The only thing better than a month until Halloween and a Friday the 13th in the middle of October? (Well, besides a Triffid Ranch exhibition on that Friday the 13th weekend?) Finding lots of Texas-based music that sums up the season. Now that the heat is breaking, it’s time to get outside.
To say that Anno Domini 2002 was a bunkerbuster and kidney stone of a year was a bit of an understatement. The year started with the realization that the tech boom of the previous four years was over and done: much as with the pundits seeing signs of recovery from the crash of 1929 in January 1930, business analysts watching the detritus from the dotcom boom kept seeing new sprouts in the manure pile, but they weren’t visible from the ground level. The number of poorly managed built-to-flip tech companies blaming their implosions on 9/11 just kept climbing, and those of us who made plans for the future based on relative employment stability pretty much dropped everything and hung on. In my own case, the company that had hired me for a three-year stem-to-stern documentation revamp suddenly made the news for creating the 38-day monthly reporting period, and while its co-CEOs wouldn’t see the inside of prison for fraud for a few years, the rest of us wouldn’t be there to wave goodbye. Goodbye, steady paycheck: hello, wildly variable schedule at a Dallas liquor store that paid enough for rent or the car payment but not both at the same time.
If evil is the loam of the decay of virtue, from which new good will sprout again, 2002 was a raised bed garden the size of a football field. In very short succession, I lost two cats, brother and sister that I’d bottle-fed as kittens after they’d been abandoned at a Goodwill truck 14 years before, and a grandmother. Driving out to bury one of the cats led to a head gasket on my car blowing out, with a very expensive tow back to town. Oh, and let’s not forget the root canal, or the move to a barely affordable apartment just before the divorce was final. The absolute nadir, though, was watching as a haphazard pro writing career crumpled under the deaths of innumerable seemingly stable paying publications. This was matched by any number of wannabe editors who assumed that publication was enough of an honor without grubby compensation marring it, and by the end of May, with just the latest zine dweeb asking for submissions and responding to queries of payment with “Since I’m not a well-heeled trust fund baby, I’ll pay when the magazine starts making money and not before,” I was done.
By the middle of September, when the despair of working retail in a liquor store during the holidays was a regular morning and evening dread, a glimmer of light came through with a call from a company in Florida seeking a technical writer. It was coming out of a dotcom bankruptcy, they warned, and Tallahassee wasn’t Miami or Orlando. The pay wasn’t what was standard for that sort of position a few years earlier, the benefits were pretty bad, and the lead developer would disappear for weeks in his quest for a Russian mail-order bride. However, one of my potential co-workers brought in her pet Vietnamese potbellied pig on Fridays, the initial interview went well, and I had an old friend in Tally who recommended the place as somewhere to relax: Jeff VanderMeer, whose novel Annihilationcomes out as a film early next year. Jeff had delivered several well-placed slaps upside the head during my writing days, and if he was living out there, then it was worth the monumental move out there, wasn’t it?
To cut to the end, the job didn’t work out. Three months in, and about three days before I was to fly back to Dallas and marry Caroline, Delenn to my GIR, the president of the company decided that the gigantic software project planned for January 2003 didn’t need to happen, and a dead project didn’t need a technical writer. Since I’d already paid for plane tickets about an hour before getting notice, that meant sitting around in Tallahassee for three days before returning to Dallas, getting married shortly after Christmas, and flying back to Tally on New Year’s Day to pack up everything and drive back one last time. Noon on January 2, 2003 found me on a nearly-deserted beach in Gulfport, Mississippi, looking across Coke-bottle glass water on the Gulf of Mexico, coming across the occasional enormous fish bone or mangrove seed, and wondering “So what’s the rest of the year going to be like?” Considering how the previous four months had gone, most people would have been embittered for years on both career and locale and never returned.
In many ways, Tallahassee was the right place at the right time. A lack of money precluded a lot of activities, so that meant sitting in a rented room and reading all night. (My roommate was thrilled with this, as I was decidedly less dramatic than his previous roommate, AND I paid my rent on time without reminding. He was also a hopeless fan of the Britcom Absolutely Fabulous, so discovering that my ex was a physical and temperamental ringer for Edie Monsoon just meant that half of Florida’s gay community had to come by and meet Edie’s third ex-husband.) That also meant getting a cram course on Florida natural history and paleontology, especially from the number of Florida State University postgrads at the long-defunct goth venue Club Jade looking for an ear actively interested in their research. The geology and history of Wakulla Springs, the world’s largest freshwater spring, took up a lot of that spare time, and the springs’ steady year-round water temperature meant that swimming outdoors in unchlorinated water in December was an option. The biggest lateral turn in my life, though, came upon a visit to the Tallahassee Museum my second day in town. The Museum is more of a wildlife park and nature preserve than museum as most people would know it, and among enclosures for Florida panthers and river otters were collections of plants that I’d vaguely read about but had never seen in person. Right at the Museum entrance was a collection of Sarracenia purple pitcher plants, and right there was where my old life ended.
Returning to Dallas in 2003 wasn’t a huge improvement on 2002: moving back didn’t remove the reasons for moving out. What changed, though, was a big chunk of Tallahassee that remained under the skin. About a week after getting back, a run to a local Home Depot for new bookshelves led to coming across a display of assorted carnivorous plants for sale, and that’s when it really went down. Although I suffered a few writing relapses (all but one being so aggravating or humiliating that the bug is burned out forever, culminating with threatening to dox the entire management ladder at SyFy in order to get paid), the rest of the time between then and now has focused on the carnivores. This has led to friendships with experts and fellow dilettantes in the field, for all of whom I’d take a bullet without hesitation, and a constant sense of “So what’s next?” Every time I ask that question, someone comes up behind and tells me “If you like that, check THIS out,” and down another rabbit hole I go.
In a very roundabout way, this is a way of thanking the Dallas Observer for voting the Texas Triffid Ranch as one of its Best of Dallas 2017 winners, and a way of thanking those friends and cohorts for getting me here. John, Devin, Summer, Tim, Patrick, Sue, Jeff, the whole crew at Club Jade, the grad students/lifeguards at Wakulla Springs…all of you. I literally wouldn’t be who I am today without you, and I don’t think I would have liked the person I would have been without you. I owe you all a drink, and I hope to have to chance to pay out in person.
Two shows in two weekends, and now it’s time to get back to work in preparation for the gallery exhibition on October 13 and 14. Photos from the last two shows and a major, long-overdue update to the enclosure gallery will be up soon, but that pales compared to a major announcement next week. Ican keep a secret, but it’ll be really hard…
Six months after the emergency move, and everything is coming together. New plants are adapting quite nicely to the new gallery conditions (including the honestly impressive bladderwort Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite”, which threatens to take over the place), and every enclosure that leaves gives an opportunity to try a new species or genus. Combine this with a flood of new shows and events, and it’s hard to believe how far everything has come from that little Deep Ellum booth ten years ago.
On that note, the first serious gallery exhibition of the year, “Relics,” is still running on October 13 and 14, with the gallery opening on subsequent weekends by appointment. This includes a series of never-seen enclosures created specifically for this exhibition, ranging the gamut of carnivorous plant genera. For those who haven’t been to the gallery yet, this will probably be the perfect opportunity, so make plans now.
Before going into upcoming shows, a little note about Houston. It’s absolutely impossible to avoid discussion of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s particularly heartbreaking because of the number of longtime customers and good friends (and the Venn diagram of the two is pretty much one circle) from Houston who are having to pick up the pieces. Instead of publicly pledging a certain amount of Triffid Ranch sales going to Houston relief, which usually falls apart with a bad show or two, I’m instead going to do what the rest of us do: making contributions from sales and from Day Job wages as often as possible, to the folks who can do the most good. I’m also not stating how much, because that isn’t the point, and instead I’ll just let you know that the good folks at Operation BBQ Relief are probably some of the best morale boosters this side of the Cajun Navy, and for the same reasons. The people of Houston have shown me incredible support and love over the last ten years (one of my first sales was to a Houston native who was in Dallas for the weekend, and I honestly want to run numbers on how many Texas Frightmare Weekend regulars are Houstonians), and I for one won’t stop until the whole city is back on its feet. I owe all of them that much.
With that in mind, the show schedule over the next few months became considerably more complex, due to events throughout southeast Texas. September 9, of course, is Small-Con, a one-day event in Addison dedicated to furthering interest in STEM careers, and there’s always more room in the next couple of generations for botanists. The very next week, gears switch slightly and the Triffid Ranch sets up in the two-day Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, literally two exits on Central Expressway north of the gallery. After that, things go quiet on the show front until after the gallery exhibition, and we’re still awaiting word on a show in Oak Cliff on the last weekend of October. And then…
November will be a very busy month at the gallery, and not just from getting ready for holiday sales and events. November is when several big shows in 2018 approve or decline a vendor space, and it’s also the month in which the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show runs in Austin. Even with it running right after Halloween, last year’s show was an absolute joy, and the BOT crew was happy to take my booth fee, er, I mean, welcome back a returning vendor. The love is reciprocated: a great central location in a very funky venue, and while I can’t drink, the Bloody Mary bar was very appreciated by everyone else attending. With its improved date on November 19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, it serves that part of the population that would otherwise spend that Sunday alternating between Halloween withdrawal and dread of the subsequent shopping weekend. Either way, this year, I’m getting set up extra-early so I can visit the other vendors, because I saw a lot of interesting items that I couldn’t view because of the crowds. (And yes, there are crowds. Great crowds.)
After that, it’s back to Dallas, with the gallery open on Thanksgiving weekend and subsequent weekends until the end of the year. (New Year’s Eve Weekend is especially important, because it marks 15 years of marriage to a very special someone, and you can never have too many people at a crystal anniversary. Now I just need to find good copies of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Crystal Palace dinosaurs for the anniversary cake.) With scheduled shows in the first half of 2018, I just have to quote the comics artist Matt Howarth: it may stop, but it never ends.