It's not the money. It's the time.

It's not the money. It's the time.

Taxes come every year. That's not news and it's not something that provokes much joy. But then neither is the reality of liability insurance, medical forms, or service agreements for your furnace. Taxes come every year and they must be paid, and, speaking for myself, it’s not the money I send to the government that hurts the most.

Taxes are just one example. To be clear, this is neither a political rant nor an anti-taxation, anti-IRS polemic. For the purposes of this singular, discrete blog, let’s just stipulate that taxes simply exist like the blue sky above and the green Earth below. As an example of what kills creative souls, however, tax preparation present a perfect example. To prove my point, this challenge obtains if you wind up getting a tax refund (although I must admit that a refund does manage to diminish the asphyxiation just a smidge).  The problem presents itself in the tedious time-suck necessary to get them ready.  Even if you have a tax preparer handling the heavy lifting, most mortals still have to sift through the paperwork, collect materials, review, re-organize, refine, and refer to a million pieces of information that generally have little to do with the life of being a creative person. It’s not a task that can be handled slapdash, and there’s always stuff you can’t outsource.

Necessary for you to comply with the law? Sure. Necessary for a country to finance things beyond the scope of any individual or hamlet or province? True here, too. Taxes are not the problem in and of themselves, and yet, to a creative person, the act of preparing taxes is a psychic exsanguination.

The thing that kills creative souls (or at least does plenty of damage to mine) is the friction of time rubbing against tasks and obligations for which I find no intrinsic value, no deeper sense of life. Taxes are important because of what they facilitate for my community, state, and nation, but the act of paying taxes (again, not the money, but the administrative time and labor they require) is an agony that has no easy solution beyond getting it over with.

When I think about cleaning out my basement closet, now all but unusable due to the accumulation of flotsam from a family of busy people, I physically tighten up like a man at the edge of a cliff. Would a more organized closet be useful to me and my family? Absolutely. Will the process of cleaning it out be something I care about as I age? Not at all. Is it something I need to do? Yes, probably, but preferably tout suite.

When I hear some people admit that they don’t know what they would do with their lives if they didn’t have a job, I can't help but privately shake my head. My artist and scientist friends never wonder what they’d do with their free time! To them there’s not enough time in the history of the universe to pursue all of the creative things struggling for breath. Some of those things describe formal, definable acts: writing a novel, learning to play the guitar, studying backyard astronomy. But some of those acts are solely about being alive: cooking for friends, hiking an obscure trail in northern Maine, cultivating a garden.

The thing that kills creative souls are all of the many mechanical details that modern society demands we complete simply to continue existing. That it may be necessary to refinance a mortgage for better financial stability is not in question; clearly there’s value in doing so. But the hours of work necessary to get it done conspires to usurp time and perception from other aspects of life that afford insight, that fuel passions, that make the long day's journey feel like time well spent.

It’s sophomoric to think that lives freed of quotidian labor will be happier or more creatively satisfying. The friction itself of grinding through banal labors informs the work of creating things. The challenge is not to let grinding mechanical means become inert practical ends. Creative souls do not thrive on completed to-do lists. Creative souls thrive on freedom to create and the license to do so. Where the obligations of modern life must be completed (like taxes) it’s easy to find that the endless list of things inserted in front of your creative motivations can quickly overwhelm the potential to live that creative life in the first place. Soon your life risks becoming an endless list of things you have to get done while ultimately affording no real value in the time and energy spent getting them done.

Then you’re out of time.


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