by Eddie Fleisher / Book Cover Art by Art Pagsuyoin
For this week’s edition of TEN, I sat down with Alexsandra Sukhoy, a local author, career coach, and teacher, who recently released a collection of poetry, musings, and photography called Diary of a Mess. Sukhoy was born in the Ukraine, but grew up in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She also lived in New York for a while, before finally making her way to Cleveland. Most of the book’s content is taken from things she actually wrote during the mid-’90s, but waited to release until now. We’re glad she did. It’s a terrific read, and proof of the amazing talent that exists in our city.
1. Do you think the world was a better place in the ’90s than it is now?
The ‘90s were this perfect bubble of peace and prosperity. Jacob Livshultz, who wrote the poignant forward to Diary of a Mess, offers a tremendous historical, political, and economic perspective of why it was such a golden and unrepeatable era.
2. Technology has certainly changed the way we listen to music, read books, watch movies/television, etc. The internet has made everything accessible to us at all times. There’s a debate lately about whether this is a good thing, or whether it also has consequences – not just on the industry, but art itself. Plus, the social interaction that came with things like record stores and book stores is gone. What’s your take?
In the ‘90s we really began to see this technological evolution. Sure, computers were around before, but once everyone had an AOL download disk in their mailbox, suddenly, through Instant Messaging and chat rooms, we became connected. The irony, of course, is that two decades later this obsession to stay connected, at all times, to all people, on all social media platforms, and having that level of access in our pockets, has also made many of us feel much more disconnected to the geographical proximity of those that might standing right in front of us. When was the last time you enjoyed a meal with a group of people where at least one wasn’t incessantly checking their iPhone?
Additionally, there’s been studies lately showing that not only are our brain waves shifting to absorb all the extra stimuli (but not necessarily processing it), this connection push is also depressing us, because many people are self-editing their posts to only reflect the good that’s in their lives.
Who wants to publicly share the struggle? Truth is, most of us are struggling. But we’re hooked into the advertised lives of others, comparing our entire reality to their filtered play-by-play.
As far as art is concerned – whether painting, photography, music, performance, film, the written word, the spoken word and anything that is a combination of these things – today it all falls under the umbrella of content. And content is king.
On one hand, there’s tremendous democracy of using today’s technology tools to create and distribute it to the masses. Just look at how Adele’s 21 and E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey became the biggest selling album and book trilogy last year. Both were rooted in homegrown expression that eventually found its audience. Sure, both women were signed to major contracts, but one began her career via MySpace and the other via fan fiction. This could have never happened 20 years ago.
Finally, does everything need to be monetized? If I record myself unwrapping a new iPhone, post that video on YouTube and it gets thousands of hits, Google may want to pay me for it. I can also post a music video of a song that took me months to write and record and it’ll get 200 views. What’s content and what isn’t?
The cost, of course, is to the audience. With so much content out there, we now have to curate our own culture. And, who has time for that?
3. What movie sums up the ’90s best for you? What song or artist? Why?
[The] movie would have to be Reality Bites. Ben Lieblich and I have written several pieces on Gen X and that film right there resonated so heavily for both us. College educated, creative, and hopeful 20-somethings that have to work at the Gap to make ends meet. I spent the entire first half of that decade managing a retail store, so it hit even closer. The lead character Lelaina, played by then it-girl Winona Ryder, has to make a choice between the emotionally volatile and sexy musician (Ethan Hawke) who may never be able to fiscally support her, or the college drop out with the corporate and financially secure job (Ben Stiller), who wouldn’t know good culture if it hit him in the face. What does she do?
That relationship choice was extraordinarily intimate for me because I am an artist. I am also a businesswoman. And reconciling both – whether it was via my education, my career choices and even the men I chose to be with during that decade – proved very difficult. All I wanted to do was write. But, I was also terrified that writing meant being poor. So, publicly I did what I thought I was supposed to do. Internally, I felt lost, and the writing in The ‘90s: Diary of a Mess captures that confusion.
Song? Garbage’s Stupid Girl. Self-explanatory.
4. A lot of ’90s related stuff seems to be making a comeback. Is this a good thing?
Fashion and music consistently repeat themselves. They’ll take a detail, a theme, a direction, add something new to it and call it original. There were three official songs of the summer this year and one of them – Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” – sounded incredibly familiar and catchy because the groove is tremendously close to a Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” Now there’s multiple lawsuits and who knows what will happen? We’re right back to 1990 and Vanilla Ice’s “Under Pressure” vs. Queen/Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”
I think it would be a very exciting global experiment where for one year none of the music the record companies released used a sample, or was a cover, and where studios weren’t allowed to release any remakes – [whether it be] TV franchises or sequels in the theaters. [A year] where we challenged the entire creative community to just innovate with new sounds, new stories, new fabrics, and so forth. Sure, previous influences may be there, but the overall originality quality would skyrocket.
5. Kids growing up today have never experienced life without cell phones, or what it was like before the internet. What’s the one thing you think they are missing out on most that doesn’t exist anymore, due to new technologies?
MTV playing music.
6. You post a lot about pop culture on your Twitter page [@creativecadence]. Are you a big fan of pop culture? What was your favorite decade for it?
I am a child of pop culture. Especially as an immigrant kid trying to adapt to and blend with American kids, aligning myself with artists like Madonna helped me identify with what it meant to be an American.
What the ‘80s did for music, the ‘90s did for movies. The ‘90s were the great cinematic renaissance and not only gave us Tarantino, but also other auteur directors that told stories that were dangerous, grimy, boundary-pushing, and in a fresh voice. I have a whole essay and list in my book on favorite ‘90s films (as well as TV shows, concerts and dance clubs) and why they were so tremendous. Not just then, but also now.
The ‘90s birthed Tony Soprano. And that forever changed television.
7. The poems, photos, and musings from the book were done between 1995 and 1997. How is 2013 Alexsandra different from mid-’90s Alexsandra?
Hmmm. I think the biggest difference was back then I was trying to live up to my community’s standard of living and of life. And by community, I mean that entire inverted pyramid that kicks off the book: ’90s, America, Gen-Xer, Chicago, immigrant. America was thriving. Chicago was thriving. But, I wasn’t thriving.
Today I live life on my own terms. It’s certainly not an easy life – I’m a constant risk-taker. The reward of living in truth is being able to explore and try things on for size and when the time comes to let go, move on and try something else.
I can’t tell anyone how to live their lives, but as a career coach and college educator, I also see a lot of young people going through professional struggles. And, I wish I could encourage them to find their authenticity, evaluate the game plan to achieve it and – within the fiscal scope that makes most sense to them – explore what’s possible. Because living up to anyone else’s standards, you’ll always disappoint others and continue to disappoint yourself.
This is especially true for children of immigrants, regardless if they’re from the former Soviet Union, India, China, or any other country where parents gave up so much so that their kids could have an education and a better life. But, that definition of what’s better isn’t always aligned between the generations, and the kids end up fulfilling their parents’ material dreams at the price of squandering their own souls.
Finding that happy medium between doing what you love and being financially stable – that’s the ultimate goal.
8. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life thus far?
That I’m not responsible for how other people react to my decisions. That’s their truth, not mine. And that I can never change people, but I absolutely have control of how I react – or not react – to their projected dramas.
9. Why did you decide to put this book together? What spawned the idea to release these things that you wrote nearly 20 years ago?
Great question. With exception of two people, no one, and I mean no one, saw any of this work until this year. No one even knew it existed! When I first wrote it, I was going through some really tough things and ensured that my private thoughts and feelings stayed exactly that – private.
And yet, at some intuitive level, I always knew it would be a book, because as I was first writing the material, in 1995, ’96, and ’97, I would print everything out, three-hole punch it and include in a growing and evolving photo album. The poetry, the musings, the photography – it was all in there.
A decade later, in 2007, before I replaced my Gateway laptop with my MacBook, I pulled out the floppy disks that stored the work and re-saved it directly on the new computer. Then a few years ago, when, once again, I faced some tremendous challenges, I began to revisit the work and thought about combining the three distinct sections into one book.
Two years ago, while undergoing tremendous stress, I sat down and wrote the Forward. This year, I asked Jacob Livshultz, with whom I grew up and who knew me very well during that decade, to write the introduction. Knowing the collection required some level of levity, I also asked Deena Nyer Mendlowitz, a local writer and improv talent, to do the final words. Both graciously agreed and suddenly, there was a book.
A few months ago, Sara Hurand kindly hosted a book reading in her Iris Studio here in Little Italy. While this is my third book, it was the first time I had a book launch event and a physical audience. I think it’s because I am finally at peace with everything that happened back then.
10. What’s the most exciting project you are working on now? What’s next for you?
The Dating GPS™: Guys, Pricks & Sweethearts. It’s a labor of love that I’m currently completing with my childhood friend, co-author, business partner, and Relationship Coach, Anita Myers. Unlike so many other dating self-help books out there, this one contains many real stories from real women about their experiences with the three different types of men that are out there.
As Anita and I discussed the evolving vision for this book, she shared this: “The sooner we can help our market reconnect to their personal powers and invest in the influential tools already available to gain and maintain a healthy relationship, the more likely they may succeed in having lasting love.”
We recruited the best men on the planet to be our male panelists, sharing their life experience. We’re also featuring original articles and lessons from leading experts in everything from beauty to law to entertainment. And, Frankie Doiron, founder of the Impact Coaching Academy, is our third author.
We have nearly fifty tremendous people from across the entire globe that joined us in our vision to help women better understand what’s healthy for their personal lives, and how to recognize what a good man looks like.
We’re currently putting the final touches on the manuscript and are beginning the agent / publisher process. We want to find the right home that will continue to nurture and support this important work and to distribute it to the biggest audience possible, because we want to reach and help as many women as possible.
Interestingly enough, Frankie, Anita, and I are all Corporate America drop-outs. Each of us has worked at some of the biggest companies in this country. And, all of us had witnessed the cost of that world, and whether willingly or with walking papers, exited those walls and are all now coaches, helping others find their voice.
I wish I had us in 1995.
Diary of a Mess is now available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/
Check out Alexsandra’s latest project, The Dating GPS, on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
You can also check out her website, at http://www.creativecadence.