Layoff with a positive spin

They told me I was a great asset and it was nothing to do with me or my work, and then they laid me off. It was a big blow to my self-esteem. It’s real hard to view something as impersonal when it concerns yourself.  

I was also scared. It was the 1990s and jobs weren’t growing on trees. I was getting older—mid-forties—and I felt undesirable in the workplace compared to younger people. On top of that, writing and graphic design were becoming computerized fast, and I wasn’t. Training to get up to date was expensive, not to mention the cost of a computer.

I had trouble getting up the motivation and gumption to look for work. I hid at home. I was depressed.

So I was drawing unemployment and floundering…and then I casually picked up a brochure one day in the unemployment office about the State of California’s retraining program. I perked up as I read. Miraculously I qualified because I was, as I found out, what they called a displaced worker. I had done writing and graphic design for years but all manually, and I was displaced by growing computer publications technology. It was racing along and leaving me in the dust.

I completed the course at a state-approved school that had great instructors, and leading-edge computers for students to use. I got $5,000 worth of training free. I could go in outside of class hours and use any computer that was free and practice with exercise books I bought.  

After graduating I started over in my career, at the bottom because I was new, not at graphic design but at computer graphic design. Soon I found a better job and then a better one yet. And pretty soon I was doing well, working in biotechnology communications with a good salary, to-die-for benefits, stock options, and great work environment. 

What did I learn? That what seems like an end can be a new beginning.  

My beautiful spirit name

Wachiwi, dancing girl

Many spirit names, especially Native American, are lovely poetic word pictures. Hiawassee means meadow; Suwanee, echo; Hehewuti, warrior mother. My spirit name is Patsy. Go ahead, laugh.

Plain old Patsy was my childhood name, before I grew up and became Pat: professional, successful, competent, yadda yadda. I reclaimed Patsy recently, inspired during a powerful presentation about Native American spirit names at a monthly women’s meeting called Moon Circle, itself a poetic word picture. When I was a child in Silicon Valley—long, long ago when it was still called Santa Clara Valley and covered with orchards and fields of mustard grass and cross-crossed by a tangle of natural creeks—I was Patsy, petite and fair-skinned, with Scandinavian-white hair. I spent my days wandering the valley with my dog Smokie, following creeks, climbing trees, walking atop fences, foot-racing unknown kids who were wandering like me. I ran faster than any boy. When I came upon a playground with a tetherball, I played whoever was there and usually won. If it was empty I played by myself, just to see how fast I could wrap the ball around the pole. I ran up long steep hills, alone except for Smokie, to see how fast and far I could go.

I wandered from glory to glory. I wasn’t afraid of the dark or anything else. I didn’t feel alone because the Valley was always with me.

Over the years my name got whittled down to Pat. At my jobs there were often other Pats and Patsys, and to minimize confusion we would designate who would be called what. I was a pushover and usually agreed to be the Pat. In my thirties, my professional success-focused businesswoman stage, a female colleague told me Patsy was a frivolous name, no one would take me seriously, I would never be a vice president. From then on I always used Pat.

Patsy had disappeared, buried under promotions to management, long hours at work, and endless meetings. (But never vice president.)

Now I’m retired and Patsy’s spirit has reawakened in me, after a long sleep. In my memories and my heart of hearts, I’m still that creek follower, dog lover, tree climber, fence walker, tetherball warrior, swift runner, valley wanderer, playground haunter.  

Patsy is derived from Patricia, which means noble and is rooted in ruling class families of ancient Rome. To me, Patsy is the wild, untamed version of Patricia. Works for me. This time I’m keeping it forever, throughout the eternity of the Great Spirit.

Snail Mail Wail

In my neighborhood we get each other’s mail regularly. This also happens to a friend who lives in a posh suburb in the hills, on a street with only two houses. They get each other’s mail. Go figure.

When I get someone else’s mail, if it’s close by I’ll hand deliver it to their mailbox. I’m afraid to just leave it in our box for the carrier to redeliver the next day. Who knows where it will end up next? On a jet to New Zealand? On a pack mule going to a remote Indian reservation in Arizona?

Mail carriers are delivering precious cargo vital to our lives. They carry birthday cards with money to beloved grandchildren, letters to elderly far-away loved ones who don’t do email, sympathy cards, get-well cards, pride-filled graduation and new-baby announcements, Medicare payments, bank statements, DMV vehicle registration bills…all manner of crucial communications. 

It’s a noble mission. But I see carriers walking around with their cell phones, laughing and talking while absent-mindedly stuffing mail into the wrong boxes. It is distracted delivering! The other day our neighbor Glen, a couple of houses away, went to put some outgoing mail in his mailbox for the carrier. It was important quarterly reporting to the State of California for his construction business.  The carrier happened to be right there delivering his mail, so he handed his outgoing to her. Later that afternoon I picked up our mail and Glen’s was in our box. The carrier had stuck it there instead of taking it to the post office. Such a short walk. You’d think she could have kept it straight for two houses. I don’t think I’ll let her pick our lemons anymore.  

And once my sister-in-law, who lives right up the street from us, found a get well card I had mailed to my second cousin—or tried to—in her bushes. It must have been hastily stuffed into the carrier’s satchel and fallen out.

Some of us have complained to the postal service but we get replacement carriers who do the same things as the ones they replaced. It’s all been another life lesson for me, on the recurring issue of acceptance. Okay, sigh. I’ll just keep returning mail to its proper owners as best I can, and hope to God that our neighbors do the same for us. We just have to have each other’s backs.  


I’d love to go to New Zealand, but not my mail.