Have a Great Weekend

One week until the next open house, and a perfect song as soundtrack for the Nepenthes enclosure currently finishing construction this weekend…

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

The response to the new Netflix series The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, which premiered last weekend, has been interesting. What’s particularly interesting has been the very polarized responses from friends and colleagues whose opinions I respect and often admire. Two friends whose contributions to goth culture in the Nineties were vital in establishing said culture were livid: they were furious as to the overly cutesiness and the attempt to sell creativity to and for the terminally uncreative. Others equally vehemently celebrated a show that was trying its best to be a little dark, but not too dark. Finally, at the bequest of Caroline of Tawanda! Jewelry (and Delenn to my GIR at the gallery), I sat down and watched a few episodes. Not that my opinion means anything at all, but the only issue I had was that so many of the projects looked like video accompaniment to an upcoming book (not that there’s anything wrong with that at all) and had nowhere near enough detail to allow a casual watcher to recreate most of them without additional online help. Then again, neither does The Great British Baking Show, and that’s not why people watch that, either.

What excited me about Curious Creations wasn’t just that so many of us incipient gothlings would have done just about anything for a show like this a quarter-century ago, but that it shows an inherent strength to Netflix. Namely, instead of worrying about its programming playing to Peoria, Netflix management realized that not copying what everyone else is doing in a particular format gets more viewers, not fewer. Combine that with the current trend in comfort viewing that emphasizes creativity and encouragement toward excellence, and we might have the new movement in entertainment for the next decade: getting those curious about a particular artform or art movement moving in the right direction.

If this is more of a trend toward celebrating more gonzo artistry, as the upcoming second season of Curious Creations suggests, then one thing is certain: it’s time to start pitching more shows of this caliber. I can think of two horticulturalists, Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Garden Center and Amanda Thomsen of Kiss My Aster, who would be perfect for their own gardening shows, and letting Stewart McPherson travel the world to view carnivorous plants in the wild would be incentive for me to pay for Netflix access for the next five years all by itself. (If nothing else, an all-Amanda Thomsen show has the added novelty of watching her family, including three singing dogs and the world’s most put-upon cat, in action, because they’re ALWAYS entertaining.) Just don’t ask me to pitch a show with my horticultural and social sensibilities to Netflix: it’s already been done.

Have a Great Weekend

And in the theme of the cold front passing through:

Schedule Change for the Garland Urban Flea

A quick note for those planning a relaxing Saturday around carnivorous plants in Garland, Texas who haven’t caught the latest weather report. As of this writing, a massive cold front spreading across North America is on its way to Texas, with the end result being a solid weekend of potentially dangerous thunderstorms through the Dallas area. Because of that, the decision was made last night to cancel the Garland Urban Flea event on October 13. That means that if you’re willing to risk Dallas thunderstorms (and our storms can be impressive) to come out to the Triffid Ranch tent, you’ll have to turn around because nobody will be there. Well, nobody without gills: we’ve already had ridiculous rains, even for an October, so nobody is likely to be in downtown Garland on Saturday afternoon without a spare SCUBA tank.

And in the spirit of gallows humor, things could have been a LOT worse. This weekend is also the weekend for Fear Con in Salt Lake City, and the organizers waited until two weeks ago to solicit my becoming a vendor at that show. Even under absolutely perfect conditions, Salt Lake City is a two-day drive from Dallas, so hauling out plants to Utah with two weeks’ notice wasn’t a practical option. Remember that cold front? It may be producing thunderstorms in Dallas, but it may produce snow in the Texas Panhandle, which is a spectacle best experienced from a distance, such as 1993. (1993 was the last year we saw subfreezing temperatures in Dallas on Halloween: for the first time for most of us, we saw autumn leaf colors in November that weren’t pastels.) Considering the likelihood of that front dropping considerably more snow further north, just contemplate the fun of driving a van full of heat-loving carnivorous plants through the Rocky Mountains for two days out and two days back, while wearing tire chains. Just call me “Neo“.

State of the Gallery: October 2018

“We are now approaching the end of 2018, and will be crashing into 2019 shortly. Please return your solar cell array to its upright position, stow all weapons and sublight propulsion devices in the bins provided below your seat, and place your order for drinks or objective reality inhibitors with the flight attendant at this time. If you are a native to a reality with more than a 45 percent difference in strong nuclear force or Hawkwind music catalog from your destination, please let the flight crew know at this time to prevent spontaneous explosion when disembarking. Your checked-in luggage has been sprayed for most animal and plant pests, parasites, and symbionts, but please check for nanometal phages in a safe location in any reality with a tech rating above 3.73.998. We thank you for flying with us today, and a special message for Lanny: stop it. Stop it NOW. The authorities already know, and they’re not giving it back.”

Twelve weeks to the end of the year, and this is when life starts getting lively out at the Triffid Ranch. For the temperate carnivores, we’re only about six weeks away from the beginning of the traditional winter dormancy, which means the Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and triggerplants are about ready to sleep until April.  The tropical plants in the gallery already think it’s winter, with lights set for a December 21 photoperiod, in order to encourage them to bloom around the beginning of March.  Pretty soon, the dragonfruit cactus by the front door comes inside, the next batch of hot pepper seeds go into propagation, and this year’s collection of Sarracenia seeds go into cold storage until March. That’s not even starting with the new plants grown from cuttings for next year’s show season.

A lot is going on besides getting the greenhouse winterproofed and the Sarracenia pools mucked out, too. The fall show season starts on October 13, with an inaugural tent set up at the Garland Urban Flea in downtown Garland, Texas, with the usual bets as to how the weather will go.  The default assumption for autumn in North Texas is “cloudy and a little cool in the morning, with temperatures dropping significantly with any storm front.” In other words, bring a jacket just in case, and come out to see Sarracenia pitcher plants in full fall color. 

After coming out for Garland Urban Flea, take the next weekend off. Seriously: take it off, because the gallery will be closed that weekend. That’s because the next Triffid Ranch open house opens on Friday, October 26 at 6:00 post meridian, and a lot is happening in the intervening week. This includes the premieres of several new enclosures, including a commission for a longtime Triffid Ranch supporter, and the last big flytrap and Sarracenia display until next year. Traditionally, open houses run on Saturday evenings, but on the request of several longtime customers (including one that has been visiting the booth at various events for the last decade), we’re going to try Friday night so as to free up Saturday night for Halloween events.

After that, it’s a matter of getting ready for November and December. November is a month of shows, starting with the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show in Austin on November 11, for the third show in a row. After that, November 24 and 24 are spent closer to home, with the resurrected Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. Once we’ve swept up the broken glass and discarded pizza boxes from that one, it’s back to the gallery for the return of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas, with the gallery open every Saturday evening from December 1 to 22. (For those who want to purchase a particular enclosure but don’t want to ruin the surprise, we’ll deliver in person on December 23 and 24, so feel free to ask for details.)

On the newsletter front, the Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale continues, especially as Facebook continues its descent into emulating LiveJournal. (And lower than that I can’t get.) The big Harlan Ellison giveaway for subscribers is done, but expect a slightly more scaled-down version with every issue of the newsletter: I haven’t had this much fun putting together this big a collection of packages in years, and that’s nothing compared to the glee of those who receive them. If you haven’t subscribed yet, there’s always time, as a new installment comes out this week. It may also be time for an archive, too.

And that’s about it for the moment. What’s up with you?

Have a Great Weekend

And to continue with the holiday theme: a little extra from a Triffid Ranch favorite.

Enclosures: Woodrue (2018)

Much to the surprise of we animals, many plants are adept at reviving and growing after appearing completely dead. The resurrection plant of the American Southwest (Selaginella lepidophylla) remains brown and brittle for years until a sudden downpour brings it back to full green splendor until it dries again. Many others, upon being shocked by adverse conditions, die back and marshal their reserves for a new burst of growth. Fire, ice, wind, drought, flood: many others cannot bloom or set seed until after exposure to extremes that could kill them. And when it’s all done, they come back and grow, until the next onslaught.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes rafflesiana

Construction: 3D-printed mask, polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, glass, wood.

Price: $300US

Shirt Price: $250US

Have a Great Weekend

Have A Great Weekend

Lots going on this weekend. My lovely and wonderful wife is showing jewelry at FenCon: I’ll be out at the NARBC reptile show in Arlington on Saturday morning, and then helping her with teardown on Sunday. I also hope to have multiple doses of good news by next week. Until then, music.

Have a Great Weekend

State of the Gallery: September 2018

It’s midway through the month already. We’re now a little over a week away from the official autumnal equinox, and just over six weeks until Halloween. Next thing you know, the calendar will have switched over, we’ll be looking over New Year’s Eve 2631, preparing for the Gorash Annexation to set up outposts and the occasional clearance outlet on the other side of our galaxy, and wondering if it really was such a great idea to de-extinct the moa and let them go feral in the Canadian Rockies…but perhaps I’ve said too much.

Over here at the Triffid Ranch, frantic work for the next open house is the order of the day, especially with the number of outside shows and events between now and the end of the year. After a lot of deliberation, particularly with input from people unable to get free on Saturdays to attend previous open houses, the next open house is scheduled for October 26 from 6:00 to 11:00 CST. Yes, a Friday night. Depending upon the success of this open house, we may try a few mid-week open houses as well, especially as football season gets going and Dallas traffic goes from “typically abysmal” to “blow up every highway in the state and require everyone to ride a bike for a month to learn some humility.”

Related news: partly to improve opportunities for people to see the latest Triffid Ranch enclosures outside of open houses and appointments, and partly to help fill a niche with the best damn reptile and amphibian shop in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the Texas Triffid Ranch is now partnering with DFW Reptarium in Plano to offer new carnivore enclosures at the Reptarium. For those who haven’t visited it already, the Reptarium is a  herpetophile’s joy, starting with the store’s mascot: an absolutely stunning crocodile monitor named “Whisper” who lives in the front window. In addition to the store’s assemblage of panther chameleons, arrow-poison frogs, emerald tree boas, and the world’s most mellow frilled dragon, the Reptarium now has the Nepenthes bicalcarata enclosure “Hans-Ruedi,” and more will be available based on customer response. In other words, this holiday season is going to be VERY busy.

In the interim, October also features an outdoor show on October 13, thanks to the Garland Urban Flea in, unsurprisingly, Garland, Texas. This marks the first Triffid Ranch show ever held in Garland, and the weather should be absolutely stunning. The October Urban Flea runs from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, so feel free to stop by for the last of the season’s Venus flytraps and threadleaf sundews.

And for those who might be coming across these missives via Facebook, be warned that a Triffid Ranch Facebook presence is shrinking and will continue to do so. The constant push to boost FB page posts was already becoming annoying, as they still weren’t reaching the people who chose to receive page updates. Now, new posts disappear immediately after entering them, only to pop back up days or weeks later. And then there’s Facebook’s page messaging system, which penalizes page owners if they don’t respond to any message sent to the page within minutes. This means either hiring someone to manage a social media presence (which I suspect is the hope), or get dinged for getting a message minutes after going to bed for the night and answering it only after waking up. Either way, it’s once again time to note that no such problems exist with the Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale, of which a new installment will be out very shortly. Go forth with the clicky to get newsletter-exclusive news and commentary, and occasional cool and educational prizes.

Well, back to the linen mines. Expect a few new enclosure premieres before the end of September, including a fun little commission: it’s either ramping up the enclosure releases or having a really slow holiday season. And on the holiday season, expect some extra surprises with this year’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas events. It’s absolutely amazing how much you can get done when you’re not unpacking from an unscheduled move…

Have a Great Weekend

Expect some serious news after the weekend, but until then, watch out for the thunderstorms.

Shoutout For a Friend

Everyone who has ever worked a day job for a while has stories about the coworkers who made it either a little easier or completely intolerable. Back when the Triffid Ranch was still just a vague plan for the future, I worked in a call center for a company that processed electronic payments for utility companies, and our mutual experiences with the company’s customers make me very protective and supportive of my former coworkers to this day. On the other, a recent position came with a coworker so aggressively stupid, so willing to spout whatever racist and just plain ignorant commentary came into the pencil eraser that was the closest thing to a brain he had, that I still refer to his Big Thinks as “vowel movements.” Some of the former make enough of an impression that they’re invited to parties and family events long after parting ways, and some of the latter make one avoid certain locales and events so as never to run into them again. Only a few, a very few, qualify as true inspirations, where you can say your life went in a drastically different and better direction because of their presence, and these are people for whom you try your best to return the favor. And so starts the story of 12 years of Larry Carey.

Larry really doesn’t need much of an introduction in Dallas, being well-known both in the gallery community and in band and club publicity with his hyperdetailed posters and flyers, but we’d never made an acquaintance. Larry and I might have bumped into each other in any number of venues and events in the Dallas area, but we probably wouldn’t have, so a mutual work environment was the perfect place to shove us together. I first encountered him in a job interview for a company that’s now just a tiny block in a multinational organization chart, where he asked for a non-technical writing sample and I gave him a copy of an essay I wrote years before on using the human colonization of New Zealand as a guide for the biological colonization of Mars. That wasn’t the only reason he became my new boss, but it definitely helped, and the peripheral knowledge we shared, both with us and with anyone else willing to join in, was a perk that eclipsed free popcorn and foosball tables.

In an industry where most software and hardware engineers are so busy studying for the test that they’re honestly offended at the idea of learning something that doesn’t directly apply to a promotion or raise (the both of us have spent most of our lives being asked “WHY do you know this?”), and in private endeavors that encouraged tight specialization in art or music knowledge but an aversion to science or history, our coffee-break discussions rapidly spiraled through wide vistas of seemingly unrelated information. Even better, we usually complemented the other’s information in strange and disturbing ways: thanks to him, I’m still the first  gardening writer to namedrop Papa Doc Duvalier, Charles Manson, Hunter S. Thompson, and George Romero in the same article about the same plant. (For the record, the plant was Datura stramonium, the angel trumpet, and that discussion over the space of two weeks turned up both D. stramonium‘s history with the Bacon’s Rebellion insurrection in the Jamestown colony in Virginia and a lot of really good reasons as to why anyone seeking a cheap high by ingesting or smoking Datura is in for a world of despair and horror. We even came across a thoroughly horrible story involving gardeners who grafted Datura roots onto tomato plants for improved disease resistance, and where the gardeners didn’t realize they left just enough Datura stem above ground until they made tomato sandwiches with the first tomatoes of the year and went straight to the ER.) And then the subject would veer toward his specialty, quantum theory, and we’d be off for another mathematical or natural history adventure. The physical and chemical properties of lunar soil simulant, the implausibility of terrestrial life utilizing arsenates instead of phosphates in a DNA molecule, the physiological mechanisms behind dream sleep, Bell’s Theorem and quantum foam…this went on for YEARS.

One of the interesting sidenotes later became a priority, when Larry started discussing art and art theory. Most people working in tech with artistic endeavors on the side usually keep them very quiet: the general response by managers to discovering an employee with a sidegig in writing or painting is usually an assumption that the employee will be leaving “once you hit it big.” Interviews are bad enough: I had one hiring manager with delusions of journalism look at my writing background at the time and assume that I’d leave “as soon as you find your perfect job,” even though I stated I’d have to take a massive pay cut to do so. (And then there was the interview where the head software developer piped up that the company didn’t need a technical writer because he was an accomplished writer specializing in Star Trek fanfiction featuring the erotic exploits of Wesley Crusher and Worf. It shouldn’t be a surprise that not only did he get the job, but that the company went under about six months later.) After about three or four months, Larry felt comfortable enough to show me some of his latest work after a long discussion on the Burgess Shale of British Columbia. As someone already familiar with a long run of surrealist comics artists ranging from Jack Kirby through Matt Howarth to Mary Fleener, saying that Larry’s distinctive frameworks, which he referred to as “mandalas,” sank right into the right receptors in my braincells was a decided understatement.

Long story short, the next seven and a half years were a crash course on the limits of my knowledge and how much more I needed to learn, and Larry was in the same situation. When it came to art, I was tabula rasa, and he gave me plenty of recommendations on artists and movements that had influenced him. That led me to looking for new resources for inspiration, dragging in new discoveries from the local Half Price Books stores to make sure he hadn’t already seen them, and then taking his recommendations to look for more. he knew very little about the back history on natural history and palaeontology art, so introducing him to Charles R. Knight, John Sibbick, and Marianne Collins led to a whole new explosion of paintings and prints. He started experimenting in color, leading up to the now-famous Triffid Ranch poster, which he presented to me in 2012. (He refused to take any payment for that poster, which is why all sales of shirts and posters go right back to him. “Pay the writer” is important, but so is “pay the artist.”) Both he and the company inspired me in turn: one of the advantages to working in a company specializing in hardware is a surfeit in odd discarded accessories and packing materials, and many of the early Triffid Ranch enclosures incorporated hoarded packaging elements such as the ultradense foam shipping cases for touch screens. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Larry and his inspiration, the current gallery wouldn’t exist, and those foam panels and blister packs were vital during the gallery’s earliest days for enclosure construction. And then there were the original mandalas Larry gave me for birthdays: the hallway leading to my office is referred to as “the Larry Carey Exhibition Hall.”

Eventually, though, the party had to end, and the conversations couldn’t make up for what was increasingly a toxic work environment. The company already had a reputation for, erm, interesting selections for employees, such as the predecessor who thought that coming to the Halloween family party in a gimp suit was acceptable. However, steady attrition and annual October layoffs eventually produced a supersaturated soup of psychosis. Coming into the break room to find an engineer curled up in a little ball on the counter, eyes scrunched shut in rage, because “I’m angry at my government” makes jobhunting much more of a priority, especially when people started taking bets on which coworker would be the first to come into the office with a shotgun “because God said Baby Jesus needs more blood.” The next job was in some ways even more perilous, but that put me in the perfect place for the position that allowed me to lease, stock, and open the first gallery three years ago.

And so that leads us to today. Larry and I tried to stay in touch, but schedules and workloads conspired, and he dropped off social media in order to focus on day job work and art. I finally managed to catch up with him last week, and oh boy did the news get interesting. Our old company went through a succession of buyouts, ending with pretty much everyone getting laid off, and Larry found himself with a new company in Eugene, Oregon. Even better, I’d caught him just a week before he and his wife packed up everything and moved there permanently. Oregon didn’t do much for me when I lived there two decades ago, but I respect the decisions of friends who stay, and it’s apparently exactly what Larry has needed for years. More interesting coworkers on the day job, a local community that encourages art, plenty of time to read and paint…yeah, I’m not the only one wondering what he’s going to accomplish once he’s established. Seeing what three months living in Tallahassee did for me a third of my life ago, I understand far too well.

After all this, a toast to Larry, and nothing but honest wishes for a long and lively arts career. I’m proud to call you a friend after all this time, I was honored to have you as a boss, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Have a Great Weekend

And as we pass to the two-thirds mark on 2018, it’s time to hole up in the gallery for a while and get busy. Friday, though, involves a tradition kept up for the last third of a century on this date: picking up a big load of barbecue, with lots of sausage and ribs, and settling back to watch one of my favorite movies.

The Aftermath: Third Anniversary Open House

It’s only taken 18 months, but life at the gallery is now a gentle routine. Said routine consists of frantically composing and constructing new enclosures, frantically sending out press releases for the next open house, running a Google search or five every hour to see if the press releases reached their intended targets, overdosing on pineapple frozen fruit bars (since I can’t drink) and needing to be tased before I can commission a giant mural to go on the outside back wall, going back home and crying on the cat, squeegeeing snot and tears off the cat before she’s stained green forever, finishing up the enclosures just before the open house, and opening the door to the public. I then listen for thunder, sleet, hail the size of hedgehogs and twice as friendly, tornado sirens, or what other meteorological atrocities Texas has in its quiver, and promise to take a local meteorologist out for dinner and tell him/her “there’s NO WAY you can be blamed for this, when you only got five minutes’ notice.” Then, once the last person leaves, it’s time to start it all over again. Just be glad I don’t do the enclosure construction in public where people are within reach, and when the cat is too far away.

Seriously, aside from the raging thunderstorm that blew in out of nowhere right at opening, and threatened to blow the whole of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex back to Lankhmar, this last open house really turned out well. The promised horsecrippler cactus ice cream was a hit, and we had enough left over that we’ll share the rest at the next open house. An old and dear friend brought his whole family, just in time to watch the sky open up atop nearly-white-hot pavement and watch the whole city become a communal steambath. A lot of new folks came out for the first time, and they didn’t seem to leave disappointed. And now for preparation for the next open house.

As for that next open house? Prepare for Saturday, October 13: the heat should break by then, that weekend won’t interfere with Halloween festivities, and the last of the drunks in town for the big UT-OU football game will have returned to doing whatever it is they do. We might even have wonderful weather for once. Watch for details.

Enclosures: Tezcatlipoca Blues (2018)

The novel Smoking Mirror Blues by Ernest Hogan is only obscured by his more famous novels Cortez on Jupiter and High Aztech because of its original publication during the dotcom crash of 2001. Working on the idea of an electronic avatar of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca and his rapid expansion into and domination of a nightlife “twenty minutes into the future,” the novel examines not just the resilience of myth, but the concern that some myths may do better in the future than in their past.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 46.99 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plants: Assorted Mexican butterworts (Pinguicula spp.)

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, black glass tile.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

Enclosures: Raptor (2018)

In many environments, it’s hard to believe that seemingly abandoned structures and equipment are still used and maintained frequently, just based on weathering and wear. Paint chips from thermal stresses and powders from exposure to ultraviolet light, metal rusts quickly or slowly depending upon the rainfall and ambient humidity (even in deep deserts, iron rusts due to water condensing on the cold metal at night), organic compounds rot and crack, and stone and concrete change color from sun, rain, and algae. Under the right conditions, a military installation temporarily mothballed can look completely abandoned within years or even months without steady maintenance, and that maintenance may be withheld so long as the equipment still works. Are the weapons left pitted and worn because of abandonment, because of neglect, or to encourage enemies to get close?

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 46.99 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes ventrata

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, green goldstone.

Price: $200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Have a Great Weekend

Have a Great Weekend

Another busy weekend, what with the Third Anniversary Open House running on Saturday, but there’s always time for music.

Have a Great Weekend

For my palaeontologist friends, a documentary on Transylvanian dinosaurs.