This was a rough summer for me. I was supposed to travel to Ireland, England, France, Spain, and China but had to cancel all my flights because I was suddenly diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism after blood clots in my leg traveled into my lungs. I spent four days in the hospital and another two weeks on the couch. It was scary and disappointing, and instead of updating my Snapchat from different parts of the globe I found myself sitting in the living room watching the Olympics, taking refuge from the sweltering heat wave that was blanketing the New York City area, incapable of going anywhere because the doctors ordered me not to travel by airplane for three months.
“Everything will be ok,” I thought, “If Frank Ocean just drops his album.” I was half kidding with myself. Music is such a huge part of my life that I have no doubt it would have lifted my spirits if Frank’s long awaited sophomore album Boys Don’t Cry actually dropped on August 5 like The New York Times mistakenly reported. Sure, I would have still been stuck in the house but at least I would have new Frank! It didn’t help that Mr. Ocean seemed to be
trolling us with a mysterious livestream, randomly appearing to build what we’ve just now come to find out is a spiral staircase. Was it a statement about the artistic process? A genius marketing campaign? The newest way to build hype and drop music in the age of social media? It’s still a bit of a mystery, because as of tonight (Thursday 8/18) Frank has only released a visual album titled Endless. We’re hoping for the audio project this weekend. But somehow, in my summer of blood clots and canceled flights, I got sucked into the first of two phenomenons that would teach me about myself in ways that maybe no world travels ever could.
At the same time Frank Ocean was taking over my world, Pokemon Go was exploding as the next biggest gaming phenomenon in everyone else’s world. I’m not a huge gamer, but I downloaded it to my phone and got drawn in pretty quickly. After I got out of the hospital the doctors said I should walk to get the blood circulating in my leg. I found a local park with a bunch of Pokestops and walked around for a few hours each day catching Pokemon. If you’re not aware, Pokemon Go requires you to actually get up and move by exploring the physical world. First I felt like a loser. Then I met other people doing the same thing. Hundreds of them. People of all ages and races. On a Sunday afternoon at this particular park there was probably a thousand people playing Pokemon Go. I was talking to them about Charmander hotspots and how to level up quickly. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was having fun, and I’d probably be there trying to “catch them all” even if I wasn’t supposed to be exercising for my health. The joggers and bicyclists who were cursing at us because we took over their park should be thrilled that some of these gamers who haven’t left the house in ten years are outside exercising and enjoying the outdoors like they do on a regular basis. The main point though, is that I felt part of a community during a summer that I could have isolated and felt bad about myself. Pokemon Go helped me get better and feel good while doing it.
There was another digital community that I unexpectedly became part of this summer thanks to Frank Ocean and his strange but beautiful fans. When I wasn’t at the park catching Pidgeys and Weedles I was usually in front of my laptop. I was fascinated with Frank’s impending album drop and the mysterious livestream that had many of us glued to his website. This haunting black and white loop of a desolate warehouse space will be
forever seared into my memory after this summer. On several nights I even fell asleep to the white noise crackling in my headphones, hoping Frank would appear to finish whatever he was building. I hoped the Apple Music logo in the upper right hand corner would suddenly become a hyperlink and the album would be available for us to consume after an excruciating four-year wait. It was a strangely satisfying mix of painful anticipation and insatiable desire.
I was desperate for information about the album. It became my new summer mission. Find out as much as possible about Boys Don’t Cry and what the hell Frank is doing in that warehouse! Twitter didn’t reveal much, so I sought out a different channel of information and community: Reddit, the so-called “front page of the internet.” At first I was just a lurker. I’d keep a tab open on the r/FrankOcean subreddit (the name given to specific areas of interest) to see if there was any new information surfacing about Frank’s album. I was on the outside looking in. Then I downloaded the Reddit app on my phone and refreshed the “new” posts every 20-30 minutes. Then every 10 minutes. Then every 5 minutes. It started to become an obsession.
I read hundreds of theories about album drop dates. I laughed out loud at hilarious memes and read the hashtag #DicksOutForHarambe way too many times than I care to remember. Suddenly I realized the people on this forum were incredibly creative, resourceful, funny, dedicated, and passionate. For example, one night they tracked down the location of the livestream broadcast to a warehouse in Brooklyn. They collaborated using sophisticated investigative techniques. They were on some serious NSA type shit. This level of collaboration, creativity, and community proves that today’s young people are capable of unimaginable brilliance and resourcefulness if they are passionate about a topic. Schools would do well to look at communities like Reddit for inspiration.
This one subreddit page provided me with hours of entertainment and humor, lifting my spirits up during a difficult summer. Just like Pokemon Go got me out of the house, helped me meet new people, and made me feel part of a community, the Frank Ocean Reddit community got me out of my head and gave me something to look forward to, even if it was a man in a warehouse cutting wood. Once I made the transition from lurker to poster, I began interacting with some of the other members. I posted a few of my own crazy theories about why Frank hasn’t dropped the album yet. I even learned some new lingo and one afternoon found myself telling my wife in the supermarket, “I just can’t take another L this summer.” When she asked what the fuck I was talking about I said, “Sorry, sorry, it’s a reddit thing.” An “L” is short for “taking a loss,” which is what we’ve all been doing day after day while we’ve been hyped up and let down waiting for the album. I even participated in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Frank Ocean’s producer, Malay, who said he’d be open to visiting with my students to talk about music production.
This summer I found myself participating in two unlikely communities: Reddit and Pokemon Go. It might have taken a health scare to force me outside of my usual comfort zones, but I’m so grateful it did, otherwise I might not have learned how much I had in common with my fellow Redditors and Pokemon trainers. There are so many groups of people out there who we’ll never meet because we’ve already disqualified ourselves from belonging. We often think we don’t belong to certain communities because we won’t allow ourselves to feel apart of them. This summer I let myself belong. I became part of groups that were foreign to me and they made me feel at home. I didn’t even have to travel the world to figure it out.