Chelle Summer

life journey

Keeping the Dream Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Joy in Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life and the Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Questioning Faith

Michelle Rusk
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Recently I had my monthly spiritual direction visit with a priest here, Fr. Gene, and one of the things he happened to say was how he has come to understand questioning faith is part of the faith journey.

It took me a moment to absorb what he had said because it was the first time I could truly admit how much I doubted faith for so long.

Growing up, it was expected that we would go to CCD class, make our first communions, and then we could stop once we were confirmed. But I can now freely admit that all these years– and throughout high school after my confirmation– I doubted the existence of God. However, my mom had such steadfast faith that I never felt I could say I didn't believe. I knew I was expected to and kept it to myself.

It wasn't until my first relationship break up in college that I had to figure out where to lean for support and I started to attend church. Reflecting back, I now see that Mom set in place a coping mechanism for us by making us complete all our sacraments. Maybe I didn't need spirituality (my chosen word for it– I see religion as more meditative and choose to use the tradition aspect of it that way) then but it was there when I needed it.

And when my younger sister died two years later, I had a church community to fall back on because I was attending church fairly regularly at that point.

I believe that things unfold the way they do for a reason and that had I learned the lessons I wish had been taught to me (especially about letting go of my worries and giving them to God/the universe), my life journey wouldn't be where it's supposed to be today. A good example of it is writing this blog at this particular time. The whole idea probably never would have occurred to me had I never doubted my faith.

However, I also see that I was questioning my faith early in life when some people might be faced with the same questions later in their years. But as they were early for me, it's allowed me to explore and do other things I might not have been able to without the previous journey.

Our life journeys aren't interstate highways that often stretch for miles in what looks like a straight line (like through Western Oklahoma or any of the other Great Plains states!). Often we can't see where we are going which can be frustrating but that's the key part to trusting the journey.

I can't say that every day I am filled with complete faith but I understand the importance of trusting the journey, the universe, God. There is only so much I can do and life has taught me that by letting go of what I can't control and keeping my focus in the here and now and what's right in front of me, makes all the difference in the world to my outlook on life.

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.

The Push and Pull of Letting Go

Michelle Rusk

Letting go is one of my biggest challenges (along with being patient!). It's not just that I want things to happen, it's also that I'm willing to work to make them happen. And yet much of the time it's not on my schedule. I'm a doer, I'm not a person to step back and let things unfold in front of me. I try to do as much as I can to make the unfolding happen.

But reality (yep, there's that again) is that there is much that can't happen if I don't let it go. If I keep something at the forefront of my mind, if I continually thing about it, what I'm doing is holding it back because I can't let it go.

I don't want to let it go because that means– gasp!– I'm giving the control away. However, I can't count the number of times that I've forced myself to stop thinking about something, stop asking for it. And the minute I turn around, my mind and work elsewhere, it reappears.

When something we want- especially to accomplish- feels as if it's stagnant, somewhere we need to balance how much we work on it and the letting go of the rest. There is only so much I can do, and accepting that is hard for me because I want certain things (particularly in my professional life) to happen. But life is also about balance, especially balancing working hard and letting go of the rest. 

And the day I master that? I won't be the only one watching it unfold. Until then, back to balancing I go.

 

 

The Authentic Life

Michelle Rusk

I sometimes forget what a challenge it is for people to live an authentic life. And when I say that, I mean to live the life they believe they are supposed to live. It's something I strive for daily and I think that because I've worked so hard to make it happen– while not completely as I do have a full-time job and I'm not yet devoting my entire days to my writing and Chelle Summer– that I forget how much work it's taken to get where I am. And I believe that in my future I will be working full-time for myself; it's what I strive for daily.

I also had forgotten about this photo– one of a series that Lois Bloom had taken for me, I believe not long after I'd gotten my surfboard. We were talking not long ago and I don't remember the rest of the conversation but I did say to her, "You know you were the reason that I realized I could own a surfboard and make it part of my life."

It was all because after she and Sam picked me up from LAX when I flew in from Chicago (where I was living at the time) to speak at a conference, I told them that a friend had asked if I was going to surf on the trip. I said no, that I didn't have a board, nor had I brought a swimsuit. 

"Why not?" Lois asked, turning her head to the backseat where I was sitting in the car. "You can rent a board. You can buy a swimsuit."

She was right– I did all of the above, spending the next few days on a rented board after taking (yet another) surfing lesson. And from there I bought my own board. 

While my shoulder has kept me off my board for about a year now, surfing is part of my life. I worked to carve it in just a I started to carve in time to write early in the morning. And I've carved in time to working on my sewing projects and building my Chelle Summer brand. 

I watch less television, I go to bed earlier so I can get up earlier, but I've made time for what makes me happy. It's the first step to living an authentic life: just like being taught to brush your teeth means that eventually (hopefully!) it become part of your daily routine, so is making time for what makes me happy. I long incorporated running into my life and I often say it's as much as part of my routine as brushing my teeth. But teaching myself that also has helped me figure out how to add in writing and creating to my daily routine, too.

I know that none of us are promised anything. We have this moment now and we don't know what's ahead. And while we can't always control some of the responsibilities we have, we still have the opportunity find some time for ourselves because by doing that, we're creating our own authentic life.

 

A Short Time on My Soapbox

Michelle Rusk

I spent the latter part of last week at the American Association of Suicidology conference in Phoenix, my first conference since I handed the presidential gavel off to Bill Schmitz four years ago. I try to fill my days with creating, whether it be through writing, sewing, or other like projects. However, in the recent weeks between multiple suicides at my high school and the uproar of the Netflix television series, "13 Reasons Why," I've tried to stay out of any discussions, believing my time is best spent continuing to throw inspiration out there rather than sitting here typing opinions.

However, I found my soapbox and today I'm offering a little bit of my perspective before I put the soapbox away again.

I haven't seen "13 Reasons Why" and nor do I plan to watch it or read the book. Instead, I'm offering my thoughts about what I believe is missing in our culture– a message that hasn't changed in the four years since I became a past president of the American Association of Suicidology.

We've spent a lot of time and energy looking into why people kill themselves. Yes, it's important, absolutely, but in that same time we still know much less about how people cope and how we can help them cope when they think that the only way to end their pain is to end their lives. What I have learned from the twenty-some years since my sister ended her life and I was forced to face intense grief for the first time in my life, is that no one grieves the same. I also believe that to be true when we are faced with challenges in our lives: we're all going to work toward finding hope in different ways because we are, well, different people. 

What I do believe is that we can do is help people find the start of the hopeful journeys. Give them ideas, help them begin to learn coping skills so that when life hands then a challenge, they know at least how to find hope. It might not feel like hope is there, but it is. Often it's just that the light is so dim we can't see it. We should allow them to express their pain, let them know that we know they are hurting. But then we should help lead them toward the light, even slowly.

We are all faced with challenges and difficulties, some of us seemingly more than others, but learning from them and using them as springboards for growth is what makes us stronger and helps us to someday look back at the road behind us, hands on our hips, and know that we have come a long way. And then continue forward on the road.