Don’t Miss It

by Zoë Sharp

In India, it falls on March 14th. In the United States, on April 13th. In Australia, April 22nd. Us poor saps in the UK have to wait until June 2nd, a little ahead of Canada at June 6th. But for the put-upon folk of Sweden and Norway, that celebrated day doesn’t fall until July 29th.

What am I talking about?

Tax Freedom Day. Officially, Tax Freedom Day is, according to Wikipedia, the first day of the year on which a nation as a whole has theoretically earned enough income to fund its annual tax burden. The precise date is recalculated every year by the Tax Foundation. April 13th was this year’s average date for you happy Americans, although it varies from state to state. In Alaska it was actually March 23rd, whereas the people of Connecticut had to slog on to April 30th before their federal duty was done.

And no, this isn’t a rant about the level of overall taxation, although according to the Tax Foundation, back in 1900 you would have been all settled up by January 22nd. Think yourself lucky. Over here, income tax was introduced by William Pitt the Younger in 1798 as a ‘temporary measure’ to pay for weapons and equipment for the forthcoming Napoleonic wars. Oh, that old story …

But this is not a history lesson, either.

This is a very roundabout way of me asking, “Do you enjoy what you do?”

You better had, because – if you’re living in the States – you’re working the first four months of the year for the benefit of others. We’re working the first half. And perhaps the reason for the Scandinavians famed black-and-white Bergman-bleak demeanour is the constant reminder of their fiscal responsibilities.

But for the majority of us, we’re so busy putting one foot in front of another on this rocky road we’re travelling, eyes down, trying not to stumble, that we don’t have time to admire the view. I know people who work nine-to-five, five days out of seven, who can’t begin to wind down from the stresses of the working week until halfway through Saturday. By Sunday lunchtime, the spectre of Monday morning is starting to loom large and wind them back up again.

A few years ago, we took on handling PR work for a client who was … difficult, shall we say. Not deliberately so, I have to admit, but a combination of being both somewhat indecisive and extremely busy does not make an easy combination for any business relationship. But we were offered a decent retainer and we leapt into the job with some enthusiasm that gradually dwindled as the months wore on.

Going to see the client involved getting off the motorway and dropping down a long hill into the town. Eventually, it got to the stage where our spirits would sink with the descent. There was a petrol station about halfway down. We’d stop to fill up even if we didn’t need to, just to delay our arrival by a few minutes more.

Eventually, we realised that the money was simply not worth it, and we parted amicably. They were – and still are – very nice people. But we’ve met a lot of very nice people that we would not like to work for. People who do not suffer from stress personally, but are definitely carriers.

And if dealing with such people causes you unhappiness, you have two choices. One, rearrange your life so you no longer have to deal with them. Or Two, rearrange something within yourself that means you can cope with them more easily, because they sure as hell are not going to change to suit you. Most of the time, there is no malice in them. They probably have no idea they’re making you miserable.

And if there is, and they do, then you owe it to yourself to take Door Number One.

Easy to say, hard to do, I know. The grass is always greener and cleaner on the other side of someone else’s fence. Press your face up to the rosy-tinted glass and the view inside is always more tempting than the garbage-strewn street in which you stand.

As a species, we need a certain amount of stress in our lives. Stress gets the heart pumping, leads to the endorphin rush of relief. No pain, no gain. But too much pain is bad for anybody.

So, are you happy?

And if the answer is anything other than a resounding, unequivocal, unhesitating, “Yes!” what will it take to make it so?

The glib answer is always a lottery win, a publishing deal, the number one spot on the New York Times best-seller list, but those are material things. If you believe you are dependent on outside factors for your own contentment, you always will be. Living in poverty is miserable, sure, but there are plenty of miserable millionaires, too. Financial wealth won’t cure all your problems, it will just give you a whole new different set to worry about, to cloud your day and clog your mind.

So, what do you want? And how are you going to get there? There’s the old story of the traveller stopping for directions in rural Ireland, only to be told, “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t be startin‘ out from here.”

Are you where you want to be? And, if not, what have you done today to bring you one step closer to it? After all, your tax commitment for the year is complete. From here on in, you’re working for yourself.

Some people never have a clear ambition in life, while others have a goal that they never quite attain. I’m not entirely sure which is sadder. Ask an average teenager what they want to do when they’re finally paroled from the education institution, and what you get mostly is a laid-back, dunno shrug. OK when you’re mid-teens. Not so cool when you’re hitting bad-back middle-age and you realise you’re probably closer to the finish line than you are to the start.

Unless you’re into reincarnation, life is a one-shot deal, a one-lap race, a never-to-be-repeated opportunity, a last-chance to see.

Don’t miss it.

This week’s Word of the Week is guarish, meaning to heal.

PS. I finally got around to sorting out some of the pictures from CrimeFest and Mayhem in the Midlands, which you can view from the picture gallery page on my website.

And now, a bit of BSP. I’m thrilled to have been nominated for the CWA Short Story Dagger for ‘Served Cold’, which was first published in the States the Busted Flush anthology, A HELL OF A WOMAN, and first published in the UK in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME. As the other nominees are Lawrence Block, Sean Chercover, Laura Lippman, Peter Robinson and Chris Simms, I hold out absolutely no hopes of winning, but shall bask content in their company until the results are announced on July 15th.

 

Also, many congratulations to our Louise for her Nero Award nomination for THE FAULT TREE.

27 thoughts on “Don’t Miss It

  1. Wilfred Bereswill

    "I know people who work nine-to-five, five days out of seven…"

    I want one of those jobs. WOW! Seriously. Technology makes it too easy for us to be forever tethered to our jobs. Being saddled with a laptop and a Blackberry, you’d better have a good excuse if you miss an email or a call.

    For many years I’ve heard do more with less. Now with the economy tanking it’s do even more with less than.

    But, with all that said, being a recent victim of a reduction in force and also being one of the extremely lucky people to have only been unemployed for a mere 2 weeks before finding another nice gig, I’m not complaining.

    I will say that starting a new job takes its toll on your writing time and creativity

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Zoe,
    You do write the light and breezy post, don’t you?

    Wow.

    Yes. I’m happy.
    There are things I want that I haven’t achieved yet, but on the whole I’m very, very grateful.

    Here’s a quote you might appreciate:
    "It is the work of a lifetime. That’s why you were given a lifetime in which to do it."
    –Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv

    AND CONGRATULATIONS to you and LU for such wonderful successes! It’s an honor to blog with you both.

    Reply
  3. Mary

    Your taxes go to other people? Do you pay taxes to a country where you don’t live and never visit? You describe yourself as driving on the road – your taxes paid for that road. The food I eat is safe because of the taxes I pay. If my house catches on fire, fireman come to put it out, paid for by my taxes. And social services programs are there so that you don’t have to pay for your relatives if they fall on hard times. My social security taxes? They are saving my marriage, because it wouldn’t survive my mother-in-law living with us.

    Could government be more efficient? Any ongoing endeavor involving human beings could probably use some optimization. However, pretending that you are getting no benefit worth paying for from living in one of the most advanced societies in the history of the human race is a bit rich.

    And I do really like your books, but recognize that the loner beholden to no one is a bit of a fantasy.

    No man is an island.

    </rant>

    Reply
  4. Louise Ure

    Zoë, congratulations on your fine nomination (and thanks for the shout out).

    Yes, I’m happy. So much more so than those days of commute-an-hour-and-a-half-each-way/ spend the day in meetings/ commute home/ spend-three-hours clearing-the-emails-and-voice-mail days.

    And I’m okay working the first months of the year for taxes. I just wish we’d get more for our money!

    Reply
  5. Jake Nantz

    Zoe,
    Yep, I’m happy, although the idiocy that’s ruining the school system in the States, both from the top(admin) and the outside (kids get more beligerent, less respectful, and have less and less sense of responsibility/accountablity every year, and they aren’t learning it on MY watch…) is making it more and more difficult to love what I do. So what have I done today to improve my outlook? Well, today is the last day for teachers until early August, so I have turned in my gradebook, room keys, and
    I

    am

    [*poof*]

    G-O-N-E!! (time to write!)

    Reply
  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Wilfred

    Yeah, OK, I realise that these days most people do not switch off when they clock out. I’m lucky, I’ve worked from home since 1988. Generally, I have no evil boss looking over my shoulder – except my own work ethic, which can be a hard taskmaster. I work from when I wake up in the morning, often until I actually nod out over my keyboard.

    And is it worth it?

    Not to get that feeling of Monday morning gloom – oh yeah, definitely!

    Reply
  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Mary

    Thank you for the comment and I’m sorry you’ve chosen to interpret the post in such a way that it’s provoked you to such a rant.

    I’m not ungrateful to be living in a country with safe food, clean water, and a state medical system. But also remember that we’ve been bombarded in the UK for months with stories of political corruption over the expenses of our Members of Parliament. There are 650 MPs and between them it seems they’ve claimed just shy of £85million in ‘expenses’ – for everything from a paltry church service donation to satellite TV pay-per-view porn – watched, incidentally, on the giant plasma TV that they also bought on expenses.

    This was not supposed to be a debate on politics – something I generally steer well clear of.

    All I was trying to get across – and failing miserably, it seems – was that many of us are too busy earning a living to realise our dream, or to realise that we even HAVE a dream.

    Sorry … ;-[

    Reply
  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Congrats right back at ya!

    I used to know someone who worked in the centre of London and commuted every day on the train. Then she worked out that she was actually spending 32 days a year solidly on the train, and decided a lesser paid job, in a cheaper area of the country, was not the step down she’d always considered.

    Commuting time can be great – I use the irregular time I spend in the car to plot and plan – but at the same time I’m very glad it’s not a daily thing any more.

    And yes, I would LOVE to see the government in this country spend taxes in a more efficient way. There’s just been a big news story about one town who have put in a token section (less than 800 yards) of bus lane that’s cost £1million (£1300 a yard), when the roads in the area are still peppered with giant potholes from the heavy snows in February.

    Ah, well …

    Reply
  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    You have my greatest respect, because teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world. I wouldn’t have dared behave to my teachers (even during the brief period I actually went to school) the way kids seem to today. Not only that, but the way their parents seem to actively encourage them to.

    So, have fun during your summer break, and good luck with the writing time!

    Reply
  10. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I’m holding out for reincarnation.
    And congrats again to you on the nomination, and to Louise as well.

    Reply
  11. Jake Nantz

    Thanks Zoe. I guess I should also correct myself, because I just said Admin without being specific. For the most part, the school-level administration is not the problem, they just have their hands tied to keep them from being the solution. The problem is generally from the countywide-level on up the ladder, all the way to the top nationally. But that’s just my opinion, and the bigger problem is still the one you alluded to. It’s just that the county admin on up is spineless when it comes to that problem.

    (Wow…forgot how high up the view was from this soapbox thingy…)

    Reply
  12. JT Ellison

    Z, this is fantastic. As a minor economist, I am a firm believer in lower taxes and more personal responsibility, and hate the ridiculous tax structure here.

    But I also choose to control the things I can control, and that allow me to answer in the affirmative to your question of happiness. I am terribly happy. Sometimes to the point of apology, for I seem to attract unhappy people whose glasses are half-empty. It’s taken me years to recognize the emotional vampires and steer clear of them, but at long last, I can do that.

    And following your dream is vital to happiness. I wish everyone had the freedom to do so.

    Reply
  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    "I’m holding out for reincarnation"

    In that case, I’ll come back as a cat. As far as I can tell, they mainly have a life that consists of sleeping until they’re hungry, and then eating until they’re tired.

    Thanks for the conrats!

    Reply
  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    Feel free to drag up your soapbox any time ;-]

    The feedback I get from friends who are teachers in the UK is that discipline and disrespect is becoming a major problem, and the ground troops are not being supported further up the chain of command.

    Our problem is that we are governed from the top down, when we should learn from ant colonies and govern from the bottom up.

    Good job I’m not in power, isn’t it?

    Reply
  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT

    Lovely to hear such a positive view. People are usually divided into radiators and drains. The radiators give you a warm glow just by being in the same room, and you want to snuggle up to them. Drains suck the life out of you with their negativity. Emotional vampires is a great way of putting it.

    Changing your outlook from drain to radiator is the first step to personal happiness, I think.

    Nice theory, but I’ve found it’s not always quite so easy in practice ;-]

    Reply
  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    I’m so sorry – how did I miss your comment earlier? I love the quote you give. It reminds of the perfect response I once heard to someone who was complaining that there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

    "Well, Einstein managed."

    To which the pessimists among us respond, "Yeah, and he’s dead …"

    Striving to be happy, however you achieve that state of grace, is incredibly important, and if that’s not a light and breezy topic for a post, what is? ;-]

    And thank you for the congrats. I’m constantly honoured to be here.

    Reply
  17. Wilfred Bereswill

    You know, Zoe, after reading all the comments, I have to add something. There are how many different countries out there and therefore how many different governments? And of all those governments, how many got it right? The answer, I think, is NONE.

    We’re humans and we’re complex and different (like snowflakes). There are no "one size fits all" rules that really work. I look at all the other places in the world where I could be and I thank God and "my lucky stars" that I live in the United States.

    I’ve said for a very long time that those people that don’t like it here (and I think the UK is the same way) should be required to have to go to China or Korea (by way of example) for a while. Now, I’ve been to China a lot. I adore the culture and the people (who love life and put family first) and have some wonderful friends there. But I wouldn’t want to live within their government. I also believe when you have more than a billion people in one place, you probably have to run things a bit differently.

    The bottom line for me is, I work hard, I have a nice home and beautiful family. I feel blessed and while I may daydream of my book being made into a movie, or my work in progress being picked up by a big time publisher, I’m happy as a lark and there’s not much I would change if I could.

    Reply
  18. R.J. Mangahas

    Great post, Z. Happiness, huh? Sure I’m happy. I try to find the little things about each day I can be happy about (a good writing session, seeing Jessi, finding a good book to read), and that can eventually add to more happiness.

    Oh, and congratulations on your nomination.

    Reply
  19. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Wilfred

    Nicely put. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, it could always be worse as well as better. It’s written in very small print on the contract we all signed that the price of life can go down as well as up.

    I’ve been to Japan but not China – yet. It looks a fascinating place and is definitely somewhere I’d love to see. As for their government, I think you’re right about the numbers making it a whole different ball game.

    But somebody said that democracy was the worst form of government … with the exception of all other forms of government.

    And being happy on a daily basis does not preclude ambition, as you point out. Sure, that bestseller or movie contract would be great, and everyone needs a dream to aim for, but not if it makes you miserable on the journey.

    Reply
  20. Zoë Sharp

    Hi RJ

    Internal happiness is always a blessing. Funny the different things that make us happy, though. Tonight, for instance, we’ve had eight baby rabbits going daft in the garden, playing a game of tag round the rocks. That makes us smile every time.

    Our neighbours, however, with their beautiful array of delicious plants, may feel differently … ;-]

    Thanks for the congrats. I’m chuffed to bits.

    Reply
  21. Catherine Shipton

    On balance each day I’m happy. There are things that tick me off, yet the majority of the time I’m noticing people and circumstances that make me smile. Sometimes at the absurdity, sometimes at the sheer weirdness( every gateway post in my street sometimes has an owl on it).

    Sometimes when things do tick me off it’s a call to action, other times it’s a great reminder, if that’s the worst thing that happens to me today it’s a great day.

    So what do I want ? Well for the most part I’ve got it. An attitude that is reasonably accepting of difference and easily amused. I’m nearly at the end of my degree and looking into a couple of possible paths. I’m not too fazed by my choices as they’re to the best of my knowledge linked by a love of reading, words, learning and teaching. Sounds a bit like a car sticker, but I’m looking forward to the possiblities for adventure.

    Reply
  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    Great to hear such a positive outlook for the future in today’s doom and gloom atmosphere. I hope your degree brings you everything you wanted from it.

    And I can’t get the picture of those owls out of my head …

    Reply
  23. Fran

    I do love my job, despite some difficult customers and the very rare difficult author. So I’m happy vocationally.

    And I’m head over heels in love with my wife, and she with me, so I’m definitely happy that way.

    But we both miss New Mexico, more and more each day. So in that way, I’m not entirely happy, for all I enjoy living up here in the PNW.

    I have been viciously, deeply, suicidally unhappy, though, so I’m aware of how incredibly lucky I am, and I am content.

    Reply
  24. Brett Battles

    As I sit here in a bar thousands of miles from home, exploring a country that is far different than my own, I can’t help but know I’m exactly where I want to be…no matter what the tax freedom situation!

    Reply
  25. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Fran

    You’re going to have to spill the beans on those difficult authors! And how are the customers difficult …?

    Being at that kind of lowest, suicidal ebb is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. You have my deepest sympathy for those times, but I’m so glad you came through the other side stronger.

    Reply
  26. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    Hm, why does hearing that a writer is in a bar in some exotic locale, and exactly where they want to be, come as no surprise ;-]

    Have a ball!

    Reply
  27. Rhian

    Zoe, you finished off saying "Unless you’re into reincarnation, life is a one-shot deal, a one-lap race, a never-to-be-repeated opportunity, a last-chance to see. Don’t miss it."

    Thank you for the words of inspiration and reminding me after a weel or two of total frustration. Looks like after an effective 8 working days over two weeks following a 2nd interview, I have missed out again. But, believe it or not, I have not yet had this confirmed. The continued daily not-knowing was grinding me down and when I read your words on Thursday (I am late in leaving a comment, sorry, been a bit too on the pedal with the waterworks recently), I actually cried. But I have done my smarting and licking my wounds and on Monday I’ll be back to the earnest drawing board and action!

    Also been dealing with a situation where Google stopped recognising my blog in searches from June 1. Still unresolved and no idea what to do to recover.

    Congrats on the CWA nomination! Hope to see you at Harrogate, but not 100% yet that I will be there. Please apologise to Andy that I didn’t even manage to say hello on the Friday evening at CrimeFest. If we don’t have a meet up at Harrogate, there’s always Caerleon…

    All the best, R

    Reply

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