A Love Letter to My Accountant

When it was my turn, it was well past 9 p.m. He looked over my papers, all my accounting of trying to make a life out of words. “Hmm,” he said, “hmm.” He told me I would owe a tax bill in the low thousands. I almost blacked out. “But,” he said gently, “that just means you’re successful. You’ve made this much from writing.”

My accountant taught me that even in a life of pursuing art, where uncertainty is built in, some care can be taken to make plans, to plan for success, not just wish to succeed, and in planning offer myself some ballast against nothing at all going according to plan. It’s a difficult lesson to learn — the lives of great artists are riddled with instability. But he also reminds me, every April 15, not to block my blessings, not to decide I already know how my artistic career will end, that life can surprise you with good things as well as bad.

How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Taxes?

Nope. The so-called economic impact payments are not treated as income. In fact, they’re technically an advance on a tax credit, known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The payments could indirectly affect what you pay in state income taxes in a handful of states, where federal tax is deductible against state taxable income, as our colleague Ann Carrns wrote. Read more.

Mostly.  Unemployment insurance is generally subject to federal as well as state income tax, though there are exceptions (Nine states don’t impose their own income taxes, and another six exempt unemployment payments from taxation, according to the Tax Foundation). But you won’t owe so-called payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security and Medicare. The new relief bill will make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free if your income is less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only. (If you’ve already filed your taxes, watch for I.R.S. guidance.) Unlike paychecks from an employer, taxes for unemployment aren’t automatically withheld. Recipients must opt in — and even when they do, federal taxes are withheld only at a flat rate of 10 percent of benefits. While the new tax break will provide a cushion, some people could still owe the I.R.S. or certain states money. Read more.

Probably not, unless you’re self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker. The tax law overhaul of late 2019 eliminated the home office deduction for employees from 2018 through 2025. “Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home,” the I.R.S. said. Read more.

Self-employed people can take paid caregiving leave if their child’s school is closed or their usual child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak. This works similarly to the smaller sick leave credit — 67 percent of average daily earnings (for either 2020 or 2019), up to $200 a day. But the caregiving leave can be taken for 50 days. Read more.

Yes. This year, you can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions, even if you use the standard deduction. Previously, only people who itemized could claim these deductions. Donations must be made in cash (for these purposes, this includes check, credit card or debit card), and can’t include securities, household items or other property. For 2021, the deduction limit will double to $600 for joint filers. Rules for itemizers became more generous as well. The limit on charitable donations has been suspended, so individuals can contribute up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from 60 percent. But these donations must be made to public charities in cash; the old rules apply to contributions made to donor-advised funds, for example. Both provisions are available through 2021. Read more.

At the end of our first meeting, he said to me, gravely, “You are good at this. You are going to make money as an artist. You need to be ready for it,” and he told me what funds to put money in, which retirement plans to invest in, for the following year. I went back to him a year later, when I was getting married, and he gave me advice for my taxes then. He told me, poignantly, “Don’t get married on Christmas or New Year’s. It will ruin those days for you.”

By then, I had talked to him long enough to know that he had been married and divorced, and that he had seven adult daughters of his own, all trained as accountants — they helped him out during tax season. Sometimes I would call his office after negotiating a contract or finding out about a grant, and I would only get the machine. This was because, he’d explained to me, he took off six months out of the year to travel around West Africa to collect the art that I saw in his office.

The last time I saw him in person was the 2019 tax season. I was five months pregnant, my then-husband had just lost his job, and we were suddenly both living off a research stipend for a fellowship I had. He sat with us and assured us it would be OK. I was stressed about money, stressed about my baby’s future, stressed about how I was going to pay for my looming hospital bills. Talking to him was one of the few times during that turbulent pregnancy when I felt like I was being taken care of by another person, instead of taking care of everyone else — a gift for which I will always be grateful.

Last pandemic’s tax season was pushed back again and again by the catastrophe. I did my taxes in June on the back porch of the house I was living in during quarantine, paying a masked sitter $20 an hour for the privilege of talking to my accountant on the phone without a baby in the background. I realized my relationship with him is the most positive one I’ve ever had with a man over money. As I updated him on my pandemic year — marriage over, job offers gone, quarantining in another state — he only murmured sagely into the phone. He’d seen it all. “But I did what you told me to last year and paid my estimated tax,” I said.

“You listened to me?” he replied, with a fatherly warmth. “Of course,” I said. “None of my clients ever do,” he laughed. And then he said he’d set me up for 2021, because I’d followed his directions. It was one of my proudest moments in the hazy, heady year.

Kaitlyn Greenidge is the author of the forthcoming novel “Libertie” and the features director at Harper’s Bazaar.

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They Had a Fun Pandemic. You Can Read About It in Print.

The Drunken Canal is one of a handful of downtown media projects that have been sprouting in reaction to the dominance of giant online media, the homogenization of big social media platforms that make community feel global, not local (though they’d like it if you’d follow them on Instagram), and the overwhelming sense that nobody in media was having fun in the grim year of 2020. The Dimes Square local media include a pirate radio station, Montez Press Radio, that won’t let you listen on demand, and a “natural style” fashion email newsletter, Opulent Tips, written by a GQ staff writer, with no fancy formatting. Many of the most interesting new products are in print “because digital spaces are becoming increasingly more policed,” said Richard Turley, 44, the former creative director of Bloomberg Businessweek who founded another downtown newspaper, Civilization, in 2018.

The Dimes Square scene caught my eye because its privileged denizens embody a broader shift toward spaces safe from social media. The new Silicon Valley social audio app Clubhouse shares some of those values. And the choice of print has a political edge. The Canal’s first issue featured a “Sorry to hear you’ve been canceled” column composed of a list of names, with no explanation, “to keep you from looking foolish at a woke gathering.” (The second issue included an apology to the actor Terry Crews, whose name had been spelled wrong in the first issue and who had, in fact, not been canceled, in the publishers’ view.) A third recent newsprint project called The New Now, created by a co-founder of the magazine Paper, announces atop its front page that it is “Free of Charge” “Free of Advertising” and “Free of the internet.”

The downtown media rebellion often looks back to the 1990s, when the model and actress Chloë Sevigny embodied an edgy new scene in a New Yorker profile, just before her star turn in the explicit 1995 movie “Kids.” Ms. Sevigny, now 46, is a running preoccupation — The Drunken Canal has featured her stylist, Haley Wollens. Ms. Sevigny told me she’s “flattered and hoping the kids rally for all of us.” But the more recent seeds of the current scene are in the podcasts that helped put a strain of left-wing populist politics that’s as hostile to Hillary Clinton as it is to Donald Trump on the political map — in particular, one called Red Scare, whose co-host, Dasha Nekrasova, lives near Dimes Square. Ms. Nekrasova, 30, said she admired the spirit of The Drunken Canal although, like many of its admirers, she hasn’t actually been able to get her hands on a copy. She plays a crisis P.R. person in the upcoming season of “Succession” and has directed a new feature film rooted in theories about Jeffrey Epstein’s death. The new Drunken Canal includes the prediction that “DASHA will become the new and better Chloë Sevigny.”

The unsafe sex of “Kids” scandalized 1990s New York, but the best way to get a reaction from the 2020 New York media was by bragging about having indoor parties. The writer and publicist Kaitlin Phillips, 30, who occupies a spot close to the center of a map of downtown personalities, became mildly notorious on Twitter for advertising a blasé attitude through the worst of the pandemic last spring.

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A Year Without Our Work Friends

My office at home is pretty well equipped. I have a desktop computer and a printer and whiteboards I installed with the ambitious idea that I would use them to map out projects. There are shelves holding various editions of my books, some of which I can’t read because I don’t speak Hebrew or Farsi or Turkish or Polish. There are shelves with reference books and galleys and other books related to various projects. I have a home studio for recording “Hear to Slay,” the podcast I host with Tressie McMillan Cottom.

Most days are spent staring at people in little squares on my computer monitor because now that everyone is at home, people have found all kinds of excuses to have meetings. I have ring lights for events and television appearances because there isn’t much going to studios anymore. Also, vanity. Once in a while, a hard case of audiovisual equipment is shipped to my house with a laminated instruction card providing the necessary direction for using the equipment. Once in a while a camera crew comes to the house wearing their protective gear. They stand six feet away and I peer into a video monitor, talking to a producer somewhere else.

Almost every day I marvel at how the world has adapted to the pandemic. I thought I was done doing public events, but at some point during the summer of 2020, events moved online and now I am back to doing several events a week, sometimes in places that would not otherwise be able to bring me to their school or town. I enjoy live events, but doing them virtually is not the same. When I walk out onstage and see a thousand people cheering, the energy is absolutely electric and unexpected. It’s surreal because I’m just a writer. It’s magical because I know that we will have an experience that can’t be replicated.

And I miss the signing line, where I could spend a few minutes with readers, hearing about their lives, seeing that my work mattered maybe a little. Now, I make myself presentable from the waist up, and sit at my desk in basketball shorts, and when the event is over, that’s that.

Most of my friends with more traditional jobs are working from home, too. They’ve created office spaces in their houses. They hang out with their pets, their children, their partners. They get their work done, just as well as they did before. And a surprising number of these friends don’t seem to want to return to the office. For those without school age children, there is time to handle the business of running a home while handling the business of doing a job. They can bake and run errands and garden between work tasks. There is no dressing up in work drag. Bras and pants with buttons and ties and high heels and a full face of makeup have been abandoned. There is no more commuting — all that time in a car, clenching the steering wheel, inching along. There is no more trying to get work done while being interrupted every 10 minutes or listening to a co-worker yammering endlessly.

But a lot has been lost, too. For all the faults of the workplace, there is a certain camaraderie that comes with life in an office. A good meeting can be energizing in a way that is hard to replicate over Zoom. We can’t head over to our favorite work friend’s office for some coffee and gossip when we need a break. It’s all Slack chats and emails and phone calls and then, whatever happens at home after work, without any distance. The work-life balance has imploded for better and worse. In many of the Work Friend letters I receive, I can see how that implosion has changed how people feel about their work.

There is a lot of unfulfillment — people who are bored in their jobs or who simply hate what they do or they hate the people they work with but cannot see a way out. A lot of women deal with condescending bosses, pay disparities and a lack of accommodations for motherhood. A lot of men are trying to figure out how to navigate the workplace as cultural norms change. People from all walks of life want to know how they can make their companies more inclusive and how to address institutional racism, or they resent these efforts because they feel wrongly implicated.

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