One for you, nineteen for me …

I’ve been making and postponing appointments with my tax man for six weeks now. I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and sort through my mess receipts. But I finally bit that unsavory bullet, and headed off to see Bobby, my tax preparer. Just getting home from that adventure now.

Bobby is maybe three to five years older than I am. He’s Bangladeshi and has a small shop in the garment district. Tax preparation is his side hustle, and he likes to think that tax prep for creatives and freelancers is his niche — writers, artists, musicians, models, actors. (This is the first time I’ve ever been lumped into a category with actors and models. I find it funny, but I also like it.)

I was referred to Bobby last year. I suddenly found myself without a tax man, as it seemed the ancient little man who’d done my taxes since 2013 had passed away. A writer friend recommended Bobby, so I went.

He worried me at first, was dismissive of my work as a writer because it wasn’t supporting me even a little. The beginning of our first conversation was almost contentious. And then it became mansplain-y, with Bobby needing to tell me all the things I should do if I had any hope of being a “real” writer.

That theme continued tonight. Clearly, Bobby likes to mansplain my life and career and give me instruction on the choices I should be making. And writing is absolutely his favorite area of faux expertise. My writing doesn’t pay the bills, and he can’t understand why I don’t change that.

“You should really think about getting published,” he said to me tonight after he submitted my taxes. “Just go to talk with a publisher and get a book deal.”

Friends, did you realize that was how to do it? I have been wasting a lot of time, clearly. Should have been marched my no-manuscript-having butt into Houghton Mifflin and scooped up my contract already!

Despite this annoying behavior, I’ve decided that I like Bobby. Most importantly, he does a great job on my taxes. But equally important (kind of?) we have really interesting conversations — earlier tonight we talked about the slave trade, talked about why we like to travel, talked about birth order and our siblings.

Surely I will eventually tire of Bobby’s mansplaining and need to find a new tax preparer, but it’s working for now. And tonight I can go to sleep with visions of a nice return dancing in my head. Thanks, Bobby!

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Things Grownups Do

Today I had my taxes itemized for only the second time of my tax-paying life. I’ve had my taxes prepared a few times in the past — once by the father of a young man I’d taught in my developmental writing class — but when I realized that the tax men were only doing the EZ form, I went back to taking care of it myself.

Because I can usually count on a nice refund from the feds and a less-nice balance due for city and state, I used to fill out my forms and send them in … and I would always include a note with my city and state form explaining how I was going to get a federal refund and would send them some money as soon as I got that check.

I’m serious.

(I wish I could have seen the faces of the people who unfolded those notes. I imagine an IRS staffer waving the page over his or her head and calling out to everyone, “Here’s that crazy woman from Brooklyn again!” and a handful of folks would have to take a drink and one lucky person would win the office pool, having guessed the correct day and hour in which my IOU would turn up.)

And I was always true to my word. As soon as my federal refund arrived, I’d send a bit of it off to cover my city and state bill. And that’s fine, but it’s interesting to me that a) I got away with doing that year after year and b) never once in all that time did it occur to me that what I was doing wasn’t the norm, wasn’t the way everyone handled their taxes.

Finally I realized I could send in my federal forms early, get my refund and then send in a check with my city and state forms. Ah! Like the clouds parting after a storm! Why did it take me so long to figure that one out?

And then something went wrong. My account was tampered with in some way that threw up red “Identity Theft!” flags at the IRS. And that created a big enough mess that I decided I needed some professional help to sort through the whole business.

And that’s how I wound up having my most amazing tax preparation experience last year. Why haven’t I been itemizing my taxes for the last forever?

I’ve learned my lesson. I spent the last year saving every receipt for every last bit of everything, and today I sat down with my little old old-school tax man. He doesn’t use computers. Period. I can’t email him because … well, see that point about the no computers. He does everything with pencil and pen. Old. School. He appeals to my wannabe Luddite sensibilities. And he removes a major source of stress from my winter-into-spring life.

So here I am, all grown up in spite of myself. And I like being grown. I do. And I like that being grown comes with a bigger tax return! But at the same time I have to admit that I miss the comic old-fashioned-ness of my bad old days when I used to write notes to the IRS.

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

Fundraising A-Go-Go

Tonight I’m doing something I have a hard, hard time doing: asking for help … specifically, asking for money. I am beyond happy at being accepted into the graphic novel workshop for this summer’s VONA Voices. The cost of the workshop, room, board, and travel are a bit stiff for me this year, however, so I’ve turned to Indiegogo.

For the next six weeks, I’ll be trying to raise the cost of this workshop and trip. And you can help! If you can donate, that will be so very much appreciated. If you can’t, please consider sending the link for my campaign out to your networks: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram … and all the cooler, newer social media hot spots I have yet to discover.

Here’s the link to my fundraiser!

I’ll be working on Adventures in Racism in this workshop, getting a better handle on how to move forward with the comic, how to most effectively use comics to tell the stories I want to tell. AIR has potential, but I need a lot of work, and I need the kind of help VONA can give me.


But tonight’s post isn’t just about me with my hand out.  It’s also about poetry.  And knee surgery.  I continue to work on my Aruns this month, and tonight’s is in honor of the fact that today makes exactly one year since I had my knee replacement surgery!  I can’t believe it’s already a full year.

year. One
long, short, hard,
easy year. One
knee — seems a simple
But not
simple, not
Not.  This year is gone.
Gone easy.
Gone.  A new knee —
year in the making.



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An Arun is a 15-line poem with the syllable count 1/2/3/4/5 — 3x.  It may be a new thing in the world, made up by me last year.  “Arun” means “five” in Yoruba.

What do we want? A blog post! When do we want it? NOW!

You know.  Or something.

So Thursday was the big day, the rally in City Hall Park to protest the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate all city funding for adult education programming.  Students and staff from my program pleased and impressed the mess out of me by showing up in force to show their opposition to the cut.  We had close to a hundred people attend the rally, and students had worked hard on making lots and lots of posters and practicing chants.

One of my favorite signs was thought up by Jie, one of the teens in my class:

One Cut, Many Scars

 He struggled to get the idea of slogans for rally posters.  We brainstormed as a class, and Jie couldn’t see it, couldn’t understand why we didn’t just write the same things on the posters that we’d written in our letters to the City Council.  Finally, after saying again and again that he didn’t get it, he sat and wrote for about five minutes … and produced five of our strongest slogans!

Here are some of the photos from the rally¹:


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Now we just have to hope the City Council comes through for us and restores adult education funding!  We might not know until the end of the month, and that’s just a really long time to be holding our breath.


¹   Photo credits to me and NP, one of our teachers

But instead …

I want to write about the devastating funding cut that’s looming large over my program and about 40 others in the city.  I want to write about how awful it is that our city can’t recognize the importance of funding education for adults, doesn’t appreciate that adult education supports families, makes people more employable, makes it possible for them to secure living-wage jobs that improve their lives (and the tax revenue of the city).  I want to write about the fact that our relatively small program has a waiting list of over 800 people who want to learn English but there aren’t enough slots for them.  I want to write about the fact that the teachers in our program are smart, funny, dedicated people who work so hard every week, who care deeply about their students and craft lovely lessons that blend language acquisition with health and financial literacy, civics, history, and math.  I want to write about our Student Leadership Team which is a beautiful group of smart women who have projects that touch our school, our community, Haiti and South Africa.  I want to write about Maritza, who — because of the things she’s been learning about herself as she works in our program — has begun to reshape her emotionally and verbally abusive relationship with her husband.  I want to write about every beautiful, wonderful thing I can think of about our program, help you see how special and important this work is, help you understand why it shouldn’t be erased … even if I can’t convince the Mayor.

But instead, I’ve spent the whole week trying to think of something else to say, something else to talk about about, something that isn’t so huge and awful hanging over my head.

Instead, I’ve tried to work on the story I want to submit for next month’s workshop, but I haven’t been able to do more than read over what I’ve already written and stare at it blankly.

Instead, I’ve tried to organize my brain enough to plan for the three-week math intensive I’m going to teach next month, but all I’ve been able to do is think of it as my last chance to work with those students … and those classes aren’t even in jeopardy from this cut.

Instead, I’ve tried to focus on the strategic plan we just started working on, but I keep running up against the wall of “What’s the point?”  If three-quarters of our program disappears, all this grand planning will mean so much nothing.


In the good old days before I was a program director, adult education was part of a city agency that focused on community development.  It was run by people who actually had backgrounds in adult education (imagine that), and had an understanding of the importance of a strong city commitment to helping adults learn English, earn their GED diplomas and prepare for the world of work.   Then that agency was folded into the youth services agency — becoming a small department in a much larger agency — and was headed first by a woman who had no background or interest in education of any kind and now by a woman whose interest is only in the youth side of our equation.  No big surprise that it would be easy for her to recommend complete elimination of a department that holds no value for her.  But how can she not see that the precious children she’s so interested in need strong parents, need parents who can get and keep decent jobs, need parents who can navigate the healthcare system, need parents who can be strong advocates for them with the public schools, need parents who can read?

I don’t understand.

And I don’t know what will happen.  I’m not worried about myself.  Yes, it would suck royally if I were to lose my job.  But I’d find another.  I am sufficiently skilled that, even in this struggling economy, there are jobs out there that would fit me fine.¹  I’m not worried about myself.  I’m thinking about the 300 people who are taking English classes in my program right now.  I’m thinking about the 800 men and women on our waiting list and all the people on waiting lists at all the other programs I know.  I’m thinking about the fact that there are 1.6 million people in my city who want classes but only seats for 13,000 of them under the city funding structure that’s about to be eliminated.

Yes, there is all sorts of activism and advocacy planned.  You can help, actually.  You can sign the “Save Adult Literacy” petition and ask everyone you know to sign it, too.  It’s a start.

I don’t think complete elimination will be part of the final budget.  I’m trying to be confident that the City Council, bolstered by all the grassroots advocacy we’re drumming up, will convince the Mayor to add back some of the funding.  It seems unlikely, however, that the entire budget line will be restored.  There are so many programs and services facing cuts, so many groups lobbying the Council to restore those budget lines.  Adult education is going to take a serious hit, one that it will be long and hard for us to recover from.  The dark clouds are overhead for my students and none of us has a big enough umbrella.


¹  Or maybe I’d just cash out my 401K and move to Jamaica already.