Chelle Summer

The State of Suicide Prevention

Michelle Rusk

Yes, New Mexico, this is for you, but the reality is that it could be for any state – or any country.

Several weeks ago, The Albuquerque Journal ran an article about suicide here in New Mexico talking about how much the numbers have gone up. When I thought it was time to move on– that I had done everything I needed to– the numbers were increasing, but we could see what was happening. The economy had tanked, but there also were more people reaching for help. And today it’s hard to really know how much numbers compare when suicide has become a more acceptable death for people with terminal pain and illnesses.

The discussion always turns to the increasing numbers of teen– and younger– suicides. People term these the most heart wrenching because of a life that barely starting ending early. But people also forget that we lose more middle-aged men to suicide than other other age group. That means that these teens are losing their fathers, their uncles, their role models.

While we don’t exactly know how much influence a suicide has on the bereaved, anyone left behind to mourn the death, we do know there is an effect. And we know that when you’ve had a suicide, that word becomes part of your personal vocabulary. I used to say it was no longer something that happened to the family down the street on the “Tuesday Night Movie.” While we say it’s not an option to those of us who have had one, yes, it is an option because it’s happened once before and now it’s in our own orbit.

I used to train people on warning signs of suicide, how to ask the question if one was suicidal, what to do when someone was worried about someone. However, what we were never able to do was to keep going back and inoculating people year after year. You can’t just get trained once. Every place– and this should include school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, coaches, and anyone else who comes in contact with kids in any sort of setting– should be trained yearly as staff changes, as situations happen and people have questions maybe they didn’t have before.

The end of the article stated that they had reconvened a group that would suggest recommendations to make changes here in New Mexico. They aren’t reinventing the wheel, what’s changed is the people doing the work. We’re not talking about it more than we used to. Rather people are more likely to listen. However, true change will only happen if we continue to educate people – no differently than on the ill effects of smoking, on CPR, on how to spot skin cancer, how to do a breast exam– year or after year.

After all, isn’t life itself worth that?

Exploring Deep

Michelle Rusk

I believe one of the hardest things for people to do in life is explore deep inside themselves. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mostly it’s because it, well, it’s painful and it’s work. After all, wouldn’t it be easier just to coast through life on the surface where everything looks okay, especially on a sunny day?

I don’t know where I heard this– and it was related to swimming, but it also can be attributed to life– someone said that what’s really important is what happens below the surface. For swimming, that means your breathing, your strokes, your body movements. But in life it means what’s inside you, what’s happening in your soul, in the deepest depths of who you are and who you want to be.

And that’s where the most meaning of life is. While it’s great to have lots of social media likes (believe me, I don’t mind lots of likes because it’s then that I know that people are seeing and reading what I’m posting), it’s what’s inside ourselves where we find true meaning. But if we don’t allow ourselves to “go there” then we’ll never know that. Instead, we stay on the surface and continue to coast.

However, in that coasting, we also find that things don’t necessarily come together or work out. And we wonder why!

After my divorce, I bought a book by a therapist about how to move forward and find the man of your dreams sort of thing (I gave the book away and now have no idea what the author’s name or book title was). I was trying to figure out why I was attracting the wrong sort of man (lots of emotional unavailability there!) or not attracting men at all (unless they were my mom’s age– if you’ve never heard the story about what happened in the church parking lot after morning mass one day…).

I was in LA and had driven south to Huntington Beach for some surfing. After I was done, I decided to take the book to the beach and read for a while. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember exactly what the book told me, but at first I was thought, Oh, that doesn’t apply to me.

What finally admitted to myself was that DID apply to me and the sooner I admitted it and figured it out, the better off I would be. But it was my resistance from reaching deep inside of me that was keeping me from finding deeper meaning and from truly moving forward.

It’s uncomfortable to reach inside ourselves, to walk a rocky, uknown road. But it’s well worth the journey when you see the view from the other side.

Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

Michelle Rusk
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We are very fortunate to live in this time for many reasons. One of those reasons is that we have many choices, whether it be for toothpaste or laundry detergent, or even what career to choose. But it also means that we might be spending more of our time looking at how the green seems greener on the other side, especially when it comes to the romantic relationships in our lives, wondering if we’re missing out on something better.

There are definitely areas in life where we always should be looking to be better, to do better, but is that always the truth in relationships? In marriages?

While usually I speak about moving forward, about letting go of the past, about helping people see that they can do better, this time I’m taking another perspective because I’ve watched many people do this and the unnecessary havoc it wreaks and their lives and everyone around them (and I’m guessing most of the people I’m referring to will never read this blog because they are seemingly unaware or in denial of the havoc they are creating for themselves). In another way, they are keeping themselves from moving forward.

There was a time– and I think back on a conversation Fr. Gene and I had about a year ago when he had twenty-something come see him and the man was feeling so confused about getting married because he felt there were so many options of women and relationships that he wasn’t sure he could settle on one. And what about the person in a marriage who looks around and doesn’t like the way things are and peeks out the window and wonders if maybe things are better across the street, down the road, or that the grass in the next town grows greener?

It’s easy to believe what is right here in front of us isn’t enough because we see what others have– especially in the misconstrued social media spotlight.

Spin it around though.

I’ve been married before and I’ve had other relationships in my life and there’s a huge major positive I can say about Greg– he makes my life easier. And because he makes my life easier, my inspiration cup has been bubbling over so much in the past few years that I can’t keep up with it. I know that all the stress I let relationships cause in earlier parts of my life– when the grass was definitely greener on the other side– kept me from being who i’m supposed to be.

So what if I thought that the green were greener on the other side? I clearly believe mine is the greenest it can be- and should be– and if I were to start looking elsewhere I’m the one who would be missing out.

Go ahead, take a look at where it might be greener, and then take a look around you and see if it really would be better over there. After all, there is much you can’t see from a distance– like crab grass and dandelions.

Maybe the focus should be on making your own grass greener through looking inside yourself and wondering why you think it might be better over there. That sort of reflective journey is painful and challenging for many people, but it’s a road worth traveling because it’s about finding you, not about finding who you think will make you better. If you’ve really got it good, don’t let it go.

Taking a Step Back

Michelle Rusk

I am easily irritated by many things, especially when they seemingly get in the way of my list of items I want to complete in one day. Don’t get in the way of my grocery cart and make sure you use your turn signal if you’re going to cut me off in traffic.

But I have learned to take a step back when what feels like continued derailment of my day is wreaking havoc with everything I want to accomplish. I have also learned to take a step back when someone irritates me. Or when people in my life react in unexpected negative ways.

While I might not like it, there is always a reason that things are unfolding the way that they are. I might not understand it now, or even in the next ten years, but I believe at some point I will get it when I reflect back in the rearview mirror.

Thinking that way has made it easier for me to cope with many situations and also to remember that we’re all navigating something in life and not to take it out on others (well, except when you blatantly cut me off in traffic and I’m driving faster than you– but maybe we’ll address that another day– I usually try to move on by turning up the radio and singing along with an eighties station).

I also have learned that somehow the list gets completed. Maybe not on my schedule but clearly someone else’s– let me poke the sky at the universe for that one.

In the meantime, often the best we can do is roll along and remember that a step backward is really several steps forward in own growth. There is much we can’t control in our lives, except our on reactions. That’s where taking a step backward matters the most because eventually– by doing that– we’ll be taking two steps forward instead of anything backward at all.

Keeping the Dream Alive

Michelle Rusk

I have this memory of my sister Denise. I’m not exactly sure where we were, somewhere in Florida, and we’re playing in the waves. I was in high school and she was in junior high. I remember us laughing and the sense of feeling free that we had, a trip Mom had taken us on when she worked for Midway Airlines.

On this past Friday morning while I was out running, I missed Denise. But as I thought about it more, I realized what I missed is not being able to share Chelle Summer with her because so much of what she and I did together– drawing, making houses and clothes for a our Barbies– and the late 1970s into early 1980s and the styles of that time– form the nucleus of Chelle Summer.

And then I remembered that she is with me. We can’t have a conversation, which is what I felt I wanted when i was thinking about her, but she is still part of this journey. I just wished I could share with her the influence our time together has on what I’m doing today– share it in a way where we have a two-way conversation.

Then I began to think how there probably would be no Chelle Summer if she were here. I probably would be a sports journalist or something similar. While I will never truly know, I’m not sure I would have tapped into our style and fashion history to build Chelle Summer.

The reality is that I can’t bring her back and because of that I’ve tried to embrace the journey as much as possible. This has become more prevalent to me in each passing year and the more I embrace it, the more creative I’ve become. So in a sense Denise is responding by helping me choose what I create.

And that’s enough for me, even on days when I doubt everything, that I am keeping the dream alive. And I won’t give up until I get where I want to be.

How we've complicated the message

Michelle Rusk

Today– September 10– is World Suicide Prevention Day and I’ve been thinking about what kind of message I want to spread today. While there are many directions I could go, there is one aspect that sticks in my mind and it’s how we’ve complicated the message of helping people.

In the last year or so of Ed Shneidman’s life, the father of suicidology, I was lucky to have several phone conversations with him. He came off as a gruff man, although that must be prefaced with the fact that his body was failing him which made it harder for him to see and walk. But there is one important message I came away with from those conversations and his not suggestion but assignment that I read his book, A Commonsense Book of Death.

That message was that ultimately it comes down to two questions when we are trying to help people: Where do you hurt? and How can I help you?

How simple that is, yet we’ve complicated it so much, especially in this time of anger and animosity we have toward our fellow human beings. We have more suicide prevention resources (I’m not talking about hospital beds– that resource we have never have enough of and that’s another topic for another day), but the phone numbers to call, the billboards that remind people to reach out, newspaper articles that discuss the warning signs of suicide.

And yet our numbers keep climbing.

I don’t believe we will ever get to zero. It’s wishful thinking that we will eradicate suicide given the pain of both the terminally ill and the severely mentally ill and their constant struggle to find peace in just one moment in a day. However, there are still things we can do to minimize the pain for so many, help people see there is hope in the world, that hope still exists.

I know that life isn’t all warm fuzzies, but don’t be scared to ask someone where they hurt or how you can help. Maybe you don’t know what to do, but there is someone you can ask (there is Google and the national toll-free suicide prevention line is listed there right at the top when you type in the word suicide (1-800-273-8255).

When my colleague JoAnn and I used to do suicide prevention workshops around New Mexico, we always told people that if suicide were so easy to solve, we’d give them a piece of paper and send them on their way.

I don’t expect everyone to know everything about suicide, but I hope that if you are worried about someone– or yourself– that you’ll reach for help, that you’ll hold on for another day (just like the song) because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I often say that when the sun comes over the Sandia Mountains just east of my home in Albuquerque– as I’m walking my dogs Hattie and Ash– I have the sense that the slate has been wiped clean during the night and I get to start all over again, no matter what happened the day before.

When people are down because of the way they see the world today, I remind them that if I thought that way, I would just stay in bed rather than get up and attack a long list of things I’d like to accomplish. Whether I might be down about the world or about something happening (or not happening in my own world), I remind myself to reach inside to what does make me happy, what makes me tick.

The glass is half full. Life isn’t easy. Be courageous, I have begun to tell myself.

Telling Stories

Michelle Rusk

I started Chelle Summer mostly to fill a gap for myself– to create items that I really liked. I didn’t expect that along the way I also would create a brand that is about telling stories.

While this idea has sat in the back of my mind for some time, it came to fruition in many ways over the weekend when I was selling at the New Mexico Prickly Pear Festival.

I knew it wouldn’t be enough for everyone to want to stop at my booth– despite the bright colors and prints– some people would need to know that there is a message behind the items I create. While most of the first items I made were created from new fabrics, much of my recent work (with the exception of clothes, however, much of it comes from end rolls or leftovers from manufacturers) is made from either upcycling a vintage item like a dress or fabric that I found at an estate sale.

For me, turning embroidered dishtowels into a tote bag is a way to give those dish towels new life. When I see an item at an estate sale that resonates with me, I realize that the woman who lived in that house kept that item because she either made it or it told a story about her life. And while I will never know what her story was, I know that I can at least give that item new life.

As I pointed out items and told stories about the various fabrics behind the items at my booth to people, many of them told me about the items they have at home that they haven’t figured out what to do with (I do custom work) and others were happy to see items not end up in the landfill (a huge trend in the fashion industry although I had been doing it before it hit “trendy” status).

Ultimately, it goes much deeper than that for me. There are items that belonged to my mom that are long gone, mostly because she and I weren’t sure what to do with them. I think of the shift dress she wore to my first birthday (among other events) and a small piece of fabric that she had made a shirt from and how I hope to recreate one day.

With the cars packed up at the end of the event, I turned mine on and immediately “Hot Hot Hot” by Buster Poindexter began to play on Sirius radio. My mom loved that song and each time I hear it, I know she is with me, doing what my sister Karen calls her “hip shake.”

In that moment, after being present with people all day and sharing the stories of my Chelle Summer collection, I realized Mom was with me, cheering me on. All those items of hers that I mourn in some way gave me Chelle Summer and many more stories to tell.


Michelle Rusk

It pains me when Greg’s team loses (especially only the second game of the season), so much so that I found myself contemplating why on my 26-mile drive home from his school on Saturday. An early season loss isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s used as a learning experience. While my head knows that, I don’t think my heart could acknowledge it on Saturday as I left the field.

But I was quickly reminded of my own experiences in high school as a runner and how they have a deep meaning in how hard I work today. And that’s what I realized bothered me so much about the loss.

As a runner (and as I have written in the past), I worked extremely hard and when I started to experience the success of accomplishing my goals, I saw that if I continued to work hard, I would eventually have more success. There was a caveat to this though– I had a hard time overcoming the intense pressure I put on myself and the negative thoughts that plagued my mind.

Because of that, I never truly ran a race up to my potential. I left high school feeling as if I had wasted many opportunities and promised myself, especially after my sister ended her life three years following my high school graduation, that I wouldn’t allow that to happen again.

Deep inside me, that is probably the base of the fire that is always lit inside me and why I have accomplished all that I have (with still much to come!). That’s what I draw on to motivate me each day through a long list of items I want to accomplish, and what I remind myself of when life events and experiences try to drag me down. I take myself back to that teenage girl on the track or at a cross country course and remember the disappointment I felt all those times I finished a race knowing I had squandered yet another opportunity.

We don’t realize how short life is, but it provides us with repeated opportunities to grow and learn and be more than we ever thought we could be. That’s what drives me and keeps the fire inside me lit.

Finding Joy in Life

Michelle Rusk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Michelle Rusk

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

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

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.