To The Man On A Friday Night Who Insisted That I Smile

You are not thinking about this anymore. You have taken scores of footsteps since that moment. You’ve probably downed a few more beers. You’ve slept and worked and laughed and done all of the things simple people with simple lives do. But, I am almost certain that you are not thinking about this anymore.

But I am still thinking about this. I am thinking about this enough that I jotted down notes about our interaction one night while lying in a hotel bed somewhere in the Financial District. I am thinking about that five minute exchange between us that left me with too many words I should have shared that night.

I did not smile as I leaned over and asked the bartender for another glass of Sauvignon Blanc. More specifically, I did not smile at you. I did not smile at you because I did not want to, and that should have been enough. It should have been adequate. It shouldn’t have called anything about me or my character or the tone of the night I was having into question.

But it wasn’t sufficient for you. A woman electing to keep her countenance solemn was not OK because somewhere written in your book of life, “Pretty women should smile.”

And when I still did not smile because I was acute enough not to merely bat my eyelashes at a backhanded compliment, you asked why I had an attitude. I told you that you were misusing the word, that an attitude is simply a feeling, and every human being has an attitude at any given moment of any given day. I shared that I am a writer by nature and a communicator by trade, so words matter. If you wanted to chat about attitudes and such, I required you to come more correct than that.

I still did not smile.

And the last thing you said to me is what’s been burning in the back of both of my ears. The last thing you said is what’s left me replaying that conversation and gritting my teeth. Because “Pretty women should smile” didn’t work and “Why do you have an attitude?” also crashed and burned, you tried a new conversational tactic. You told me that these situations–where men engage with me and insist that I smile–would happen often in life. You told me I should just get used to them.

I told you to have a good night.

But, what I wanted to tell you is that your so-called wisdom didn’t translate. It didn’t seep somewhere deep into my psyche and galvanize a change in how I respond to men like you. You can’t teach me the things I’ve already learned and experienced. See, I have known how some men think some women should behave since the moment my hips began curving like Coke bottles.

You are not the first man who insisted that I smile. You absolutely will not be the last.

I have been told to smile on street corners and in the same breath been called unkind names. I have crossed the street at intersections that would not lead to my destination in order to avoid head-on collisions with men I don’t trust. I have worn the war paint of averted eyes coupled with straight lips. And in spite of all of these things, some days I still lose the battle of making my way through the world as a person and not a possession.

i know these things are nothing new. These words are a drop in the ocean of how women who do not smile upon command feel. Women have had the seemingly innocent sins of men stuck to them like gum on the bottom of good sneakers forever.

But, today, I had to get your gum off of my good sneakers. So I penned a few sentences. I did not fancy them up. I did not paint them in my poetry. I did not do them the artistic justice they probably deserved. Because pretty women should not necessarily smile. But they should let their words take shape before something uglier inside of them does.

Xoxo,
Tyece

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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Before The Sun Rises

COMPLICATE-3

I’m going to leave before the sun rises and begins to tell you all of my secrets. I’m going to leave before light creeps through the blinds and writes the first line about the story behind my eyes. I don’t want you to read that story. Not now. Perhaps not ever. Instead I want you to remember the one you read last night in dark places through hushed tones, the memoir written in the dip of my back. It is OK if you know that story. It is likely you’ll forget it tomorrow. But the story behind my eyes–that story will take you years to read and lifetimes to let go. That story is 100 chapters with 500 ripped pages. That book is too heavy for most men to hold.

So I’m going to leave before the sun rises.

I’ll slip my boots back on and glance over at your wiry frame, wondering whether this is the start of something new or the end of something wickedly fun. I’ll kiss you on the cheek, whisper “Sleep well, love” and grab myself an Uber. I’ll only say “Good morning” to the driver when I climb in and “Yep, this is perfect” when we get close to the address where my car’s parked. For 18 minutes and 30 seconds, we’ll drive through the city in silence as I crave a shower and my own sheets. I’ll blast Purple Rain on the drive back to my apartment, greet a pissed off Roxy when I open the door, and smile at myself when I look in the bathroom mirror. “Who do you think you are, Tyece?” I’ll ask through a laugh.

This is what it’s like to leave before the sun rises.

Later that afternoon, Wale’s Sabotage Love will come on the radio, even though it’s five years old and wasn’t even ever that popular when it dropped. The lyrics instantly pull me back to a much more complicated and fragile time. At the three minute and 15 second mark, the words will sting with truth:

She the shit, she the one
She need now, she ain’t never needed love
Let her go, let her leave
This is something that could never, ever be
Said her heart’s in a cage, cause if you never love, you could never hate

Maybe that is why I always leave before the sun rises. Because once the sun shows up, the cat’s out of the bag and my heart’s out of its cage. After the sun rises, my secrets are yours and I’m forced to confess all of my sins. After the sun rises, all bets are off and that story behind my eyes sits on an empty shelf for you to read.

So, I’m going to leave now. Before the sun rises. Before the day starts. Before the bed’s made and the truth I left behind on your sheets starts to speak. Yes, I’m going to leave now. Because I’ve always been better at leaving than I have been at staying.

Xoxo,
Tyece

I Burn Buildings, I Wreck Promises.

COMPLICATE-2

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. 

He Would Ruin Me.

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You’re the kind of man I can only write about after two glasses of wine. That’s what you do to me. I don’t even want to put words down about you until I am inebriated enough to no longer care about them.

I’ve always been a sucker for writers. It’s kind of a problem. It doesn’t work. Put two writers together and the equation will not ever compute. It does not work.

But, I’ve always been a sucker for writers.

I sat up one morning reading your work. I was at my friend’s apartment and everyone else was passed out, tequila from our margaritas the night before still flooding them. I pulled out my phone and poured through your work like a moth to a flame. Reading someone’s work is sometimes more intimate than spreading them across a bed. I know. People read my work every day. Every day people are spreading me across the sheets of their minds.

I scrolled and scrolled. I searched and searched. I did not want to stop reading.

“He would ruin me,” I thought.

I kept reading.

Because there’s some strange bit of me that would relish in those ruins. That would be one beautiful fucking disaster. That would be belting out Total “Boy, why don’t you see what you do to me?” That would be strung out and laid across the floor with some man-hating Adele shit blasting in the background. Let’s face it: that would be Drake’s entire “Take Care” album with the exception of maybe three songs.

I do not know enough about you to write this. And so far I have managed to carve out this safe and friendly space for you, one where we vibe off of one another and support each other and do all of those wonderful and amorphous things that artists do. Right now, we are safe and sound. I’m good at that. I’m good at creating distance because I know just how delicate I am. It’s a hard and fast conclusion I arrived at begrudgingly. I am soft and sensitive and fragile. The strings are always attached. The imprints are always left. The impressions always stay. The memories never leave.

Listen, when I met you, I wanted nothing more than to bring you back home and have you look at me stark naked. Then I wanted you to do something about that stark nakedness. Because I am not holy and I am not righteous. I am no saint. I am not your cherubim and your seraphim. I am all flesh and bones, animal and sin.

And I knew that it would not take much for you to see that. Know that. Experience that.

It would not take much for you to ruin me.

You would know me. You would see me. You would get me. That would be rare. I get to be this mysterious, strange and odd bird to most folks. People gawk at artists. They’re so astounded and so wowed and so ignorant of the fact that artists are first people. But, you would not gawk. I would not astound you. You would know me because you and I speak the same language.

So I did not flirt and I did not play coy. I did not test the waters or try to figure you out. I know you. Because I knew you before I knew you. And every one I knew like you before you dismantled me. Chewed me up and spit me out. Pulled me together and ripped me apart. Heightened me, haloed me and then hurt me. Not because they wanted to, but because I let them. Not because they didn’t care, but because I cared enough for the both of us. Not because they were mean or malicious or ill-intentioned, but because I am fiery and intense and fragile.

This is not the man-hating anthem.

It’s quite the opposite. It’s the anthem of knowing how easily I love, how quickly I fall and how natural my pull toward you is. This is the anthem that resounds because I know how mind-numbingly good it would feel to press my body against yours. This is the anthem that reverberates when I have to remind myself not to let text messages go beyond text messages. This is the anthem that echoes when I want to play with fire. This is the anthem that booms when I want to see just how stupidly bittersweet it would feel to let you ruin me.

Xoxo,
Tyece