Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden
Wave Hill, Riverdale in the Bronx

Thursday, October 16, 2014

You Are Free to Roam

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I love how when I follow my intuition, it leads me to the discovery of something that I didn't know was there. On a whim I took a workshop at Kripalu called Word Collage by Lara Tupper. I cut words and phrases from various magazines and arranged them into this poem.

One night with you and i'll never be the same.

Why stop at one night?

Interesting how a change in light can illuminate your entire spirit.

If you have a house, the scenery never changes.

But if you have a boat, it changes constantly.

Make a clean sweep.

Light can change everything.

What am I, invisible?

This was the effort of a lifetime!

I wasn't born to carpool.

A new life.

A taste of truth.

May we all find inspiration in the majesty of the sea and the beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Strolling at leisure.

Keeping things fresh.

Weaving the colors of life.

Sweet liberty.

Seduction.

Life's a little more peaceful.

You are free to roam.

Risk taking is a family trait.

Gratitude is a Holy Prayer

Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself. ~ The Bhagavad Gita

Thank you is a prayer that doesn't get said enough. In this moment, I sit wrapped in a warm, fleece blanket at Kripalu feeling grateful for being able to look at my life with gratitude. Thank you is the only prayer that I need to get me through this next period of transition and uncertainty.

In this moment, I am deeply grateful to have the love of a 23 year friendship. This thank you glows like a bright white light in my heart. When we first met, it was "love" at first sight. Our eyes locked and a contract was signed in that very moment. In his eyes, my subconscious read, "God has sent me. I will hold you up until you are strong enough. Don't worry. I accept you as you are. You are safe."

This love has held me up through unhealthy relationships. Through harassment issues at work. Through years of therapy and trauma counseling and my best friend's passing. Through Mom's dementia diagnosis and yearly hospitalizations with nursing home stints for rehab. It took me through the discomfort of changing ostomy bags and giving insulin injections when I was terrified of doing it wrong and causing harm. This love took me through years of wondering how much longer I could continue to sacrifice my youth. Wow! As I sit here, I am deeply connected to how hard it has been. Really hard. And what I see is that God sent me those loving hands to cradle the heaviest of my burdens. There is no way I would have survived without them. Through it all we laughed at the messes I got myself into. Laughed during the times I would not allow myself to cry for fear of releasing a flood that would drown me. I am so grateful that his love and friendship has taken me to this point where I am strong enough to stand powerfully and hold myself up. Thank you K.H. Thank you.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Silence

Silence is a war crime. ~ Author Unknown

Silence is a war crime. I remember seeing this quote on Facebook sometime last year. What resonated with me at the time was my interpretation that keeping quiet about all the injustices I saw unfolding around me diminished my power as a woman. So I chose to speak up and share my own vulnerable experiences in the hopes that others could learn from them and be inspired in their own lives. My voice deserves to be heard, I thought. People need to be confronted with the truth whether they want to hear it or not. But as I sit here processing my experiences in Malawi, what I realize is that for a woman, silence can be the most powerful tool that she possesses. Because there is a fine line between using your voice powerfully and with discernment and causing harm to yourself and others by using your voice to deliver the right message at the wrong time or to the wrong audience. In many ways, this is the anxiety filled tightrope that I personally walk and navigate every day. Not just in a foreign country where i'm unfamiliar with the rules or cultural norms. But at home in the U.S. as well. When to speak up and when to be silent.

There were subtle things that my eyes witnessed while in Malawi. Things I heard. Things I had a physical reaction to. Even things that I instinctively knew to be true but had to pretend otherwise. I had to pretend that I didn't see...pretend that I didn't know. I went to Malawi to lead writing workshops with girls who had been orphaned and women living in villages struggling to care for their families while navigating the realities of their roles as women. And in spite of all that I witnessed, I chose to stay focused on the goal. And trust me when I tell you that it was a choice. An anonymous supporter of mine wrote this note to me this morning. "Volunteering in a country where the role of women as it relates to how they are treated by men is an especially hard thing for a domestic violence survivor to do." Yes, it was. I am so proud of myself for doing my best.

On my 2nd day in Malawi, I was a witness and participant in a surprising scene that played out at the market. A young man pointed to me and told our guide he wanted a picture with me. When the guide relays the message, I say i'll do it for a Fanta. After all, the women selling beans had just asked me to buy each of them a Fanta in exchange for taking their picture. They laugh when I ask him to buy me a Fanta. Then I upped the price to something like $10,000 kwatcha. One of my travel companions joined in on the fun and said, "You can have her for $200,000 kwatcha." To me it was all a game. Because I knew he couldn't "have me" for any price. Is this the way men pick out their women in Malawi? The whole market was watching. He points to me again and says, "I want you." "Are you going? says our guide." By then I had already started towards him. I was curious how this game would play out. I motioned for him to come closer. I would not walk all the way to him. He walked a little, I met him the rest of the way. "What's your name?" I asked extending my hand. "If i'm going to take a picture with you, I might as well know your name." Later that night, as I sat alone in my room, I wondered. Was it really a game? Or was it the Malawi equivalent of a catcall that every NYC woman experiences? It was only my second day in Malawi and I didn't really want to know. I preferred to think of it as a game knowing I lived elsewhere.

A month later, I wonder how I would handle that situation now. What I do know is that when God made women, we must have been given something extra. Because every woman I know, no matter how many times we fall down or are forcibly pushed down, we always stand up. And sometimes that means making light of a situation to diffuse any tension building. In the faces of the Malawian women I saw resilience, grace, beauty, and dignity in spite of the challenging circumstances. As in the Haitian culture and every culture around the world, women are the pillars of society and I was honored to be present with these powerful women in Malawi.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Generosity Without Borders

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe


What struck me the most about being in Malawi is the spirit of generosity that I experienced in so many. There were teachers starting outreach programs, kids looking out for each other, artists giving their time to offer an inspirational talk to the kids and business women starting pre-school programs. And on the day that some of the teachers participated in their training to become writing group facilitators, the kids received the gift of brand new shoes and socks thanks to the tireless efforts of Fatima Paulo. How wonderful it was to be in Malawi to witness all of this love. It all started with the vision of one Malawian woman, Marie DaSilva, who started Jacaranda at the site of her family home. Thank God there are people in the world who have the capacity not only to care about others, but to be of service where the greatest need exists, regardless of the resources available. It's been seven months since my mom's passing and what strikes me so powerfully is that through the choices I am making to live life out loud, fully connected to my true nature, I am becoming so much like her.

The Jacaranda School for Orphans needs resources to continue to exist. If you have a few dollars to share, please consider making a donation on their website at http://www.jacarandafoundation.org/content/donate.

You also have the option to sponsor one or more orphans.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Irrational Fear and the Blessings After

"So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite & never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience— And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it." ~ Unknown Author

The day before I was to fly to Malawi I broke out in a hive rash. Red itchy blotches all over my body. I went to the ER and was given a high dose of benadryl and reassured it was nothing serious. I was relieved and disappointed. My fears had already taken over and on a subconscious level I was looking for an excuse not to go. The next morning the rash was worse. I called the organizer and told her I was afraid I was sick. Rather than saying it was OK that I should take care of myself and stay home, she started asking me some questions. At one point I heard her say irrational fear. Oh! Something clicked. I'm making myself sick because i'm afraid. Ok I said. Let me get to the airport. I don't know if i'll get on the plane but at least let me get to the airport.

I just arrived back home in the US. As I sit here, I can't help but reflect on this experience. Had I not gotten on that plane, here are the treasures I would have missed.

1) There was a documentary filmmaker hiding inside me. I've filmed many short videos.

2) I was part of a team that trained 23 teachers. I felt like a proud mom after observing my group give their first workshop with students.

3) I have led many writing workshops with both teachers and students and now feel confident about my abilities.

My life has been forever changed. I have been deeply touched and inspired by all I have met. In Malawi, I have discovered and experienced things that will take me some time to process. My eyes have seen joy amidst a devastating set of circumstances. My presence inspired and encouraged many of the girls who wanted me to stay longer. I helped a young man discover the treasure hidden inside himself. None of this would have been possible without your support and encouragement. Thank you for believing in me!

Here's a random assortment of pictures to keep you occupied until I can organize pics with stories. We've actually published a few on the VoiceFlame blog, so start there.

Newly Trained Writing Group Facilitators at Jacaranda

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I felt like a proud mom watching the teachers complete the final part of their training towards becoming a certified writing group facilitator in the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) Method developed by Pat Schneider. Part one of the training involved an introduction to the AWA method. While Mary and John facilitated the training, I wrote notes on the blackboard and Marty assisted teachers who wanted additional assistance.

* A writer is one who writes

* We all have a strong, unique voice

* Absolutely no criticism of first draft work. Positive feedback only.

* Treat all writing as fiction

The plan for this training came after many discussions around the dinner table. As I watched the teachers’ blank, expressionless faces, I wondered if they were absorbing it all. When we announced that two days later they would lead practice workshops of their own, there was no visible reaction. When Mary asked if I had anything to add to what was already discussed, I shared my own experience as a newly trained facilitator. I told them I remembered the sense of information overload and overwhelming fear that I could never lead a workshop of my own. But that my confidence significantly improved after doing a practice workshop and here I am in Malawi doing workshops with surprisingly large groups of kids. I hoped the teachers would have the same experience.


When Thursday arrived, I sat with the group I was scheduled to observe during part two of the training. “Don’t worry,” I said to Joseph, Esther, Mavuto, Linda, McNevers, Macroza and Raphael. “I have complete faith in all of you.” As I participated in each facilitator’s practice workshop, I felt a warmth start in my heart, creep to the corners of my lips and finally to my eyes. I tried not to let them see the notes I was writing next to each of their names. “I am proud of him. He was nervous in the beginning but pushed through and now he seems confident.” “Oh. I love the unique way in which she started her workshop!” “I especially enjoy his energy & enthusiasm and the way he engaged the group.” At the end, I had a strong feeling that they would pass part three of the training with flying colors and they did.


As of Friday, September 19, 2014, we have 23 AWA Certified Writing Group Facilitators at the Jacaranda School for Orphans. The teachers are now in the process of forming a committee to discuss incorporating their newly acquired training in the classroom, leading the writing clubs once the rest of the VoiceFlame team leaves Malawi and ways to continue their own writing. In fact, Mary just shared a few Dekaaz poems written by some of the newly trained writing facilitators:


These hands

creative

thoughts come out clearly

by Joseph Khofi


You know

that you know

you do not know that

By McNevers Blanzio


Take this

challenging

task with great caution

By Maxwell Kasonga


Today

I feel the

cool breeze of the world

By Elinah Paul


This post was originally published on VoiceFlame's blog where you can read stories from other members of our team.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mulibwanji. How are you?

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

Ndilibwino Kayainu. I’m fine and how are you? Before I left the United States, I challenged myself to learn Chichewa and get a video taken of me having a basic conversation with a Malawian native. As a Haitian-American with a few family members who don’t speak English, I related to the frustration of not being able to communicate and wanted to make an effort to learn the language.

There is something incredibly powerful about speaking with people in their own language. Every time I approach a group of Malawians whose faces appear serious, a volcano of smiles erupts as soon as I say Mulibwanji and extend my hand. A few times on this trip, I have even said Mulibwanji as I pass the kids on the street and the look of shock mixed in with a big smile is priceless and always makes me smile inside. I did not anticipate, however, how challenging it would be for me to form the sounds in Chichewa. Words or expressions such as Ndilibwino (How are you?) and Mzungu (foreigner) pose a bit of a challenge for me because they begin with consonants that are not normally next to each other in English. But little by little, I’m learning. Because the experience of stumbling over Chichewa words, mispronouncing them and remembering how to say basic things has helped me relate to the literacy challenges here in Malawi.

Many people speak Chichewa at home and only learn English when they go to private school. Students in the local public schools learn in Chichewa and progress to English language instruction later on in their education. But since many girls are trained to get married, have children and take care of the family, many do not have the opportunity to receive an education. Or if they do have an opportunity, there are financial challenges at home that forces them to drop out. So there are many women in the villages who don’t speak, read or write in English.

Fortunately, James Khaduya, former primary school headmaster and currently the Voice Flame Manager for Writing Workshops started a literacy program at the public library to help women in the surrounding villages learn to speak, read and write in English. Mary, Marty, Chikondi and I had the pleasure of participating in one of their classes.

When Gladys, the first participant arrived, we all took turns introducing ourselves and encouraging her to greet us in English. She seemed shy and later on as she struggled with phrases like, “Everyday I cook Nsima, or yesterday I walked to work, it occurred to me that I have also been experiencing the same shyness, discomfort and frustration while trying to learn Chichewa. In fact, I have already felt quite frustrated pronouncing the word Ndilibwino which, in Chichewa means I’m fine. I shared this with Gladys during a break in her literacy lesson. I said it in English and Mr. Kaduya translated into Chichewa. I couldn’t understand what she said in response, but she smiled and sat up straighter. I felt that she related to me and I hoped she understood that we were in the same boat. Afterwards, she seemed to be more willing to try, even if she made mistakes. I didn’t get a chance to ask her, but I’m pretty sure she understood that struggling to read, write and speak a new language had nothing to do with income, family background or anything other than the fact that this is what every student experiences. We all go through similar struggles, fears and moments of embarrassment.

This post was originally published on VoiceFlame's blog where you can read stories from other members of our team.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My First Writing Workshop in Malawi

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe


This was my experience leading the first writers club session for students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi.

I held two separate writing workshops on Thursday for primary and secondary school learners. It was a challenging as well as exciting experience since the workshops came after an event thanking the American Ambassador of Malawi for her support of Jacaranda. The first workshop was supposed to start at 2:30pm. When I left the festivities at 2:20pm to set up my classroom, the children were still dancing and enjoying themselves. When no one showed up at 2:35pm, I asked a few students standing nearby to help me round up their classmates. That’s when I discovered that the room assignment had changed. They were all waiting for me in another room because the one I was in couldn’t fit everyone. My heart began to race. Exactly how many children would be there?

When I arrived at the new location, I was stunned to find it filled from corner to corner with students. Some sat on the floor. Others crammed together on benches. I must admit I felt a bit of panic. I had previously only led one workshop for a circle of 10 girls in the US before I came to Malawi. And this would be the first workshop I lead on my own in Malawi. There must have been at least 150 learners in that room. With assistance from other team members and Jacaranda school administration (John Fellani and James Kaduya), we quickly handed out writing supplies and got everyone started on writing about music and dancing to capitalize on the excitement they were already experiencing. As I walked up and down the aisle to answer questions and assist those that wanted help, I noticed that my heart was no longer racing. Rather than focusing on the number of children in the room, I chose to engage one-on-one as the opportunity arose. While some enjoy the thrill of large groups, I absolutely loved making eye contact with one child and encouraging them to keep writing.

We heard amazing stories describing dance as a form of exercise, music as a way to experience different places around the world while bringing people together and learned about traditional Malawian artists who inspired them. The children latched on to the idea that they had the freedom to write what they wanted. One child seemed a bit stuck and I said this was the time for him to freely express himself. So if he didn’t want to write about music or dancing, he could write about something else. He seemed surprised that he was given such liberty and ended up writing a wonderful piece about his love for art, music and writing. In fact, he shared that he had already written nine stories.

The children loved the experience of standing in front of the room and reading their pieces out loud. As one boy about 12 years old walked slowly to the front, he had his eyes down the whole time. But once I shared how much I loved the tone of his story and the way he demonstrated all the ways in which music made him feel, he seemed to stand a bit straighter. Before coming to Malawi, I had often imagined myself standing in front of the room, writing on the blackboard and walking down the aisles of the classroom, but was nervous about how it would all work out. After the workshop was over, I asked one of the students if she signed up for the writing club. She said she already participated in other clubs, but liked this one better. That and the smile on the children’s faces as they left was all the feedback I needed. I was so proud of myself for being flexible, pushing past my initial panic and being able to problem solve on the spot. I will always treasure the experience of our team launching the first writing club for learners at the Jacaranda School for Orphans.

This is an excert of a post about the launch of the writing clubs at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. It was originally published on VoiceFlame's blog where you can read the full post as well as stories from other members of our team.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Do this for me and...

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I have lived in this apartment for about five years. I believe my neighbors at the end of the hall moved in three years ago. In that entire time, I have only exchanged a few words with them. Tonight as I walked to the elevator, the husband is there. He says hi. I say hi. Nothing unusual there. "Are you going down to do the laundry?" he asks. "Yes" I say. "I've been procrastinating but pushed myself to do at least two loads." We ride the elevator down. Walk past the garbage room. When we got to the laundry room, I thought he would continue to exit the building. But he followed me inside and engaged me in conversation. My guard went up. But I was open. We chatted about the changes needed in the building. I found myself saying I was sick of New York. That I wanted a change. I found myself sharing about my caregiver experience. That Mom had passed away six months ago. He asked if I had a boyfriend. I said I had dated but never someone worth marrying. "It takes a certain kind of man to be with someone caring for her mother. But rather than meeting men who could see what that said about my character, I met the ones who gave me a hard time." Then he said something interesting. You will meet someone because now you know how to pick the ones that are worth it. I won't quote him because I was so stunned by his words. He said God often says, "Do this for me and..." But we never know what doing what God wants will get us. We just have to have faith that our lives will be enriched. This is exactly what I needed to hear tonight. As I prepare to volunteer for three weeks in Malawi, Africa to lead writing workshops for girls and women, God's message is loud and clear. "Do this for me and..."

The VoiceFlame team will blog about our experiences. Follow our cross cultural journey to Malawi here and share this post with your network.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Busting Me Loose

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe
I actually wrote this close to New Year's Eve. But something makes me want to share it here before I leave for Malawi

I don't know what it is that people see when i'm in a state of flow, laughing loud and talking with passion. Sometimes, my hands reach for warmth before I remember i'm not supposed to let my palms touch another's skin. My eyes twinkle and that wild, crazy laugh must be distinctive for often when I turn into the wind, I catch green cat eyes faced in my direction. I don't understand what it is they see, so I flash a smile then look away only to find those same pair of questioning eyes fixed on me. "Yeah that's right," I say to myself. "I'm in the middle of busting me loose."

A shot of Patron and I admit, I am burnt out from living inauthentically. Hours later, the salty sea comes in waves between gulps of air and I feel like i'm drowning. Bust me loose, I say to the mirror. Please, bust me loose! I cannot keep living a life of this or that but rather that and that and a little bit of that.

I've been collecting and planting seeds and growing trees with my questions and the discovery of the answers right there inside and sometimes, the sacred willows at Bay Pines lean in and whisper my name. The name no one knows and even I don't know all the letters, but the sound. I know the sound it makes when the willows say it. I recognize it when I tilt my head and raise just the left eyebrow.

Sometimes, I wonder if the woman I dreamt about busting loose has a shocking mass of kinky grey curls and maybe i'll grow my hair out just to see. Sometimes, I hear her laugh on those occasions I forget the Tonton Macoutes don't live in the Bronx, or do they, in the nightmares leftover from the ancestors and their children.

All the costume fittings, the prison terms that keep changing, the sentences that were unjustifiably true give me the chance to say, why not!? I'll have a shot. It will be my last drink of the year and in two days i'll decide if i'll need another, because busting me loose is the loveliest drink i'll ever get to taste and how fitting that the seams should feel too tight for my chest, the words racing to the edge of the cliff and 2014 is the year, I fear, they'll fly on their own and i'll have no choice but to buy a ticket to ride along with them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Inspiration for Healing House

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~ Siddartha Guatama Buddha

I have a foggy vision of manifesting something called Healing House. A place women come to heal. We write the story of our lives. We learn about healthy living. We support each other. We connect with our authentic selves. As I glance at my bookshelf, my eyes land on one of Mom's books, New Choices in Natural Healing. For as long as I can remember, she was always reading books, magazines and newsletters about living a healthy lifestyle. About alternative health. I am an experiential kind of learner. There is something here for me, I think.

What's on my mind is that I want to receive a scholarship to go somewhere to learn about living a lifestyle where it is the earth that offers healing. I would learn about food and vegetarian cooking. I would meditate with a Sangha of seekers. I would learn about the healing properties of plants, herbs & oils. I would write. I would facilitate writing workshops that incorporate mindfulness of all the six senses. I would walk in the woods, talk to the sky. It is crystal clear that I cannot stay here in NYC. I am too distracted. Expend too much energy blocking out the darkness all around me. I need light. I need to go somewhere I can channel my energy on having a healthy mind, body and spirit. Not just in theory. But in practice.

I know intuitively that I am this house of healing. I must build it. I must build Healing House from the inside. So I need some inspiration. Does this post spark any ideas? If anything at all comes to you, no matter how unrelated or trivial it may seem, please share. I would love to hear from you. Your comments might lead me to explore something I would have never considered. Thanks.

Friday, August 1, 2014

In This Moment

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

The life I lived before this moment and the experiences I clung to when I felt I had nothing to look forward to, got me to this moment. As I sit at Lenox Lounge waiting to read a piece by "Jean Nkwanda" featured in the VoiceFlame anthology, I pause to grieve for the woman I was. To honor her for her courage and resilience. I guess that's why Jean's words moved me so much when I chose her piece for the open mic reading at OPEN Expression in Harlem. Rather than reading my own work and in honor of my volunteer trip to help Malawian girls and women discover the strength of their voices through writing, I chose to bless the space with a Malawian voice.
Jean Nkwanda writes, "My blessings are that I have a happy family, and I have patience because the counsellers taught me that "good things come to people who are patient." They emphasized that "courage is contagious," so I should always be courageous, and "there is no room for cowards in heaven," so I should never be a coward because cowards die twice before their death.
As I sit in this moment, I know intuitively that the people who walked this road with me have moved on to chart their own course, as I am charting mine. I pause to honor who I am now. Because this moment is all I have to take me to wherever i'm going next. She is who matters now. The one who is stepping out on faith. On nothing more than faith.

Visit the VoiceFlame website to buy the anthology featuring the rest of Jean Nkwanda's piece and that of other Malawian and North American voices featured in it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

I Just Need To Flee

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

This is a picture of me taken at my cousin's wedding a few days ago. While I had a good time and enjoyed gathering for a happy occasion, I was aware of a sense of a changing of the guard. The matriarch of my family is gone. My young cousins are off to college, starting their careers, getting married and building their lives. The question that had been on my mind for months, bubbled to the surface. What is here for me now? What now?

I thought I needed some time to heal and recover from the mental and emotional exhaustion of being a witness to my mom's frailty and the inevitable end of her life. So I left a great paying job with benefits and stability. I thought I needed a vacation to make up for all the years of vacations I never got to take. So I went to Mexico. To Greece. I thought I needed to finally pursue a writing and teaching life. So I trained as a creative writing workshop facilitator. But here's what I realized this morning. I just need to flee and this volunteer trip to help orphaned girls and village women discover their voices is about me having the courage to leave everything behind that is known and comfortable to look for an unknown life, in an unknown location. I am going to Malawi, Africa for me and through that others get to benefit from my talents. Others get to benefit from my presence. From my survivor's spirit. I am going away for three weeks to another continent as a practice run.
The road stretches out before me. I know I will encounter obstacles. The path will sometimes appear circuitous, or worse, perilous. I have fears. But still, I go. ~ The Way of the Traveler

It's not the road that terrifies me. It's the knowledge that I have chosen it wholeheartedly and will take it to wherever it goes no matter what. Because walking it is what I have been itching to do for as long as I can remember and I know I will not return to where I started.

I have been fundraising to take advantage of what feels like a life-changing opportunity. I have been vulnerable, risk-taking, courageous, resourceful, creative, honest, urgent, humble, grateful and committed. I'm not sure what else is needed in order for me to be able to raise the balance of $3363 by the 1st week in August. I don't know how it will happen. But I will keep trying until it works out.

If you are inspired by this journey and want to support me, here are some ideas.

Click here to make a donation of any amount.


If you're in NYC, click to sign-up for a creative writing workshop i'm doing as a fundraiser on 8/03 and share it with friends, family, colleagues and on social media networks. This is an exploration of the stories on the NYC Subway.


Please share this fundraising link with friends, family, colleagues and on social media networks. http://www.gofundme.com/2014-Malawi-Volunteer-PP

Please share this blog post with friends, family, colleagues and on social media networks.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for your support.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Am a Woman. I Have a Voice.

I get to live an authentic, joyful life in between my tears of grief. ~ Patricia Philippe

I got an astrology reading in December and was told that writing, teaching and international travel was all over my chart. I was encouraged to teach writing abroad in the Summer and Fall. When I heard that, I laughed. It didn't seem likely. I was helping my sister take care of Mom. I had a full-time job. No money. But every action I have taken since December is what got me here now. I quit my job after Mom passed. I signed up for a training to be a creative writing workshop facilitator. I took chances. Lived life in between my tears.

Was it a coincidence that my teacher was Mary Tuchscherer, founder and CEO of VoiceFlame, a non-profit organization that is changing the world through writing and education, one voice at a time? Was it a coincidence that the astrologer encouraged me to follow whatever bread crumbs presented themselves? I don't think so. In September, I will volunteer with VoiceFlame to hold writing workshops with village women, train local teachers to hold classes that engage students in writing their stories and lead writing workshops for girls at the Jacaranda Foundation and School in Malawi, Africa. I have already raised $1740 and still need to raise $4260 by 8/01 in order to go.

You can help sponsor me by making a tax-deductible donation to VoiceFlame via PayPal. Please write SCHOLARSHIP for Patricia Philippe in the purpose field. You can also donate directly to me through my GoFundMe page.


Your contribution helps girls and women in Malawi, Africa discover they have a strong, unique voice that deserves to be heard. In return, you will also receive exclusive live updates, thoughts and reflections before, during and after the trip. Thanks so much for your support!

Friday, June 13, 2014

From Mother to Daughter

1st draft 6/13/14 Copyright 2014 Patricia Philippe


Let there be light on this day of beginnings and endings and roads that wind through the hills of New Zealand and the dusty trails that cling to you.

Let there be peace between the past and the future and days that glow with dreams lived and chances taken and questions that don't really need answering.

Let there be hope for the hands that reach to you for understanding and compassion and new beginnings imagined but now realized and they pay it forward and you extend another hand in the moment it's needed.

Let the world be a mirror that holds all that you are today and who you'll become and the thousand miles you walked in the sahara desert becomes a chapter in a book tucked safely away on a shelf.

These are my blessings to you, my child. Today, tomorrow and everyday, for I am here right beside you.

I graduated today! I am officially an Amherst Writers and Artists Affiliate, certified to facilitate creative writing workshops using the AWA Method. I felt sad Mom could not be there, but her spirit gave me this first draft of a poem.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo Day 3: Fluid Identity

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I notice that lately I have been taking lots of cooking classes, which is not typical for me because I hate to cook. That is up until now.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to stumble upon a Mexican cooking class at Patio Mexica in Zihuatanejo. Monica, the owner, taught us how to make poblano chiles stuffed with fresh cheese, homemade tortillas from scratch, refried black beans, an appetizer called Sopes and habanero peppers stuffed with tuna salad.

The experience made me think about my identity as being fluid. Who I thought I was yesterday may not be who I am today. This is especially poignant as I consider that I am no longer a caregiver.

After Mom passed, I had the experience of trying to resume my old life, only to find that the things I enjoyed, even the circumstances I had been willing to tolerate had changed. I changed. The new experiences I am allowing myself to have, support me in the discovery of myself at this point in life.

Lesson: Be willing to look at myself and my life with fresh eyes.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo Day 1

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe


I'm in Mexico. My first trip out of the country for a few years. I used to travel abroad all the time, but once I began to notice my Mom's frailty, I didn't want to travel far. I was afraid she would die while I was away.

On this trip I opted for a smallish hotel in Ixtapa and today I did my favorite activity, walk on the beach and explore. Before my trip I read many hotel reviews that said the beach at my hotel was practically non-existent. And that's true, at least for those who want to sit on a lounge chair all day and bake in the sun.

But I'm an explorer by nature. I set off to see what I could find. Oh what a treat! I crossed a little bridge accessible by a rocky path. I hiked up my swim dress and waded across low tide to the other side where fishermen lay by their boats taking naps in the shade. I sat on the pier with a man selling shaved ice. I saw Mexican families and seaside restaurant shacks and kids laughing. I walked until I was tired, thrilled at realizing just how much I love my own company, something I couldn't say I felt just two years ago. I'm looking forward to many more days of exploration on this trip and in life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou and Me and Mom

"I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back." ~ Maya Angelou

Wow! Maya Angelou has passed. This hurts! I "met" Maya at age 23 while trying to make sense of my life. Over the years I got to know her through her many memoirs. A statement from her family says "She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace." In many ways, she inspired me to write vulnerably and made a significant mark in my life through her words. This is the kind of writer I hope to be. One who heals and transforms lives through her powerful words.

But my tears for Maya Angelou are also about the legacy of my mother. Maya Angelou died at 86. Mom died at 86. They were both inspiring, powerful and resourceful women.

Yesterday, I was standing at the corner of Dyckman and Broadway waiting to cross the street. I remembered that when I was in high school, my mom had made a deal with a local clothing store. My sister and I would go in and pick out a few outfits and apparently mom would pay for them at the end of the month. I vaguely remembered one time when I went in and was worried about the fact that I seemed to be taking clothes without paying. "Don't worry." said Mr. Diaz. "Your Mom is a good woman. She will pay for these later."

Many times since mom's death, when I reflect on my life and the sacrifices she made for me, my heart overflows with gratitude at her generosity in every way. She was a kind, peaceful and loving woman who was charitable and supported many organizations. As a teenager, I remember the $10 checks she wrote to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. In spite of not having enough in the typical sense, she gave from a life philosophy of abundance and resourcefulness. Thanks for investing all your time, talents and treasures in me Mom. You made me the woman I am today!

Lesson: Who I am being in the world today has the potential to impact another's life in ways I may never know. Throw something back.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

“Don't you find it odd," she continued, "that when you're a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you're older, somehow they act offended if you even try.” ~ ― Ethan Hawke, The Hottest State

When I was about 23, I applied for the Peace Corps. I knew I wanted to live a life of service abroad teaching English and in preparation volunteered as an English Conversation Partner and Grammar Tutor at the International Center in New York . But Bosnia was where they wanted to send me. Not only was I afraid, I couldn't leave Mom alone to care for Grandma.

As I watched the movie, I saw myself in the main character. I was overcome by tears thinking about my recent experience of applying for a Teach English in Spain program, only to learn I had to be under 35 years old.

In the movie, Walter Mitty had elaborate daydreams about the life he could be living. During those moments of being zoned out, he went somewhere. He was in the dream as if he was actually living it. After his second adventure to Afghanistan, the daydreams became less frequent. Walter became fully present and engaged in his life. The catalyst for change was the opportunity to find something important. His love interest and the famous photographer became advocates.

I can't get back the years of my life spent feeling invisible, being afraid or simply accepting my lot in life. My 20s are gone. My 30s are gone. But my 40s. Ahh my 40s. Whatever is left of them are all mine. Everything I have experienced until now has prepared me to jump off a cliff without a parachute. I have battle scars to prove it. There is no cushy safety net. No one is coming to rescue me. My life is 100% my responsibility and I have faith that I will land safely just like all the other times. Destination unknown.

Lesson: Stop dreaming. Start living. Today. On my own terms. In spite of the grief.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Middlescence

Life begins at forty. ~ Walter B. Pitkin

Middlescence. Oh! That's what it's called. At least that's the term that seems to have emerged in the late 60s to describe the middle-age period of life, a sometimes challenging life phase filled with readjustment. I was so busy taking care of Mom, I didn't realize that's what I had been experiencing.

I just started reading Painting the Walls Red. The Uninhibited Woman's Guide to a Fabulous Life After 40 by Judy Ford. In it, women of various ages and backgrounds share lessons learned during this messy, confusing and exciting time in their lives. Hormones gone wild, fluctuations in monthly menstruation cycles, joint pain, unexplained exhaustion and an overall feeling of not being happy but not knowing why, are some of the things that caught my attention in the first few pages of the book.

As I began skimming, I thought about the importance of having the right support at all phases of life. The first few of my caregiver years were pretty challenging. The word martyr comes to mind. I felt like I was doing it alone, was completely unprepared for the range of experiences and chose to suffer in silence rather than be vulnerable and ask for or accept support. As I face this new phase of life, I ask myself whether I have the right support. I know that unlike in the past, i'm open to receiving as well as giving it.

Do I have close women friends my age or older who I feel safe being vulnerable with? NO. When I do share that I feel like my youth is slipping away, do I feel understood? NO. In fact, people say I look so much younger. But it's not about my looks...at least that's not the main issue. It's about all the changes that I don't understand. Are there women my age or older in my current social circle that I can get to know better? OF COURSE! Am I excited about this period and all the possibilities? ABSOLUTELY! I am at the beginning of the book, but the title tells me all I need to know about this ride i'm on. Painting the Walls Red. Let's see what happens.

How about you? I would love to hear your stories. What are you doing? What support has helped you? What advice can you share with us here?

Lesson: Being in community with others at a similar life stage can be a source of mutual support.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What's Next?

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them. ~~Dalai Lama

For some time now, I have envisioned living a literary life where I spend my time writing, facilitating creative writing workshops, work as an Editor of a literary magazine and read books. Since 2010, I have been on a journey to find my creative voice and have been writing poetry, observational essays and blogging. In spite of my duties as a caregiver and having a full-time job as a healthcare marketer, I managed to push forward. When a friend started a literary magazine, I volunteered as Managing Editor. I participated in many writing communities, took many writing & poetry workshops, and even participated on a panel featuring Haitian Women Writers.

My writing journey has led to a great deal of healing in my own life, and I want to pay it forward by developing a variety of themed creative writing workshops that help others find their voice, heal, build confidence and discover their authentic selves. Now that i'm grieving the loss of mom and re-imagining a life without her, I might develop a workshop for former caregivers going through the grieving process. My personal philosophy has always been to take a few people with me as I climb, or as I heal, so here we go.

I have registered for a creative writing workshop facilitator training with the very well known Amherst Writers & Artists. They developed a method of facilitation that I was fortunate to benefit from in a supportive and nurturing environment with the Women of Color Writer's Workshop & Community in Brooklyn. The Amherst Method follows a simple philosophy. Every person is a writer, and every writer deserves a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft.

I'm off to Malibu for my first adventure! If anyone wishes to make a contribution of $25 or more to my training fund by 5/26, you will get a creative writing workshop from me in the Fall either in-person or via Skype/Google Hangout. Thanks!


Lesson: Now is the perfect time to explore and experiment with the things I always wanted to do. There is absolutely no excuse why I can't.