Dana Sukontarak Revives Dating/Relationships Writing With Debut Collection “Men”

May 24, 2016


“Though I take full responsibility for my life, the men I’ve shared parts of it with have had a huge impact on the way I think, the way I love, and especially the way I write.” –Dana Sukontarak

It is difficult, if not impossible, to find fresh and nuanced writing about dating, relationships, and love. There are writers like La of Liquor, Loans, and Love who inhabit quiet corners of the Internet and do the genre justice. However, for the most part, the dating and relationships writing niche is dull at best and dead at worst, relegated to half-baked listicles and essays that reek of more righteousness than reality.

But, then, there’s Dana Sukontarak.

In her debut collection of essays entitled Men, Dana chronicles her coming-of-age love stories, filled with jagged edges, uncut footage, and the kind of candor that’s too quickly becoming extinct. Her voice is equal parts enchanting and irreverent as she writes her way through both the splendor and stupor of true human connection. In a new age that sums up love through filtered Instagram photos and #relationshipgoals hashtags, Dana challenges the notion that such an emotion is so clear-cut and candy-coated. Instead, her narrative reflects that of most twenty-something women I know, self included. In short, sometimes we dig for love in all of the wrong places, but end up with answers about ourselves to questions we never even thought to ask.

Meet Dana and get a glimpse into her world of Men.

TU: What is one thing you believed about human connection in your early twenties that has since changed?

Dana: I used to think that the end of a connection was the end of the world. In a way, it is the end of a certain world you’ve built with somebody, but it’s never really gone. Life happens in cycles, and a lot of it is repetitive. The people you have actual meaningful connections with will never go anywhere.

TU: In the intro of the book, you write something I’m sure many other writers can identify with: “I often feel as though I have no choice as a writer other than to selflessly divulge every detail of my personal life.” Despite how forthright you are in the collection, is there anything you left on the cutting room floor? If so, why?

Dana: Sure, there are details I left out for different reasons. I wanted to tell my story without coming too close to trying to hijack someone else’s story. It’s hard, because the stories do intersect, but to a certain extent I tried to be mindful of other people’s privacy. I am a really open book, but I understand everyone else isn’t that way. I didn’t want anyone I wrote about to feel embarrassed when they read their chapter, unless they should feel embarrassed. Then it doesn’t really matter.

I also published this book at a time when I’d been dating someone new for only a few months. I wanted to write so much about him and our connection, but I also wanted to preserve the sanctity of our blossoming relationship, and not interfere too much with my probing, writerly ways. So, I wrote about him, but certainly not to the extent that I really wanted to or could have. That story is still developing, so it would have felt wrong to try to capture it prematurely. Or maybe he’ll be the one person I never really write too much about. I’m not sure.

TU: One of my favorite pieces in the book is the first essay, “February Seventeenth,” in which you depict the push and pull of falling both in and out of love, simultaneously. How do you believe this piece potentially challenges a reader’s assumptions about infidelity?

Dana: I’ve read that piece over and over, trying to imagine how someone might perceive me after that story, if they didn’t know me very well, or at all. There are a lot of different answers. I think it’s apparent that I am a smart person who doesn’t always do smart things. People tend to look at infidelity in such a black and white way. It’s usually either “fuck it, cheat” or “fuck all cheaters.” There is a story behind each seemingly heinous love crime, and this was mine. I feel bad about how things happened, but I’m happy for even the slight chance of someone reading this and realizing either that they’re unhappy where they are and need to make moves, or that they should quit fucking around before they fuck up a good thing.

My intention wasn’t to fuel the inane debate over whether men or women are bigger cheaters. Everyone is imperfect in their own ways. Some of the most loyal lovers are as boring as boulders. Some promiscuous people really are kindhearted and well-intentioned. Most people will cheat or be cheated on at least once. Even Beyoncé.

danaTU: In “February Seventeenth” you also address love as an artist, referencing the “idea of a whirlwind creative passionate romance that would propel me leaps and bounds as a human and a lover and a writer.” Why do you believe artists are drawn to this kind of romance, and is it ever sustainable for us?

Dana: It’s tricky, for sure. We’re drawn to that kind of love because we see ourselves in it, and people really are narcissistic creatures like that. I’ve been in relationships where the guy just wasn’t interested in what I do. It’s not a deal breaker to me. Everything isn’t for everybody. You find other things to share and bond over. But it’s so much more beautiful when you can share your passion completely, and have someone genuinely excited and interested in your art.

Artists are crazy, though, so the question of sustainability really just depends. I think it’s possible to find a likeminded creative individual that is willing to love and adore and commit to you. But most likely, they’ll be weird and panic when they start to feel like you’re stifling their art. You’re never really stifling their art, though. Artists are just weird like that. You’ll always be sort of secondary to their craft.

 TU: In your essay “Too Much Magic” you write, “I must partake of you in moderation because you fuck with my head, my heart, and my soul.” Why do you believe it’s in our nature to gravitate toward dysfunction and chaos?

Dana: I’ve found that a lot of people would rather feel something than nothing at all. So, that means that many people may accept sadness and drama and turmoil because it is exciting. That includes me, too. We welcome problematic situations when we don’t know, or don’t try to know any better. Not many people are protective of their peace. It’s a hard road of acceptance. Even when I look back at that chapter, I wonder how I let somebody dictate my emotions and actions in that way. I was a willing participant, the aggressor even. It’s weird to think about.

TU: What are three things you would you tell 22-year-old Dana Sukontarak about men?

Dana: The first thing is that not all men are worth all of you, so ration yourself accordingly. The second thing is that men are usually threatened by outspoken or otherwise bold women. They might not say so, but they’ll show you so. The third thing is that men cannot be forced to change. Whatever change you think you’re enforcing is only temporary, a load-bearing band-aid over a deep, deep crack.

TU: The book alternates between personal narrative and pieces that are more poetic and conceptual. How did balancing writing styles help you better tell your story?

Dana: I think the different writing styles not only kept it interesting, but were also indicative of a real-time shift in my identity as a writer. I’m big on variety. So, if I experimented with poetry, or maybe writing in a more nebulous than specific way, it was just based on how I felt at the time. I think it’s all worth sharing, and the diversity of styles shows the reader that I’m unfinished. I’m still growing as a writer. There are lots of different ways to tell a story, and for a book like ‘Men’ that’s really like an early mixtape in my rap career, I think it’d be unfair to just showcase one.

TU: Define love.

Dana: Love is farting really loud, unflinchingly, in front of each other. We do it every morning. No, really, love is acceptance. Love is a willingness to please someone through and through, because their mere existence pleases you.

Dana Sukontarak is a 27-year-old Washington, D.C.-based writer, editor and author. She likes snail mail, Moleskine notebooks, Murakami novels and fresh produce. ‘Men’ is her first book available for purchase here. Follow her on Twitter @peachesjordan and connect with her further at www.danasukontarak.com

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How We Mold The Memories

May 18, 2016

photo1-13I let my third set of tears drop somewhere in the neighborhood of 5:30 a.m. Commonwealth Avenue is quiet at that hour aside from another occasional car whizzing by. In the backseat of an Uber, I pass by Agganis Arena, a place that included a beautiful mess of families and friends standing outside of it only 12 hours before, needling their graduates to pose for photos. I half smile thinking about my own memories from those hours prior. I feel my face begin burn with emotion. The tear drops one minute before the driver asks me if I would prefer him to take a different route. I tell him no, this is perfectly fine. I want to soak up the city of Boston this way for what will probably be the last time in a long time. I want to remember this place with these new rose-colored recollections and a soundtrack of laughter playing behind them. I want to just sit and cry some happy tears for awhile. 

My face has burned with many emotions over the year–dim shame, unbridled anger, and blue-gray sadness. But, this feeling was something entirely different, and I couldn’t quite label it so definitively. This emotion was a special brew of pride and happiness and love. Somewhere underneath those tears, I felt my insides swell with joy because someone I treasure ripped the red tape off of a seemingly unreachable finish line.

This life is filled with days that all blend together with demands and relentlessness. This life is filled with the things we don’t always want to do and the people we don’t always want to see. But, every now and again, this life offers us something rare and platinum, a memory that we forever etch in the sands of time. If we are even the least bit lucky, this life surrounds us with just a few solid people who make our breaths count.

And, if there’s anything I’ve learned in these tender 26 years, it is that you have to show up for those people. You have to get on the plane or jump in the car or ride on the train. Show your face. You have to be there, for the birthdays and the babies, the tunnels and the trenches. If you don’t ever do anything else, you simply have to be present with your hand raised high. This life is about showing up for the people who matter in the ways that mold their memories. There are wrinkles in time that a text message or Twitter mention will never do justice.

Boston is a place filled with my emotional land mines. But, this past weekend took a place I’ve never remembered fondly and finally gave me some blindingly beautiful memories to bring home. This past weekend reminded me that by showing up for the people who matter, they too show up for us in ways we didn’t even know we needed.


Too Much For You

May 10, 2016

I am too many walls to break down, too many questions to answers, too many tightropes to traverse, too many risks for the average man to take

When I meet him, I let my fingers rest on his back for two seconds too long. He’s leaning over the bar, trying to wave the bartender down. But once I arrive, the allegiance of his attention shifts. 

He introduces himself, offers up his seat, and orders me something I’ve never drank before but would like to have again. And then the night begins to unwind the way most nights like this do, with a pair of hands that find themselves lower on my spine as one hour bleeds into the next. We laugh. Exchange stories. Say yes to the shots even though in some creek of our judgment, we know it’s not the best idea. I joke with him that he’s dangerous because I’ve never matched up well with fellow libras. He retorts that libra women possess an intoxicating kind of charm, one that he keeps referring to as The Inveigle. 

When he kisses me, he does it slowly and with intention, an art I’ve found most men never learn. And when we part ways, two dim bars and one late night pizza later, I decide that I like him and want to see him again.

It’s the kind of evening I want to collect and save in a bottle for some 25 degree night next winter. But this little thing unraveled, the way most little things like this do. Something he said only an hour into our conversation that sweet spring night kept sending an unpleasant electric shock through my memory.

He told me he was ready to settle down. Have a wife. Make some babies.

I knew I wasn’t ready for any of that, but I kissed him anyway. I also wondered if the same men who unwaveringly say they are looking for a wife are just as sure they’re ready to be a husband.

The tightly knotted coils of that night disentangled rather quickly, folding into a blur of text messages that made me scoff more than they made me smile. And it was the last thing he said that has been singing a miserable love ballad in the back of my head ever since.

I understand if I’m too much for you, Tyece. 

There are things we never get the chance to say, so we write them instead.

He was not too much for me. But, perhaps I may have been too much for him, with my unruly spirit and mess of a self. I may have been too much with my unwillingness to quietly nod yes and fit into his mold. I may have been too much when I did not fall into praise dances at his urgency to start a family. I may have been too much because the reality is that most days, I am far too much. Most days, my heart is ten sizes too big for my body. Most days, I lose hours traipsing through the broken boulevards of my mind. Most days, I don’t have the tolerance for the dead end road of “What’s up?” text messages or interactions that insult the depth of human connection. Most days, I am too many colors and too many lights and too many sounds. I am too many walls to break down, too many questions to answers, too many tightropes to traverse, too many risks for the average man to take.

Funny how this life works. Because most days I’m the one forced to reconcile the reality that I’m far too much for you.


Recap: 15 Of My Favorite Quotes From Write Your Ass Off April

May 5, 2016

Write Your Ass Off October

On the surface, it was a simple call to action: share your most naked, brave, no holds barred writing for 10 days. But, naked, brave, no holds barred writing is no simple task.

See, naked, brave, no holds barred writing means visiting your wounds and digging up the dirt from your dark places. That kind of writing means crying when it spills out of your fingertips and closing your eyes before  you click publish. That kind of writing is tough. Heart-wrenching. Exhausting.

But, it’s the only kind of writing I know. It’s the only kind of writing that leaves me wanting more. It’s the only kind of writing I hope to challenge others to create.

Last month, women (and a few good men) joined me for the Write Your Ass April. What I learned about myself throughout the challenge was one thing. But, the wildfire that raged across the Internet from the other writers was another thing entirely. I am so moved and wowed by each person who committed to this challenge, dumped their hearts out, showed their scars, and shared their stories.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from some of the Write Your Ass Off April writers.

“But you haven’t truly lived until you’ve been betrayed. Passed over and around, kicked to the side in favor of the pursuit of riches, status, sex, their own interests. And given the opportunity to repay the evil, I didn’t kick back.” –Mia Anika | Love

“And then I paused because the idea of being consumed had turned into a reality. It became a struggle between feeling that good, good and knowing the longer I lived in your flame, the more I would cease to exist. We were becoming a bigger you, not a grander Us.” –Syn | Ignite

“I learned the art of elusiveness from a man I once craved. I knew that I could never really have him because he would always belong to himself. I envied that and have gone to great lengths to be as enticing unto others as he was to me.” RIF | Complicate

“Yes, the weight of the man can spark, but the softness of your own touch will set your body ablaze.” –Minnie | Ignite

“You were the one piece of colored clothing that spilled beautifully into the rest of my whites.” Tassika | Spill

“We’re coming for the stigma. Don’t lump us into a category of businesses and people who don’t believe in the words and actions they’re putting forth, and are barely scraping the surface. Mental Health Awareness, building a young woman’s unbreakable belief system, reprogramming the way a society thinks? That is not a fad.” Yetti | Ignite

“I confess that Tyece created a masterpiece…Each word was chosen to cover my life in a perfect sequence. I doubt the world will ever see me like this again. They probably won’t be able to see me the same after these ten days. This is a one-of-a-kind discovery. It’s borderline a mental breakdown expressed on paper that prompts enlightenment and a new sense of security.” Cicely Rue | Confess 

“But we are no neat little narrative. Our expository moment was a fit of sparks and starts and stops and lingering chemistry and starting again. This tale features neither hero or villain, but two people who’ve played both roles interchangeably. Our dialogue wasn’t linear. Words spilled left and right until we found bits of ourselves in the depths of each other’s hidden, murky places. We’ve shared no single climactic moment. Pardon me, but I’d like a lifetime of those.” –The Skinny Black Girl | Spill

“Once someone told me I was mysterious, and I took it as a compliment. I wasn’t anti-social or mean, my personal business was just my business. Now it almost feels like that mysteriousness is working against me. I have a big head full of secrets. Some of them are my own, some belong to others.” –Acecily | Confess

“He takes me slowly, quietly, methodically. He’s learned our melody and he’s playing it perfectly. He stops to kiss me, to look at me, to kiss the freckles on my face. He’s studying me, as I am him, so he can take this with him when he leaves.” –La | Heal

“Love, I’ve imagined you as safety. I’ve been told that you are more than mere feelings and it takes work to have and keep you but, I’m afraid to say, our paths must have crossed, cut each other off and created confusion where certainty should be known.” –De’Nita | Love

“I invited you closer
I could tell in the way your tongue chased your lips
You enjoyed the twisted straight curated mess that is me
To you
I’ve never been complicated
To you
It all makes sense.” – @Magdalenea | Complicate (Instagram)

“Permit the years of beautiful and bad memories to resurface from the vault.” –Crissi Untangled | Heal

“I am a mess at twenty-two and am all the more beautiful for fixing my fingers to form the truth. I am eye bags, and a weary back, and more tears than my ducts thought were possible.” – Fullamusings | Confess

“I think that’s what eternal love is: not being attracted by ideas or similarities, palms or lips, mouths or genitals, but being magnetized to someone at your core. I think eternal love is a patient witness. It’s not worrying about growing apart, because you know your souls will always find a way to reconnect without interfering. I think eternal love is not wanting to disrupt a person or what they’ve become, but just wanting to watch, to witness, to feel their presence, and to be a part of it somehow.” –Roconia | Love

These quotes don’t even come close to doing the magic of Write Your Ass Off April justice. So, to everyone who touched this challenge in one way or another, thank you. I can’t wait for us to do it again later this year.



Rocking Chairs

April 30, 2016


Last summer your mother and I sat in rocking chairs on her front porch talking about you. In the thick, hot heat of August, we talked about life. About broken hearts. About getting laid. About pain and God and the hot coals your death left underneath our feet. Noon became 2 p.m., and 2 p.m. became 5 p.m. I wasn’t ready to leave, so we got something to eat at the Noodles and Company in Hunt Valley. It’s that one right across from Wegman’s, the same Wegman’s we ran through as rambunctious teenagers before it was finished being built.

That afternoon with your mother, I kept glancing at my phone, knowing that my mom was calling to make sure I would be on time to see Straight Outta Compton. But, leaving your mother meant leaving the closest thing I have left to you, so I sent up five silent prayers for time to stop. That day, it almost felt like if we talked about you enough, you might just show up. Like if we kept telling stories and sharing laughs, you would zoom up in the red Jetta, waltz up the sidewalk, and say something outrageous and irreverent.

Before we parted, I urged your mom to have a birthday party a few weeks later. And because I knew I’d be in Baltimore, I bought a few flowers from the grocery store and showed up on her birthday to celebrate. I joked with her friends and other people I didn’t know. She told them about the essay, the one I wrote about you that’s now in the book. We ate cake and drank Coronas, but the air felt empty and hollow that evening.

Because it does not matter how many jokes we tell or how many laughs we bellow. They are not your jokes. They are not your laughs.

When someone leaves, the sound of their voice slips through your fingers like water. It’s the first thing you lose in a tornado of torture.

At least the pictures remind me of your face. But, I do not have your sounds anymore. The way it sounded when you laughed or said my name. The base in your voice when you said hello. The intonation when you told the story of your latest fling.

I want to believe the others when they tell me you’re somewhere in the sky, watching over all of us. I want to believe in a God who encourages me that I will see you again. I want to believe that you’ve ascended and climbed away from this ephemeral life on Earth. I want to believe that you moved on to greener pastures and better days.

But, find me on the not-so-good days, and I am not there. I do not believe. Find me on the not-so-good days, and I miss you like hell. Find me on the not-so-good days and I am angry with you for not seeing my new apartment or being the first person I call when I’m wondering if a guy really likes me or witnessing these past five years here. On Earth. Next to me. By my side. I get mad at you, the same way I did when we were rambunctious teenagers just running through an unfinished Wegman’s.

Sometimes I have not-so-good days. Because I am human, and when you left, one fourth of my heart went with you.

So, when I can’t sit in rocking chairs with your mother, I write about you. I let you run through my veins in these sentences and breathe again through these words. When I can’t sit in rocking chairs with your mother, I remember and relive you the best way that I know how.


WYAO April general promo

This post is part of Write Your Ass Off April, a 10-day writing challenge to create your most naked, brave, and no holds barred writing. Learn about the challenge here and share your work on social media using the hashtag #WYAOApril.