5 min read

Death and taxes

April 15 is eight days away.

April 7, 2019

We don’t own a printer. I used to own one, but that was probably ten years ago. We don’t even have one wasting away in a hallway closet or gathering must in the storage locker in the basement of our apartment building. We just don’t like printing if we an avoid it.

I hate all the paper that gets stuffed into our mailbox every week. A small percentage of the mail every week arrive for me or Michelle—most of it is addressed to Mom. It is an unbelievable waste, disguised as direct-to-consumer marketing. And it always makes me groan, thinking about the materials wasted to print all these ads that also pack Mom’s email inbox. A friend who was forwarding various pieces of mail to us for a while told me a couple of months ago, “Your mother must’ve given to every organization who asked.”

As a kid, maybe at the age of six or seven, Publisher’s Clearing House sent direct mailers to Mom a few times a month. These were large, often glossy envelopes with a big red stamp of urgency on the front, probably followed by some large number with four or five zeroes on the end. I think I used to beg Mom to mail stuff back in, pleading with her that the envelopes contest promised at least a few hundred winning entries.

What I’m saying is—whether it was important or not—Mom always got an absurd amount of mail.

There were also conversations—or at least I think there were—in which Dad calmly rejected another suggestion about giving to this organization or that campaign. Especially toward the end of his career, as the Executive Director at Cutchins, he had to be involved in development activities. He hated every minute of it. He gave when he decided something mattered. He didn’t want any mail about it.

I don’t have any particular memory of the two of them talking and deciding not to donate, but then money wasn’t something my parents talked about much in front me. Add in the fact that my parents quite carefully tried to never disagree in front of me for the first decade and a half, and I’m left with memories of muted voices coming through the wall Dad’s office shared with the living room. Even if he convinced her, there were always envelopes on the front table reminding Mom, “DON’T FORGET TO RENEW!”

When Dad died, Mom kept giving. I think she gave more. I know, because Michelle and I have been diligently opening and recycling everything. The mountain of promotional or donation-oriented material addressed to my mother was enough to make Dad grimace 20 years ago; think about how two Millenials who reuse paper shopping bags and get miffed when people don’t compost feel.

But we have to go through her mail. Stuffed in amongst the credit offers, the notes from nonprofits, and the one packed envelope from Publisher’s promising cash winnings (I cannot believe that’s still a thing), are small medical bills, city and state tax documents, and insurance bills, and other important notices. Mom had her retirement account set up to notify her of every single successful trade—by mail. Two thick stock blue pages for one line item.

I’ve been diligently stacking the important stuff in a small pile on our kitchen table. And last weekend, we found everything we’d received to file Mom’s 2018 taxes. I took everything to work, and started scanning Tuesday afternoon in between meetings.

Then it hit me—Mom was still gone. It’s going to stay that way. I was doing her taxes. They were more complicated than mine. But I had it under control.

I finished scanning, zipped all the PDFs and fired them off in an email to our tax preparer and took a walk. I stared at the Seattle skyline and waited for the tension to go away. I stress-ate a bag of M&Ms. My stomach hurt more.

Part of the stress of taxes has always been making sure that the right pieces of paper are filed away so that we can accurately report and claim what we need to each year. And that type of organization—the calm sorting and tracking and system-keeping—Dad aced it. He had no problem recycling.

Mom frantically kept everything that looked like a bill. When she was in the hospital, Miche and I slowly sorted one giant pile of paid bills (each with a handwritten note about when the check had been mailed) into categories to try and make sense of it all. At the end, Mom was hanging onto paid bills for services and utilities going back six months, as if she was prepping for Dad to return from beyond the veil and audit her.

I’m not really sure if she had ever rationalized her bookkeeping against the amount of paper she elected to receive. I know she distrusted her own tech savvy enough to not select the “Go paperless!” prompt on so many statements and bills these days. And she definitely owned a printer.

This Week


If I don’t read anything else in the New Yorker (sometimes I fall out of rhythm, okay?), I read the first op-ed in Talk of the Town. Steve Coll wrote smartly last week that journalists can no longer trust their audiences to discern the difference between reporting and editorializing. Can confirm.

Joe Biden’s touching was back in the news this week. Rebecca Traister absolutely nailed an essay on why Biden’s not the right 2020 candidate for progressives. (Spoiler: it’s not just the touching. But also that was never okay.)

Buzzfeed’s Scaachi Koul knows how to write a profile. Her longform piece this week on Courtney Stodden is masterful—the type of writing that’ll get you to read about anything, even Reality TV teen brides.


I’ve already talked my own ear off about Nico Walker’s debut novel Cherry. Immediately after I finished the book, I read the newspiece about the decorated millenial veteran turned junkie bank robber that started it all. Cherry is a raw, visceral book that’s sad, packed with violence, and is brutally honest about what it’s like to need nearly $1,000 a week to feed a heroin habit. Normally I’d be cautious about recommending the book for those attributes alone, let alone the fact that it’s another white dude.

But Walker’s story also artfully begins to unpack the very real and very loud collision between the new generation of vets returning from war and the opiod epidemic. So, read it if that all doesn’t scare you off.


We spent all of Saturday working outside on a farm on Vashon Island, prepping it to host a wedding in the fall of 2020. Miche was blasting LCD Soundsystem while we dug Scotch Broom bushes out of the area for the ceremony. Just got back and listen to James and the gang.


We finished Pen15 (cringe) and started the excellent Shrill, starring Aidy Bryant. As someone who thinks about his weight constantly (thanks Mom and Dad), the first couple of episodes really hit home for me.

Shoutout to friends and family who are clicking on, watching, or reading things I’ve included here. I love hearing your feedback and your reactions.

A short disclaimer

Please remember that this newsletter is a creative space to keep in touch, to think out loud, and to heal. It takes some psychological safety to put these thoughts out in the world and the sentences won’t read perfect or be free of typos. I do revisit my issues and make corrections as I catch them.