I’m reporting to you live with a crushing headache and a ruddy, thick, green copy of the complete Robert Frost on my lap. The pain is located just beneath my forehead and feels like someone crumpling up the grey matter forming my brain. It feels like someone taking that crumpled matter and dribbling with it across the court of my heart, rising for the dunk, and slamming it home. I am in an elaborate pain, but I can’t pull myself away from writing. I’ve lost myself entirely to my passion—and I don’t hate it. I love this part of myself, this wandering and buzzing part of myself. The part of myself that needs constant feed. We could call it dedication—we could call it obsession. Regardless of its name, I find myself in the ways I lose myself. That is the sum of Frank Ocean’s “Lost,” off his 2012 debut full-length, channel ORANGE.
Really, Frank Ocean’s “Lost,” co-produced by Malay and Om'Mas Keith, is about using your partner as a drug mule. But really-really, it’s about being overtaken by the thrill of mania. When you reach that unhealthy high and lucidity slips in, there’s something to be said for recognizing you’re in a dangerous space, and free-falling anyway. There’s something to be said for that rush. As you cruise through the highs of being a creative, there’s something to be said for not pulling over despite the blare of the Check Engine light.
What I mean to say is, I find it difficult to stop. How can I step away from what I love? There’s fear, too. I fear if I break, even for a moment, I’ll lose it. The passion will fizzle, the talent will burn up, and everything good in my life will be gone. It’s irrational. It’s overwhelming. It’s deadly. I’m aptly, “Lost in the heat of it all.” When Frank sings this hook, I think of all the nights I stormed out of bed to pen the words swimming in my head after a particularly vivid dream. The hook of “Lost” brings me back to early mornings, where I’m writing through the crust in my eyes. “Lost” is right now, where I’m writing through a wringing pain.
“Lost in the thrill of it all,” Frank whips, and I agree. I reach a point in my pain where the act of writing through anything makes me feel superhuman, to the point where I begin to overflow with manic energy. It’s like a honey-slicked poison, how it enthralls the tongue but also kills. I don’t know who I am when I reach the page. I only know what I came here to do: write. I can’t stop. I’m too lost in the craft, and in that way, I lose who I am. I lose the ability to take care of myself. I lose the ability to take care of others. The craft necessitates me being selfish to everyone, including Donna. But I can’t stop. I could never.
As Frank covers the ground of his globetrotting lover-turned-vessel, I think of all the ways I spiral. There is no boundary strong enough to hold the work in me. It goes beyond writing at the dinner table, writing in the restaurant, writing in transit. I write in my sleep; I write in my nightmares. I write while doing the most mundane things. I write when I don’t wish to be writing. I struggle to be present because the writing overtakes me. I know no other life. Everything and all pathless woods lead back to writing. I make the paths; I wear them down. My footsteps become a familiar sight. I mean, I write endlessly—I surrender to it. Even when it hurts me, I give myself up to the craft.
Then there is the business of the outro on “Lost,” how Frank works love into the song. How Frank is either addressing the woman of the song, or he’s interjecting altogether to say he’s lost in love along with her. Hearing “Love lost, lost? Love, love,” my mind, surprisingly, does not go to relationships. Instead, I think again of writing. I think of how much I love the work no matter how it taunts and hurts me. The work is alive, and it mocks me. The work is alive, and it loves me back, too. The work is fickle. The work is physically taxing. If you could do anything else, I highly recommend it. But, for me? I’m lost in it, still.
Oddly enough, there’s a reward for creating through pain—one I struggle to understand. It’s capitalism’s fault, but we do all play a part in rewarding each other for dragging ourselves across imaginary finish lines. It’s noble to work to the bone, to be in an endless cycle of performing and experiencing trauma. Everything exists for serving and consumption. What do we keep sacred? The longer we are on stage, the more applause we receive, the more opportunities come our way. In this, we are, as a collective, lost. But speaking for myself, I can only hope I find myself sooner rather than later. I can only hope I learn how to save myself from myself. I hope I learn how to turn obsession down and self-care up. Sometimes, self-care is walking away.
I lose myself in art to find meaning in my life. I define myself against the backdrop of Bipolar symptoms and production. But this cannot be the only way to find the self. Perhaps, on “Lost,” Frank is urging us to move differently. The song is a cautionary drug tale, sure, but maybe the song is equally a cautionary craftsman’s tale. Maybe the moral here is meaning does not come from the mania or the pain, but from the person simply being. Perhaps meaning is implicit to life itself. Maybe I exist simply because I do—without performing trauma, without experiencing deep-rooted pain. Maybe I exist without getting lost in the heat of it all. Maybe, just maybe, I have always been a found and precious thing.