In choosing to communicate through the simile, â€œI feel like a free man,â€ rather than saying he was a free man, Ocean provided us with a painful truth for black men in, what Ibrahim FarajajÃ© (formerly Elias FarajajÃ©-Jones) in his essay Holy Fuck called, a â€œdominating culture [that] expends incredible amounts of time, money, and energy controlling and policing our bodies and the ways we decide to use them.â€ By not definitively claiming and owning freedom in the journal entry, Ocean acknowledged the task at hand for him and other black queer men, as Farajaje described, â€œthe physical/spiritual/psychological process of making our bodies and our desire our own.â€ It is a processâ€”rather than a destination to which we arrive and resideâ€”that will not allow for easy definitions of who we are or interpretations of our artistic or life choices.
Supporters and detractors of Ocean have made the themes of his album and his Tumblr post mean much more than Ocean himself may have intended. In 2012, some folks find it more provocative that a black man has loved another man than if he had done violence against one. Joseph Beam once wrote, â€œblack men loving black men is the revolutionary act of the eighties.â€ Honoring our capacity to love other men and women in a society that makes it more easy to use and abuse others is the work of making our bodies and desires our own. Ocean clearly seeks to put the work into that project, at least for the time being. But one young, gifted black man does not a revolution make, particularly if he is still understanding his relationship to that revolution. Revolutions require many committed others working â€œin sober uncompromising moments, to reflect on the comedy of concern we all enact when it comes to our precious images!â€ Whereâ€™s your love letter? How much truth does it tell?
if you think you read this previously on a personal blog which no longer exists, i have two words for you: prove it.
My wife says I should listen to her more often.Â Perhaps.
Then again, Frank Oceanâ€™s Nostalgia, Ultra grows on me. Itâ€™s still â€œokayâ€ in the â€œitâ€™s not wackâ€ sense, but Iâ€™m not ready to jump on the bandwagon. That said, I see the appealâ€“infectious beats coupled with â€œyoung-manâ€ lyrics.
Often, I thought as I listened, â€œGrow up,â€ but thatâ€™s my problem, not Frank Oceanâ€™s, Iâ€™m sure.
Favorite joints so far: â€œnovacane,â€ â€œsongs for women,â€ and â€œlovecrimes.â€
In â€œsongs for women,â€ Ocean muses about singing and writing songs to get with women. I canâ€™t sing, but I figuredâ€“once upon a timeâ€“that literature would do. Yeah, I just assumed women would drop panties at the sight of a postmodern parable on love and lossâ€¦written in prosaic form, no less.
Which begs the question: are there literary groupies? If I go on a book tour, would I have to deal with freaky, busty librarians who want their â€œcover pagesâ€ autographed?
Now, Iâ€™ve heard about some of the debauchery at such events as AWP, soâ€“I meanâ€“is it a stretch?
Baby, Iâ€™m the new Proustâ€¦just roll with me. No?
In my early writing days, I kept my passion a secret. Iâ€™d bring my high school girlfriends homeâ€“it helped to have a workaholic fatherâ€“and weâ€™d converse, laugh and giggle, make out and take it there.
But I was no foolâ€“when her bra dropped, that was not the time to compare the styles of Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. And letâ€™s be real, I was a young lad with a wavy haircut and navy-hued Jordans unlaced; though fat, I had dimples and orthodontically-correct teeth, so I didnâ€™t need to write poetry or stories for women.
Besides, what could I say?
â€œYeah girl, I was in the labâ€“in the studioâ€“working on these stanzas, trying to lay down these paragraphs for the novel.â€
Music translates to literature, sureâ€“but itâ€™s not a clean connection.
And every time somebody ask me if I write stories to get at women, I say â€œyeah,â€ they say â€œno fair no fair, thatâ€™s cheating,â€ I say â€œshit, oh well, oh well.â€
But okay, I wrote poetry for my high school sweetheart to lose my virginity. Yeah, I loved herâ€“yeah, it all came from the heartâ€“but she swooned and swayed and covered her lips [licked] like, â€œItâ€™s like that?â€
So I understood the power. By the time I dropped out of college, I used it haphazardly. It got me in trouble. â€œTroubleâ€ is defined as serial cheating [emotional, for the most part] and serial getting-caught. Seriously breaking heartsâ€“serial killer of sorts.
I thought it was cute in the â€œIâ€™m an artist and I got appetitesâ€ sense, but I grew up. The cute shit just left behind a trail of embittered women and left me lonely; my nonsense precluded any opportunity for future friendships with them, so
Now every time somebody ask me if I write stories to get my women, I say â€œnah,â€ they say â€œokay I donâ€™t believe it,â€ I say â€œno, I swear I never do it.â€
Dudes like Frank Ocean remind me of my age. Iâ€™m still young, but not quiteâ€“time slipsâ€“and itâ€™s a new paradigm to navigate. It shouldnâ€™t scare me to get old, to become irrelevant, to be the elderly man holding up a gaggle of teenagers rushing to walk up the blockâ€“but it does. It frightens me more than death, but thatâ€™s regret talking. Wishing I was a little bolder during my younger youth, a little more confident, a littleâ€“dare I sayâ€“swag in my repertoire. Maybeâ€“just maybeâ€“I wouldâ€™ve worn my hat tilted and donned my eyeglasses more often, shared my love of Miles Davis with girls, escorted them to my bedroom and before legs splayed, I couldâ€™ve opened my notebook to show them the power of literature, of expression, of creationâ€“
I mean, we ended up creating a baby accidentally, but thatâ€™s not what I mean.
The couldâ€™ve, wouldâ€™ve, shouldâ€™veâ€“each in plural formâ€“mount up like the years.
mensah demary, whose prose has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, is co-founder & editor-in-chief of Specter Literary Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @mensahdemary or trolling his own author site at http://www.inhelvetica.com