(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 February 21, 2020.
Installment #15: “What To Do When Jimmy Hoffa Gives You The Final Logs of the Marie Celeste. And Tells You How He Got Them”
So the last couple of months have been a wonderful time at the Triffid Ranch. The last open house was a blowout, the NARBC Arlington reptile show booth was a hit (and yes, I’m signed up for the September show), and the biggest problem right now is constructing new enclosures to replace ones going out the door. With that came an extensive cleaning, both of the gallery and the Web site, with more to come. Among many other things, the Enclosure Gallery section of the site was finally stripped of its endless scrolling option and everything put into separate links, for further perusal at the reader’s convenience. Oh, and we have stories.
A little backstory here. People who knew me in the days before the Triffid Ranch know that I was a professional writer between 1989 and 2002. “Professional writer” as in “actually getting paid for publication,” even though a lot of the muck shoveled out of my typewriter and computer didn’t quite qualify on either category. (Everyone brings up the tropes of “People DIE from exposure” or “pay the writer,” but amazingly nobody brings up the number of articles, stories, essays, and reports commissioned for publication that are then spiked because they inconvenience a friend of the editor’s, thrown back because the editor saw some other bright shiny object and says “this isn’t what I wanted,” kicked down the road and then tossed back because “it’s no longer timely,” or, my favorite, simply neglected because the editor is more worried about getting attention than in doing his/her job. With all of these, does the writer get paid for lost time, lost effort, or lost hair and stomach linings? Oh, it happens…about as often as the Dallas Cowboys come home with a shutout World Series pennant.) With a few relapses, I’ve stayed away from pro writing since then, because the aggravation isn’t worth the strain, and this comes from someone who had to threaten to dox every senior executive at SyFy in order to get payment, one per day until either I received a check or the president was getting phone calls on her personal number about why this freelancer hadn’t gotten his check, because nothing else made a difference to them. Others can do the pro writer tango, and that’s fine.
That said, when the gallery opened in 2015 and the first plant enclosures first went public, a strange thing happened. When the gallery first opened, I relished the sense of mystery, and when people would ask “So what’s the story behind this?”, I assumed they meant a discussion of themes or materials or concepts. No, what they meant, quite literally, was “what is the story?” The first response was “What story do YOU want from this?”, and it wasn’t wiseacre: it was serious. The problem was that viewers and purchasers both didn’t want their story about what they were viewing. To an individual, they wanted my story. In many ways, the enclosures were like museum displays or zoo exhibits: people could stare at them all day, but they wanted context and an explanation of what they were viewing. They didn’t always need one, but they wanted to know that one existed, and that there was more to the enclosures than carnivorous plants with neat backgrounds.
At the same time as that was going on, it was hard as the enclosure creator not to create “What if?” scenarios, instead of leaving everything to the viewer. Asking a viewer to answer the question “So what story do YOU want?” became an internal comparison between the scenario suggested and the one roiling around in my head. Think about it for a while, and the stories became more and more elaborate: who put this here? Why are the plants here? Are they interacting, or did one come before the other? Most importantly, if an unknown protagonist came across that scene, what were the characters and situations that led to that moment? It’s now up to the viewer: how does this story end, and why?
To help that along, every enclosure debuting at the gallery from here on out has its very own backstory, available at your convenience. Much as with the QR codes on museum or zoo displays offering further information, the nameplate on each enclosure has a QR code, readable by the vast majority of smartphones and tablets, so that it can be pulled up right then, or you can go to the Enclosure Gallery section of the Web site to read at your leisure. Some may be silly, some may be humorous, and some may be really, really dark. With the exception of ones that are obvious tributes to other writers or artists, though, they’ll be as unique as can be managed.
Don’t look at this as a return to writing. To paraphrase the old Mel Brooks movie High Anxiety, “I don’t hate writing! I hate publication!” Look at this as “augmented fiction.”
It took long enough, but the Triffid Ranch presence on Facebook is now as dead as cathode-ray tube monitors, and it was for a lot of reasons. The biggest and foremost was needing to focus on the gallery, but recent developments with Facebook’s algorithms as to which posts would and would not be shared with Page subscribers, as well as how much getting them boosted was going to cost, made being on that platform intolerable. Instagram and Twitter are both still destinations, but getting off Facebook was a plan for the better part of a year, and the current gallery efforts just expedited that. (And yes, this is a shameless plug for subscribing to this newsletter, early and often.)
Because more enclosures have gone out the door this year than in all of 2019 (and it’s mind-boggling when considering that the original gallery at Valley View Center opened up five years ago next August), it’s time to recharge the creative batteries by immersing in other people’s dreams and seeing how they influence mine. With the next newsletter, this section splits off recommendations into fiction and nonfiction, but for now, go out and buy yourself a copy of Medusa Uploaded and its sequel Medusa in the Graveyard, both by Emily Devenport. I refuse to hide my partisanship, as Emily and her husband Ernest Hogan have been friends and cohorts for three decades now, and that’s aggravated by the fact that the two consistently write fiction that plays Whack-a-Mole with my subconscious. By the time I’m finished with Medusa in the Graveyard, I should have some really interesting dreams that need to be turned into carnivorous plant enclosures.
Friends joke and grumble about this being “the worst timeline,” but they’re not entirely wrong. If it weren’t, then blues musician Cricket Taylor would be coming back home to Dallas to sold-out shows, heading back for yet another world tour, and taping the latest opening song to the biggest shows on Netflix. Let’s fix the timeline by making this happen, shall we?