Chelle Summer

hope

What do you say?

Michelle Rusk
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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
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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.

Kate Spade: The Initial Inspiration for Chelle Summer

Michelle Rusk
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Quite honestly, I'm not sure where to begin. Two of my worlds collided today with the suicide of Kate Spade.

What most people don't know is that I stopped buying Kate Spade products partly because she had sold the brand and each time Greg and I went into one of the stores on a trip, we agreed that things didn't look new and inviting.

However, there was a bigger reason than that: I had started to create my own brand, Chelle Summer. Initially I had wanted to call Chelle summer "Michelle L." and when the lawyers came back and told me that Fossil owned "Michele" with one L, they were clear that I could never win against such a large company. I was so disappointed that I had to come up with a new name but at some point I thought of Kate and how awkward it must have been (even though she had chosen to sell it) to see a brand with her name on it while she might not have always liked what the new brand had to offer. Chelle Summer was born and I quickly realized it was a better name than Michelle L., while also allowing somewhat of a separation from my own name.

When I look back on the time when I purchased my first Kate bag (in this photo), I was facing many challenges of my own trying to move forward after a divorce and two moves across the country. What I didn't see then was that in looking at what the brand offered and her style of which I had been aware of for so long (but couldn't afford to buy), I was slowly realizing what I would want my own brand to be. Kate was the initial inspiration for Chelle Summer (with Trina Turk taking the lead later). Kate made me feel that I didn't have to settle for what I saw in the marketplace, that I could create my own items and I also could choose to wear bold prints and colors.

I obviously don't know what led her to take her own life, but with vast experience in suicide over the past twenty-five years I know that there is never just one answer. It was probably a combination of events and thoughts that made her believe ending her life was her only way to find peace. The irony of this is that early this morning on my walk as I was contemplating my own life journey that's following my surgery this past Friday, I realized that for a period of time I'm not going to find peace as much as I would like to. I'm working to embrace some challenges ahead of me (mostly writing related) to fulfill the prayer to God that I've been asking to help me go forward and be the person I'm supposed to be.

I also understand how as a creative person it can be challenging because you're in your own world where sometimes you can think too much. It's why I work hard to balance my life of running/walking early in the mornings where I have several people that I chat with and why I host so many pool and dinner parties. Those keep me balanced while also allowing me to have that time create and be alone in my thoughts.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around her suicide. That's the honest answer. But I also know that life is hard and overwhelming at times. That's also one of the one reasons I post so many blogs and photos about moving forward. I see it that if I have something in my life that helps me go forward, maybe it can help someone else, too.

Clinging to Hope

Michelle Rusk
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It's easy to feel hopeless but I believe that when we do, it's because we've fallen away from what matters most to us.

There is a fire inside of all of us, although sometimes it only feels like an ember, barely lit. It's up to us to find out how to make it burn brighter.

Some days it's easier than others and part of the reason much of what you see me post on social media is what I create is because that is one of my symbols of hope. Being creative makes me happy. Just as writing does and hosting a party.

While I had planned to write this blog before our party today, after it was over I was thinking how helpful it was to be taken out of my head. It's easy for me to think too much and doing something for others (even opening up my home and making everyone ice cream) and spending time my friends reminds me to be in the moment and just enjoy laughter and good conversation. 

A good ice cream cone doesn't hurt either.

Hitting the Reset Button

Michelle Rusk
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This weekend is Memorial Day, the official kickoff for summer. And also the time we plan everything that we're going to do this summer. However, what usually happens come Labor Day– the end of summer and start of fall? Often we find ourselves looking back on summer and wondering, "Wait, I had all these things I was going to do! What happened?"

The end of May is the perfect time to hit the reset button, both on what we had hoped to do this year but also what we want to do this summer.

Have we made headway on those goals we planted the seeds of back in January? If not, it's the perfect time to rethink them and maybe tweak them so that we're more likely to accomplish them. If the goal was too big and we easily felt lost and gave up, how do we break the goal down into smaller pieces to make it more manageable?

And if we have made strides in accomplishing our goal (or goals!), what do we want to accomplish next? How do we keep ourselves interested to keep moving forward? What new goals can we set?

Many people see summer as a time to slow the pace down– and that might be our goal for the summer– reading more, spending more time with our families, doing more creative activities.

Whatever you do this weekend, take a little time to reflect on where you're at and where you want to go this year. The start of summer is the perfect opportunity– and a three-day weekend!– to step back and make sure you don't reach Labor Day wondering where summer went. And everything you wanted to accomplish with it.

Big goals, little goals, keeping them all in check

Michelle Rusk
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I don't talk about it much on social media but I spend part of each of my work days writing. That might be actually writing, revising, reading, researching, or some other aspect that goes into creating a novel. It all ebbs and flows based on what I need to do.

I have given myself this year (2018) to focus on not just Chelle Summer but also the writing part of me. However, writing isn't really something that transforms well into social media photos so most of what you see if related to the visual creative side to me, Chelle Summer.

Last week was a challenging week and I had a really hard time getting much accomplished. Now Greg will tell you that I do more before 7:00 am than most people do in a day but, to me, there is always more I want to do. Part of that stems from the losses in my life and the sense that none of us are promised anything, that life can change in many ways in an instant and we better make the most of the day ahead of us.

While last week I was able to keep up with things, meaning keeping the desk clean, email caught up on, and the house vacuumed, there wasn't much happening on the creative side. By the end of the week I was feeling a little depressed. Until I tried a new recipe for Rice Krispie treats on Thursday.

And when I did that, I was reminded that when you are working on big goals, the kind that might not manifest for a least months if not years, it's important to balance that with smaller goals, giving you a sense of accomplishment in the meantime.

So as I continue to mold manuscripts (yes, there is more than one) like a piece of clay, I sometimes need to remind myself that I also need to do smaller creative endeavors that move quickly and let me stand back and have that sense of accomplishment while I'm working on something bigger.

On Sunday I purposely chose two items that I knew I could finish in a day (a painting I had started and two pillows I was making) so that I could walk into a new week feeling that I was already on my way to a much more productive time.

It worked.

What inspires you?

Michelle Rusk
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When I was in elementary school, I had a Raggedy Ann bulletin board and I used to tack on it that were meaningful to me. In high school, my cross country and track friends and I used to decorate our athletic lockers with inspirational sayings and photos we would cut out  of magazines. At home I took this to another level and used long sheets of used computer programming pages that my sister Karen brought home from college and made floor to ceiling collages, like extended versions of what was in my athletic locker at school.

I continued this theme into college and beyond, always having some sort of bulletin board to hang various items that inspired me. But when I started to create Chelle Summer, my lifestyle brand, I suddenly found I had torn pages from everywhere and nowhere to put them. 

I bought the biggest bulletin board I've ever owned and started to tack what inspires me there. While it might just be a small details in a photo, this why at least I won't forget that small detail.

I believe that surrounding myself with what inspires me is what keeps me going no matter the worries swirling around in my head and a reminder that no matter what happens to me, I need to stay the course and keep focused on moving forward. It distracts me from anything that might keep me from my goals from the day or creating/writing.

The items on the bulletin board are a reminder of what I've spent time collecting to keep myself inspired. I like to think of it as an investment of myself. And what I eventually share with the world.

Forgiveness and Sending Love

Michelle Rusk
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One disappointment we often face in life is the reality that some people we feel close to or cherish aren't supposed to remain in our lives. There are a variety of reasons why it happens but the reality is that it doesn't matter. What does matter is how you move forward without the people with whom you believed you were supposed to travel with through life. If it feels painful to think about them, then send them love.

Yes, that's exactly what I wrote– you saw right. Send them love.

That may feel counterintuitive when you feel so much pain (after all, it is a loss to your life) but you'll be surprised at how much better you feel because you sent them love. 

And if this is someone who hurt you– yet you can't seem to let go of them despite all that hurt they caused– sending love is better than hanging on by continuing to contact them when they don't want to talk to you. Or when they cause you pain each time time you talk to them. 

Finally, sending them love doesn't mean you forgive them for how they treated you or ended a relationship or whatever the story may be. Forgiveness is about freeing our own hearts to move forward. We don't control what others do, just what we do.

So next time thinking of someone brings you pain, no matter what the reasons are for that, send them love. And free yourself to move forward. 

The Rearview Mirror: Twenty-Five Years Later

Michelle Rusk
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I wasn't going to write about the twenty-fifth anniversary of my sister Denise's suicide (which was Sunday) mostly because I don't feel the need to acknowledge it. But a funny thing happened yesterday and it made me realize that passing the anniversary of her death is so much like much of what else I experience in life: I'm not supposed to write or talk about while I'm going through something but rather after it happens. The writing and sharing for me comes at a different point of the journey rather than in the midst of it. 

While there is always much anticipation with the anniversary of a death, I wasn't feeling that at all. All I could think was how I couldn't believe twenty-five years have gone by. I know a lot has happened, it just doesn't feel possible that we have reached such a milestone. And it is a milestone because I realize many people out there who have experienced a suicide, especially recently, are thinking, "Will I ever get there? My pain feels so unbearable right now I can barely think about the next minute."

And that's where this post comes from because yesterday morning I got up and went for a run with my dog Lilly and it wasn't until about halfway through it that I remembered what day it was. As Lilly and I kept running (up a large, imposing hill, I might add), I also realized that Denise's suicide is separated from the life she lived. While there was a time when her suicide was at the forefront of my mind or even my thoughts of her, it's no longer there because when I think of Denise, I think of everything we shared together. And those shared life experiences are where I focus my life today: writing, creating, sewing. 

Then during my run, I heard one of three songs that I believe Denise sends to me– "Harden My Heart" by Quarterflash. Laugh all you want but this one brings back happy memories of roller skating in the basement of our house on cold, snowy Midwestern days when we couldn't do it outside. Instead, we'd skate circles upon circles across the concrete floor while listening to the radio.

Sunday was a good day, I got a lot done, there were some good basketball games from the NCAA Tournament playing in the background. And somewhere along the line a mantra stuck in my mind:

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

A message from my sister on the anniversary of the day she might have ended her life, but on a day that reminds me how meaningful she was and still remains to my life. And how much hope I have for the future.

 

The Building Blocks of Coping Skills

Michelle Rusk
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In the last week, I received several messages from friends who were in some way affected by a recent teen suicide and/or attempt. In November I spoke with a reporter The Naperville Sun– the very newspaper for which I wrote a column on good causes several years ago while I was living in my hometown for a short time.

I'm not going into specifics but there have been multiple suicides at my high school over the last year and much as been said about the concern that the students are feeling too much pressure to succeed and feel unable to live up to that.

In the article above (which was then reprinted in the Chicago Tribune a few days before Christmas) I gave my opinions as someone who grew up in Naperville and whose younger sister died in the same town. In my first book about sibling suicide I cited the environment as what I have always believed to be a factor in my sister's death: the pressure wasn't something she coped with well.

Denise and I were two very different beings, beyond the fact that I had blonde hair and she had brown hair (and that by the time I graduated from high school– which was the end of her freshman year– she also was taller than me). I won't say that I did well under pressure because all the pressure came from myself which is another story for another day. But I thrived in the busy environment of having multiple tasks to complete– school, running, writing and editing the school newspaper. I was involved with the activities that interested me and I believed were important to creating the life that I wanted to have.

But this isn't just about Naperville. Our suicide numbers are up. Way up. We have more resources, we have better medications, we have more crisis lines. And yet we are losing more people to suicide.

So once again I'm hopping back on my soap box.

There's a long list I could go down of which I still believe coping skills are missing from the diets of many young people. Couple that with social media and either a self-indulgence of oneself or the feeling of inferiority that one isn't good enough next to what others' lives appear to be. And don't forget to sprinkle in the lack of personal communication– texting has replaced actually sitting down and having a conversation with the people around us. 

My husband who is a high school teacher and coach and I had a conversation last week and he said, "It's not just coping skills but building on coping with challenging situations." 

Something challenging happens in our lives, especially early like maybe we fall off the bike before we finally actually are able to ride it successfully. Learning to do things and learning how to cope with disappointments (we didn't win the essay contest we thought we had surely nailed), help us the next time we are faced with something especially as they get seemingly bigger and more integral to our lives.

I have often said that high school running taught me much about how cope with disappointment. That pressure I put on myself that I mentioned earlier caused a lot of disappointment early in my life. Now that I'm older (and hopefully wiser) I can see how I have used those disappointments as building blocks to each experience I've been faced with since then. 

However, I should also add that my parents allowed me to make mistakes. They didn't run off to the school and fix everything. In fact, they fixed nothing. I would have been embarrassed if they went to the school to complain about a teacher or situation. That was up to me to figure out.

Finally, it's why my social media is filled with what I create, what inspires me, what makes me happy. Many days can be challenges for a variety of reasons (as I type this I have a bag of frozen popcorn resting a hurt knee– I haven't been able to run much in the past three weeks– one of my seemingly life-sustaining activities). 

As I said in the interview, life is hard but it's also great. We have many opportunities and we never know what's around the corner which is every reason why we should hold on for tomorrow. And we all have an obligation not to just to learn that for ourselves but to pass on what we've learned to others particularly people younger than us. That in turn gives us purpose. 

 

The Holistic Health Plan

Michelle Rusk
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From the outside, I know that my lifestyle looks like a lot of work. I am up at 4:30 each morning (although do sleep until about 4:45 on weekends– I know, it's very late compared to the rest of the week!) to run and run-walk my dogs. I do a five-minute morning prayer before I shower. I plan most of the meals in the house and make a concerted effort to make sure that we're eating enough vegetables and keeping it as balanced as possible. I go to mass nearly every weekend and spend an hour with a priest at a monastery here once a month for spiritual direction. And each day I try to spend some time doing something I enjoy even if it's just a short time reading. This morning I had my yearly physical and blood work done. I go to acupuncture with my Chinese doctor twice a month where she works to me balanced with a slew of needles, cupping, and burning moxa while I rest.

But there's a reason for it: three years ago I had a group of fibroids removed from my uterus, including one that was the size of a golf ball. It was at that time that I realized I needed to make changes in my life. Outwardly all looked well, especially because I was just a few months from getting married. But clearly something was wrong inside my body.

While I have been running since I was twelve, there were a series of life events that had taken a toll on me: my sister's suicide when I was 21, my parents' unexpected deaths (among other close losses in my life), and then my first marriage where my then-husband was hit by a drunk driver and suffered a head injury. While running– and also walking the dogs– helped me through that, I now see that it wasn't enough and that's when I believe the fibroids began to grow.

Instead, I thought the way to cope was to do more: remodel the house, add more dogs, add a pool, get a doctorate, write more books, educate the world on suicide and grief. None of that I regret, I just look back now and see it was all a way of coping. By moving forward, I could manage the drama that surrounded me and keep it from suffocating me. There was no way to completely emotional cope with the roller coaster of living with a brain-injured person and my body instead resorted to doing it physically.

Just taking care of one part of ourselves is a start but it's not enough. We are holistic beings– and if you were in Maz's health class at Naperville North High School I know you learned this well. Although I admit I neglected all but the physical for a long time– and if we want to be healthy we have to work at it.

Don't think I jump out of bed each morning because I don't (and Greg will attest to that). But I will be the first to admit I love to be out in the quiet darkness, looking up at the still-night sky which is often clear here in Albuquerque. It's there that I start my day in prayer, in gratefulness, as I ask for help to make the most of the daylight hours ahead of me. I learned a long time ago that a new day, as the sun comes up over the mountains, is the same as the chalkboard being wiped clean; I can start over again.

What looks like a lot isn't in the scheme of my life. It's nothing compared to what the alternative would be if I chose not to work so hard at staying healthy holistically. I wouldn't choose it any other way.

When the Journey Isn't Clear

Michelle Rusk
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I have to laugh. I couldn't think of a topic for this week because my life is very quiet right now. I realize that isn't a bad thing but I'm a person who is used to many irons in the fire and running from place to place. I know this time is a gift to write and create– which is what I'm doing– but it seems like many times I have written over the years about what it's like to not feel as if the journey is completely clear.

I have been at many points in my life where I felt complete clarity of the journey but doing things like working on a degree or writing a book with someone else gives you smaller goals along the way because you're not on that journey alone.

This time is different though. After I finish this blog, I will go and write a few pages on a manuscript I've started and then I have a slew of aprons to finish that I had cut out some time ago. While a few of them are custom orders, most of them don't have "homes" yet (translation– they haven't been sold) and I don't know if any will when I post them later in the week. 

So it's a strange place to be– I am working hard, I am making things happen...but yet I don't know what the end result will be. However, I do believe I am on the right road, even if that road doesn't always feel so defined or that I'm following someone else's directions (like in the photo attached). 

Life usually isn't spelled out for us, especially when we choose undefined roads. And even though we aren't always sure how we'll get there, we know the journey will be worth it when we arrive.

A New Journey

Michelle Rusk
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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.

 

Longing and Gratitude

Michelle Rusk
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On Friday morning, shortly before 8:00 am, I was driving toward the mountains to Four Hills, for an estate sale. If you've read my book, The Green Dress, that's the area of Albuquerque (although not called that in the book) where Sally's house was. 

While I don't feel sadness now for the deaths of my parents and my sister, I do sometimes just simply miss having them here on earth. As I was driving I was thinking about them and I looked to my left where the Sandia Mountains sat, looking a bit hazy in the early morning sun. As my car took me towards the mountains, I could see the rocks that make up their jutted mass on the eastern edge of the city.

And it was in that moment that I began to feel grateful to see such a cool sight, a beautiful sight, of nature. The longing quickly passed and I found myself lifted up in that moment. There was nothing to be sad about. I quickly remembered that my parents and my sister are still with me, all is well, there is nothing to long for.

Once again, a little gratitude topples any any emotions that might hold us back from truly being in the moment. Where we should be. 

Be Fearless

Michelle Rusk
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While I don't know why, I have let fear drive much of my life. I can see it when I travel back on my memories of various events. In particular it cost me being a better runner and it was after high school that I vowed I wouldn't ever let fear hold me back again.

But I know that I have still done it and now as I undergo a change in my work situation, I'm finding myself remembering how often I have worried about various things and how I worried endlessly only for them to work out. And then I've wondered why I put so much energy into worrying. 

Why do we worry so much? Is this a life lesson we're supposed to learn? For me, I believe it's more about learning to trust, to have faith, to know that I don't have to soak up my energy into fear. Instead I need to be fearless.

I know that life is short, it's something that drives me daily to make the most of each day. The less the fear we have, the more authentic lives we are living.

Don't wait. Don't let fear hold you back. Be fearless and make whatever it is you want happen. That's exactly what I'm doing.

My Iconic Image

Michelle Rusk
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I've been writing recently about what keeps me going and I thought I would try to spend more time exploring that, hoping that by my offering more specific examples, I can help other people find what helps keep them going and brings them hope because many times we don't realize what might be right in front of us. In the coming weeks, I'll continue to write about the many ways that help me find hope in the world, even when everything feels dark around me.

This is one of my favorite photos that Greg took on our last trip to Los Angeles. I planned this specifically because it combines several aspects of my life that are important to who I am. 

One of the most pivotal times of my life was seventh grade. I have written before that at the end of sixth grade, many of the girls in my neighborhood decide to "unfriend" me (not a word anyone was using back in the early 1980s but it's exactly what happened). It forced me to find new friends and find a way to be hopeful in a time that felt really lonely in many ways. 

That summer after sixth grade I somehow got really interested in popular music, then called Top 40 for those of us who remember. Without realizing it, I latched on trivia and I had an extensive knowledge of music in that time. I used babysitting money to buy magazines and would tape up pages of my favorite bands and artists on the walls of my room. 

In the middle 1980s, the Capitol Records Building (there were still records in those days!) was still a hubbub activity and in my world, to see it even today, takes me back to a time that was challenging but led me to new roads that proved to be interesting and inspiring. And help me get where I am now.

I found the Forenza sweater on eBay– by major luck. I had one in yellow in junior high and I loved it. I wore it backward all the time and it drove my grandmother crazy that it hung so low on my shorts at the time, making it sometimes not looking like I had shorts on. I parted with the sweater at some point and I feel lucky I found one in pink that fits. And is in perfect condition. 

To wear that sweater reminds me of junior high into high school and while it was a challenging time as I was trying to find my way in the world, it also reminds me how much hope I had of who I wanted to be. 

Finally, the Chelle Summer handbag made with vintage fabric represent where I'm at today. Chelle Summer takes all aspects of me– the past, the present, and the future– and ties them together into one lifestyle brand.

So standing there in Hollywood reminds me this is who I am. And this is still who I want to be.

What keeps you going?

Michelle Rusk
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When I was a senior in high school, I remember going through a challenging period that spring. Without looking back into the extensive journals I wrote, what I can best recall is that I was a little worn out on the routine. There was a long day of school and homework and then track practice. And while I was learning how to set goals, work toward them, and accomplish them, it felt a little monotonous.

I remember feeling attached to a television show called "Island Sun" (Hey, I can hear those snickers from here!). It starred Richard Chamberlain as a doctor in Hawaii and I believe he had a son. I couldn't tell you anything else about the show except that those were the days when we had to wait another week to see what happened next. There was no bingeing on anything like we take for granted now.

My wise track coach Marty Bee told me that if that was the thing that kept me going, that was okay. And since then I have always asked myself that during times when I feel depressed, bored, or challenged in some way. There must be something small that keeps us going and we can use that to propel us forward until life starts to feel more hopeful or happy or peaceful (whatever it is we believe we are lacking).

I have always said that I believe we all have an ember of hope burning inside of us. Unfortunately, many times that ember doesn't seem to be burning because of the constant barrage of life events we are faced with. But in times of challenge we should always take a step back and look around us. There is always something we can see or think of that keeps us going. Symbols of hope– that's what I called them when I doing talks about moving forward through grief.

What are your symbols of hope? I asked people. We often forget that it's the little things in life, the sunshine, the change of seasons, the time we spend with people, that keep us going. Sometimes we get caught up in the challenges and difficulties and forget what's right in front of us. 

And once we let go of our challenges and focus on whatever is keeping our ember burning, we realize how much better we feel. And hopeful. We can feel the ember burning brighter.

 

 

Positive Thoughts Only

Michelle Rusk
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There is a reason I post very little that's negative here on my blog or on social media. It's not about anyone else, but about me and how I realized the negative posts made me feel. 

Some years ago I had a run-in over a payment with the group that handled our health insurance. It was during my first marriage and my then-husband was a sales rep and owned his own sales organization. That meant we didn't qualify for other insurance providers at the time, but there was a state health alliance where we could get insurance and something happened with a payment and to say I was mad was an understatement (I don't remember all the details– testament to how much I try to let go of negativity so it doesn't simmer and boil over). It was during the early days of Facebook and I posted my anger there. 

It didn't take long for me to realize that I actually felt worse by sharing it. Usually we think that by sharing something, we can let go of it. Not always. I felt worse and I realized it wasn't what I wanted to put "out there." 

My life is far from perfect, but I choose to share what I believe are the most interesting aspects of my life: what I create, the fun things I do, enjoying being with my dogs, what it is that makes me happy. We all have good days and bad days and I found that by sharing what makes me feel good, I actually feel better. I might start a day feeling awful because I didn't sleep well (a normal occurrence for the bulk of my life), but by posting a positive message, I feel better.

It's the same when I am feeling tired, but need to run errands. Interacting with people, talking about the weather, just being connected gives me energy I might lack if I had stayed at home trying to keep myself interested in what I need to do.

Many times I've also found that after I've been through a challenge, that I share it here and talk about how I worked through it. I usually don't need to share what I'm going through, however, at some point I might post what it was and how I managed the challenge. That I also believe can be helpful to others.

We all have reasons for what we choose to post and for me it's about helping myself keep focused, inspired, and motivated. I do that with positive thoughts. And positive postings. And know that they can inspire others to be positive and feel hopeful and happy, too.

Where do I go?

Michelle Rusk
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I'm not very good at standing in one place. I see that there is too much to do, too much that I want to do. And yet sometimes life holds me in places which quite honestly don't make me very happy. I keep working hard, I try not to let it get to me, but then I reach a point where I'm not even sure if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. 

This might be where I'm supposed to be. I might be questioning everything because I'm confused while standing still, but that also doesn't mean I have to like it. I remember once in a conversation with a priest about something similar to this. 

"You can tell God you don't like it," he said. "That doesn't mean it'll change."

There are times in our lives where we feel like everything is moving forward– maybe not perfectly as nothing ever is perfect– but we can feel the people mover under our feet taking us forward as we also walk forward. And yet there are other times where we maybe don't feel like we're in darkness, but instead at that time right before light appears, before the sun comes up, and yet, there isn't any sun. Yet.

Yes, that's where I am at with many aspects of my professional life. I had long thought that this part of my life would be in a different place than it is right now. And so I continue to create, continue to make the most of each day, and believe that something will breakthrough and major– positive– change is coming. 

Until then? Here I am making the most of it.

A Look Back, A Look Forward

Michelle Rusk

It's hard not to think about college this time of year. Whenever I hit August, I am reminded of my "anniversary" of moving to Albuquerque in 1994. But this year it's also a little different. As I'm writing this, Greg's nephew Dean will be flying to Albuquerque tomorrow night and I'll be helping him to move into his dorm room on Wednesday so he can start school as an undergraduate next week here at the University of New Mexico. 

It's brought up a lot of reminders for me not just about when I moved to Albuquerque, but also my years at Ball State University in Indiana where I have my undergraduate degree from.

I didn't start at Ball State– from high school I entered what was then North Park College (now University) on the northside of Chicago to run cross country and track as well as study. I don't remember anything about moving in the dorms. My best guess is that because we had to arrive a week early to go to camp on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we must have stored our belongings somewhere and then moved into our dorms when we returned. 

Ball State I remember clearly, particularly my parents getting ready to drive away after my things were unloaded into my dorm room (there wasn't any such thing as orientation then– it was drop your kid off and let them figure it out!). 

As I think of Becky, putting her son on a plane tomorrow for Albuquerque from their Boston home, it's not like he's going just a few hours away. He's going almost the whole way across the country, excited to start a new adventure in a place he wants to get to know better.

And I think of my friend Janet who once told me that you don't raise your children to be like you, you raise them to be their own people, to be independent. And so you send them on their way.

While Becky is letting Dean go, for Greg and I, we get to enjoy time with him (I jokingly say until he makes friends and wants nothing to do with us), helping him to explore Albuquerque and New Mexico and build a new life around his next level of schooling.

When I came to New Mexico, I was twenty-two and I had just finished my bachelor's degree. And my sister Denise had died just eighteen months before. I didn't understand then how hard it must have been for my parents to let me go, to drop me and a UHaul full of items off into a studio apartment, and head home. There were no cell phones for us and it was because I moved away that my parents joined AOL so we could email at least, providing more contact than phone calls (which still weren't so inexpensive then). Obviously I managed to build a life here because, well, I'm still here.

But when I transferred to Ball State my sophomore year, I was lucky that a few weeks into the semester, I was sitting in the Newman Center Church, just off campus, when a woman and her middle-school son sat next to me. It wasn't long in that first conversation that Pat declared herself my adopted mom.

Pat had three daughters of her own– all in college or just beyond at that time– even one also named Michelle. She lived several miles from campus and I only had a bicycle, but she gave me a connection in the community, made me dinner, too me to dinner, gave me a family to spend Easter with when I didn't go home, and an attic to store my belongings when I went home for summer break. 

She's come to Albuquerque, I've been back to stay with her in Indiana multiple times, and when I married Greg two years ago she sent us a slew of Fiestaware off our registry (me forgetting how much she liked it) and I think of her every time I pull out the yellow pitcher for a dinner party.

While I made other connections throughout my three years there, Pat was a stable family presence, one that I relished while my own family was in Chicago, and especially after my sister died the next year. The photo here is of us and her son Tim taken in August 1992. My mom took the photo and somewhere I have one of Mom and I there in Pat's backyard, but I don't know where it was. 

As I look back now, I'm sure my parents appreciated Pat more than I will ever know. 

And as Dean arrives tomorrow night, I hope that I can return the favor of all that was given to me, twenty-some years ago.