On Flaking: A Treatise by a Non-Flaker

I’d like to spend some time today conversing about flakes.

No, not snowflakes. I’m talking about human ones, as in people who flake. I’ll dispense with a definition of the term because I know everyone reading this can instantly recall a time someone flaked on you or you flaked on someone else. Moreover, you’ve either described or overheard a person described as, “What a flake!” Probably within the last week.

How this seemingly benign noun evolved into pejorative use is probably a fascinating etymological question, but you can Google for the information; I’m too busy not flaking to bother.

Let me begin this treatise by listing some of my more vexing episodes of relatively important people tasked with doing apparently important things who flaked on me. I would like to remind readers that in every one of these instances I was solicited for an outcome benefitting the person who sought me out, I immediately responded after being contacted, typically produced the outcome with dizzying speed and unerring accuracy, only to never hear from this person again and never discover the reason why.

These flakes are mysterious as they are exasperating. Interestingly enough, this treatise was not inspired by a recent galling episode of flaking. It was just snowing in Astoria the other day and as I watched the soft flakes settle beautifully to the earth, I began to recall all the flakes who had flaked on me so hard over the years. It was practically a blizzard in my mind.

This type of flaking is almost exclusive to my creative life and fairly common. It almost has never happened during my teaching career although I do know of teachers who’ve flaked on their students and students who’ve flaked on their teachers. In my personal life, I rarely have anyone flake on me. Okay, there was that one girlfriend from a few years ago. She was a master flaker in brilliant disguise in that she never flaked on anything until she dumped me with one silent avalanche of a flake.

A little clarification on flaking is in order here: 1) If you seek help on a project and a person assists you, and then you don’t complete the project, you are not flaking unless you don’t inform that person why you didn’t complete the project; 2) It is not flaking if you cancel something you agreed to do provided you contact the person in charge in a timely manner and explain yourself; 3) I consider not acknowledging solicited effort as a type, albeit lesser, form of flaking.

Now let me get on with the list. Let the flakes fall:

  • Two Portland land use attorneys were compiling an anthology of essays about Oregon’s visionary land use laws. They asked me to contribute an original piece. I did, in about a week. It was called “How Tom McCall’s Land Use Laws Enhanced My Sex Life.” It was hot, the sexiest thing ever written about land use planning. The attorneys loved it. I never heard from them again.
  • A PR person with Oregon State Parks contacted me about speaking at the 100th anniversary ceremony commemorating Oregon Governor Oswald West’s famous 1913 bill declaring the wet sand portions of the ocean beaches a public highway. I instantly responded and agreed. Of course I would speak! For free! She was overjoyed at my enthusiasm and said she would work out the details. I never heard from her again and State Parks didn’t any thing to honor the centennial of, arguably, the most important law in Oregon history.
  • Anyone employed in the front office of the Portland Trail Blazers when my book about the glorious 1977 championship team, Red Hot and Rollin,’ came out in 2007.
  • A historian at a swank private college on the East Coast was writing a book about the 1960s/1970s New Left in the Pacific Northwest. Naturally, he wanted to include something about Vortex and he needed some of my contacts. I provided a lengthy list and suggested a few obscure archives to search. I never heard from him again.
  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from Portland’s Willamette Week contacted me about obtaining photographs of Neil Goldschmidt during his tenure as Portland’s mayor in the 1970s. (I used one on the cover of my Blazer book). I gave him the name of the photographer who took them. I never heard from the reporter again.
  • A content producer of a web site promoting the Oregon Coast sought me out and wanted me to contribute articles about the state’s unique legacy of publicly owned beaches. I said I was greatly interested and pitched several ideas. I never heard from him again.
  • I contributed to three Kickstarter projects that were funded. I never heard the fate of any of them.
  • In the last couple of years I’ve written about a dozen recommendations for former students. I give them my best writing shot, I mean the absolute best, complete the recommendations in a matter of days if not hours, (sometimes when they need it ASAP over a holiday) and never hear from them again.
  • A man who attended my Lincoln City event promoting my book about the filming of Sometimes a Great Notion told me he was organizing a non profit entity to purchase the famous Stamper House on the Siletz River and turn it into the Ken Kesey Cultural Center. He thought I would be a great director for such a facility (he was right) and wanted my ideas about how it might be run. I gave him a dozen on the spot and he seemed mightily impressed. He shook my hand and said he’d be in touch. I never heard from him again.
  • An OPB producer solicited and received my help (at length) about a documentary film she was making about the 1967 Beach Bill. She said she would follow up concerning some of the priceless leads I gave her. I never heard from her again and was never credited in the documentary.
  • I’ve lost count of the times I was approached about giving a presentation on one of my books or some Oregon-related history topic and I immediately responded and then I never heard from the person who contacted me again. Most recently, I was contacted by the host of a new literary arts show airing on a public radio station in Washington. She had perused my books in an Astoria bookstore and was intrigued by the story of Nestucca Spit Press. She wanted me on the show, which sounded like fun. I sent her some books and never heard from her again.

By the way, I never flake. I am the antithesis of a flake, whatever that is.

Wait, I just remembered a time I might have! I contacted David Shetzline, hoping to interview him about his long out-of-print Oregon novel, Heckletooth 3, a true classic. We corresponded about meeting and then the correspondence died off for unknown reasons and my interest shifted. Does that constitute flaking on my part? (I feel so guilty writing about the possibility that I wasted Shetzline’s time that I think I need to write and apologize.)

At times, I’ve wanted to send a bazooka blast of an email into the snowy mind of the flaker demanding an explanation for his or her flaking. Implicit in this blast would be a request for a groveling apology for wasting my non-flake time.

Don’t ever bother. My rule is: never waste precious creative time thinking about flakes (excepting, of course, writing this treatise on flaking). You just let flakes wander listlessly inside their tiny snow globe of flakedom and let them continue wasting other people’s time until finally they run out of people or causes to flake on.

I have carved out one exception to this: volunteers who flake on behalf of animal welfare causes. I loathe these people.

That reminds me, I need to send a bazooka blast to someone at Fences for Fido who solicited my help on a fundraising event. I offered to put together a killer lineup of writers reading their dog stories and I never heard from this person again. We could have raked in a small fortune at this event and unchained a dozen dogs! Dogs are suffering because of flaking! That crosses the line with me.

Postscript: 20 questions about flaking:

  1. Is it flaking if a friend asks to read your manuscript, you send it, and then you never hear about the manuscript again?
  2. Do people flake more in warmer or colder or rainier climates?
  3. Is it correct usage that the verb flake always be followed by the word off?
  4. Do men flake more than women?
  5. Is there therapy for serial flakers?
  6. Can two flakers fall in love with each other and live happily ever after never following through on anything except perpetual flaking?
  7. Is there a statute of limitations on a big flake?
  8. Is it something about me that brings out flaking?
  9. Is flaking relatively harmless or insidious?
  10. Is there more flaking in business or matters of the heart?
  11. Was the entire American occupation of Iraq just one colossal flake?
  12. Do animals flake on one another?
  13. What profession flakes the most?
  14. Is slacking like flaking?
  15. Do city slickers flake more than rural folks?
  16. Do Democrats flake more than Republicans?
  17. Isn’t Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be” really about whether or not to flake?
  18. Is Jonah the most memorable character in literature who redeems himself after flaking on God?
  19. Does Jesus say anything about flaking? Buddha?
  20. Has the advent of text messaging made flaking worse?