Tax returns not a measure of happiness or enrichment

A couple of days ago, I got a txt from the IRD. Which is tantamount to being summoned to the Principal’s office.

My first reaction was to ignore it, because denial is still my default MO. But having been adulting for a few years now, maturity prevailed and I read it.

Sent on the 21st, it said if I didn’t submit my tax return by the 20th (yes, the previous day), I would be liable for penalties.

And so began a frenzied exchange between my [new] accountant, myself, and some automated IRD system, ending in a flurry of Excel activity, frantic data entry and way too many thoughts about money.

Most people who I know who are in the business of creativity are not natural accountants/salespeople/business planners.

Stereotypically, we are touchy-feely, intuitive types, often introverted, more comfortable contemplating the merits of Mazarine blue over Cyan than keeping track of vehicle mileage.

But the reality of doing my tax return always brings me back down to capitalistic earth.

I was actively discouraged from pursuing art in high school, because it would ‘never pay the bills’. And this is true.

500 ceramic poppies made by the children of St Joseph’s school New Plymouth for centenary ANZAC Day 2015

I raise my hand and 100% admit there would be no way I could support our family on my paltry pottery earnings. I am in the privileged position of not being our family’s main income-earner, which allows me to do what I do. And as long as I’ve been selling my work, I’ve been questioning the morality of choosing a pathway so financially inefficient.

On paper, our family would be better off if I stacked shelves.

But therein lies the problem with accounting. Or maybe it’s a broader issue with capitalism.

Our bank balance would be bigger if I weren’t a potter, but I don’t think our family would be better off.

My job as a potter provides me, and our family, with a string of intangible benefits that enrich our lives, but can’t be assigned a dollar value:

• It is the cornerstone of maintaining my mental health (as a life-long Major Depressive and recovering alcoholic, this is no mean feat);

• Flexible work hours meant I’ve been an active participant in the boys’ school lives (classroom help, teaching clay, field trips, committee meetings), and been able to maintain home life while Aaron has been off-shore (sometimes for weeks) with work;

• Because I work from home, I’m always there if the boys are off sick, and during school holidays (we have no family locally);

• As the boys get older, they experience all aspects of how my business is run (including seeing Mum stress over late tax-returns). Joseph (13) regularly works for me packing, cleaning, doing paperwork, and performing simple clay tasks.

Joseph at work, 2019

There is no column to account for any of these things on my IR3. But undoubtedly, they contribute massively to my personal sense of happiness and well-being, and to the happiness and well-being of my family.

I’ll probably be to-ing and fro-ing about the ethics of choosing a creative job until the day I die. Or we win lotto. But I feel very grateful for the luxury of having such a choice to make.

Annual income isn’t the only measure of wealth. Nonetheless, I’d better hurry up and pay those taxes.

Throw Pots Not People is a fortnightly column about life, creativity and the world we live in, written by Taranaki artist Marita Green.You can follow Marita and her creations on Instagram.