This past week, my meager savings account was reduced to zilch, thanks to the unforgiving way the self-employed are taxed.
Every last bit of money I had managed to set aside from my solo house cleaning business – intended not just for taxes, but also for my planned trips to Many Gods West in July and to Sweden in 2016 – vanished, unceremoniously, into the grasp of the tax authorities.
It hurt. A lot. And it triggered a rant.
I have long been outraged about the way the heaviest financial burdens in this country fall disproportionately on those who are least able to pay. I think one of the most depressing things about living in the US is that, contrary to all the rhetoric, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how responsible you are with your money. If you are poor – and wealth is measured only in dollars, mind you – then you are pretty much fucked sooner or later, no matter which way you turn. One misstep or misfortune and you risk falling into a bottomless pit with no safety net. This is one of the many reasons I support a universal basic income.
Ultimately, though, I’m not upset about the tax bill in and of itself. I don’t begrudge paying taxes to support the larger community. If we had a real social safety net in this country, and I could afford it, I’d gladly pay even more without complaint.
In spite of my frustration, I did my best to pay my tax bill with as much gratitude as I could muster. This gratitude is part of my spiritual practice: even in the face of struggle, I am learning to keep my focus on appreciating what I already have.
The real reason this hurt so much, though, and the reason I’m writing about it here, is much deeper.
The real reason is that I am driven by a vision. A vision of The Black Stone Hermitage as a subterranean monastic retreat for contemplatives of a darker persuasion. A place where my passions for tea, writing, dark ambient music, and dark fusion dance can work synergistically within the context of the devotional services I perform for the gods, the spirits, and my community. A place where I can live out the rest of my life as a full-time monastic, serving the divine through writing, ritual dance, shrine building, and other artistic and devotional projects. A place where other cave-dwelling introverts like me can retreat for sessions in the psychomanteum (incubation space), geomantic divinations, tea meditations, and rituals for Earth grief and mourning.
That is what I am here on this planet to bring forth. It is a vision I cherish. It is why this website exists. However, while I do the best I can to live like this right now, I still don’t have sufficient funds to support even a modest version of this vision, even after many years of struggling.
One of my biggest fears is that I will die or fall ill before I have a chance to fulfill this sacred vision of monastic service with which I have been entrusted. My savings account – however meager – is one of the things that has helped me keep alive the hope that I will get there someday. With every financial setback, and every additional year that passes in which I’m working diligently but still barely making ends meet, that dream recedes further and further into the future. Yet I must keep hope alive somehow. If I don’t, I know that I will sink back into the gaping maw of depression.
Of course this tax bill is only a setback. I’ve certainly survived much worse. But I feel like I’ve spent the past seven years of my life trying to bootstrap myself up off the floor, in the face of one obstacle after another. I’m ready for an uninterrupted streak of good fortune. Under conditions like this, every bit of hope I can cling to is precious, and it hurts a lot to have a source of hope taken from me.
In the midst of that hurt, I cried aloud: “Throw me a bone, please, gods…?”
Humbled, saddened, and demoralised, I decided to pray to Skaði for assistance. I asked Her if She would please find a way for me to go to Many Gods West, so that I could build Her the meditative shrine room I had already planned, and for which I had already been given the go-ahead by the Many Gods West staff.
A few days later, my friend David told me, out of the blue, that he had “a surprise” for me, and would give it to me the next time we went grocery shopping together.
Now, David and I have been dear friends for more than four years. We go grocery shopping together every two weeks, chatting animatedly much of the time. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate shopping. I never imagined a day would come where I look forward to grocery shopping. But that’s exactly what happened. When you’re in wonderful company, even the most dreaded chores can become truly enjoyable.
I originally met David – who, endearingly, describes himself as “kind of a sentimental nerd” – through the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, where he serves as Head Cheerleader. ‘Tis quite an appropriate title for him, I might add. His enthusiasm for tea is infectious indeed. Our friendship was forged and took root, in fact, within the context of our shared love of tea. So the first thing that occurred to me is that he might have a special sheng pu-erh tea that he picked up for a song, or a lapsang souchong he knew I hadn’t tried, and wanted to surprise me with a sample.
Instead, as soon as we finished our shopping, he handed me a small envelope. I looked at him quizzically, then opened it, wide-eyed.
Inside the envelope was a cheque made out to me. In an amount large enough to cover my entire tax bill, and thereby replenish my drained savings account completely.
“I would like to put you on retainer,” he said, with a warm smile. He’d be needing me to do some work for him in a few months, he explained, but wanted to pay me in advance for this work. He’d read my rant about my tax bill on Facebook, it turned out, and he wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t miss my opportunity to go to Many Gods West just because I had to pay taxes.
I was stunned into silence. Quickly followed, of course, by a flood of grateful, joyful tears.
(What else would I do? After all, there’s no way to stop the legendary Swanson Family Waterworks. Everyone on my mother’s side of the family cries at emotionally loaded moments – joyful, sorrowful, and everything in between.)
Deeply moved by David’s kind-heartedness, I didn’t stop crying for most of the day. As I told David, I knew immediately that Skaði had answered my prayer. I would now be able to go to the conference. The moment I returned home, I knelt in front of Skaði’s shrine and thanked Her over and over, tears of appreciation and awe flowing profusely.
Turns out I do have a safety net. It is woven through my thriving relationships – relationships with my community, the land, the gods and spirits, and of course my beloved friends.
Heartfelt thanks and much love to David. And Hail Skaði!