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

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“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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Love Me Well.

LOVE

You loved me both well and somehow not at all. In your arms, I wore both halos and horns, moved mountains and drowned under oceans. You pulled me to heaven and put me through hell. Yes, somehow you didn’t love me at all, but you still loved me well.

You loved me the way wind sashays through a hurricane–dangerous and unpredictable, destroying everything in its path. You loved me wildly and wholly, an exquisite natural disaster. After you loved me, the ground beneath my feet was never quite the same.

You loved me effortlessly, like knee-jerk reactions and 20 blinks per minute. You loved me warmly like oversized knit sweaters and hot chocolate during the blizzard. You loved me urgently, like it was both fresh off the rack, yet still going out of style. You loved me ravenously, like Sunday dinner after two church services or the first thing I’ve eaten all day.

You loved me recklessly, with venom off your tongue and blades under your eyes. You loved me carelessly, like forgetting to look both ways. We ended up one bloody mess after a head-on collision.

You loved me gradually, falling hard for the words before you even knew the writer. You loved me incompletely, like mansions with unfinished basements. I foolishly tried to make a home out of a heart still under construction.

You loved me in hushed tones and hidden passageways. You loved me like the sound of misgiving in Al Green’s Love and Happiness. Our story does not include neatly tied threads. The way you loved me is not fodder for sharing around the campfire.

But, this is the way that you loved me.

But, you. Sweet, complicated, and still unnamed you. You will love me the best. You will love me from my core to my rough edges, from my hairline to my heels. You will love me from my alpha to my omega, my Genesis to my Revelation. You will love me for the blood behind my bruises and the dirt underneath my burial ground.

Your love will take me to parts unknown and places unexamined. Your love is my pilot’s license to travel to the moon. Your love is rich and rare, golden and good, savory and sacred.

And, not yet knowing your love–still staring at the ceiling waiting for your love, still sending prayers to the sky to find your love–drills holes in my heart and makes messes of my sanity. Craving your love swells at the bottom of my belly and sucks up all the air. Wanting your love and not daring to say it has made an unsolved mystery out of me.

But, you. Sweet, complicated, and still unnamed you. You will love me through it all and you will still love me well.

Xoxo,
Tyece

WYAO April general promoThis 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. 

 

The Spark

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He was six feet of godliness and danger. When we met, my fingertips begged me to write about him. They already knew how neatly he would fit into my lines, how seamlessly I could string him into my sentences. Entire patches of my skin stood at attention and sang symphonies any time he smiled. I wanted to hear about his past, listen as he dissected his childhood wounds and offered them to me gratuitously. He was the kind of man I could get tangled up in, the kind of hurricane I so foolishly thought could be my refuge from the storm.

I have written this story before. At least that is what my heart told me the day we walked away from the coffee shop and I still couldn’t summon the chills to back down from my spine. I have written this story before. That is what I reminded myself the night I got home and glanced at my phone every so often, wishing on shooting stars for a “Had a great time today, do it again soon?” text message. I have written this story before. This was the truth that tugged at me that afternoon when I put too much faith in the spark of the moment and not quite enough in the reality of the situation.

See, I have written this story before. And on that particular March afternoon, as wind ripped and roared through the sky, I told myself I wouldn’t write that story anymore. I’d put a period on that page and move on to the next chapter, one where I didn’t barter my sanity for the high of the spark.

I spent the greater balance of my late adolescence and early twenties living off of the high of the spark. Seeking the spark. Fighting to sustain the spark. Letting the spark light me on fire and leave me in a pile of ashes. Chaos was normal; sleepless nights and I were well-acquainted. Because somewhere along the line someone taught me to believe in the instant chemistry that bubbles over in the laboratory flask, even when it means all of the buildings are burning and hell has broken loose. It’s the kind of chemistry that leaves your pupils dilated and your heart zooming and your mess of a self returning to Dante’s Inferno for one more round of whatever’s being served. It’s also the kind of chemistry that, when misunderstood or mishandled, can burn you alive.

That was the spark. Red hot and addictive, irrefutable and fatal. I didn’t want to live, and surely didn’t want to love, without it. At least not back then. And maybe not even right now.

But now my burns have sharpened me. They’ve forced me to wisen up. Those burns have taught me to believe in things other than the spark. They have taught me to believe in things like a man’s kindness, his heart, how he treats his mother, and how he speaks about his sister. Those burns have made me crave more than ruffled sheets and hollow pillow talk. Those burns have required me ask myself whether or not I want to sit in bed with a man on a Sunday morning with our fingers wrapped around warm coffee mugs and our eyes scanning whatever we’re both reading. Those burns have made me believe that there is someone out there in the cosmos who will match my spark, whose connection will not come attached with terms of agreement and expiration dates. And because of those burns I now know that the spark is not the only compass in love, nor does it always signal “go.” In fact, sometimes that very spark tells us to stop. Falling rocks ahead.

Xoxo,
Tyece

WYAO April general promoThis 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. 

 

I Burn Buildings, I Wreck Promises.

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I like to burn buildings before the blueprint’s even finished. A friend of mine tells me that I “kill shit before it’s even had a chance to breathe.” And by shit he means the prospect of romantic love. He means mild flirtations and swelling possibilities and school girl crushes and pitter patters of the heart. I like to cradle these fledglings of love in my hand and then crush them before they reach adolescence.

I don’t trust men’s emotions just as much as I don’t trust my own. I don’t trust the woman I melt and mold myself into when someone captures my attention and I cling on for dear life. I don’t trust the woman I become when that all or nothing side of me very quickly snaps into “all.” She is such a diluted and second-rate version of the woman I’m trying to be. She makes me roll my eyes and suck my teeth. That woman gets imprisoned in her own fragility and becomes a puppet to someone else’s evanescence. She makes lifelines out of mixed signs and laughs at jokes that aren’t funny. She bites her tongue for fear of seeming too brash. Too insecure. Too boisterous. Too much.

She is why I burn buildings before the blueprint is finished. She is why my mind does not weigh any of the possibilities, but instead demolishes them all. One by one. I sit behind the wheel of a bulldozer, shift the gear into drive, and wreck all of the promises love wants to let blossom.

That woman I melt and mold myself into is why I have a litany of jokes bundled in my back pocket about how I will be single forever with 40 cats or how “You know I always crush on one artsy guy every year and it doesn’t go anywhere; it’s just par for the course.” She is why I brush off my sister when the potential of me with someone else dances off her tongue in dead seriousness. This woman is the reason why swelling romantic possibilities always only seem to suffocate me. So, instead, I shrink myself into a ball of cynicism and declare that things won’t ever work. I’m being silly. He “definitely does not like me like that.” Because there is some sort of sweet and sick satisfaction in letting my skepticism call the shots.

See, it’s not the men who frighten me. It’s the woman I’ve witnessed myself become when I’m with them.

But, maybe I am only fooling myself. Because that woman, flooded by her own insecurities, is still present. She is the punchline in my cynical jokes and the period in my doubtful declarations. That woman has only undressed herself, replacing her former veil of hypersensitivity with an armor of sarcasm and suspicion. But, that woman is still very much here–unsure of how to love and even more unsure of who to love in this new courageous, confident, and purpose-centric skin she’s in. She is afraid that she’ll mess it all up and fight to bounce back. She is afraid it will become 2010 all over again, and she will sob when a man berates her and walks out the door with his suitcase behind him. That woman is still somewhere inside of me, scared to death to let it all go and trust someone wholly to hold her heart.

Xoxo,
Tyece

WYAO April general promoThis 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. Ready to do this thing? Learn about the challenge here and share your work on social media using the hashtag #WYAOApril. 

I Think I Could Love You.

COMPLICATE

I think I could love you.

But, “think” is too flimsy, and “could” is too theoretical, and love is too loaded. Too nebulous. Too big for me to wrap my arms around, too heavy for me to wrap my mind around, too wild for me to wrap these words around. Because if I loved you in the ways I thought I could, then it would mean digging deep and diving under and doing this thing. With you. See, if I loved you in the ways I thought I could, then it would mean a one-way street to some place we’ve never been without a path back to this place we’ve always known.

But, I think about going to that some place.

I think about that one-way street. I think about leaving this place we’ve always known without the possibility of retracing our steps. And, in the small moments when I let my mind sweep me up and carry me away, I think about forever. About building something together. Because with you it seems so simple. So duh-yes-of-course-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that. It seems like if we were two people who summoned the courage to hold hands, our fingers would fold into one another’s without fumbling.

Except this would not be so simple. At least that is what logic and life and the scars on my heart all tell me. They all tell me that this would be taking our something simple and muddying it. Tangling it. This would be taking something so uncomplicated and foolishly choosing to complicate it.

It wasn’t always this way. What I feel about you ebbs and flows, crashes and burns, dies and gets resurrected again. Because I am a complex woman with 1,000 hearts that all beat at rates I can’t quite understand. I am a woman who falls in and out of love at record speeds. I am a woman who sees possibility in most men’s eyes and can extract meaning from even the most hollow words. Human connection is my drug of choice, and when it comes to you, most days I think I found my best high.

But, then I reel myself back in. I fold myself back up. I return to earth and convince myself that you and I are not the kind of people who walk down one-way streets. You and I are not two people who will hook ourselves to each other just so we can dive under.

Except I know these are all lies. Because I could love you. I could love you in all of the ways I ever imagined loving someone–messy, untamed, wild, beautiful, and complicated.

Xoxo,
Tyece

WYAO April general promoThis 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. Ready to do this thing? Learn about the challenge here and share your work on social media using the hashtag #WYAOApril.