It's Always a Joyful Summer Day with Stepanka
By Carin Chea
After a long and trying day on the grind, many will turn to happy hour, Netflix, and/or staring blankly at a monochromatic wall in attempts to dull the stressors that inevitably bombard us during the day.
For me, I have recently discovered something far superior to all of the above: ceramic artist, two-time cancer survivor and thriver, and newly-published author and poet Stepanka Summer.
Arriving to the States with one pair of shoes and no knowledge of the English language, Ms. Summer is the epitome of fearless hope, brazen peace, and unflinching curiosity that gives her the superhero-like ability to combat any and all of life's daunting trials.
Her maiden book, "finding treasured gold," is the flashlight we all need to shine upon the darkest corners of our lives. Ms. Summer is living proof that, lurking within our darkness, is light ready and waiting to burst.
You moved to New York City from the Czech Republic when you were 19. What was that transition like? What prompted the move?
I always felt like I was born in the wrong place, speaking the wrong language. I always felt like I wasn't fitting in. I grew up in a communist setting. We never traveled or went anywhere. At 19, it was my first time on a plane, first time seeing the ocean. It was a dream. It was like I was being called home. A magnet was pulling me.
After communism, a lot of Americans flooded to Prague, which is where I was since I was 14. It was different seeing so many Americans in Prague. I could identify with the feeling of the Americans. I felt I had to go America. It felt like it was where I needed to be.
I didn't know logistically how it was ever going to happen. How would I save the money? I didn't speak English. But, I knew it would happen, and it did. I just opened myself up.
I had 30 days to find work before I returned home. A lot of people said, "How are you going to find work? You don't speak English!" I knew in my heart this was where life was waiting for me. And, I found a job maybe 3 days before I was supposed to go home.
I found a job in a restaurant. It was a dessert and coffee place and I was bussing tables because they thought I was sweet. I was bussing tables for a while and I had to learn quickly. There was nobody to speak to me in Czech. I learned English by listening.
I remember being so exhausted from purely all the listening and trying to understand and put things together. A lot of times I had to guess what I was being asked because there are only so many times you can ask someone to repeat themselves.
How did you first get involved in ceramic art? What was it about ceramics that spoke to you as an artist?
Ever since I was a child, I had this fascination with hand-made ceramics. In the little village where I grew up, there wasn't a place to go to learn art. But, I'd go to art fairs and it was something I absolutely loved.
When I came here, the first year in New York, I kind of lost myself in the newness. I have to learn how to walk and talk all over again. I came with a duffel bag and one pair of clogs.
After that, I thought, "Why am I here?" There was a moment. I said, "I've always loved ceramics!" At that moment, I remembered who I was and what I loved. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I took classes at the YMCA, and at first it was a hobby.
With ceramics, it takes a long time to know the materials and to get good at it. The process of ceramic-making is something you really have to lean into. You can't just jump into it. So, I did it as a hobby for a few years. But, people started asking me where I studied.
Then, I had a dream. I knew I wanted to do it full time. Then that dream came true. But, it all started when I was a child.
How would you describe your work as an artist?
Everything I do as an artist is very intuitive. I just sit and I wait and I let the inspiration come to me. In everything I do, I've always listened to my intuition.
Sometimes I would work and not understand why I did what I did, but looking back, I was able to connect the dots. I think I'm just deeply emotional and I think a lot about my mind and my emotions. I feel a lot. I just know when something feels right.
The same goes for everything I do in life. I listen to my intuition and I act on it. I am never, ever wrong when I follow my intuition. It may lead me to hard places, but wherever it goes, I adapt to it.
finding treasured gold is your first foray into writing. Tell me about the moment you knew you needed to write this book. What inspired you to compose this book?
For the past two years, mostly after my second breast cancer diagnosis, so much in me has changed. My life has been so rich and quite extraordinary. I've been wanting to share my story about overcoming a lot. I've been wanting to share it for a while, but never through writing.
Writing was the most intimidating thing to me on earth. It was the tallest mountain to climb. I express myself with hands. I'm a maker; I was comfortable with this. I never thought I'd write.
But, at some point, I felt that I couldn't say all that I needed to say through clay and porcelain.
So, one year ago, on January 2nd actually, I walked into my living room and the TV was on. There was an interview on PBS with a young poet, Rupi Kaur. She is Indian, but from Canada, and I didn't know who she was.
I was standing there listening to her, and at that moment, everything came together. It almost felt like lightening striking and the skies opened up. At that moment, I knew I had to write my story using poems.
I had a vision of a book. It was an incredible feeling and vision. I knew I was going to write this book and my story in poems even though I had never written a thing before. Like everything in my life, it became this absolute knowing. This new door opened; it was this moment of enlightenment. It was this divine intervention, if you will.
I knew it would happen, and that it would happen fast. It was like a faucet: Everything I wanted to share came pouring out like water.
Tell me about the process of writing finding treasured gold.
It definitely deepened after going through cancer, but that alone changed me in a million beautiful ways. It truly brought so much beauty and so much love in my life. Yes, it was hard, but I also see it as this incredible gift to my life.
The title comes from finding myself in a lot of dark places, but knowing that every dark place is worth exploring. It's not easy, but every difficulty has always brought me to finding a nugget of gold.
I actually wrote the whole book on my phone. There was never actually a moment where I would sit down determined to write. It would be more like: I'd be sitting in my studio making ceramics or biking somewhere, and literally it would just come to me.
I wrote whatever came. I had to stop everything at the moment and write. It would just come through me. It happened oftentimes very quickly. These moments would happen 3, 4, 5 times a day when the inspiration would literally descend. I just kept waiting for those moments.
It almost became this addictive thing, like, "Okay, you came today only 3 times, but I really need more poems today. Where are you?" It was one of the most magical things that ever happened to me.
What message do you wish to send across with your book?
I would like to help my readers navigate human nature with all its ups and downs. I want to help them discover the power within themselves. So often, I think we relinquish our power and we look outside of ourselves for answers.
For me, I discovered that I have the power to be in charge of my mind. I have the power to overcome. Nobody ever told me that I could.
For example, I grew up stuttering. It was one of the hardest things to overcome. I always looked for somebody to fix me. I would go to a healer, or someone to hypnotize me. There was a point when I realized: I am the only one who can fix me and can overcome this.
But, as long as I was looking for someone else to do it for me, I could never actually move on and overcome this debilitating thing and the fear of speaking.
I want my readers to understand the power we have inside of us. I see the book as a road-map to finding the golden treasure that is hiding deep within each of us, and that every stark place is worth exploration. It isn't easy, but there really is a little nugget of gold that is hiding. I always knew that everything I went through was by design.
So, by believing there is a reason for everything, trusting my intuition has always led me to a good place. I am sharing this story not just because I have so much to offer, but because so much has been offered to me.
It is truly a result of every single person I have met in my life and the love I have been given.
Do you have any other artistic endeavors or books in the making?
Right now, I do feel a second book is slowly coming on to me. I'm connecting new dots and finding myself in new, unseen territories in my mind. I don't really know how, but I do know there is definitely a second book. I'm just waiting for it. I'm following my intuition and observing it all.
In the meantime, what has been fascinating is that now I'm finding myself on this new path with my ceramics. I wonder how the two passions are going to merge together - the ceramics and the writing. I'm really trusting the process.
The past four months, I've been lost in ceramics. I've been wondering how to merge the two together because I feel like they have to speak to each other directly, the art and the words. I'm not sure what will come out, but there is a new body of work that is coming. I'm almost there.
Let's say you are at a restaurant, and you are given a fortune cookie. What do you think would be the best fortune you could ever receive?
I have a thing for numbers, especially the number 333. So, opening a fortune cookie and seeing something with 3s would be great. Is that weird?
No, not at all! You're amazing!
Make sure to check out Ms. Summer's breath-taking artistic body of work, as well as updates and information on her book, at www.StepankaSummer.com
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