Bean Counter

Somewhere between Elementary School Teaching and All Things Cooking, I took care of people’s money. I fell into it really. Conventional teaching was playing havoc with my health, and a vendor of Spouse’s needed someone to help get the invoicing done. I stepped up. Quickly, and on-the-go, I learned the basics of balance sheet accounting, and before anyone could say Fixed Asset, I was a bookkeeper. Accounting was orderly, systematic, and while it offered drama via cash flow, it never left me sleepless at night, worried that I wasn’t doing enough for the accounts, that I wasn’t reaching the real need of the ledger, that I needed to find a more integrated way of connecting with the vendors. Teaching, as I knew it, was gone.

For the 20 years that followed, I worked for small companies, primarily connected through the printing and graphic arts industry. The size of company, the industry, and the region we were in made for a very small, connected world. Our Graphic Arts firm was a hub for the bevy of small printing companies in the area, each vying for market share, suspicious of each other, yet all smiles and handshakes when they happened on each other in our foyer. I knew the ones who paid us promptly, the ones who were past due because of disorganization, and the ones who wanted us to help bankroll their own expansion by not paying their due. I liked the company I worked for. It was a true sole proprietor-owned, Small Business. We had birthday lunches, baby showers, and Holiday Parties. We fought, we apologized, we gossiped, we were dysfunctional like most families. As the technology of the industry began to shift, graphic arts companies were the first to feel the changes. When my work didn’t require as many hours, I began to help out a printing company and a bindery, both small companies, giving me accounting experience, and industry knowledge, which spanned the entire process of producing a printed product.

I did all right as a bookkeeper. Not a Lover-of-Math in school, basic concepts that I would need for bookkeeping had finally been made clear for me when I had to teach kids how to perform the same operations. There is real-world application for math, up though beginning algebra, for most people. I occasionally had to “solve for x” and I was happy to know how. I learned, on the job, how to manage cash flow, anticipate sales income, manage depreciation schedules and accruals, amortize, negotiate with vendors, the importance of customer service, and all the ins and outs of State Tax Reporting. While I had a requisite amount of attention to detail, I was not fastidious with those details, finding myself on a rollercoaster of tidy/filing/all-ducks-in-row to papers piling/entries missed/catching everything up at the last minute. I wasn’t a REAL accountant and didn’t care to be.

Like basic algebra, most people practice a level of real world accounting: paying bills, balancing checking accounts, figuring how much interest they would have to pay on a loan. The IRS requires that we keep wage, banking, and tax deduction records to support our tax returns for any number of years. Less tangible accounting is experienced emotionally. As a child, I was taught, “Love keeps no record of wrong,” a warning against keeping track of offenses. My parents extrapolated the meaning of this to include that if I chose to forgive someone, I was responsible for forgetting the wrong done to me. I will spare you any details of inner unmet expectation and the resultant bouts of guilt, but simply say that forgiving equalling forgetting is bull shit. I do believe that “keeping a record of wrong” is also a load of hooey. Filling ledgers with offenses done to me, petty or otherwise, turns me into Scrooge himself: empty of life, alone and haggard, unable to allow joy or light into my space. I still remember the offense, sometimes acutely, but each time I do, I look to see what I have that’s good, right in that immediate moment: spouse? child? shelter? ability? my garden? or that I am simply still breathing? This exercise helps me begin to let go of the offense, and to continue to let go, over and over if necessary.

Growing up, I thought that not keeping records of wrong was about loving the offender. Now I know it is an exercise of love for my own well-being. And though I often don’t completely forget (it is amazing what an overtired, stressed-out brain can dredge up from the past), the pain, the anger, the twisting effect of those events, lessens. When I stop this negative accounting, when I work on loving myself by offering forgiveness, I can try to practice another adage taught by my parents: Love your neighbor as yourself. Impossible?

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