Chelle Summer


Choosing What to Share

Michelle Rusk

I spent a good part of yesterday working on two paintings (when I wasn't folding laundry and that I did because Greg was gratefully painting the trim on the outside of the house so I didn't think it was fair that he did that and fold the laundry). At some point I took a break from painting and I picked up my phone to check social media. But before I hit the button to take it out of sleep mode, I looked at the phone, wondered if I really needed to look at anything, and ended up putting it back on the counter where I had left it previously. Then I returned to my painting.

I am the first to admit that social media has played a huge part of taking my messages forward, particularly in my days working to help the suicide bereaved. I realize that if you lost someone to suicide today, you will have a drastically different experience than me because you can easily connect to people via the internet whereas it took me years to find other bereaved siblings. And now my messages have changed to sharing how I've moved forward through my losses by using my creativity, at least the visually creative aspects of my life (sewing, painting, cooking, etc).

However, I also know there is a line for me of what I choose to share, when I choose to share it, and how much time I spend looking at it.

While it might seem that what I create visually is how I spend the bulk of my time, the reality is that my writing is still what's most important to me. It obviously takes longer for me to share that so in the meantime (as I wrote about balancing goals last week), I share the visually creative items. I also found out in my early Facebook years that if I shared what I was writing, I never finished it.

I stopped talking about my writing because I realized it was something I have to keep to myself until it's completed. Most people in my daily circle of life don't know what I'm working on for the same reason. And yet there are many times I so badly want to share things but I know the time isn't right so I let it go (and probably post a photo of Lilly instead!).

When I went for my last spiritual direction visit with Fr. Gene, at the Norbertine Abbey here, one of things I told him was how I find that I'm not supposed to always share the journey that I'm on, that instead I'm supposed to wait until it's over when I can look back at the road and reflect more on it. It's only then that I can see what it is about my journey that would be most meaningful for others to read about.

And in that same vein, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about letter writing. One line stood out for me where the woman said that even though we seemingly share more of our lives by constantly posting on social media, we aren't really sharing of ourselves like we did writing letters.

Writing letters was one way that I honed my writing skills early and now I'm finding that as I've pulled back in sharing some aspects of my journey, they are instead finding places in my manuscripts. Once again, it's about balance and deciding what I should share now and what I should save for later, to be shared in another way as part of a bigger project.

100 Pages for Lent

Michelle Rusk

I believe that Lent is about finding a way to make yourself better, to do something that challenges you to work on growing closer to God. 

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to this year. In fact, Lent had already started and I still wasn't sure what I was going to do. But then through a series of thoughts and writing, I realized what I wanted to challenge myself to do was write 100 pages in March.

It meant five pages a day during the week when I typically do three with several days off during the month to accommodate life events and schedule changes. It also meant doubling the 50 pages I usually write in a month.

But I believed that it would draw me closer to God because it would bring me the stories I'm supposed to write.

I won't say it was easy– it wasn't supposed to be– and there were days I had to focus harder than usual, or let go of other things I wanted to do, to make sure I had the time to write. Several days I wrote ten pages to make up for other days when I knew things were coming (or didn't know in the case of getting call to do television extra work– it helped that I'd gotten ahead the day before shooting!). 

There was an incredible amount of accomplishment each day that I forged forward toward my goal and also that the creativity kept coming. I didn't lack for material write which helped. And reaching 100 pages felt like a milestone– probably only the second time I've accomplished this in a month.

Finally, it gave me the sense that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and as I said in my blog two weeks ago, there's thought that keeps coming to me–

"Keep writing and you'll get where you want to go."

I'm now 100 pages closer to that goal thanks to Lent. 

A New Journey

Michelle Rusk

I am convinced that sometimes the universe tells us we've been sitting too long and need to move it along. As I post this to social media, today is my birthday, December 12. It's also the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe. And yesterday on December 11, my job went half time. 

No need to discuss the job because it's not about that or about the loss of income that I'm trying not to focus. When you find out that your job is going half time and the date it begins is the day before your birthday– which also happens to be the feast day of a saint whose presence has unknowingly been part of your life longer than you're aware– you know the friend who sits behind you in church was right when she said, "Guadalupe has something better for you to do."

We all know I have many things I'm working on, many things I want to do. The hardest part has been finding the time to do them all. Part of the problem my husband Greg will tell you is that I work hard, I'm a Midwesterner who listened to my parents when they said, "What ever you're doing, make sure you do the best you can at it." While I work at home with a lot of flexibility on a military grief study, I often found myself stifled by a 40-hour work week in the sense that I felt I had to always be available if they needed something.

No more. Now half my week has been freed and I believe it's Guadalupe– because things always happen around my birthday and during Advent– telling me that now is the time, to get focused and get busy on that list. I have one major manuscript I'll be tackling next year along with two others. I obviously have swimwear and clothes to make along with the handbags and such. And hopeful sales will come along with the creating.

I'm not totally clear what this road looks like. And because we're in the midst of the holiday season, I also know I'm somewhat limited on what I can do right now. Instead, I'm resting up and gearing up for that different journey to go into full swing right after the new year, after a trip to Los Angeles.

It's not going to be an easy road. When you've spent much of your time working with grieving people- which can be taxing– you also find that while other aspects of your life make you happy, there is a sense you aren't doing enough because you've been working in life and death. That's something I have to work out, to let go of, because my work is important, just in a different way than hearing people's stories. Instead, it's about living an authentic life, the life I've always wanted– of which I haven't quite reached– and sticking to it even when I'm not quite sure how to get there.

Life isn't easy. It's always full of surprises we don't like. But if we embrace what might look like is two steps backward but is really five steps forward, we'll get where we want to go.


Sharing Stories with the World

Michelle Rusk

"My reward is the reader who thanks me for tackling themes in the book. That person's comment is worth more than twenty weeks on the best-seller list. I write to touch people, and when they respond the circle is complete" – Rudolfo Anaya in the afterword of Tortuga

I'm sitting on a finished manuscript and– for me– it's not a pleasant place to be because I want to share it with the world. Often, Greg and I make comments or jokes about things relating to the characters in the book but we no one else can relate to them because only a handful of people have read it.

Figuring out what to do with it has been a quandary for me the past few months. I've self published all ten of my books since the second printing of my first book about sibling suicide loss. At the time, the publishing industry was very different than it is now– it was much harder to get your book into the marketplace. Now you pretty much hit a button on your device and it's released to the world. That means, unfortunately, my books are lumped with a lot of badly written books and that also makes it more challenging to be taken seriously when I've been working at this for almost my entire life.

I thought I would spend this year trying to find an agent to publish That Cooking Girl, my latest  completed manuscript and one that I believe is my best written work yet. However, as this year comes to an end, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. It's a tough balance of figuring out where to go from here– because I don't have a huge social media following nor book following, I could end up with a publisher where I'd still be doing all the marketing (such as I have been for sixteen years since my first book came out).

I believe I have stories to share with the world and I often feel as if I'm standing on one side of the Rio Grande Gorge up in the northern part of New Mexico and I can see the other side– where I want to be– yet there is no bridge for me to get there and I'm not sure how to cross.

I'm someone who wants to make things happen. Even if I don't get exactly what I'm pursuing, by continuing to forge forward, other opportunities always come my way. I've honestly prayed about what I'm supposed to do, asking for a clear answer, and yet that hasn't happened. In fact, several times my prayers have been interrupted by "outside life" which at first I found irritating until I realized that maybe it was part of the "do nothing" message I must be receiving.

Rudolfo Anaya is right– it's about touching people and that's all I've ever wanted to do. But sometimes building it and believing they will come doesn't always work as well as one hopes. Still, I'll keep at it. I have a plan for this next year and perhaps that will be the manuscript that finally breaks open the writing career that I've wanted to have since I was six years old. And in that process, That Cooking Girl also will find an audience.

One Big Goal, A Bunch of Small Steps

Michelle Rusk

It's easy to set goals, especially big goals. Believe me, I've been the queen of them since I was six years old and knew I wanted to write books. The hard part is that once you set that goal, you realize how long it will take to accomplish the goal– could be an entire lifetime depending on what the goal is– and that's when despair sets in.

However, what we often forget is that in the process somewhere we need to break our big goal down into smaller goals. Those smaller goals are what will keep us going while the accomplishment of the big goal remains in the far-off distance.

As I'm embarking on some forced changed in my life- forced change that hasn't been completely defined yet which leaves me hanging in limbo although trying to remind myself there is nothing to fear, all will work out– I've realized the universe is poking me. There's a list of things I've been putting off doing for no reason other than they just never make it to the top of the list (doesn't it seem like the top of the list is always crowded but there are always items we want to do, mean to do, but they never become priorities?). 

I've also realized something else, how much social media has affected my need to be done now, yesterday, last year, so I can post it. With a new goal ahead of me (one that I'm not quite ready to reveal, mostly because with my writing I seem to never actually do the writing when I share what I'm working on), one that I believe will take me about a year to accomplish, I see that I need smaller goals as I go along otherwise I'll become frustrated and work on something else. 

My hope is there are some things to share in the process, especially some of the smaller goals that I'll be accomplishing on this journey. In this current moment though, I'm not exactly sure what those smaller steps will be. What I do know is that while there is a big chunk of this challenge that's new, some of it isn't. I'm starting something new, I've been here before. Eventually I'll start moving forward on the road and I'll see where the stops are, where the road turns into another one.

For now, however, away I go.

Process and Journey

Michelle Rusk

Greg will be the first to tell you that I'm about the destination, not the journey. I don't particularly like to go for a Sunday drive nor do I enjoy the scenic route hiking up a mountain. It's all about the end destination for me. 

And when I have a list of things I want to accomplish, it's not about the process there either. I'm more about seeing what I can accomplish in a time period. What most people don't understand is that I've had so much loss in my life that there isn't always a sense of tomorrow. For me, it's do it today because you don't know what tomorrow may bring. I've had too many days in my life where tomorrow ended up turning my life upside down because I was faced with a major challenge (or, like last week, a flat tire and my phone ceasing to work).

However, I can always look back and appreciate the process and the journey of how I've gotten to wherever I'm standing or what I've made/written. I can see that my writing has improved– and continues to do so– even as I'm frustrated trying to find an agent for my latest work. I see how easy it is for me to sit down at the sewing machine and whip out a handbag or a bucket bag after what is now about a year of making them (it's been nearly two years on the bucket bags). 

And then there are the process and journeys I sit in the midst of now– my continuous writing, the paintings in the photo above, and the stack of sewing projects I can't seem to complete with everything going on around me.

Some years ago I realized that  if I wanted to accomplish something far greater than simply doing my job each day, I would need to write/sew/create around my daily responsibilities. When you are trying to make life more than you have, sometimes it's hard to enjoy the journey because you know the destination is where you want to be. And the reality is that I've been working on one major goal since I was six years old– to be a bestselling author. At this point, it's not about the journey. It's about continuing to climb what feels like a steep hill to my destination.

I might not be about looking back until I get where I want to go, but I will when I get there. When I can rest because I have arrived.