Chelle Summer

Finding Joy in Life

Michelle Rusk
IMG_0213.jpeg

My friend Bonnie taught me so much about not just sewing, but life, too. However, there’s a vision of her that saddens me and yet also is a reminder to me of the importance of how we live our lives. She shared much about her life which– like many of us– was littered with disappointments and losses. Her mother had disappeared at some point after Bonnie was married– mental illness taking over– and Bonnie was never able to find her again. Her daughter Sadie suffered some of the most extreme bipolar that I’ve been exposed to.

There were many other things, but I know those two haunted her and I have a vision of us sitting in her crafting room in the later evening hours, her smoking a cigarette, and her face filling with sadness as she shared stories about her life. I knew she was disappointed at much of how her life turned out, finding happiness in cutting and drying her lavender for potpourri, making quilts, devouring a new copy of Martha Stewart or a quilting magazine that had arrived in the mail that day. Or the show and tell she insisted we had when I would arrive for an evening of working on a project.

While he never said it, I also had the sense that my dad was disappointed with life, too. Quite honestly, I don’t really know what his goals and dreams were. My mom said once he wanted to leave her and take off for California and another time she told me that he was an enigma. He shared little, letting his pain simmer while he drank another beer and smoked another cigarette.

I get it. We get older and we question our decisions. Did we choose the right next chapter? The right next road? Did we miss an opportunity because we chose something over another? The routine of life can bog us down. The bills that force us to keep showing up for work rather than be the footloose and fancy free we believe would be more exciting. It’s easy to let sadness and anger boil over when we seemingly believe the grass is greener on the other side.

And that’s when it’s important that we reach back into our lives to find that time that filled us with hope, a time when we believed the world was our oyster and nothing (nothing!) would get in the way. When I feel down for whatever reason (I work at home– I am left alone with my thoughts much of the day– that isn’t always a good thing for someone who has been taught from my doctorate to dissect a lot), I reach back to that time in my life. I might play a song, bring back a memory. Just something that reminds me that I’m not where I want to be. And I can still get there.

Stay the course. The dreams are still alive. The joy is still there. Sometimes it gets lost and it’s up to us to uncover it. Never forget it’s always there waiting to be found again.

The Age Factor

Michelle Rusk
IMG_0117.jpeg

I was doing pretty good for a long time. I had felt my body change at some point in my thirties and then around forty and I made adapted and made changes, mostly in my diet. My ophthalmologist had warned me– checking my birthdate in my chart– that I would be needing reading glasses at some point.

I’ll be honest, it’s disappointing. I keep running– although run-walking some days and trying to be okay with that– because the chronic injuries that I have are all dog or surf related, not from too much running (translation: don’t let your dog run her head into your knee in the stairwell of your house). I swim in the afternoon partly for my mental health, but also because the water makes my body happy, especially my feet.

And the list of foods I can eat in small amounts is growing larger. There is hardly ever bread in the house– or chips. I have no self control and I know it so I don’t keep them tauntingly around.

Finally, a pair of Kate Spade reading glasses rests on the sewing table because sometimes I can’t see well enough to thread a needle. I can’t read the dates on coins anymore without help although the ophthalmologist says I still have great vision, especially for someone my age.

What’s hardest is that we don’t enjoy our youth, the days of eating whatever we wanted to without worry. Or how much we wanted to. Running without feeling any aches and pains is such a happy morning, not one I can take for granted anymore.

I’m not complaining, I’m still lucky that I had parents who passed on great genes to me. Neither one of them really “aged” until the last ten or so years of their lives. Yet, it’s a challenge to find that balance, that middle ground, of being okay that as things change, all is still well. Is it society? Or is it my own warped view of myself? Probably a little bit of both. Sometimes it just feels like I didn’t appreciate all that I was given until it was starting to seemingly fall apart.

Then I ask myself what I was doing all that time that it didn’t feel like I had appreciated it. And I am reminded that I was busy living my life. Just as I should be.

The Challenge to be Yourself

Michelle Rusk
IMG_9944.jpeg

The goals are high, the dreams are big. And yet I don’t believe I could do it any other way if I were going to be true to myself.

I realize that my life would have been easier professionally and personally if I had chosen to follow something more mainstream. However, when I looked at a future with a family and kids in the suburbs, and even life as a stay-at-home-mom, I knew I’d never be happy. I also saw that it wouldn’t be fair to the family I’d have. Families need to be nurtured and it takes time to do that. My time, I felt, needed to be spent birthing books and working in creatives realm that sometimes take time I might not have otherwise.

From the age of six, I knew I wanted to be a writer and that has shaped much of my trajectory. I see now how life kept me from certain things, like solid romantic relationships before I moved to New Mexico. When I was a high school student and then a college student, while I wanted a relationship on one level, I also saw how it would have easily complicated my life and kept me from moving west. I’d always wanted to live in Los Angeles and while I didn’t quite make it that far, Albuquerque is definitely my home now and LA my other home.

But choosing that road has meant I have sacrificed opportunties along the way. I’ve also put myself on the outside ring of relationships because of the distance. In this, I have also learned that no matter what road we choose, there are sacrifices. What has meant the most to me is not just being who I believe I’m supposed to be, but being more than presently I am.

Most of all, I’m being true to myself which is worth every road I have chosen.

Life and the Ocean

Michelle Rusk
IMG_9781.jpeg

I really hoped that on this LA trip that I would finally get to surf again. It’s been several years since my shoulder started to pop out (subluxation) and I’ve been scared in the water since the time it happened while I was paddling in the surf.

In the year since seeing an orthopedic who told me to go on with my life, that he wasn’t going to do surgery (not that I wanted surgery) because I would only lose range of motion, I’ve been doing exercises three times a week on a ball, hoping to strengthen my shoulder. After a dismal June gloom trip to LA in June, we decided we’d try one more time before soccer and school start again for Greg. The weather was perfect, the water comfortable, and I had lugged Orangey, my surfboard, down the hill from the parking lot to the beach.

Yet as I stood at the water’s edge I was scared. I knew I needed a day where the ocean looks like glass and I could paddle around without worry of getting tumbled around. However, I wasn’t going to get it. I thought I would swim a while and get my courage up. That lasted until I got tumbled around and– bam– the shoulder popped out.

Instead, I found myself standing at the water’s edge again, my arm popped back in, but sore, and knowing that it wouldn’t happen on this trip.

I started to ask myself what I’m so afraid of, why I chronically have dreams where I’m back in high school and late to class or can’t get my luggage packed on time to make an international flight– all signs, I’ve read, that I’m afraid to seize an opportunity. I have certain goals in my life that I want so badly to achieve and I’m constantly asking myself what’s holding me back from getting where I want to be.

The ocean is such a good metaphor for life. When I first started surfing ten years ago, I remember my fear of getting past the breaks in the ocean– in many ways right back where I am although for different reasons (the fear of my shoulder popping out). The breaks are the events in life, the ones that we have to traverse or plow through somehow.

As I write this I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that I’m constantly asking to move forward, to learn what I must learn to to move forward. And when I reflect back on the eight years since I first climbed onto a surfboard, I see what life taught me about moving forward as I navigated the end of a marriage, a divorce, and moving forward from all of it.

Now, when I’m not sure that I will ever surf again, I see that life is teaching me other lessons about continuing to forge forward, even in the face of the unknown. I don’t like them, yet I know that if I learn from them I will move forward, onto what’s next for my life.

Life is too short to not pay attention to the messages the ocean gives us.

The loss of something, the open door of something greater

Michelle Rusk
IMG_5095.jpeg

Some years ago– not long after I had returned to Albuquerque after my short time in Chicago post divorce– I had a conversation with one of the priests at my church. I asked him about something he had said in one of his homilies, that sometimes God asks us to give up something for something greater.

I explained that in my divorce, I had given up the house in Albuquerque (we had a second home in my hometown in the Chicago area so that’s where I moved to) which also meant I gave up the swimming pool. I knew one day I would have a pool again, but I hated not having the instance access to the water that brought me so much peace and happiness.

When I had the opportunity to return, I told Fr. Anthony, I knew I wouldn’t give up the pool again.

So how could God ask me to give up the pool again? I asked him.

He thought for a moment and then asked me, “What if God asked you to give up your pool for, say, the ocean?”

What he meant was that when we are asked to give something up, it means that there is something greater for us out there.

I know, as I write this, that many people are in pain and doubting me. If something were to happen to me, I would doubt this statement, too.

At first.

But I have learned that when I reflect back on the road there is always something greater for us when we’ve been asked to give something up. The key is that we choose to make the most of our lives here on this earth, to learn as much as we can, and to be more than we presently are. Traveling that road isn’t an easy one, however, it’s the most rewarding one.

We must be willing to give up something for an unknown behind a door we haven’t opened. And believe. And trust. And know that when we reflect back on the road, we’ll not just understand it, but be grateful for it.

What do you say?

Michelle Rusk
IMG_8613.jpeg

When my sister died– and it was over twenty-five years ago when there was much more stigma surrounding suicide than there is now– I remember thinking how could she end her life, believing that she valued and cherished life much more than I did. And that also meant people often didn’t know what to say to me.

But there is another time that leaves people speechless– after a suicide attempt.

What do we say to someone who has attempted life? Life is the whole of everything we do and believe and when someone tries to end it, we know it goes against everything we’ve been taught about preserving it.

In the years that I trained people in suicide prevention and in the experiences I’ve had working with suicidal people/attempters, I’ve learned that it’s an opportunity to be there for someone, a time not to speak, but to allow them to speak. Suicidal people are looking for a way to express their pain and when they don’t find it, they might attempt to end their lives.

They don’t need to hear from us how wonderful their lives are and how great they are. They are trying to reconcile feelings inside themselves that we might not have any idea are there.

We have a tendency to want them to stand in a sunny place with us. The spot where they are standing is stormy and they don’t want to move from it until they have an opportunity to express the pain they feel, the road that led them to the attempt, and how much they hurt. It’s like the clouds in the sky continuing to hover until they’ve had a chance to drop moisture on the earth. Expressing the bad allows us to see the good again.

It’s a relief for them to express their pain and sometimes enough for them to move forward. Others might need more help in the vein of a therapist or someone to walk the road for them as they try to find a way forward. There might be other circumstances around the attempt that they need to cope with as well. No matter the depth of their needs, there is a place for all of us to be there for them to some extent.

Ultimately, I think of the founder of the field of suicidology, Edwin Shneidman, who said that it came down to two questions: “Where do you hurt?” and “How can I help?”

Resting in Prayer

Michelle Rusk
IMG_8619.jpeg

I will be the first to admit that I live a fairly hurried life, much to my own choice. However, what many people don’t realize is that I pray twice a day and it’s during that time– especially during my second prayer– that not only do I rest, but so do my requests for my life.

I have written before that my first prayer takes place on my run with Lilly around 5:00 am every day. That time is set aside mostly to say thank you for everything that happened the previous day and throw out any requests as well. It also helps the run go faster by keeping my thoughts centered.

Then after the dogs have been fed, but before my shower, I sit with a lit candle for five minutes and that prayer is devoted to throwing out my requests. In the colder months, I do this at my desk, however, in the summer, I let my feet rest after my workout on the top step of the swimming pool.

Not only are my feet resting in the cold water, but so are my thoughts, my requests, my hopes. And I am getting a rest before I venture into the rest of my day.

I’m not perfect at prayer– I will be the first to admit that I am easily distractible– but it’s a consistent effort on my part to rest and let go of what who and what I want to be. Plus those five minutes allow me to center myself for the day ahead. Resting in prayer helps me recharge and reminds me what’s important and not get caught up in drama or negative thoughts.

I am more productive– and happier– because I take the time for this rest.

The Fun House Mirror

Michelle Rusk
IMG_8465.jpeg

A friend asked me recently what I enjoyed sewing the most and I thought for a minute and told her it’s the swimsuits. There is a dichotomy though because it’s actually really hard for me to post photos of myself in a bikini. I learned a long time ago that how everyone sees me is not how I see myself. Each time I look in the mirror, my mirror is a fun house mirror. Somehow somewhere along the way, everything became distorted.

Some days it looks really good, other days, it’s really hard. This isn’t something new in my life– I skipped wearing bikinis between about age 8 and age 26 because I didn’t believe I looked good enough to wear them. But I also have come to understand that my distortion comes somewhat from the media but mostly because when I lack control in other aspects of my life, what I believe I can control is how I look.

If I’m having a bad day, if I’m tired, or if I’m irritated that my professional life isn’t progressing where I’d like it to be, Isomehow let the control seep into how I look. Knowing where it comes from hasn’t made it dissolve from my life, but it has allowed me to at least understand it which– for me– is the first step in figuring out how to let it go.

But during this time that I’ve been able to understand this for myself, I’ve also started working more closely with women to make custom clothing and I’ve begun to also understand how much we all have some aspect of ourselves we are uncomfortable with and want to cover up, particularly as we age. While I know what parts of my body I struggle with, when women reveal to me what they don’t like about their own, I realize then how we all have a fun house mirror of ourselves.

I don’t have answers, I’m not proposing any here, but I do believe that somewhere inside us we all have the ability to let go of that distortion. The question is how we get there. I am hopeful that in time I’ll be able to do that for myself and perhaps help others do the same.

And maybe it’s yet another part of Chelle Summer, teaching me that it’s more than making clothes, but another step in helping others go forward in their life journeys as I go forward in my own.

A Time of Reflection

Michelle Rusk
IMG_6497.jpeg

Sometimes when I think back on years past, it’s hard to believe how much has happened.

Last year this time I was recovering from having my uterus removed. While I dealt with anesthesia complications for several months, what’s more amazing is to see how much I’ve accomplished since then, especially regarding my sewing.

I can admit now– I didn’t then because I was trying to push through it– that I really struggled getting my sewing projects done. More than anything, I was holding myself back because of my own fears. I can’t explain what it was– was I afraid things would come out wrong? Was I afraid I couldn’t figure out how to do something?

Whatever it was, I finally managed to tell myself to suck it up and just make things and not worry about how they came out, that each item I messed up in some way would be a reminder of how to do it better next time. After all– and I can hear my mother’s words echoing in my head to go practice my flute– you don’t get better unless you keep practicing.

And not only do you get better, you realize you can accomplish more in the same amount of time because you are better. So while things aren’t perfect, my skills are increasing because I’m constantly experimenting and trying new things.

After spending last summer between anesthesia complications and running off to various doctor and physical therapy appointments trying to help my shoulder heal (obviously unrelated to my uterus) from continually sub flexing (popping out)), I gave myself time to heal and take care of myself. As summer turned to fall and then winter, I felt as if I could put the focus back on my projects and I did so with a vengeance.

As the inspiration continues to fall like stars in front of me, I can only hope that this new road will lead me to the new places I’ve been itching to go for some time. I’ll keep walking, keep creating, and let the rest fall into place.

Wanderlust

Michelle Rusk
IMG_6007.jpg

I was raised on wanderlust.

I didn’t know it, but from my childhood on, the importance of travel was implanted in me through life experiences. My maternal grandparents lived so close to O’Hare Airport in Chicago that if you were having a conversation on the phone when a jet flew overhead, you had to wait for the jet to pass to continue the conversation.

But what I remember most are the drives to and from their house– from our house in the western suburbs– that not just took us right by the airport, but along the tollway lined with billboards of the places that airlines like Pam American and Eastern were now flying to. There was non-stop escape to islands and the idea of visiting homelands like Poland. New high rise hotels replaced the smaller two-story ones as I grew up, O’Hare added terminals.

The world of travel increased and with it went my grandparents behind the Iron Curtain to Poland to see relatives. And to Egypt to ride camels (at least that’s the memory I have– I don’t have the photo evidence that I once saw, but my sister Karen has the stuffed camel they brought our mother back from the trip). They always brought us ten grandchildren gifts home including a wooden doll from Poland, a coin purse from Rome, a beaded necklace that I’m not sure where it’s from. There was always something, something I didn’t understand about the significance of where it came from.

There also were trips to the airport– all of us grandchildren tagging along– to see Grandma and Grandpa off on yet another trip, the long-gone days when we could all trek to the gate and see someone walk through the door to the jetway to the plane.

My mother longed to travel and we did all over the United States in the station wagon, my dad content not to leave the continent because he had “seen the world” in the Navy in late 1940s into the 1950s. Mom went to travel school and to work for the old Midway Airlines so that she could take us (particularly my younger sister Denise and I) on day trips like to shop at Macys in New York City (long before we were mad at Macys for taking away our beloved Marshall Fields).

While we’d been all over Canada and over the border to Mexico, it wasn’t until 2005 that I took my first trip overseas to Europe, staying with my junior high and high school pen pals, people I’d never met before but whom I shared my life through letters and photos. And who then shared with me their worlds in person.

My world became smaller and life led me overseas once or twice a year for multiple years.

For some people, Morroco might seem far away, like another world, and in many ways it is. But for me, it was yet another place to explore and learn from, just as I’d seen in the magazines and books in one of the bedrooms of my grandparents house as the jets flew overhead, taking people all over the world.

Choosing a Direction

Michelle Rusk
IMG_3398.jpg

It’s been a busy few weeks, and after having a speaking event followed the next weekend by a pop up that included Chelle Summer, I’ve had some time to think about how my work around suicide/grief/moving forward is woven together with my creative Chelle Summer side.

I realize that the two exist together. It’s not that I didn’t see this to some extent, knowing full well that they are both a part of me, but now I see how much they exist together. Chelle Summer in some way was always part of me– the creative process has been something that was always encouraged– but at some time it was put away when my life moved in other directions.

I’ve come back to it periodically, but I don’t think I fully realized how much I would use creativity to help me feel better and cope with a challenging event. That’s probably because it had been taught me to me when I was so young, I knew early it was something that made me happy and I was able to draw on it to help me continue to move forward in my life journey

Then it makes sense that Chelle Summer would have that message as well. I didn’t just wake up one day wanting to create clothes, handbags, and everything else. There is a purpose with everything that I do. That means that it’s more of a challenge for me to sit at some sort of pop up when people come by only drawn by what I have put on a table, rather than me doing a speaking gig and then people coming to the table, after having heard my story.

As I continue forward on this journey, it’s about continuing to weave all parts of me together because together they are what makes up who I am and what I share with the world.

Walk the Walk

Michelle Rusk
IMG_4704.jpg

As last week progressed and I took a moment to reflect on my social media posts, as well as how I was spending my time during the day (outside of doing my full-time job), I realized how much of it was filled with my creative life. I have had people comment on how much I’ve been creating and the truth is that I’m not sharing all of it, whether it be because it’s for other people, not finished, or it’s my writing which won’t be shared until it’s a published novel.

My creativity and inspiration are strong now, but it’s just like anything else in life– it’s hard to get started and yet once you do, the momentum takes over.

A year ago this time, I was getting ready to have surgery, to have my uterus removed. I then spent the rest of the summer working and creating, but at a much slower pace than I am now simply because my body needed quite a bit of energy to heal from having a piece of it removed.

At some point– probably in the fall as I don’t really know for sure– I saw the piles of items I wanted to make and people wanted me to make, start to build higher and higher. I told myself then to get over any worries or fears I had about messing things up, doing them wrong, whatever was holding me back, and just start creating.

It really took until January for this to take hold (it helps that I also have a calendar now where I can document what I complete each day which helps keep me honest with myself as well as see my progress), and now I’m finding there aren’t enough hours in the day for all I want to do. Nor is the list of things I want to do coming to an end.

Yes, it does leave me overwhelmed at times, but I remind myself not to worry about it, somehow it’ll all get done and to focus on the moment and what I can do with the time I have. I am also reminded that it leaves me feeling like I’ve had a productive day as I seek to share my creativity and inspiration with others.

I learned a lot time ago that I didn’t want life to fly by and me miss the ride. It might not be the ride others have chosen, but I know it’s the one I’m supposed to be on.

Finding My Way

Michelle Rusk
IMG_4874.jpeg

On Saturday, I keynoted Arizona’s 19th Annual Suicide Loss Conference. Last fall I had been one of the keynotes of their state suicide prevention conference and when I was putting together my talk this time, I noticed how much my message had changed from just six months ago.

I am constantly looking for ways to drive myself forward, to make things happen, to keep myself inspired, and as I shared some of my lessons and what inspires me, I also realized something: I really have now idea how I learned these things. I just did them. While I was clear I wasn’t there necessarily for them to follow my creative journey, I wanted them to know that somewhere deep inside them, there is a dream that always existed. But if I was going to share my dream, I thought, I should also explain where I learned what I have to drive myself forward.

And there’s where I sit– filled with inspiration, with ways of coping, steps to keeping myself motivated. Yet I don’t know how they tumbled into my life. I often say that running competitively taught me many of the lessons for coping with grief (especially realizing you have more strength than you thought you did and how to set smaller goals to keep running when you really want to stop and walk).

In that same time though, I also made myself many collages of words and pictures that I cut from magazines. I used my favorite songs to inspire me, listening to them not just before races but when I was feeling down.

While I don’t know how I learned these lessons, I do know that I have drawn on them in the years since then. Those same songs still inspire me, probably because they remind me of the dreams I created in those years, the same dreams that are still part of me. I can look at the collages and be reminded of the hope I had back then, the same hope that might have felt hidden in the shadows during losses and challenges.

As I find my way forward, I’m also finding myself reflecting on how I got here, realizing that maybe I have been given these gifts of inspiration and motivation, not just for myself, but so I can share them with others who might be inspired themselves.

The Lenten Journey

Michelle Rusk
IMG_4273.jpg

Something strange happened for Lent this year– my journey started without me being consciously aware of it, the week before Ash Wednesday.

Easter was late this year so I’m not sure how Ash Wednesday managed to sneak up on me like it did, especially because Fr. Gene had told me not long ago that the more we pray, the more we are “aware.” While I initially thought that couldn’t be true because I nearly let Ash Wednesday pass me by without me flagging it down, I realized later that’s because my sense of the Lenten journey has changed.

While I spent a few days debating what I would do for Lent– as I’ve written in years past, every year I try to do something that will strengthen my prayer and/or writing life which are intertwined in many ways– I realized that my journey had actually started the week before Ash Wednesday when I set a new writing goal.

It was as if I didn’t need to be told Lent was coming, instead my awareness through my several prayers during the day, had set the journey in motion.

I had started this seemingly crazy thing of getting up at 4:00 am (it’s not that early– I get up at 4:30 normally) to write two pages before I start my workout. My hope was that I could start my day doing something that is really important to me and sets the tone in a positive way for my day. Then later in the morning I come back and write two more pages.

This is only Monday through Friday, I don’t write on weekends as I’ve found the break helps me be ready again for Monday.

By the time we reached Good Friday, I’d had written quite a number of pages and had a sense that while my manuscript is not where I want it to be, I had made progress.

Greg had Good Friday off and we decided to hit a number of estate sales, the last one on our way home and I really didn’t expect to find anything. We just thought we’d stop because it was along the way. But when he turned the corner in the garage, there was a very large dining room table (one that would fit ten or even twelve although it would be pushing it), the kind of table that I had been looking for to replace our current dining room table which barely fits six people around it. And is hard to cut a full-length dress on.

He called me over and we were both in love. It took about five minutes for us to figure out if it would even work in our house; we both believed it was too big. The family kept telling us how they had had all their holidays meals around it for over fifty years. And it was $120. Surely we could justify that.

As I drove to the ATM to get the cash– Greg staying at the estate sale as collateral– I realized that this was my Easter. That table– bound for my office/studio (we can always switch it out with our dining room table for a party), was a new beginning. It meant we were taking Chelle Summer to another level, giving it the one piece of space it was taking from the rest of the house- our dining room.

Not only did it give me more room to cut, I can lay out multiple projects which keeps me more organized, as well as do other work on it.

I spent Saturday moving things around, cleaning out dusty corners, and making a new beginning for my office. Just as Easter is supposed to be.

My Albuquerque Life

Michelle Rusk
IMG_4113.jpg

I had always thought that my life experience at Ball State University– where I have my undergraduate degree in journalism from– was much more defining of my life than my two graduate degrees from the University of New Mexico– a masters in health education and a doctorate in family studies. However, over the past three weeks I began to realize might not be true.

While I will never downplay my experience at Ball State because I had so many opportunities and then because it was where I was going to school when my sister Denise died by suicide, what I have failed to acknowledge over the years– simply because I didn’t realize the importance of it– was that going to UNM changed my life in many ways.

I came to Albuquerque as a 22 year old in August 1994 whose sister had died just eighteen months before. I moved here because I knew I wasn’t supposed to live in the Midwest for the rest of my life and graduate school was the perfect way to escape (not that I realized it in those exact words at the time). I also forced myself to start over in a new place with new people and new experiences. And I relished experiencing a climate and culture unlike any other and one that I’ve been able to share with others.

Somewhere along the line though, I had a chance to spend more time back in Illinois and embraced the idea of a second home in my hometown with the blessing of my first husband. But after a divorce and spending a year and half there, I realized it wasn’t where I was supposed to be and longed for the clear skies and the open mesas of New Mexico. I had thought life had sent me to New Mexico to heal from my loss, but I then began to see it was much more than that. There was a piece of my soul that belonged here, something spiritual, something I needed for who I am supposed to be.

It was during those few months where I awaited the move back to Albuquerque that I talked to a priest I had known since before my sister died. No longer at Ball State but still at the area, I met up with Fr. Dave whenever I was in Muncie and he always said something wise and profound as we spent several hours together catching up.

That time he told me that he was surprised that I had moved back to Illinois because, essentially, I had spent my entire adult life in New Mexico. I was struck by this– how true it was– when I look at the influences on my life (right down to my cooking style) because of living in Albuquerque.

While life to takes me to Los Angeles– but not nearly as often as I would like– the place I call my “other home” and I tell people I am originally from the Midwest, I am who I am in many ways because of Albuquerque and that’s why this is home.

Hitting the Reset Button

Michelle Rusk
IMG_2868.jpg

I wrote several weeks ago about how we didn’t get to take our spring break Los Angeles trip and that it worked out because the universe kept sending us signs that we needed to stay home. Both Greg and I were able to accomplish some things that week that allowed us to get ahead (the swamp coolers for Greg– a spring rite of passage here in New Mexico).

However, last week I began to realize the one downfall of us not taking the trip– that I didn’t hit the reset button hard enough in my life.

I tried to change up the routine that week– I didn’t have the house cleaned, we skipped church, and I didn’t set my watch to time my morning workouts. I realize some of these things might seem small or things that many people don’t do but, for me, they are part of my daily life and they are important to me.

By the end of last week rolled around though, I realized I was feeling exhausted and a little burned out. When we go to LA I am completely forced out of my routine: there are no dogs to run, no pool to swim in (the ocean is not so warm in the winter!), no sewing machine to use. I sleep in (which is past 5:00 am for me), I only get in one workout and it’s mostly a long walk with Greg, I eat a lot of Cheez-Its that Sam knows I’m addicted to and don’t buy at home, and I catch up on my reading.

But being at home, it was too easy to keep doing most of these things and I hadn’t realized how important that week off from my routine is to keeping myself fresh and motivated. I also realize that I am not a staycation kind of person– it’s too easy for me to continue with my routine if I’m not far enough away from the parts of it that make it happen (pool, sewing machine, running and walking the dogs).

I tend to live a very structured life and much of that is because I have goals I want to accomplish. I will never be an overnight sensation because I’ve been working too long to get to where I want to go. Instead, I have to block out time nearly daily for the aspects of my life– the ones that make me happy– that I want to do. However, I’ve also realized that maybe every month or so I need to crack the routine enough to keep me fresh.

There’s a lesson in everything. If we choose to be open to learning what it is.

The Spiritual Side of Exercise

Michelle Rusk
IMG_3625.jpg

I never thought of exercise as something spiritual. For a long time in my life, it was a physical activity that I also knew benefited me emotionally. I have written previously about how I pray during my initial run in the morning– with Lilly my German Shepherd– where I say thanks for everything in life from the previous day.

However, as I reflect back on my life and how much swimming has become an integral part of my daily life, I see now how that’s more spiritual time, zen time.

I usually swim later in the day, if possible, so that I give myself a break from my work. Although I did find this winter that 11:00 am gave me a good break from my morning work at my laptop and what I tried to make afternoon work at the sewing machine. And after writing throughout the morning, I also used that time in the pool to plan my writing for the following day.

Prayer isn’t easy- my mind wanders and if there is any noise (particularly at the gym pool), I find myself getting caught up in what’s happening there. I also have learned that half of prayer is learning to shut out the outside noise and not just let my mind rest from whatever else I’ve been doing, but also see what ideas come into my mind by being open, by giving it a rest.

I usually leave the pool feeling at least mentally rested and ready to tackle the rest of the day. The bonus is that I usually have at least one writing idea that goes home with me.

Running has always served a purpose in my life- as does walking the dogs– but swimming has become something different. It’s as if it has an added component from getting off my feet and working my way through the water, giving me a different perspective and a different place to open my mind.

Sunrise over Sunset

Michelle Rusk
IMG_8614.jpg

I have written before about the importance– to me– of running and walking at sunrise, about how it has gotten me through some very dark times in my life. And how I learned of its importance– long after I was doing it and feeling solace in it– from a Navajo man who told me that they believe in greeting the day with their steps, with a run.

I get up at 4:00 am and I realize that most people find that nutty and believe that I jump out of bed to start the day. Not so. I pretty much roll myself out of bed and over the last month I have stumbled to my office (and somehow manage function sitting on my ball) to write two pages before I leave for my workout.

Recently, I was finishing up the last part of my workout with a loop around the park by my house, Hattie and Ash in tow, when we ran into one of the other regulars. We always note the weather and how lucky we are to be outside as darkness becomes light, as the day begins, as if overnight God wiped the chalkboard clean and washed the streets down. She and I always talk about how beautiful the mornings are, the outline of the Sandia Mountains taking place to the east of us as light starts to emerge. With another friend, we are always certain to look up at the moon and the stars– and whatever planets we can see in our usually clear morning skies. This morning the moon was low in the sky, but a sliver and reminder of how the sky changes daily while the earth rotates and seasons change, time passes.

On this morning, I happened to say, “I much prefer sunrise over sunset” and she agreed. Then I added, “I hate to get up, but I love to be up at this time of day.” She also agreed.

I know sunset for many people is the reward for a long day of work, life, whatever. Sunset is the end of the day, a way to cap off everything that’s happened before slipping off to rest and sleep.

But for me, I need sunrise much more. I need to be reminded in the morning of the hope of what’s to come, the belief of all that’s ahead of me, of knowing whatever happened the day before there’s a chance to start over. With a clean slate.

Heeding a Message from the Universe

Michelle Rusk
IMG_8638.JPG

At some point in my life, I made a decision about certain goals and dreams that I wanted to accomplish. When I did that, I also realized that there would be many uphill battles. But now that I’m older– and this is really hard– I’ve also learned that there are times when the universe is sending me messages that I really should pay attention to even though they aren’t what I want to hear.

One of my favorite places I love to go to, and I’ve written before about how important it is in my life and who I am, is Los Angeles. It’s my second home because we travel there multiple times a year. And each time as we get closer to leaving, I find myself at the church we attend there lighting a candle and thanking God for the week. It’s during that time that I begin to reflect back on my experiences there and I see how nourished and energized I feel from, well, being there. It’s like LA gives something to my soul that I don’t get in most other places, enough to keep me going until my next visit.

Except that we’re supposed to be there this week. And we’re not.

Without going into all the mundane details, there have been signs all over the place that we weren’t supposed to make this trip. I kept fighting them, believing they were just roadblocks I had to find a way around. But finally last Wednesday I felt exhausted at the thought of packing and having to endure more roadblocks on the trip.

I decided it wasn’t worth it and we began to think we’d stay home.

However, the door was still slightly ajar when on Saturday morning, Ash got really sick and we had to take him to the ER vet. While the results were inconclusive at the time, now I see he has colitis (just one round of antibiotics had his body acting more friendly toward anything he ate) and I knew then we had to shut the door on the trip.

I am bummed out because I know we won’t make it there until late June– even though I realize the ocean and everything important to us isn’t going anywhere. At the same time, I know the signs were telling me that even though it feels like two steps backward, as I go forward in the days and weeks ahead, I’ll see it was actually more than two steps forward.

The hardest part isn’t just listening to the message, but actually following through with what it says. And trusting that it’s the right decision. Much like life itself.

What Remains

Michelle Rusk
IMG_2316.jpg

As I write this, it’s the 26th anniversary of my sister Denise’s suicide. However, you won’t read this until tomorrow because I’m not posting it on social media until then. I have said in the past that I don’t want to acknowledge her death date anymore and I really don’t which is why I’m waiting another day.

But there’s also another reason– I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.

It’s been 26 years. It’s more than half my life ago since she died and I’ve had plenty of time to examine it, spin it around, turn it upside down, and realize that I can’t change her choice or what happened. What I can control is my life and right now I feel like life has bigger things for me, that I haven’t tapped my potential, and I want to get there. I don’t want to be lost in the aspects of my past that don’t keep me moving forward.

However, no matter how much time and processing go by, the reality is that this date is always marked in my head. St. Patrick’s Day and the NCAA Tournament are reminders of events leading up to her death. And now we have the anniversary of Mom’s death a week after Denise’s.

I wouldn’t say I’m sad today; too much time and processing has gone by for that. I can’t wonder about “what could have been,” because there’s been too much life since then. Mostly, I feel like when I went to Norway some years ago and saw a black and white photo on my friend’s wall of a teen in a football uniform. I hadn’t known she had a brother because he had been killed in Vietnam, before I was born.

I realized as I stood there looking at his photo that I, too, would be like her one day with a dated photo of my sister because so much life would have passed. I’m there now.

Denise is still part of my life, she is with me, just as my parents and the many others from my life who have died. But I still have much life to live and my focus is on that, not what could have been.