We had the good fortune of connecting with Christianna Soumakis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christianna, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
The poet Wendell Berry says, “A tree forms itself in answer to its place and to the light.” This strikes me as terribly good advice for anyone of any phylla. And so I’d like to answer this question from the persepctive of a tree. How to know whether to keep going or to give up? First: How does the venture under consideration interface with your place? Your place is your identity: a cocktail of nature and nurture. It’s what you do naturally. Nature is incredibly flexibile — look at the way plants bend around obstacles, crack sidewalks, swallow fences, climb up or occlude their neighbors. But our nature is also defined by its limits: an oak tree will never live the life-pattern of a tomatoe plant. Our limits are the scaffold of our liberty. Honoring them sets us free to be ourselves. If the venture in question stretches your nature, by all means, strive forward. But if holding onto the project/goal transgresses the life-sustaining thresholds of your nature, to thrive will mean to let it go. Second: How does the venture in question position you in relation to the light? Light is a tree’s source of food, and the force that drives it upward. A tree can’t make leaves, flowers, acorns, fruits, or anything else if it cannot establish consistent, sufficient contact with the light. And from its place — its location and its nature — it will pursue the light with the total force of its being. Every other goal on the path to flourishing is dependent on this one thing, this non-negotiable priority. Are you getting enough light to put out the flowers and fruit of important but necessarily lesser goals? Remember that priority one is always reaching into the light. Any activity that jeopardizes this is a bad idea. Any activity that facilitates this is a good idea, no matter how difficult. Crack your sidewalk, if you need to! Swallow your fence! Just remember that everything a tree does is a byproduct of its quest for light, and don’t go around gratuitously breaking concrete if it won’t lead you into the sun. And finally, remember that each one of us is our own kind of tree. There is no formula, no magic bullet. We all need to keep pressing into our place, listening to our sap, and praying our way upward into the sky, but no tree ever does this the same way; that’s what makes life so hard, and so wonderful. The answers bloom out of us with great personal effort, and they come down to us in showers of light and grace from our distant and ever-present star. Keep forming yourself in answer to your place and to the light. I hope you flourish.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m primarily a painter, although I dabble in sculpture, installation, and performance. I work as an art instructor, and have worked with the special needs community for years. I’m so gratefull for all the wonderful students, families, and friends who have taught me so much along my journey.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live on Long Island, New York, and if left to my own devices I would drag my friend outdoors and make them hike/bike with me until one of us collapsed. But we also have the city option, and I’d also be down for some indoor hiking in the form of wandering through any of the city’s museums or galleries. In terms of food, I’ve got a sweet tooth and would eat dessert all day if no one stopped me. Two chocolate places/chocolatiers I love are Jocque Torres and Max Brenner. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The people to whom I owe the greatest debt are my family members, who drive me crazy and keep me sane. I’d also like to shout out Christine Lee Smith, Amara Vilma Santiago, and Joshua James Freeman, three wonderful artists, friends, and members of Cohort 12.
The books to which I owe the greatest debt are: The King James Bible, Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary;” the poetry of Elisabeth Bishop, Rilke, Mary Reuffle, and Emily Dickenson; the novels of Marilynne Robinson (in particular “Gilead”), and a thousand others I can’t remember right now but will doubtless come to mind once I’ve submitted this.