(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)
Originally published on April 23, 2018
Okay, so a newsletter? An email newsletter in 2018? Did the clock shift back two decades and return to a day where CD-ROMs and CRT monitors are still the standard? Don’t you know that social media is THE way to reach customers, vendors, and interested passersby? Are you still using a flip phone or something?
Ahem. Here’s the explanation for the item you currently have in your email archive. As a concept, social media is great, but it’s getting, well, a little high-strung. It’s a great group of places to lose a few hours while waiting for the UPS guy to sneak up and leave a “We couldn’t reach you!” Post-It, but it has so little of the oomph for business that it had at the beginning of the decade. A lot of this was inevitable: with over a billion people on Facebook, so much will fall off the radar just because it doesn’t meet one of Facebook’s new algorithms. By 2018, sharing new content on Facebook makes money and attracts customers for Facebook, and that’s about it. By way of example, an absolutely unexaggerated and hyperbolic description of a day on Facebook:
(Wakes up early and chipper, spends an hour sifting through requests and comments before starting the day.)
Me: “I have a thing!”
Facebook: Your recent post is getting more responses than 90 percent of the posts on your Page! Would you care to pay $50 to boost it so it can be read by more people?”
(Contemplates whether it’s important enough to get out there, decides “Yes.”)
(Posts a news article on a topic of interest to the Page readership: crickets.)
(Five notices on Facebook Messenger from acquaintances, all with the subject “OMG Did You See This?” Every last one is of the article posted five minutes earlier.)
Facebook: “You didn’t respond quickly enough to your messages. Respond faster to turn on the badge!”
(Note more messages, all from the same person within a 5-minute period, demanding to know if the gallery is open at 2 in the morning. Discover that the person in question was parked in front of the gallery, having stopped by at 2 ayem on the way back to Abilene, absolutely furious that the words “Open By Appointment” aren’t synonyms for “Open 24 Hours.”)
New message: “I bought a fern at Walmart six months ago, and it’s dying! HELP ME!!!!!!!”
New message: “I see that you wrote about a plant you saw in Nicaragua four years ago, and I need to come by and buy one. Don’t tell me to buy one online, because I don’t buy anything online.”
New post on the Page: “I have Venus Flytrap seeds for sale! Real flytrap seeds: not weed seeds at all! Buy them at Ebay, seller name ‘AbsolutelyNotScammer’.”
(Suddenly realize that Facebook changed its preferences AGAIN, and anybody can post. Lock down page again.)
New Message: “I wanted to let everyone know about the garage sale I’m running this weekend, and I can’t post it on your Page. FIX IT!”
Response to original “I have a thing!” posting: “Did you see this?” (Blanketbombs fifty people with the same bad video about Venus flytraps biting some neckbeard’s tongue and drawing blood.)
Me: “Ummmm…That’s not quite accurate. In fact, it’s not even remotely accurate.”
Idiot: “YES IT IS! LOOK IT UP!”
(Go back to read an interesting post shared by a friend of a friend, only to have Facebook reload the news feed and cause the post to disappear forever.)
New Message: “Hello? I need to let people know about my garage sale in Boise! I have a couple of flowerpots for sale!”
New Message: “I bought Venus flytrap seeds from a seller on Ebay, and they turned out to be weed seeds. How are we going to get my money back?”
New Message: “I bought a Venus flytrap at Walmart, and I don’t know anything about it. Tell me everything I’ll ever need to know about caring for it, right now.”
(Respond with a collection of links that should answer all of the questions.)
New Message: “No, I want YOU to tell me. And right now, because I have to get to work.”
Response to original posting: “I’m having a garage sale, and you’re all invited!”
New Message: “My post about the Venus Flytrap seeds for sale is gone. Fix!”
New Message: “I’m a doctor/lawyer/real estate executive, I just read about this incredibly rare and exceptionally hard-to-raise pitcher plant that I HAVE to have for my office, and nobody in North America has one for sale. Do you take Bitcoin?”
Response to original posting: “ANYBODY WHO DOESN’T AGREE WITH MY POLITICS NEEDS TO DIE!”
New posting: “Is Facebook turning into LiveJournal circa 2010, or into CB radio circa 1976?”
Response to new posting: “THEY NEED TO DIE!”
Facebook: “Would you like to boost your new post?”
(Goes to bed.)
Meanwhile, over at Twitter, one of the platform’s biggest strengths is consolidating scientists and researchers to where they can cross interdisciplinary boundaries thirty times before breakfast:
(Innumerable people much smarter than I’ll ever be sharing their latest research)
“Hello? I have a thing!”
(Take in their research for the next six hours, flabbergasted at the variety and range of subjects being discussed, and trying not to cry “I suck! I suck!” every fifteen seconds.)
“I’m going to go over here for a while, but I have a thing if you’re interested.”
(Spends the next two days working on cheap and effective time travel in order to go back to 1989, confront my previous self about his lack of ambition, and beat him to death with a cricket bat.)
And that’s the “why” behind “why a newsletter?” It serves multiple purposes: it might be buried in an email box, but it’s more likely to be read than a newsfeed that’s completely reconstituted with the push of a “Back” button. A newsletter format allows a lot of extra related topics to be shared without separate postings, it’s amenable to being converted into print form for shows and events, it’s easy to archive for those wanting to fall down a rabbit hole on a dull Sunday afternoon, and it’s remarkably hard to hijack. It’s been a decade since the Triffid Ranch had a newsletter, and this should be an interesting project. After all, if my friend Alan Robson can keep a fun and useful newsletter going for the last two decades, maybe it’s time to jump back in.
Developments and Projects
For those who haven’t been to the Web site for a while, the Enclosure Gallery section is a bit loaded, and expect to see more in the next few months after the spring show season ends. Of particular note is a new enclosure that premieres next month, as a culmination of several months of very, VERY precise and tedious glasswork. Of course, the real fun involves the next two, where the lessons imparted by the first help cut down on development time on the second and third.
Thanks to the vagaries of Texas climate, the last two Triffid Ranch gallery shows had the unfortunate habit of coinciding with extreme weather. Back in February, the pre-Valentine’s Day Date Night opening came with ice storms to the north and west; April’s show had tornadoes to the north and hailstorms to the south, with lots of rain in the center. (Recovering from bronchitis the latter weekend meant having to skip out on the final day of the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, which was only then draining dry from the three to five inches of water under every tent in the festival.) The plan for next June’s gallery show is to avoid anything other than THE INSIDES OF MY LUNGS ARE ON FIRE heat (better known as “the end of June” in Dallas), and take advantage of the attractions of nighttime activities and air conditioning for those not wanting to leave over the extended Fourth of July/Canada Day weekend. Expect details soon.
This being the middle of April, the biggest Triffid Ranch show of the year starts the first weekend of May when Texas Frightmare Weekend opens, and that’s not all that’s planned. The annual trip to Austin in November for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays gift show happens the weekend of November 11, and I’m currently awaiting word from several other art shows in North Texas over autumn. Meanwhile, Frightmare is the important show, with a worldwide pool of attendees and vendors to match. Carnivorous plants aren’t the sole reason for coming out to Frightmare, but they add a particularly appropriate spice, so expect a lot of photos up on the main site after it’s all done.
One of the interesting side effects of so much time in the gallery and the commutes to and from the site is getting caught up on intriguing music in a way that would have been impossible in the days before streaming services. (Seriously, anybody with a nostalgia for the 1980s wasn’t there, especially when it came to buying or listening to music. Do you really want to go back to the days when the only options in most areas were shopping mall music shops like Musicland and Sound Warehouse, where asking for anything other than Phil Collins or Huey Lewis got sneers of “We don’t carry anything that isn’t from a major label”? I bet you get nostalgic for Waldenbooks, too.) Combine that with the ability for fans of particular styles and genres to get together in ways that were equally impossible 30 years ago, and we have whole new genres and subgenres exploding like unwatched trumpetvine.
Such is the case for Austin-based One Eyed Doll: twenty years ago, if you’d said “Hey, I really have a hankering for goth music that’s laugh-out-loud funny,” you might have been pointed in the direction of Voltaire and that’s about it. In that intervening time, the pairing of guitarist and vocalist Kimberly Freeman and drummer “Junior” means a range of everything from hilarious (“Because You’re a Vampire”) to ultraserious (“Eucharist”) that becomes more listenable with every album. Live shows are a trip, too, and the band plays often enough in Dallas that it might be time to see about getting together a Triffid Ranch crowd for the next tour.
Shoutouts and Kickbacks
Those brand new to the Triffid Ranch may not know this, but fifteen years of carnivorous plant cultivation was preceded by 13 years of professional writing career, starting with long-dead and unlamented zines and culminating with long-dead and unlamented national magazines and weekly newspapers before the decision was made to leave early to avoid the rush. Some friendships didn’t survive the transition, but two friendships were vital in escaping the urge to backslide.
The first, Jeff VanderMeer, might be a name that you recognize, thanks to the movie adaptation of his novel Annihilation that saw release back in March. My friendship with Jeff was a pivot in my life without realizing it: after quitting pro writing in 2002, my life was at serious loose ends, and when a company I didn’t know called about a technical writer position in Tallahassee, Florida, I asked the one person I knew from Tally “So what’s it like?” His “Oh, God, you aren’t going to be my NEIGHBOR, are you?” whimper didn’t dissuade my packing up my old Plymouth Neon and moving halfway across the continent, and while the job that brought me out there imploded after three months, the addiction to carnivorous plants that started 24 hours after arriving in town continues stronger than ever. For that, I can never repay Jeff’s kindness, including asking me “Give me one good reason why I should let you live” the first time we met face to face. (I was raving about seeing my first tree frog outside of a zoo enclosure to someone who had lived with them all of his life, so I definitely don’t blame him.)
Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that the paperback edition of Jeff’s novel Borne just saw release, with all sorts of extras in the back. (It’s been a while since I bought any books that weren’t nonfiction, so it’s a pleasant surprise to find study and reader group guides, additional glossaries and pictorials, and other extras as an inducement to buy a trade paperback edition.) Borne is enough of a read, full of ecological collapse, ribofunk technology, and a Godzilla-sized venomous flying bear named Mord, among many other joys. Jeff is currently on tour to promote the paperback version, so if he should drop in your vicinity, just walk up to him with your newly purchased copy and ask him “So what the hell is the problem with that plant guy in Texas?”, just to watch the expression of utter collapse and defeat before he starts screaming into his hands. Trust me: Jeff will thank you for it.
And because we need to focus on the other side of North America, let’s look at Arizona. My friendship with Ernest Hogan started with his justifiably beating on film reviews he described as “ecstatic press releases,” and the hits just kept coming. Ernest and his wife Emily Devenport are both exemplary writers and serious natural history enthusiasts, spending much of their free time in the desert, and neither of them have given me much grief for nearly thirty years of abuse. Ernest’s third novel, Smoking Mirror Blues, was just reissued in an expanded E-book edition through Amazon, and Em’s newest novel Medusa Uploaded is coming out in May. Make sure to buy copies for all of your friends (the covers on both gave me ideas for upcoming plant enclosures for months), and if they both hit the New York Times Bestseller List, maybe Em will finally forgive me for the “Stimpy” joke.
That’s about it for now. As promised, this newsletter is irregular, and neither will you be overloaded with too many, but your privacy is paramount. It’s the least we can do.