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Dark Night of the Soul
Today is March 1st and my first day off (other than a snow day) since tax season started. Tax season started on January 2nd and goes until April 17th due to the 15th being on the weekend. One hundred and six days. Today is day 59, a bit past the half-way point. Things are calmer. The introduction long past where we remind people of our locations, followed by the initial rush the weeks immediately before and after January 31st when the W-2s go out.
I’m in a lull. In a book, everything that went wrong in the first half has been sorted out. The character thinks they can accomplish everything. They got the tools, the relationships, and the skills. Things are beginning to look up.
Thing is, I know March 25th is coming fast. Why March 25? People start feeling the pressure of April – how did a quarter of the year go by already? – they ask. The final rush hits. More accurately builds. Every day more people show. Every single day. More and more and more.
My Dark Night of Soul for tax season begins on March 25, though despair doesn’t start taking huge bites until April 6. Bites from my sanity to which I will apply stitches the week following the end of tax season locked in my house with my to-be-read pile, my comfy chair, some blankets, and chocolate.
My tools? By April 8th overloaded, broken down. Printers and scanners giving their all for the final seven days with no hope of repair. My relationships? The procrastinators. People who owe heart-rending amounts; decisions on eating and heat have to be made. People who hate taxes. People who are looking over their tax documents for the first time. In all cases we will find essential stuff missing and have no time to get it. My skills? Overwhelmed, exhausted, I struggle – the final two days I start counting hours, eyeing the line which is only growing. No way am I going to satisfy everyone. No way am I going to be able to do what I consider the level of care required, a service level I offered with a smile just a few short weeks ago around March 1st. (Hint: If you get taxes done by professionals, or do them yourself but may need to call technical support, the next two weeks are the best time to complete the task.)
In Dark Night of Soul for writing, you take everything you had built up for your character and destroy it bit by bit, leap by leap. Flood them emotionally, physically; make the task – internal and external – impossible.
WRITING EXERCISE: Think about your life and a Dark Night of Soul point. The level should be the first book of a series, so leave room for things to be worse in future books. You don’t have to visit your darkest emotional moments; an external (outside focus) can work just as well. Stuff like raining on prom night in a rented outfit, a white shirt becoming see-through in the rain right before a job interview, or annual tax season exhaustion. List every step of the loss – friends, tools, skills.
If you were writing this scene for a comedy, what else would you take away? Spend no more than an hour on this, preferably during daylight, and then put away the paperwork, save the file, and go outside and enjoy the sun.
READING EXERCISE: For your present read-in-progress, record what the character has at the midpoint. What skills and relationships have they developed? What are they confident about. During the Dark Night of Soul times, how had each of the midpoint positives been undercut?
An example of a second book level, keeping up with the tax season theme, is when congress passes their tax bills right before going on Christmas break so corporate is still reprogramming things when the first people show up to get their taxes done, and then when Congress returns in the new year they pass a retro-active bill related to charity donations. Once congress completes their thing, the States finally pass their tax season bills in the middle of February so the tax professionals need to call people back into the office who thought their taxes were done to correct state issues. Those are bad years.
Book three level, the final book of the series, would be like the first three days of the year I opened an office I never been in. I didn’t know where anything was stored, the woman who I was told to contact with questions was in the hospital for the first two days of the season (hence me opening her office), overnight Microsoft had released a 90-part (I kid you not) update which took over 2 hours to load (and I couldn’t run our security procedures without it), and fifteen people waiting for the system to reboot including people with young children. I ate my packed LUNCH at 9 pm that night. I cried some when I got home – from relief, exhaustion, stress, need to sleep, need to get up early, I don’t know. And was back in the office at 6 am to take care of one couple who had to leave with their baby, but needed to go to work early the following day – now that day. The tools I had were broken, the relationships unavailable, and the knowledge not pertinent to the office I was in. Yes, I was successful enough I am still in the business. Yes, the next year the only office I opened was one I was intimately familiar with.
Give me the book one Dark Night of Soul level over the book three level any day.