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I love doing my taxes — for the memories

Receipts for deductible expenses and calendar entries for work trips make everyday moments, good and bad, come alive again.

Gathering up receipts from the Before Times reminds the author of life before lockdown.
Gathering up receipts from the Before Times reminds the author of life before lockdown.ALEX HALADA/AFP via Getty Images

As a novelist and freelance writer, I save receipts like it was my job. This means that around this time each year, with the April 15 tax-filing deadline in mind, I go on an archaeological dig, searching for receipts to calculate deductible expenses. I have a toddler’s sense of organization and jam all of my receipts into envelopes without sorting them, the same way my kids used to clean their rooms by pushing everything under the bed. I know it’s tax time when the lid of the antique secretary desk in the hall keeps falling open because it’s stuffed to overflowing.

My approach is to pull receipts out of the envelopes one by one, smoothing them out and sorting them into piles. The receipts from the post office are particularly satisfying, since each one is longer than a kite tail.

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But the most thrilling part of this excavation is my paper calendar — usually something to do with Impressionist art — on which I track my travel. I look up the trips I’ve taken to meet clients or editors, and then go back to add up business miles and make sure I’ve found the corresponding restaurant and hotel receipts.

What I love about this are the memories that spring up like mushroom clusters around a single event. Some of these memories are awful, like the time, decades ago, when I met with the snarky fiction editor at a certain magazine, my newborn baby in tow, and he said, “Well, I’d say you’re too old to be called promising anymore.” (I was 32.)

Other memories are more fun. Last January, for instance, I met regularly with a ghostwriting client at a coffee shop we started calling “The Crumb Cafe” because of all the previous diners’ crumbs that lined the huge cracks in the wooden farmhouse tables. Can you imagine going to such a place now?

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Other tax-provoked memories from this past year are dear to me, too, like the receipts from the last Broadway show and dinner I went to in New York City with one of my book editors. This was in the Before Times: before Broadway went dark, back when you could blissfully cram into a noisy, crowded New York City restaurant and shout your conversation over a meal.

Just as dear are the receipts from the writing retreat a friend and I took in San Francisco. She and I do annual retreats when we’re launching new book projects and need to escape the distractions of home. We found a cheap motel near the beach and wrote all day and most of every night, stopping our intensive work only for occasional walks and meals. This last retreat took place in February 2020. We’d heard news reports about a deadly virus in China but shrugged them off as too far away to worry about.

At a restaurant on our last night, the guy next to us got all squirrelly when my friend coughed. He pulled hand sanitizer out of his bag to squirt himself and the table.

“That’s one paranoid dude,” my friend whispered, and I laughed.

Holly Robinson is a novelist and ghostwriter. Follower her on Twitter @hollyrob1.