The Empty Office
For over twenty years I sat at my desk, facing south. To my right were the huge windows that overlooked Seven Gables Park. To my left was the computer desk with my two Apple monitors. Behind me were my bookcases. In front of me was my wall of diplomas and certificates. Twenty years, a long time.
I remember where we were planning this office suite. The thirteen offices, the clerical bullpen, the conference room, the waiting room, the kitchen. It was new and shiny in 1996. I remember the smell of carpeting and fresh paint. I remember bringing in a guitar so I could practice during free time. But there was no free time. I remember the early partner meetings. My push to bring technology to our practice. I designed the first logo, built the first website, designed the brochures, programmed the voicemail, starting the podcast, and so it went. It was exciting to combine technology with a psychiatric practice. Cutting edge in the day.
Over 20 years sitting with patients. Some happy, some sad, some angry, some confused and psychotic. Most patients would choose the couch, a position where I could see them and the peaceful park beyond.
Over twenty years of picking up voicemail, filling prescriptions, returning phone calls. Over twenty years of eating at my desk so I wouldn’t have to stay later than my already late hours. Over twenty years of taking a quick 5-minute nap at my desk. Over twenty years of thinking about other people’s problems.
My office was my second home. It was filled with me. My bookcases full of knowledge and tchotkes, my desk drawers containing everything from pens to silverware. My life condensed. My place.
A few weeks before I closed my private practice I started to move things out. I did this carefully, as I didn’t want my patients to see my office in a transition state. I didn’t want to stress them more. I took out big things that weren’t vital. The fake ficus, my twin Apple monitors, the old 1930s console radio tucked in the corner. I left the rest for this week.
I returned to the office over the weekend. Down came the diplomas. They are my prized possessions as they represent my life’s work. More things to throw out, give away. Then came the drawer sorting. Garbage, things once important, useful items, important items. Each drawer, each bookcase shelf, each space sorted. Exhausting.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Working until I could bear no more before returning home. Tuesday I came for the last time. Four more moving boxes loaded into the Flex. I returned to my office, the furniture was where it always was. My desk, my leather chair, the couch, the bookcases.
I had a little time and I pulled out my laptop. The office was quiet and I thought I could work on this year’s Christmas newsletter. I started to type but I felt like I didn’t belong, I was in someone else’s space. The office was no longer mine. Dear reader, this feeling was internal to me. The staff was happy to see me, no one was pushing me out of my office. The space was still mine to use for the day.
But it was no longer my space. In a matter of days my office had gone from my second home to a blank, generic space. The feeling was indescribable, strange and awkward. The feeling only partially created by the dearth of stuff. My soul had made the transition. I had given up the space.
I looked around the room for one last time, closed the lid on my laptop, put on my hat and coat, prepared to leave. Just as I was about to leave I ran into Ralph. He will be taking over my space. He walked in and looked around. Soon my office would have his diplomas and certificates on the wall. The bookcases will have his books and tchotchke. He will sit in the big leather chair. His patients will lounge on the brown leather couch. The life of the office will go on with a new master. It won’t notice the difference, it will be business as usual.
Despite careful pruning, I still have multiple boxes in my garage. When it gets warmer I’ll sort through them, discard and give away more. My house is already too full and I don’t have plans of opening up another private practice. Some items will find new homes. A print will be hung in my home study, A floor lamp will have a spot in my family room, extra “cheater” glasses will be put to use, and likely lost like so many pairs before them.
My work will continue, in part-time mode. Today and tomorrow I’ll work from my basement studio doing telepsychiatry. Friday, I’ll drive to Rockford. Life goes on.
I spent yesterday cleaning out my home study closet. Full to the brim with mostly useless garbage tossed in over the last 25 years. Once done I’ll be able to organize my study. It will now be even more important to me to have a dedicated place for creation and reflection.
For everything, there is a season. I move into my new seasons with my eyes open. Prepared, but still unaware of what the future holds. Determined to continue to be productive. Determined to allow myself to, at times, be unproductive. Forward, ever forward, one foot in front of the next. Each day anew.