Writing tells a story of an editor who once sent him a note along with rejection letter stating: Final draft is rough draft minus 10%.
I don’t delete as much as I used to. As you build your writing skills you will delete less, yet still edit plenty. Sometimes you even add during the editing process. Remember the 180,000 word novel I mentioned above? In the editing process I highlighted 30 pages that needed to go and hit delete. I loved the story deleted, but it had no place in the novel. If you want engaging writing you have to do it.
Publishing a blog is more than words. I was never a picture taker. Now I’m always looking for possible images to add to posts. At least phones have cameras today and Google automatically downloads the things to “Photos” on my laptop. Don’t ask me how.
Formatting the post takes about an hour.
As soon as I finish I hit publish. Sometimes I finish a day or so early. In those instances I schedule the post. Most scheduled posts are written the day before versus the night before. This means Mrs. Accountant listens to the story at night. Before I hit the hay I format and schedule the post.
The information to this point is mechanical information. It tells you what you’ll see if you follow me around and read my mind. You see me mentally taking notes and planning. You see me writing and editing. My personal writing schedule will not produce engaging posts!
Engaging writing has a piece of you in it. Stories are vital! Most posts on The Wealthy Accountant have some element of story. A good writer knows which parts of the story to leave out. The same story can be told multiple times from different perspectives!
Your life is rich and full of stories. Your childhood, work, marriage, health and family are a cornucopia of stories to share.
No matter the subject, stories are important. Without a personal story the information is just rote formality. For crying out loud, kind readers, I write on taxes and personal finance! Story is the only thing I have to offer unless you think plagiarizing the stock quotes page of The Wall Street Journal is engaging material.
Stories from history or the news are interesting, but often told. Your story, told right, is one only you can tell and readers will find it near impossible to put down or stay away.
Stories are unique in communicating information. Story allows a message above the communicated information. Think of the power of Christ’s parables. They stood the test of time and are so memorable for a reason regardless your faith.
When you own the story the reader gets a chance to step into your world. That’s why a started publishing the “Stalking” posts every Saturday. Engaged readers want to know more about the person they are growing fond of!
Share a piece of you and readers will be engaged. Readers feel like they know you and in a way they do. Writing allows the author to share at a deeper, more intimate level than mere verbal communication.
Practice, kind readers. If you are looking to write an engaging blog you MUST practice. Practice is the only way to get good. Write every day. Never believe you must publish every word you smear across the parchment. The words aren’t that precious until you can string them together in a way that makes your readers swallow hard. They just can’t seem to get the lump in their throat to go down.
The clock now read 10:37. This post is coming to an end. I’ll read a bit before retiring for the night.
Tomorrow morning the hard work starts. If I do it right (or is it write) you’ll be thinking about these words for a lifetime.
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.
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.
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.”
I can clearly remember the first time I heard about the Pay it Forward philosophy. The year was 2002; the location Schenectady, New York; the event Albacon.
Back in those days Mrs. Accountant and I were groupies of the science fiction convention circuit. The insanity only lasted a few years, but it was a fun ride while it lasted. We met scores of bestselling writers. I can’t speak for Mrs. Accountant, but I drank in every word.
I had recently discovered Mike Resnick. His only novel to grace the bestseller list hooked me. Why Resnick never became a household name is beyond me.
Albacon is a science fiction convention held in the Albany, New York vicinity most years. It’s a small convention, at least it was back in 2002.
Once I read Santiago I started stalking Resnick. I read every book of his I could find. His style of Space Western appeals to me. His fast paced stories also caused me to miss more than a few nights of sleep.
I also read the few remaining science fiction magazines in 2002. Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine listed a select number of upcoming conventions. I noticed Resnick was the Guest of Honor at Albacon. The road trip was on.
Not What I Expected
Albacon was either the first or one of the first SF conventions Mrs. Accountant and I attended. My hopes were high as we packed the car and drove from northeast Wisconsin to Schenectady. For the record, that is a long drive.
My expectations were high which is always a bad sign.
I figured my literary hero would welcome guests with open arms. He didn’t. He was there and mostly stuck with his friends.
High expectations usually end with disappointment when reality meets fantasy. Mike is a helluva nice guy and the problem was more with me than him. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but my dry tongue swelling in my mouth was a barren hole in the dead center of my face.
I sat listening to Mike talk with several groups and eventually managed a few minutes to express my gratitude. I sounded like an idiot actually. Mike Resnick was bigger than life in my eyes and I had no idea what to say to the man whose writing I spent so many hours enjoying.
As disappointed as I was with myself and the opportunity I squandered, I still received a gift I hadn’t recognized.
Pay It Forward
At one point in the weekend convention Mike spoke to the small group gathered in his honor and talked about paying it forward. He explained how he helped other writers find their legs as his way of paying it forward. The people he helped would have no way of paying Mike back. He did it with a promise from those he helped to keep the ball rolling and to pay it forward when they were in a position to do so.
You’d think I’d have heard about the Pay it Forward philosophy prior to Albacon 2002. I probably did, but the skull of a Neanderthal from the backwoods of Wisconsin is thick so it didn’t sink in.
Mike Resnick changed all that. Whatever he said, it sunk in and I thought it was the most brilliant idea ever devised. For a year or so I thought he was the guy who invented the idea. Backwoods, people. Real backwoods.
The years have kept counting and my consumption of fiction of any kind has been declining. I still read a novel here and there, but the bulk of my reading in nonfiction.
It is with sadness that I report I haven’t read much of Resnick’s work of late either. His stories still resonate with me, but my interests changed.
The stories I did read are still buried inside me, bringing me continued pleasure. And I can never thank Mike enough for pounding the Pay it Forward concept into my head.
As we race to the finish line of 2017 it’s my turn to Pay it Forward. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done plenty of paying it forward. It’s just that now I want to codify the process so I can ramp up my game.
I have been blessed beyond words. I started from humble beginnings and the journey to today has not always been smooth. What I’m saying is there was no free ride for the Accountant household.
As humble as those beginnings were I have achieved more than any one man deserves. I am fortunate to have the best wife to ever live. I can prove it too! She puts up with me. Nearly 30 years now.
I have two awesome daughters who never gave mom and dad any real reason for concern. They are moral, kind and generous.
My business life has been nothing short of phenomenal! I struggled early on with finding my way and later with figuring out how to run a growing business. Through it all I survived, even when the power that be worked very hard to destroy what I was building.
Financial success is the biggest surprise. There were no warnings signs some schmuck from the frozen tundra of nowhere would amount to anything. Yet, I managed to amass a tidy fortune recently breeching $14 million. The number has grown so big over the years it no longer moves me when another milestone is surpassed. The whole experience has turned surreal. I expect this to happen some day soon.
With all my good fortune, much is expected. I could pay it back to those who helped me along the way, but I never kept a list and the number of folks who supported me is legion. Besides, the people who helped me don’t need the favor returned!
All that remains is the future.
My business continues to add to the stack of wealth. This blog is starting to make a contribution as well. And all the previous investment soldiers are hard at work reproducing. The compounding effect is mindboggling.
And this is where it ends.
This blog earns a growing profit. I need a profit as a scorecard to motivate me. Once the numbers are in and I’m amply motivated, it’s time to make the most important business decision of my life.
Writing The Wealthy Accountant is a way of paying it forward. But more is expected of one who has been blessed so mightily.
From this point on all profits of this blog will go to charity. I recently outlined one avenue of charitable work. Reach Counseling will continue to enjoy the fruits of this blog’s success so they can expand their work helping abused women and children. Previous work with Special Olympics will also be expanded.
I will update you, kind readers, from time to time on the charitable work this blog is doing. When you support this blog it strokes my ego, but all the profit goes to those in need. My way of paying it forward.
Not Good Enough
As altruistic as the above statement is, it isn’t good enough. This blog has a tidy profit, but not overwhelmingly so, at least not yet. So giving the proceeds of this endeavor is still rather small.
I’ve discussed my giving habits in the past along with ways to use the tax code to increase the value of your gift.
Above the monetary contribution of this blog’s profits I will extend a helping hand to all bloggers and podcasters in the FIRE demographic contribute in an efficient way to charities they hold close to their heart without cost.
I know it sucks, but businesses have better opportunities to maximize the value of their charitable giving. The new tax bill makes it even worse. The tax code offers opportunities for businesses to give to charity and get a deduction on the business tax return; no itemizing required.
I wish I could extend this offer to everybody. Unfortunately, I am one human being with limited time and resources.
Bloggers and podcasters who want to donate to charity in a way that promotes their blog or podcast and maximizes the value of their gift should contact me. You still write and send the check. (You don’t have to give all your blog/podcast profits!) What I’ll do is help you decide the best way to give so you can give the most without a certain uncle in Washington taking his share first. I’ll even organize the necessary paperwork so you have no problems with the IRS.
I discussed this tax strategy in the past. In short, instead of giving a traditional gift, you sponsor a program at the charity of your choice. Since your blog/podcast gets recognition, the gift is really a promotional or advertising expense.
It not exactly that simple, but you get the idea. What I will do if you contact me and give me the go-ahead is I’ll contact the charity to find an appropriate program you can sponsor. You will get the necessary paperwork for your tax record. And you write and send the check. No money goes through my account. I don’t want the extra headache.
So there is my year-end offer to end 2017 with any even bigger bang than it already has been.
Life has been beyond awesome this year! We can do this together. We can pay it forward.
So the next generation has a chance to feel the same joy we experience every day.
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.