We have a bizarre income tax system in this country.
It’s not torturous enough that you’re required to make a full and truthful accounting of your cash flow. You’re also obliged to speculate on the amount of income tax owed using mind-numbing schedules and those so-called user friendly tax guides which are so bewildering that they could just as well be written in Swahili.     
My wife and I hire a professional tax guy to prepare our income tax returns. Doing our own taxes would be akin to performing do-it-yourself brain surgery.
The relationship many folks have with their tax preparers is similar to that which they might have with their dentist: you don’t really want to deal with this person, but you have come to the realization that it’s a necessity. The main difference is that a dentist won’t coerce you into assisting with your own root canal, then instruct you to write a check that’s based on the amount of pain you inflicted upon yourself.     
My wife and I always do our best to truthfully report all of our income and expenses. Some years ago, we discovered I had gained a new category of income called miscellaneous.     
It wasn’t that I raked in big bucks by selling gobs of miscellany. This new income category came about due to me getting paid for some freelance writing. I was pleased to learn I finally had an enterprise that didn’t turn in a net operating loss. This stood in sharp contrast to our farming operation.    
You’re probably thinking, “It must be nice to just type a few words and rake in all those fat paychecks.” Here’s what I have to say regarding that notion: Ha!     
Trying to make a living as a freelance writer is like trying to make money by printing $1 bills with a crayon. Very few writers make a living as a wordsmith unless your last name happens to be King or Rowling.
Our tax guy called me a few days after we turned our financial stuff over to him.
“Where are your expenses?” he asked.
I told him all of our farm expenses were scattered about somewhere in the hodgepodge of papers we had given him.
“No, I mean your writing expenses. Without any writing expenses, you might have to pay tax.”     
Yikes. He’d said pay tax, words that can instantly transform even the meekest, mildest citizen into a tax-deduction demon.     
After hours of adrenaline-driven, superhuman effort, I met with our tax guy to discuss my situation.
“Here you go,” I proclaimed proudly as I plopped a pile of expenses onto his desk. “This ought to wipe out every last ounce of profit from my little writing venture.”    
He sifted through the papers.
“It says here that you purchased some software. How does the video game Attack of the Zombie Space Vampires pertain to writing?”     
“Um … it’s just that I sometimes get stuck on a particular word or phrase and blasting some zombie space vampires helps me get things moving.”     
“I see. I think we can claim that as the purchase of a motivational video. Now, what about all of these expenses from the supermarket?”     
“That’s mostly for Skittles and Twinkies. And diet pop and potato chips.”     
He leaned back in his swivel chair and regarded me dubiously.
“Explain how any of that relates to your writing.”     
“It’s all pretty straightforward. I’ve found that I can concentrate better if I have something to munch on. Since my wife usually isn’t around when I write, I naturally eat mostly Skittles and Twinkies. Then I drink some diet pop to cancel out all of those sugar calories. But the pop has caffeine in it, which causes me to lose fluids, so I have to eat some salty potato chips to keep my electrolytes in balance.”     
“Good Lord,” he thundered. “You can’t claim all of that. Those are nothing more than ordinary living expenses.”    
“I see. So, keeping yourself alive for the purpose of writing isn’t deductible?”     
“Not according to our current tax codes. You can only claim those expenses that are directly related to your writing business. Now, what’s with all these receipts from the Chinese restaurant?”   
“Fortune cookies often give me inspiration for my writing. A good example would be, ‘You must count your wealth in friends, not money.’”     
“Hmm. OK, I guess we can claim that as a deduction seeing as how that you’ve now used it in a column.”     
“In that case, here’s something that’s going to be a huge write-off.”     
“What in thunderation is this?”     
“The dentist’s bill for my root canal.”
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.