Notes on “Flopping”
Thoughts on flop eras past, present, and future.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to write this, but I do believe that not feeling ready to write something is the most fun place to approach writing from. Especially right now, as I’m in a flop era.
I feel so weird with flattery. When I tell people, “I’m in my flop era,” they are quick to be like, “no you’re not!” And I know it’s out of love, and it’s not something I put any blame toward, but it misses the point. So allow me to explain. My work is in a season of growing pains currently. Which is horrible and amazing at the same time. I have said lately that my writing finally feels and sounds exactly as it does in my imagination. Euphoria. Earlier, I had come to accept that for the rest of time, my taste would run faster than my skill level could chase, that that was the reality of making creative work. So it’s a relief to arrive at a place where that’s not true, at least for now.
If I’m totally honest, we can’t talk about this concept without talking about the Internet. It is so impossibly hard to live in silence right now. I wonder if it’s egomaniacal to think the general allergy to stillness is a modern thing or if people before us felt it to this degree too. The amount of exposure we have to other people’s presentations of themselves is psychosis-inducing, and I don’t mean that as a joke in the slightest. It’s as if every second of my life that I’m scrolling, I’m playing a weird hell game where I’m making small talk with someone new and constantly having to say, “Oh wow!” until I’ve convinced even myself I give a shit.
I think I manage to come across as relatively polished and clear-headed online, which is where I exist to most people most of the time. But it’s probably good to clear the air and say that lately I often wonder if the world as I witness it is irrelevant, and a new, more interesting set of perspectives has moved in. I wonder if my writing career is meaningfully over maybe once every few months, and I only continue because I simply have nothing better to do. (Then I get over myself.)
I also want to quickly take the time to say writing is a lonely craft. I spend so much time by myself talking to myself and writing. So any time my writing provides a sense of relief or delight to people, and they take the time to DM me or find me at events and tell me, it means the world to me. I couldn’t be more sincere when I say how much it makes my heart sing to hear it.
Okay, enough of that.
At my most optimistic, I believe that making art in the middle of a flop has the power to be pressureless, that the best shit you make during this time happens accidentally when you make things for pleasure. (At my most pessimistic, making art while flopping feels like dying, but you are forced to keep living afterward.) Like camp, flopping is hard to describe, so I am borrowing that list element from Sontag’s famous essay format, if you guys will allow me. Spending so long struggling through my work recently has put me in a very meditative confrontation with the concept, and I firmly believe that flopping is misunderstood and flattened into a slab of self-deprecation. The flop era is so much more than that.
By the way, I do hate that I have to keep saying “flop,” like it really does sound so stupid and unstylish repeated this many times. Not to be ignorant to generations before me, but is there a real word for it? How did people describe flop eras prior to TikTok? Have people been saying flop forever? I’m feeling the urge to call it something else. Hitting a valley? A losing season? I don’t hate that for now. Can an academic weigh in? I already hate the word and know it will not age gracefully when the middle school children of today grow up and invent new, better ways to speak.
I’m particularly proud to love Lorde’s album Solar Power, in part because I think everyone deeply misunderstood it and had rigid expectations of her as an artist. It was called a flop during the entirety of its album cycle. But it’s beautiful.
While I don’t know Lorde personally (though she writes as though she knows me personally), I like to believe that while she was let down by the reception, like any human would be, that she didn’t regret the body of work that she made. Artists shouldn’t cater to the expectations of their audiences. I don’t want to be catered to by art, I want to feel addressed. I try to use this as a reminder for myself.
A flop, for unquestionable lack of a better word, is what happens when life makes an absolute loser out of you. This can be professionally, socially, creatively, etc. It is so humbling that you almost have to laugh through it.
There’s an obvious element of shame. Not feeling up to standard, whatever that means to you, is embarrassing. No amount of self-proclaimed shamelessness can ever truly fully rid us of the beast. Always worth trying, though.
Flopping is mandatory and unavoidable. You will succeed again. Your heart will stop aching. You will be happy again. And then at some point again, you won’t. Don’t kill yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Flopping is different from failing or hitting rock bottom, though it does almost certainly at some stage feel like both of those things.
Someone can be flopping even while things appear to be working for them. For this reason, only an individual can identify a flop era for themselves, when it begins and ends. In that sense, there’s a bit of decision involved.
Flopping is evidence that life isn’t over, that there are things left in this big world for us to want.
The biggest mistake is underestimating someone or yourself in a flop era. If you save anything from this, let it be this. This is when the renaissance happens. It is scary, but it’s probably what your work needs. Lean into the low lows and the high stakes. This is when the dormant pieces of your agency wake up.
You absolutely have to keep working. I hate to sound like a Protestant about it, but it’s true. Write through it. Paint through it. Play through it. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It doesn’t have to be “good” work. It just has to be work. When you make it back up the mountain, you’ll be grateful.
The work you create during this state lays the groundwork for what that next phase of art (or life) looks like. I like to think of flop eras as a force in the universe (God, the stars, energy) that has decided that you have outgrown your current circumstance.
The good feeling that comes from being in a winning season deserves a little interrogation. Part of that good feeling comes from doing things and living in a way the people around you understand, and therefore reflect back to you that you’re doing well. Pursuing a certain kind of education, having a certain kind of ambition, being accepted in a certain kind of industry or institution, etc. We all have a frame of reference for understanding those things as desirable. When you’re losing, when you don’t have that validation anyway, you have the rare opportunity to attempt to be something beyond what people understand. When you’re done wading through the shame, what’s left is fertile ground for imagination.
Email me if you’d like. firstname.lastname@example.org.