Sweet Sisterhood Grows Even Sweeter on Wednesdays

Woo hoo for cake and each other.

(Today’s post is dedicated with graditude and admiration to my dear gal pals — Joanne, Lisa, and Elizabeth.)

 

If only we owned enough couture to be part of the “Lipstick Jungle.” And sorry, we’re far too prudish to boast the boudoir high jinks of “Sex and the City.” 

What we are is the “Woo Hoo Wednesday Club.” 

We are four women of color _ two of us married, and two of us single. Two of us are in our 40s, one is in her 30s, and one is in her 50s. Once merely friendly acquaintances, we are now true bosom buddies, drawn tighter into sisterhood by circumstances beyond our control. Each of us was laid off from our jobs. From the same newspaper. On the same day. 

Layoffs are nothing new in Silicon Valley, where life changes in a nanosecond. One year a company is soaring stratospherically; the next it’s plummeting in freefall off the NASDAQ. 

Yet for three of us, this was a brand new experience. All of a sudden a pink slip was not a girly, silk undergarment we donned to feel pretty, but something ugly and demeaning thrust upon us that we were forced to wear. 

Joanne is a photographer. Elizabeth is a features designer. Lisa and I are writers. For years at our former company, that is what we were. Now, together, we hope to find what we can be next. 

For anyone who has been summarily dismissed from a job they not only loved but were damn good at, there is shock, there is anger, there is sorrow, and there is more than plenty of fear. 

We lugged all that to the table for the first time on a Wednesday afternoon, as we sat together at a cushy, red banquette over morsels of dim sum and icy glasses of Thai basil lemonade. 

It wasn’t long before something surprising happened: As we began devouring dumplings, we also began filling up on collective strength.  It was lunch — girl power-style. 

Lisa dubbed it “Woo Hoo Wednesday” for how cathartic and empowering it proved to be. After all, nobody really knows what you’re going through except someone else going through it, too.

We griped about the exorbitant costs of footing our own healthcare insurance now. We feared we’d fall behind on our mortgage payments. We commiserated about how strange it was to wake up each day, and not have anywhere to be. 

As the weeks went by, we shared more “Woo Hoo” lunches of spicy, sizzling Korean rice bowls and hot barley tea. And little by little, the walls all tumbled down. As Elizabeth and I struggled with post-traumatic layoff syndrome, Lisa offered strength and wisdom, having survived this ordeal twice before. “You will be fine,” she kept repeating. “You will be better than you were before.” 

Elizabeth bit her lip, finally admitting she still hadn’t gathered the courage to tell her Mom she had lost her job. When we asked why, the tears began. 

 “Do you think she’ll worry?” I asked. “Do you think somehow she will be disappointed in you?” 

Yes, Elizabeth nodded, tears streaming down her cheeks. 

It wasn’t so many decades ago that a pink slip carried a shameful stigma. But in this day and age, it has sadly become all too commonplace and acceptable. Talk about a strange sense of progress. 

“She won’t think that,” I assured Elizabeth. “She’s your Mom and she would want to comfort you the way only a mother can. You need to tell her.” 

Elizabeth dried her tears, and promised she would. 

As the weeks progressed, we, ladies who lunch, slowly but surely propped up one another even more. Elizabeth created my food blog logo. In exchange, I footed two of her “Woo Hoo” lunch tabs. Joanne snapped my photo for my promotional materials. In return, I edited her biography for her wedding photography Web site

Lisa sent us information about every employment site she came across. Joanne patiently explained the process of getting a business license to those of us who might need one someday. When Joanne mulled whether to build storage cabinets in her studio, Elizabeth offered up the number of her trusty handyman. And all four of us got jazzed to take a basic Web site design class together. 

We celebrated tiny milestones, clinking glasses of fizzy soda in tribute when Joanne was hired to photograph two weddings, when Lisa told us about a university grant-writing job she was considering, and when Elizabeth got calls back for interviews for design jobs. 

The anger and grief are gone, replaced by laughter and optimism. Once, we were made to feel as if we weren’t good enough. But we have proven just what a talented, resourceful, and caring bunch we are. 

We may not know exactly what the future holds for us yet. But we have taken the first steps toward the next chapter of our lives. And we have each other to thank for that. We may have lost something the day our former company showed us the door. But we found something greater in each other. 

When we lost our jobs, consoling friends and family members told us to consider this time off a gift. We thought them crazy. Now, we realize how right they were. 

We remember when a leisurely lunch like this was unfathomable at our former newspaper, with our then-deadline-filled, pressure-percolating days. 

No, this isn’t how we used to spend our Wednesday afternoons at all. And someday, when we are all deeply entrenched in our careers once again, we may no longer have time regularly for these long lunches that have nourished us in ways we never would have imagined. 

For now, though, we can’t think of a more wonderful way to spend our Wednesdays. 

Woo hoo. Indeed.

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Date: Wednesday, 3. December 2008 5:16
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23 comments

  1. 1

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story of true friendship. I have always thought that as one gets older, it gets harder making new (good) friends. Apparently, that is not entirely true :)

    Tomorrow will always be a better day!

  2. 2

    What a great, inspiring story of food and fellowship and friendship. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. 3

    I love the way you share your experiences in a thoughtful, loving, and amusing way. My husband was unemployed for 6 years, and it was my “Asian Chicks” lunch group (which has included non-Asians and men upon occasion) that helped me through the depression and apprehension. Food and laughter is the best medicine for any and all ills. I still miss your weekly articles, Carolyn, but this blog is a nice substitute. The San Jose Merc on our doorstep now is so thin now that even my cat would be able to retrieve it (if she was capable of being trained to do so).

  4. 4

    Amen! Loved this post and I have recently become a statistic of the unemployed and am feeling a little uncertain, but I am truly looking forward to my next adventure. =)

    Thanks!

  5. 5

    The expression “when a door closes, a window opens” (or something like that) really is true. I have a feeling that your old paper is a sad place to be right now, whereas your new situations — though in flux — are filled with hope and optimism. Enjoy your freedom, and each other, as you walk this new path.

  6. 6

    Many years ago my grandma sent me a sign she had typed up in Spanish (with the help of a Spanish-speaking friend) and I think it’s most appropriate that you hear and heed these words of wisdom now. To this day, I have t he sign hanging at home and look up at it all the time. :)

    Excuse the grammar errors…this is from memory:
    Si tu te caes en un monton de mierda, se levantaras hueliendo como una rosa.

    Translation (more or less):
    If you fall in a pile of sh*t, you’ll get back up smelling like a rose.

    Carolyn, you are going to be a stronger person for having this life-changing experience. You fell in a SJMN pile. Now’s when you get up all rosy-smelling. :)

  7. 7

    Add me to the legions who really miss reading you in the Merc., Carolyn — but I’m so glad to have found you just now through the Single Guy’s blog, and happy to hear that you have clearly survived the dismissal trauma and are doing fine. Here’s to good friends and Woo Hoo Wednesdays! Bookmarked you are, and back I shall be to catch up with your archives. Take care!

  8. 8

    After the dot com bust when I found myself jobless I feared for my sanity. I ended up taking a job that wasn’t in a field I had ever considered, but it was a paycheck. Luckily the job to “tide me over” until I found the perfect fit has turned into something I absolutely love and something I’m good at. I’ve been in this field six years now.
    As a longtime reader of the Mercury News it’s hard to explain to folks why I don’t just get my news online. I’m still stuck to that comfort of turning the big pages…and giving my cat a place to curl up. I do miss my favorite hockey writer (though I love David and his blog, that was a great concession) and I miss my old food section…it’s just not the same without some of you :)

  9. 9

    Carolyn,

    very timely and poignant post.

    Even though you don’t have newspaper deadlines to meet, do you find that you are under more pressure now on your own than before?

  10. 10

    Thank you all for your warm, supportive words of wisdom. It’s you guys who make my day, each and every day.

    Claudette: I absolutely howled with laughter over the “Asian Chicks” lunch group. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that! It sounds very woo-hoo-ish (my new adjective).

    Marni: Your grandma is one smart cookie, and a very witty one, too. I think my buddies, Joanne, Lisa, and Elizabeth, will chuckle at the thought of an “SJMN pile,” too. ;)

    Mrs. L: Don’t despair about your favorite hockey writer. Victor Chi is still writing, though, not about hockey. If you click on the “Grubtrotters” link under the “Fave Links” box on the right-side of this page, you will find Victor now doing a blog with his wife, Jenny.

    Nate: In answer to your question, I would probably say that I do feel more pressure now that I am on my own. But let me explain; for the most part, it is totally self-imposed pressure. As a freelance writer now, I am my own boss, so I have more control over what I write and how often I work, and for whom. But I set certain goals for myself that I hope to achieve, and so I am working a lot right now.

    Sometimes I think I work harder now than when I was fully employed. When you freelance, there’s little down time. You are either working on an assignment or pitching publications to get more assignments. And when you work from home, there’s always the temptation to be on the computer at all hours. My husband has gone so far as to make rules that I can’t be on the computer after dinner or on weekends. But of course, I have broken those rules many times already. ;)

    I thank each of you for sharing your own experiences here. It gives me hope that the future will indeed be bright. I’m sure your words also echo strongly with everyone who has recently lost a job or is hanging on to one ever precariously.

  11. 11

    You sound like the kids who grew up from Ann Brashares’ “Sisterhood of the travelling pants”. The girls were of the same age though, but one can accept the few real life changes. Wishing you lots of luck, and hope the magic of the travelling pants follow you. Great pic – Foodgawker brought me here!

  12. 12

    What a great story! I wish I had such a group when I got laid off from a dot.com. On the one hand I took some time to enjoy my children, on the other I was so worried about being out of my field for too long. In the end it all turned out well. My former employer is my best client (I work as a contractor now) and along the way I found time to start my little cooking blog, which has changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly. Sending happy thoughts your way.

  13. 13

    Carolyn,

    Writing rewriting and again, it all looks trite. It’s oddly inspiring and confusing and frightening and empowering to be moving on your own path, esp. after being laid off. Thanks for the great post.

    Carrie

  14. 14

    Is there any room for a guy who was laid off from the same paper on the same day as the rest of you ladies? I’m kind of jealous.

  15. 15

    Scooter, my buddy (and when did you get THAT name — heh heh), there is always room for you. We will save you a place of honor on the cushy, red banquette.

  16. 16

    My only concern is that you think that tiny dessert can be split four ways?!

  17. 17

    Carolyn

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story of friendship and cameraraderie. You are such an incredible writer. You deserve all that is good in your career and life!

  18. 18

    Your friends at the SJMN pile miss you terribly….. it’s a sad, lonely place.

    SkinnyGirl

  19. 19

    what a heartwarming and encouraging story for anyone to read ! It’s truly difficult to forge true friendships nowadays – your wednesday lunches are very enviable :)

  20. 20

    Hi Food Gal…you’ve either got a best-selling book or a film or both. Just blew me away. Awesome.

  21. 21

    Hi, this is Victor Chi’s wife, Jenny. Vic is also employed full-time now as senior editor of http://www.sportsfanlive.com, a startup sports site run for the former head of Yahoo Sports. It was just named best new website and best sports site in Businessweek’s best of the web poll. They launched in August and are about to roll out a new platform that includes a bunch of sports blogs.

  22. 22

    Hi I just wanted to compliment you on your photography. Keep up the good photo’s.

  23. 23

    Great post! I am such a believer (and know from personal experience) the power of looking at an unexpected change as a catalyst for something new, something better. The power of a supportive community can never be understated. Having people you can trust, people who understand, and more importantly folks you can band together with is the essence of being successful.

    Love the photos in the post and the stories!

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