Baby steps, steep curves and other lessons from my bookkeeper


For those of you with zero experience around the Virgo nature, whose entire worldview of us was formed by the scant information you picked up on the back of a celestial cereal box, we are not, contrary to the party line, all that.

We are partly that: the Organizer, the Planner, the Gals (and Dudes) of the Brother P-Touch/Dymo Brigades. Some friends stare at my magnetized remotes and my coordinated-by-color closet agape with wonder. A smaller subset rolls their eyes, having ridden in the filth pit that is my car on any given day (what is the passenger-side footwell for if not my mobile detritus?) or lain on my carpet with its soft, cushy, overlayer of 100% human hair (hey, vacuuming is for suckers...hahaha!)

Or, to bring it on home to stuff I actually give a rat's ass about, some people (god bless you, fine people!) seem to think there's something noteworthy about the way I string words together into sentences, or make an idiot fool out of myself in a shower cap for the sake of a couple thousand laughs. I do appreciate it (truly, BLESS you fine people!) but know that for me, those things are frictionless. In the same way that other are naturally athletic, social or brilliant at making a buck, I'm good with the words and the goofy. It's my metier. It's my EZ Zoneâ„¢. It's even my default setting: I have to be careful not to retreat into it, but to use it as a foundation to build out.

Take storytelling, for example. I suck at it! No, really! No, seriously, have you listened to Ira Glass or the Moth podcasts? Those people can tell stories. I try and I try and while I'm better at it than I used to be, it's a form I'll probably always struggle with. I'm an essayist-with-a-moral person, and that's a very different thing than being a story-with-a-beginning-middle-and-end person. I can do it, but not off the cuff. It takes painstaking practice. When I want to do well, I take the pains.

Or jokes. I suck at telling jokes! No, really, I do! People think I must be great at it because I'm so down with the goofy, but a good joke, a story joke, is, again, a puzzlement to me. Like writing with my non-dominant hand or trying to learn a foreign language. (If you want to see it done well, check out these Old Jews Telling Jokes. Maybe by the time I'm an old half-Jew, I'll be half as good. But I'm not holding my breath.)

I suck at a lot of other things: things that you'd figure (sports, powerlifting, painting) and things you'd not figure, given my Virgo nature. Managing money, every aspect of managing money, has always been a struggle for me. It's only because of incredible luck and good fortune (they're different, you know) that things have worked out this well. But between my inexorably advancing age and the somewhat sudden death of my father (whom I always considered my safety net should things go really wrong), I've finally come to realize that while luck and fortune are fine things, they are not to be counted on. My moments of realizing this added up to a kind of renewed vigor to TCB, and a couple of years ago, I brought in some help in the form of a bookkeeper, to show me how the grownup people did it.

She is patient, kind and wonderful. An artist herself, she is deeply understanding of the exquisitely delicate artist nature. She is nothing but encouraging, and never complains when she has to spend 75% of her time and a lot of my money to clean up messes that wouldn't be there if I would GODDAMN GET THE INVOICING DONE and ENTER THE BASTARD INTO QUICKBOOKS. For days before she comes, and the whole, otherwise pleasant time she's here, these admonishments pound in my head.

But in her best Put the Puppy on the Mat, zen-buddhist way, Liz gently turns my gaze back towards what I have accomplished. Silly little things like billing from my accounting software instead of my writing software, or of carefully copying by hand all my deposits into pages of my notebooks, or tying all my receipts to the credit card statements, with line-item notations for each one.

Things that would seem like no-brainers to a person with a Head for Business. Then again, I might look at Mr. Business Man in amazement when his voice cracks, his hands shake, and the "um" train goes a-runnin' every time he gets up in public to speak.

So Mr. Business Man (probably a Taurus) goes to Toastmasters, and Colleen makes up games to get herself to tote up her expenses and bill on time. Bit by bit, drop by drop, we all can get there, or at least, far enough to be close enough.

Among other things, this year has been a lesson in the mighty power of the tiny increment. And of staying humble, and of staying power.

I hope I'm going places, but so you know, I'm not going anywhere, even if I do. I'm working the fields in front of me, one row at a time...


Image by dizznbonn via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.