Archive for January 19, 2017

Shredding The Past

picture of filesI have a brand new shredder, one of those machines designed to eat up confidential papers so their contents are never leaked. Why, you might ask, would a retired older woman need such a machine? The answer lies in the ruling that says Canadian health care practitioners must preserve their clinical records for ten years after the last meeting with the patient or client. I practiced for thirty years. This is not the first time I’ve shredded.

My new shredder with its black plastic body stands in the corner of my cluttered study. To operate, I hold a pile of paper in its slit of a mouth, then watch it chew up the paper and spit out unreadable bits.

When I sit down to shred, one part of me feels relieved to render these files into unreadable curls. I no longer need to safeguard the file’s privacy. My duty to preserve the file in case the client or the law requires it in future is ended. It’s time to let go all responsibility for this relationship and the resulting written record.

That’s one part of my reaction to shredding. There is, however, another part of me. Each of these pages represents the time I spent following a session, sitting alone in my office, thinking and feeling about our work together as I searched inwardly for the next step in our work together, then sought to write it down.

Ten years later, I end up wondering where Geraldine is now: and whether Doug really did sustain his newfound self-esteem. Warm memories, troubled memories: some I feel really good about and some leave me feeling I should have done better. Hundreds of scenes come rushing back: a revivication of my past as a therapist.

Generally, it’s agreed that nobody who’s an avid reader can be efficient about cleaning out and organizing a library. Such literary types keep finding a book they loved or always meant to read. It takes them forever to dust and replace the books.

It’s something like that with my old client notes. I suppose someone else might just look at the date of our session, conclude that it was ten years or more ago and shred the whole thing. As for me? I’m like that book lover. I hold the file, stare at its cardboard cover, get lost in the memory of the client whose story it contains and end up gazing off into the misty distance, remembering our time together. Shredding becomes an act of honouring the time we spent together a decade or more ago. It’s the paper, not the memory of the client, that gets shredded.

All this shredding then get dumped into a huge see-through plastic bag. This year I managed to fill a few of these recycling containers: tangible evidence of my 30 years of work.

The New Years Day Party

colorful-fireworks_1232-2075As a reader of these blog posts on aging, you know how hard I’ve worked at making friends in my new city. I tend to be on the shy side, and if I didn’t push myself, I’d be one lonely old woman. I’ve had to be more outgoing than comes naturally, and I’ve given lots of thought to just how friendships develop. One of the factors I’ve realized is that friendships develop over time. Somehow, you have to spend considerable time together. It’s necessary to discover common interests and find reasons for getting together again and again. I’ve thrown myself into volunteer jobs, exercise classes and other gatherings where I’ll get to know people and let them get to know me.

During the Christmas season, I got a bright idea. I’d throw a party for the tenants in my building, the ones I know and would like to know better. A New Years Day party sounded just right. With that in mind, I wrote a stack of invitations and, over the next weeks, managed to put them in the hands of or under the doors of those I wished to invite. Step one was done. My newest attempt at making friends was underway.

I started planning. I’d need to rent party supplies like wine glasses, since I recently broke one and now have a total of two wine glasses in my downsized cupboards. (Before de-cluttering, downsizing and selling the Toronto house, I had enough glasses of every type to entertain my whole apartment building. Alas, my current tiny kitchen has space for only basic necessities.)

pexels-photo-26447Catering. Yes, I’d need finger food. Since I was holding my party on New Years Day, none of the services would be around to deliver trays of tasty mouthfuls. I’d have to make the food myself. I reviewed my repertoire of favourite cocktail fare. They all required time under the broiler, a warming oven to keep them hot until serving and somebody to pass them. Reality began to set in. I didn’t have the energy to make food, broil it the day of the party and then serve it. My energy just doesn’t rise to such occasions these days. And so I decided that a cheese tray with seedless green grapes was a really elegant offering. Yes! That was perfect. I’d buy a great collection of cheeses and encourage people to help themselves.

The rental wine glasses arrived a few days before the party. The cheeses were in the refrigerator and the fancy napkins and tablecloth were ready for the big event. That’s when I got really nervous. I couldn’t back off now. I was committed. The invitations were out and fellow tenants were greeting me in the halls with assurances that they were looking forward to the party.

I’d been so upbeat and positive about the party. Now, for no reason I could figure, I was sorry I’d ever put the whole dang thing in motion. I didn’t want to do it. Waves of shyness and uncertainty were washing over me, instead of the upbeat sense of fun that started the party plan. I wanted to call the whole thing off. But, of course, I couldn’t.

At last the day arrived and – at the appointed time – the guests arrived. I got busy welcoming them and, in my role as hostess, soon forgot my nervousness. As for the guests, they seemed really happy about the opportunity to meet and greet their neighbours. At least, they kept telling me what a great idea it was to have the party. As for me, I was actually having a really good time. And so, I chalk up one more step in making a place for myself in my new home.

Planning and carrying out the party also drove home once again the truth about nervousness and anxiety. They’re almost never about the present moment. They’re always about anticipating negative fantasies in the future.