Chelle Summer

California Dreams

Michelle Rusk
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Somewhere around the time I turned thirteen, my goal was to move to California, Los Angeles, specifically. And somewhere along that line, the dream didn’t shatter so much as other events in life happened and I found myself taking other roads, including one road that led me to Albuquerque. It’s like I put the dream down and left it on my desk, covered by everything else that seemed more pressing in my life.

That dream makes me think of my eighty-something neighbor across the street who told me how she and her then-husband were bound for Los Angeles from Kansas in the 1950s when the baby got sick and they had to stop in Albuquerque where a lack of funds forced them to stay here. I often joke that, too, I was bound for Los Angeles, but somehow I didn’t quite make it that far.

Then around 2008, life began to take me back to Los Angeles and slowly the dream emerged again, as if I was cleaning off my desk and found it. By then something about the dream changed when Sam and Lois Bloom entered my life. They kept inviting me to stay with them in Palos Verdes and on my second visit when Lois turned her head back in the car and said, “Sure you can rent a surfboard. Why not?” – a moment that seemed insignificant at the time– was a turning point in making the dream come true.

No, I don’t live in Los Angeles now, nor do I ever plan to live there full time. However, because of the Blooms– and a husband who has enjoyed getting to know a new city– Los Angeles is my second home in many ways. Slowly, we have built a portion of our life there and we’ll continue to do so.

What I see in the rearview is how my parents took me on a journey of my life– in the Chicago area– but one that I have become disconnected from in many ways because of Los Angeles. It’s not bad, it’s about me moving forward, about being the person I’m supposed to be. I wouldn’t be who I am without the Midwest, Chicago, Naperville, but the dreams of Los Angeles kept me going through miserable snow and dark winters, knowing that there was something else out there for me.

I sometimes think of my sister Denise and the Blooms’ son Sammy– who died by suicide in the early 1980s– getting together in heaven and plotting getting me to Los Angeles. Then my dad died and he joined the conversation, followed by my mom just three weeks before Greg and I made our first trip there together.

It’s as if my parents were there for a portion of my life and now the Blooms are what I call my “California parents” because I know without them, I wouldn’t have been able to explore and made the area feel as much like home as I have.

Just a few weeks ago, I stood in the church we attend when we are there, lighting a candle, the day before we came home. As I prayed– having a conversation with God– I thought, “Each time I come here, I leave inspired in some way. I come here for so many reasons and I leave…with so much.”

I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact reasons why life drew me there at age thirteen, but I see now that I was following a path that I allowed to unfold in front of me– maybe not as I expected or as quickly as I wanted– but one that was meant to be, a dream that I kept alive in some way.

And made happen.

Inspiration on the Periphery

Michelle Rusk
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At a spiritual direction meeting last year, Fr. Gene told me– and I don’t remember what we were discussing- how he had once been told that after he gives a homily, he has no say over what someone chooses to do with it. He’s thrown it in the air and who catches and what they do with it isn’t his business.

Steve Mazzarella threw much in the air– of kindness, knowledge, and inspiration– and it was caught by many more people than I’m sure he ever knew.

After I found out he died early Sunday morning from a malignant brain tumor and I watched the comments begin to flow through Facebook, I thought about how my experience with him had been much different than many people. I wasn’t in Snowball nor was I a diver. But I sat front and center (surely not my choice– I have no idea how I ended up there) for his health class sophomore year of high school. And it was there that he left a lasting impression on me.

That impression, however, wasn’t immediately obvious because it wasn’t until after my sister’s death that much of what Mazz taught me came rolling back in the form of my own life as I completed a masters of education and then became a high school health myself. I still use the 50 goals we wrote out as an activity when I do workshops, making many people groan at the idea. For me, the idea of putting my goals on paper is much like a prayer or planting seeds in the spring the garden. It’s a place for them to start and it was Mazz who taught me that.

Somewhere along the line we got back in touch and before I moved back to Albuquerque in March 2013, he asked me to come speak to his advanced health classes. He had wanted me to talk about suicide to the regular health classes, however, because I was leaving, it wasn’t going to fit the schedule. Instead, he asked me to reflect on my journey to these two groups of students who were near graduation and stepping into the next phase of their lives.

It wouldn’t be our last communication, but it would be my last trip to my high school and the further I get from it, the more I see that it put some ghosts of my past to rest. I have recently been thinking how that year and a half in hometown allowed me to let go and move on from so much that I had left sitting in the darkness of my memory (all relating to finding my way in the world and coping with my younger sister’s suicide). By finally sweeping the out of the darkness and out of my life, I could truly move forward in my life.

Mazz’s influence on my life was on the periphery, but it was important to who I am today. He gave me many ideas and one big opportunity that helped me find my way to who I am now..

In one of his last messages to me– now several years ago– this was his response to the blog I had written about the 50 goals:

“How humbled i am....This simple blog i hope will give inspiration and hope to someone who reads it...and hopefully starts their journey!! its a pretty cool thing to do to put it in writing...but even ‘cooler’ when that goal becomes a reality! Keep your inspiring comments flowing and they will eventually touch the core of everyone who reads them!”

His life wasn’t as long as it should have been (are they ever?), but in that short time he inspired so many. Including me.

Yards and yards of fabric...and a penny

Michelle Rusk
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It always seems perfect. And then turns complicated.

It was the perfect fabric. I was looking for a specific weight for a dress I wanted to make. With the amount of chiffon and georgette one can find in the Los Angeles Fashion District, this would have been a cinch.

And I thought it was when I saw it.

“This is it,” I told Greg who was happy he’d been the one to point the way to this store, having already scoped it out after running another roll of ten yards of knit to the car. “I’m in love.”

It was paisley, it was pink. It was orange. It was green. It was yellow. It was the 1970s. It was my Barbies.

We asked the woman working in the store what the price per yard was, $1.80. I was cool with that.

The minimum? I expected her to say five or ten yards, what we’d be quoted at the stores on the block next to this one.

“It’s by the roll,” she said. “And the rolls are a minimum of fifty yards.”

I’m not there yet and knew it, leaving the store with a sample in my hand, but feeling dejected, not wanting to let this pattern slip through my fingers.

We drove to another part of the garment district and I found myself in a little prayer with my dad. “Please bring me a coin if I’m supposed to buy this fabric today,” I prayed. Then I felt silly and added, “No, it’s okay.”

I thought it was stupid to ask him if I should buy the fabric. I didn’t need that much, I didn’t need to focus on it. I would let it go and eventually it would come back when the time was right, maybe in another form. When that happened, I’d look into the rearview mirror and understand why it transpired the way that it did.

I let it go, we parked the car, and walked toward the store where I needed to get piping for pillows and I looked down. A penny.

The fashion district is filled with homeless; we walk by more makeshift tents than I can count with all my hands and toes put together. There’s never a coin to be found. Except this one.

“We’re going back,” I told Greg, “after we finish the items on the list.”

That’s where it got complicated. The woman kept upping the minimum on the rolls from 50 yards to 60 to 70. I definitely didn’t need that much fabric (but curtains were starting to sound good). She also couldn’t get to the rolls because there were too many on top of them (they’d used a forklift earlier that morning in another store to get to the pink lining that I’d requested). She would have to wait about an hour for some of the delivery guys to come back and help her.

We left the store with plans to drive another store that was a few miles away, me knowing it might kill enough enough time. I’d already come this far, I was going to get the fabric now.

Three blocks away, the woman called.

“I don’t know how it happened but I found a roll with 32 yards on it,” she said.

Still more than I needed (at least until I make the first dress), but more manageable. And definitely meant to be mine.

Carson's shangri la

Michelle Rusk
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I’ve put off writing this blog and it’s been easy with the holiday hustle and bustle. I’ve felt like I’ve been chasing myself and now as things start to wind down, at least through the new year before they wind up again, I know that I need to write this because life is going to change again soon. I’ve made it a tradition– although I don’t think that’s a good word– to write about each of my dogs after they have died and while Carson was only with us for the end of his life, he deserves a blog, too.

I miss him. I miss his presence. I find myself grabbing three treats from the cactus cookie jar where I keep them rather than two. The house is quieter. Lilly needs someone to at least pretend to chase her around the yard and Hattie wishes Lilly had someone to chase her around so she would leave her alone and quit being the annoying little sister.

But this is what I remind myself– Carson is happy now, he is out of his pain.

The last month of his life was trying for all of us and I’ll admit it was a strain on our relationship. Carson had lost control of his bladder and my days were spent changing his wrap (fancy word for diaper), sometimes him running from me after I had let him outside, but needed to put it back on before he returned inside. At 4:00 am the day before we put him down, he stood at the far end of the yard and we had a staring contest, me refusing to go any further outside in my bare feet and thirty-some degree temperatures. I won the contest only after I shut the door and pretended to walk away– inside the house.

I felt as if Hattie and Lilly missed out on attention because most of my time was going to Carson. I started to find Lilly sleeping upstairs by herself, a place she never went unless someone was with her.

The strain took its toll, but I still struggled with actually putting him down two weeks ago today. He had a zest for life and I didn’t want to put him down too early. But I also didn’t want to keep him around too long because it wasn’t about us. It was about releasing him from his pain.

Two weeks later, I now remind myself in my sadness that he’s happy now, he’s met my family and all the dogs that have gone before him. After what appeared to have been a challenging life, he found happiness with us, so much so that he defied the expectations of his lifespan and may have been seventeen when he died. He’s out of pain and anything that happened to him that left him fearful here in his life melted away as he went to sleep with that sedative and drifted into his new life.

His new life of love.

Meaning in the Christmas Season

Michelle Rusk
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I told Greg that I’m going to make prickly pear hard candy until the cows come home, partly because we have so much puree and partly because it feels like something unique and special that I can share with everyone.

Yet it took me by surprise last week when I dropped off a bag to two Native American friends and he told me what a special and meaningful gift it is. He and his wife grew up eating prickly pears near the Gallup area where they were raised. It also surprised me how happy they were to taste the candy, telling me it was a taste from their childhood, and one they hadn’t had in a long time.

I was so excited as I left their business (where I drop off my packages for shipping), knowing I had given them a treat, a piece of their childhood, something that left them in awe.

As I drove home, I thought about how this is what the Christmas season is about. It’s about doing something meaningful for others, about making the season special by making something for others.

The holiday season goes fast, but we can fill it with joy by giving to others. And thus filling ourselves with joy.

Keeping the Dream Alive

Michelle Rusk
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As I spend much of my time working on moving forward, what I don’t do often is reflect on where I’ve been. But because I keynoted several conferences over the past six weeks– and I was speaking about how I’ve gone forward in my life despite my many losses which was a new talk for me– I had to take the time to think about how I’ve gotten where I am to create my talks.

Sometimes I share the aspects of my life that inspire me, yet I’ve also realized that I might not be reflecting fully on them and that’s what happened over the month prior to speaking.

Since I was six years old, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Not just a writer, but an author. I wanted to tell stories. I don’t think I knew what those stories were going to be beyond the picture books I made with Raggedy Ann and Andy starring, but it was my dream to have my name on the side of a book.

That dream stayed alive for most of my childhood and teen years except for several side roads I veered down, testing other waters. But the roads always took me back to writing. What I see now is that many times I took those side roads to learn something I needed to write about. Even today when I find myself deeply interested in a topic and wonder why I didn’t pursue it before, I realize that somewhere it might fit into a story.

When my sister died in 1993, at least in the memories I have now, I don’t remember that the writing dream died. I believe it remained an ember– an ember that all of us have as I written previously about hope– because it wasn’t going to die. I had a road to travel and eventually I would make my way back to it.

I also believe that that dream is what has kept me going all these years. While I make handbags and clothes and do all sorts of other things, it is when I am writing that I truly feel I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. The stories, the people, their lives, are with me constantly and many days keep me motivated around frustrations and the routine of life.

The hard part is that the dream hasn’t manifested itself yet as want it to. Yes, I have written multiple books, but I’m not where I want to be, on the bestseller list– yet. That ember keeps burning and I keep writing, knowing that somewhere along the way the flame will spark and suddenly the fire will take off.

A Multitude of Goals

Michelle Rusk
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I had two major goals for October: one to continue my goal of swimming every day between July 1 and November 1. This wasn’t something I set out to do so much as I realized in September that I had been swimming every day, not on purpose, it had just happened. So I thought, why not keeping it going as long as I can? I am happy to say that despite the cooler weather, I have managed to keep swimming past November 1.

But I also wanted to have a 100-page writing month. I managed to finish that one early although about halfway through the month I found myself gravitating toward the kitchen, wanting to use new recipes, make new dishes. And make these jam bars pictured above.

As I was doing it, I figured out why: I’ve been so engrossed in one big goal that I could feel myself needing a sense of accomplishment of finishing something small, something easier. Manuscripts take a long time to complete and this current one is going to take me well into next year. That means I need to find smaller goals I can accomplish in the meantime.

That’s where much of my creating comes into play. I can have something completed after a few hours or less and suddenly the antsy dissipates as I see what it is that I’ve created. It allows me to keep working on the manuscript, yet gives me the instant reward of having done something else.

Our lives are filled with big goals and if we want to keep ourselves motivated, the best way to do that is to balance them with little goals. After all, life is about balance so why shouldn’t it be the same with goal setting?

Starting Small, Building Strength

Michelle Rusk
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I knew exactly what I was going to pray for Saturday at mass when I picked a candle to take to Our Lady of Guadalupe. I debated between the orange and purple, choosing the purple because I had chosen the orange on All Saints Day, just a few days before that.

What I didn’t check was the wick. It never occurred to me to check the wick, especially on Saturday when I was most concerned with my prayer. Although I keep busy with many projects, there are days when I wonder if I should be concentrating on one thing over another. And on Saturday that’s exactly what I was going to talk to my friend Guadalupe about– I wanted to make sure I was focused where I should be.

However, when I went to light the candle, I discovered there was almost no wick. That meant I had to stand there and hold the flame over it until enough wax had melted away so that the flame could catch.

In that moment, I knew I was doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. While our prayers aren’t often answered in church– instead they are answered in other times when we are going about our daily life– this was one instance where I got a clear response. Perhaps it was because I had been asking all day, thinking about how I would ask Guadalupe for help. Or perhaps it was because that was the best way to show me what I needed to know.

Sometimes the candle doesn’t light right away and on this time not only did it not light right away, it took some time for it to light. Once it did, it was a small flame, but I felt confident it would endure and burn the wax down to the bottom of the plastic jar (the purple candle on the right side of the three in the photo).

A small flame, a strong flame. The reminder that while it might not seem like things aren’t moving quickly, they are moving, they are building. They are catching fire.

Stay the course, Guadalupe seemed to tell me. Keep at it. You’re doing what you’re supposed to.

Now it’s my job to believe it and keep the flame burning.

Commitment to Hope

Michelle Rusk
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I believe that hope lingers in the shadows, often in places where we can’t see it. I also believe that each of us has an ember of hope- it might burn very faintly, but it is there- and it’s up to us to find the hope that makes it burn brighter.

That’s no easy task, I know it well. However, while life isn’t easy, it is worth living. But it’s up to us to find where we belong, what we want to do, what makes us happy. If it were an easy thing to do, I don’t think any of us would be here today.

Somewhere inside of me I know that faint light of hope has always been there. I have spent a lot of time this past year exploring how I got to be who I am today. I see now how often in the face of loss of in challenging times, I might have been upset or grieving, yet I was still hopeful in some way. There’s always been something inside of me to remind me that even if I was feeling down on life, if I let myself process my sadness, eventually my hope would return. And it always has.

What brings each of us hope is as unique as we are. What’s most important is that we are committed to finding hope in our lives and sustaining it. I know I am.

Because They Said I Couldn't

Michelle Rusk
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At Saturday’s soccer game, the district rival that Greg’s team will play next, girls all sat down next to me in the stands. The district championship will come down to this upcoming game and the girls made a few dissing comments about Greg’s team which obviously irritated me that they just assumed how good they are.

When I got home from that game, still irritated about what I heard, I began to ask myself why it irritated me so much. Greg’s team lost the game I had just come from and there had been a goal that had been pulled back which changed the outcome of the game. While Greg’s girls played well, something still ate at me and it took me a while to figure out what it was.

There have been many times in my life where people didn’t think I could accomplish something. While many more people in my life have been supportive, it’s hard not to focus on the ones who said I couldn’t– my ACT scores that predicted I would be an average collect student (a doctorate later who predicted that one I ask?), the sports journalism professor who laughed at me in front of the sports writing class when I said that I didn’t want to cover a team so much as I wanted to write stories about their motivations, and the continued rejections from a variety of things that I tried to do. Mix in the cross country coach my freshman year of high school who clearly stated I wouldn’t amount to much of a runner until I made varsity at the end of the season and proved him wrong.

That’s just it– if you tell me I can’t do it, I’ll work harder and I’ll get there. That was what annoyed me about seeing the team lose and then having to listen to the comments of the opposing team (and the called-back goal). In my world, I’d use that as fuel for the fire. While Greg’s girls didn’t know about the comments said about them, there clearly is a perception somewhere that I’d like to think isn’t true.

Inspiration and motivation are all around us. The question is if and how we choose to use it.

The Signs Around Us

Michelle Rusk
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One of the greatest aspects about life is that we don’t know what’s around the corner. I say that in the most positive, glass half full way. Most days, life is fairly routine and, well, not very exciting. It’s up to us to find ways to keep it interesting. I’ve been working hard lately, but after several weeks of having a clear sense that I was moving forward, I suddenly felt like multiple aspects of my professional life had ground to a halt. It’s nothing bad, but just a general feeling that I was spinning my wheels

However, on Saturday morning in the midst of my morning prayer while I ran Lilly, asking for help to continue to forge forward, I looked down– and even in the darkness– saw a dime shining up at me. Just two days before I had found a penny at Target completing my “usual” dime-penny combination. After my dad died in 2006, I started to find pennies and other coins, something that had never happened before so I believe was a clear sign from him.

However, seemingly not be outdone, when I went for my run (without Lilly), "Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash began to play on my iPod Nano. This was my younger sister, one of two songs we loved to roller skate to (the other being “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar).

I laughed and thought– while also sort of putting out a dare– that Mom needed to appear as she usually does through “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison. There are several other songs, but both my sister Karen and I have had her come to us lately through this one.

I went on with my day and honestly forgot about the signs. I had plenty to do, but at church, late that afternoon, sometimes I cheat and look ahead to what song we’ll be singing after Julianne the keyboardist posts them on the digital board high in the church.

She had chosen, “On Eagles’s Wings” that day. Mom.

It hadn’t occurred to me that I might have a sense of Mom at church and that’s probably why it happened. The more I look, the less they are there, but then they surprise me. Especially when I need them but I’m not looking.

They are small signs, but they are just as important because they are just enough to keep me going in the dry spells. And they are reminders that everything I want is still to come on the path ahead. I just need to keep journeying forward.

Finding Liverpool

Michelle Rusk

There are always British voices coming out of our television on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Since Greg and I got together, he introduced me to Premier League coverage on television. But it wasn’t my first introduction to soccer in the United Kingdom; that came from John Peters, the man I called my “UK Dad.”

While I’m not much of a tv watcher, Greg will attest that when I leave to run on weekend mornings, I flip on the tv to whatever soccer game is being played and I go about my morning with it in the background.

However, at the end of last season, I decided I really need to follow a team. While Greg would tell me all about what was going in the standings, quite honestly, I didn’t really know what was going on. I wasn’t following any one team and it was as if I were floating above the fields, er, pitches, just kind of taking a look occasionally. I knew that if I adopted a team, I’d be far more interested.

Without having a clue of which team to pick, I turned to Wendy– my UK Sister and one of John’s daughters– and asked her which team her dad favored. John died just about a month after my mom in 2014 and I thought I could carry a torch of sorts and follow his team. I also knew that would make him happy.

Liverpool, she said.

So Liverpool it was although I wasn’t sure why I didn’t know this before. What I did know was that as child I knew that the Beatles were from Liverpool and it always sounded like a dark, depressing place. I’ve been near Liverpool traveling through Wales but I’ve never been there (next visit, Wendy, I guess I know where we are road tripping to!).

John’s mission each time I went to the UK was to show me Wales because he thought Americans only see London and he wanted me to have a sense of what else his country offered. I have written before about his influence on my life and the photo here– of him and Jean in their car with a surfboard running across the middle so that I could surf on my last visit before he died– also indicates how he showed me another part of Wales, this time through a beach and my love of surfing.

Recently, I found a letter that one of my mom’s best friends wrote me after first book about my sister’s suicide was published. In it, Mrs. Ortyn said that after her mother died she realized how her love for her mother could grow, even after death.

I know well the pain of losing someone, but I have also learned that if we are open to it, our relationship with that person doesn’t end in the loss. It changes, it grows.

And maybe even brings a Premier League Championship with it.

When Life Feels Fleeting

Michelle Rusk
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In the corner of my backyard is a peace angel statue, a gift from my good friend Karen to my mom after Karen sold Mom’s house– the Linn family home– nearly ten years ago. It sold within days– which obviously made everyone happy- and I hoped that when it came time to sell my house in Naperville when I had the chance to return to Albuquerque, I’d have the same luck.

Without going into all the details, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience involving multiple sales falling through, a renter who let the yard go so long that I nearly got cited by the city for the overgrown front yard, and then finally a sale but not without a new buyer who insisted she had no idea how to install the new garage door opener (that the renter insisted was left in the garage but no one ever found) and Karen had to go over there and show her how to do it. We tried everything we could to sell it– I even sent a bundle of sage from New Mexico and sent her and her husband Rob to sage the house, to rid it of any negative spirts that were keeping it from selling.

Karen worked hard to sell it, knowing that it was the final piece of me letting go of my life in Illinois as my life in Albuquerque reset and began again. After the house had closed, I told her that nothing could ever come between us after all that we had been through because of that house.

On Friday Karen died unexpectedly, much too young at 62, and I honestly still can’t wrap my head around the idea that my friend’s funeral taking place tomorrow (which will be today when I post this).

Growing up in the Chicago area, there were things that I knew about people but didn’t really appreciate or understand until I moved away. In many ways Karen was family to me because she reminded me of those core values I was brought up to believe were important. When my mom died, she and Rob where there at the funeral– I can still remember seeing them sitting together when I did Mom’s eulogy. And when I married Greg, she and Rob traveled to Albuquerque to be part of a happy occasion.

They lived around the corner from me in Naperville and I spent a lot of my time with them and my across-the-street-neighbors, Doug and Sue. Naperville is a family place which is great. If you have a family. But when you’re a divorced woman whose mother is living with you and you work from home, it’s a challenge to say the least. While most people were busy with their kids, I was walking my dogs and Karen and Rob were scheming up ways to find me dates.

In March 2017, I somehow managed to get her to agree to host a Chelle Summer party at her house. We both invited our friends and I realized as we were prepping for the party how fun it was to plan a party with a friend who, well, also liked to host a party. We were definitely kindred souls that way.

There’s so much more that I can say– about the meals we shared, the time she, Rob, and I took the train into the to have dinner at Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill before I moved back to New Mexico, and, while I know that Karen, is doing well in her “new home,” I am going to miss the verbal love and support she gave me. She had a large loving family and a ton of friends so I always knew she was surrounded by people she loved because she made them feel loved.

Her time here was too short, but so often time feels too short for all of us. And yet I know how lucky I was that she embraced me– and my mom- in those years on Hidden Spring Drive and after I returned to Albuquerque.

Carson the Wonder Dog

Michelle Rusk
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I have been prepared for the day that Carson would die since he came to live with us nearly fifteen months ago.

He was fifteen, the oldest dog in the city shelter, and no one– the shelter people, his foster guardian, nor us– expected him to live more than a few months. When we went off to California this summer, I fully predicted that in July I would be seeking out a new dog to fill his spot.

Carson had other plans though. While he no longer takes morning walks with Hattie around the park– he much prefers to sleep in– and his back legs are failing, he still attempts to chase Lilly around the backyard and shows up for the “peanut butter spoon” after the blender starts whirring away in the morning for my breakfast smoothie.

Yet in that steady decline, we also know he won’t live forever and Friday– after watching him fall backward into his poop twice in twenty-four hours– I felt maybe it was time to let Carson go. I made a vet appointment for the afternoon, took lots of photos, spent time with him, and fed him too much cheese. I was fully prepared, even in my sadness, that Carson wouldn’t be coming home with me from the vet.

When we showed up at the vet, he refused to go inside. I was convinced it was because he’d been dumped into the city shelter at age fourteen and there was no way that I could convince him that I wasn’t leaving him behind.

I’ve never seen Carson so scared and upset and by the time the vet appointment was over, the vet declared that he had too much spirit and quality of life that he deserved another chance.

We went home with a bottle of Rimadyl (dog ibuprofen) and he slept the rest of the afternoon.

I have been to the end with several dogs before, I know when they’ve given up and are ready to move on– Daisy, Gidget, and Chaco all stopped eating and drinking– but Carson? No, he’s not ready. I believe that he finally found a good life and he’s not wiling to let it go just yet.

As I write this, he’s curled up snoozing under my desk. Happy as a clam. I know he wishes he could run like Lilly and the four year old he once was, and that he’s glad to still be here.

I realize the day will come, but Friday was confirmation it wasn’t time yet, and for now, we’ll enjoy all that we have.

I can see for miles and miles

Michelle Rusk
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There is a place as I’m driving to downtown Albuquerque from my house that is at the top of what doesn’t look so much like a hill until you realize how much you can see heading west to the mesa where the city ends.

(The photo above is going the opposite direction– up the steady incline toward the mountains).

I was driving that way to 12:10 pm mass recently– which means it was early enough that the day still felt fresh and crisp– especially because the temperature was going up to 90 degrees in the afternoon and it wasn’t hot yet. Everything felt new. And hopeful.

I had lived right there in a studio apartment during my first year of graduate school when I moved to New Mexico when I came to Albuquerque with no car. That meant I biked south to campus. And when I found a high school cross country coaching gig, I biked several miles north– and about two miles east– via the bike path to the school.

Growing up in Illinois and attending college in Indiana, seeing for miles– especially when it wasn’t a cornfield– wasn’t something I to which I was accustomed. Quickly, I found the views inspiring and reflecting back I see how lucky I was that I had the opportunity to bike it daily. The wind wasn’t so fun but until fall kicked in, I felt as if I hit the jackpot every afternoon.

As I drove that way to church last week, I realized how much that view was hopeful to me. And then I recalled the many times I’d made the trip on my bike when I first moved to New Mexico. Then as a 22 year old who uprooted my entire life and being to become part of the desert landscape. It wasn’t an easy time as my younger sister had just died eighteen months before, but I can look back now and see how coming here was part of my hope.

Continuing to live here with these vistas and sunny days is part of where I still find my hope and inspiration.

Where Everything Collides...and Finding Hope

Michelle Rusk
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It's National Suicide Prevention week and I thought it would be a good time to give what has become my yearly thoughts on the topic. I've been a little more immersed in it recently because of writing and speaking opportunities– plus a suicidal person the outer ring of my life and several people in my life who have lost loved ones recently to suicide. 

I can't help but shake my head when I look at the numbers and see how much they've increased in the years since I've been speaking and writing about it. And the more I spin it around, I see clearly that we're not making headway not just because suicide is so complicated but because we're not tackling it where we need to.

There are a bunch of reasons I could write about that I believe are the reasons that the numbers of suicides have increased, however, mostly what I see is a lack of hope. Our technology-laden world has changed not just how we interact but how we spend our time. I've come to realize that the more I watch people on their phones, the less time I want to spend on my mine.

This isn't a fix all for suicide– I'm not saying that– but what I do see is that we've become too reliant on something outside of our inner cores to make us happy and give us fulfillment. While I am clearly an advocate for social media– that's why you're reading this, right!?– I find the more time I find off my phone, the happier I am. It's become a bad habit to pick it up and look at apps or whatever. 

I've been thinking back on my early teens and where I learned how to fulfill myself through what made me happy– through accomplishing goals I set, particularly through running, and through spending time with the people who meant something to me. In some ways I'm trying to take the me of today back to those aspects of my life that brought me joy rather than finding them in technology.

It doesn't mean I stop posting or looking at what other people are doing. Instead, it means I'm working at balancing how technology fits my life so that it doesn't steal time from what really matters.

For suicide, we need to take a step back and see how we got here. What's missing? What are we doing wrong? Why are we missing people even in a time where we talk so much more about seeking help? There isn't one answer that will "cure" suicide, but by looking inward at ourselves it's a step in the right direction.

The Goal I Didn't Set: Leading the Grief Journey

Michelle Rusk
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I was laying practically upside down on the chair and ottoman by my pool, of all the silly things, trying to lighten up the underside of my hair. After taking biotin for three years, I've grown a second head of hair and I've spent the summer trying to get it all into one shade of blonde with Sun-In (not that I'm having much luck).

It had been a quiet Labor Day and I was working steadily through a stack of magazines that that alluded me. I picked up my phone randomly and found a message from one of my closest friends from my early teen years that she had lost her brother to suicide recently, the second of my friends from my adolescence to lose a sibling to suicide in the past two years. 

I am reminded of the song lyric, "these are the people who raised me" about a group of friends from the singer's adolescence. These two friends of mine who have been so instrumental in my life of who I am today, of the creativity that I share, and now sharing the pain that I never would have wished upon them– or anyone.

Never could I have predicted in a million years that anyone close to me would experience something similar to what I've been through, maybe because I've met so many other sibling survivors of suicide over the years that I didn't think it would include the friends from my life when my sister was still alive, the friends who then walked that road with me, an uncharted road of loss for anyone of us.

My road takes me forward but there are still ways I'm contributing, even when I don't write about them– the suicide article I'm writing for a national magazine, the two keynote conferences talks I have coming up. And for these two friends, leading the grief journey and hoping that in some way my experiences will bring them hope that they will survive their heart break, their sadness, and know that their siblings are still with them as they continue to live their lives.

 

The Secret No One Should Keep

Michelle Rusk
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As former high school teacher and coach, there's something that always strikes me when school starts in the fall and we stumble upon National Suicide Prevention Week in September: the reminder to teens that no one should keep the secret of the suicidal friend.

Sometimes teens (and kids, too) share with each other what they're afraid to tell their parents or any other adult. Sometimes they think adults aren't aware because everyone is busy and more caught up with what's going on their phone rather than around them. 

Instead, teens might share in passing to friends that they are thinking of killing themselves. Whether they are or aren't isn't the question here, instead it's about making sure that secret isn't kept by the person who has become a keeper of it.

Teens should know to always reach out to an adult they respect and trust, that if they are suciidal it's okay to get help. And if a friend has confided in them, they should share the secret rather than  holding it inside and worrying what might happen to the friend.

They are surrounded by adults, maybe not their parents who are dropping them off at activities after school and picking them up and taking them home in time for dinner, homework, and bed, but also coaches and other mentors. In there somewhere is someone they respect and know will help.

Bottom line, teens don't always have to share with their parents what friends have told them. It's okay to reach outside that circle to another adult as long as the secret isn't kept. After all, the friend might be reaching out to the teen because he or she believes the cry for help will be heard by that person.

Mom's Decor Lessons

Michelle Rusk
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I bought this mug for less than a dollar at an estate sale about a month ago and I haven't been able to move it from this spot on my desk. We didn't have the same exact mug (this one has FTD Flowers stamped on the bottom) but we had a similar one growing up. In the bathroom.

Mom decided at some point that the upstairs bathroom, the one us four kids shared, called "the hall bathroom" was going to have a rainbow theme. This was the late 1970s, long before our world in the Midwest associated rainbows with the gay movement. Rainbows were everywhere including all over my elementary school life– on back pockets of jeans, printed across t-shirts, stickers galore. And our bathroom.

She bought a rainbow shower curtain, made rainbow curtains with fabric she bought from a local fabric store, and filled the two-shelf wicker unit above the toilet with rainbow items like this mug (I also remember a rainbow bar of soap).

Mom was good about finding inexpensive but creative ways to decorate. We didn't go to garage sales or estate sales– that would come to me later in life when I moved to Albuquerque– garage sales were something we held at our house so Mom could unload things like crock pots and blenders that never got used (two items that I use often in my house). 

My intention was never to have my house filled with furniture from my childhood but it's worked out that way because as I got older, I began to see what great mid-century taste my mom had (and I probably should give my dad some credit here because they picked out the furniture together). The desk I'm working at right now is the kitchen table we ate off my entire life, bought when they built their first house in 1964. The couch I watch television on each night has had new cushions and been repainted but it's the one we sat on in the basement of the house. The coffee tables in the my living room are the pieces– also refinished– from our family room. In one of my guest rooms is the stereo, one day to be repurposed, but for now looking just fine in a corner of the room.

What I see now is how much she taught me, without outwardly teaching me, about having a sense of style and making something that's your own. I am lucky to have these pieces because they not only hold memories and fit well in my house, they are better made than much of what one will find in the market today.

Over time I've figured out how to merge the past with the present, putting my own spin on it, but I've only been able to do that because she taught me not to fear finding small, new pieces to make changes. Decorating isn't just about running out to the store and buying everything new. It's about working with you have and adding pieces that bring it together. It's a process to figure out how to do that as I have learned from my own experience. Then one day you realize it all fits. 

Including a rainbow mug.

The Forward Path

Michelle Rusk
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I have been spending much of my thinking time this year devoted to understanding how I got where I am, to who I am, to what motivates me, and what inspires me. This morning while I was out walking Hattie, it struck me why I write the kind of fiction that I do– characters that take adverse circumstances and turn them into something positive– because that's how I've chosen to live my life. 

I've been a high school teacher, a track/cross country coach, a speaker, and you could say I've been an educator on many levels. I've watched people face many challenging circumstances. I've watched people set goals to move forward. What I find most interesting is that for all the self-help information out there, people still stumble, mostly by their own choosing.

I could make a list of the many challenging life experiences I've had, but what I can't exactly say is how I learned to hold my head high and move forward, to show the people who didn't support me, didn't like me, or whatever, that I would accomplish more than they could ever dream, that I would be the best that I could be, that I would never let them get me down.

I tend to believe I'm an old soul and while I am a late bloomer in many aspects of my life, I can look back and see where these lessons were being taught to me. Of course I didn't understand them then but as the years went by and I was faced with other situations, I could pull on those coping strategies and push myself forward.

This isn't to say that I didn't recoil for some time. Of course I did– every time something happens to us that changes our lives in some way (I'm talking particularly here when people leave our lives), it's a loss and we have to mourn that loss. But somehow in that rest period I allowed myself, my inspiration, motivation, and strength would return. Ultimately, I am stronger each time because I've used these building blocks of life experiences to grow.

Life isn't supposed to get us down even when it's easy to feel that way. I still believe that inside each of us an ember burns– even one that can be barely seen for some people–  but it's there. And while I do believe everything we do should be because it makes us happy, there's no reason not to use the experience of hurts from others to motivate us to go forward.