And that’s about it for the 2018 Horror For the Holidays: now the only problem is waiting for the word that the 2019 show is seeking vendors. It’s like the day after Halloween.
And that’s about it for the 2018 Horror For the Holidays: now the only problem is waiting for the word that the 2019 show is seeking vendors. It’s like the day after Halloween.
16 years ago, my life changed when I accepted a job interview with a tech company in Tallahassee, Florida. It was a fly-in/fly-out interview, but what I saw was enough to risk moving across country for something that might turn back into pumpkins and mice at any moment. (That’s about what happened, and several former co-workers regularly re-apologize for my getting laid off just before Christmas. I tell them that they have nothing to apologize for: if not for those four months in Tally, my life would be drastically different today, and much less satisfying. Hell, I might have returned to writing for science fiction magazines.) I had a lot of entertaining encounters in both the Dallas and Tallahassee airports, but one of the most interesting was from a Miami native who was switching flights in Tally before heading home, and he asked why the HELL would I want to live in the Florida Panhandle. “South Florida: that’s where the action is!”
Years later, after visiting Tampa and making friends I still hold dear, I understood what he was getting at. At the same time, in this line of work, a bit of quiet is exactly what I need to get things done.
It’s the same situation with Austin. “Look at all of the events out here! Look at the clubs, and the galleries, and the bookstores! Why, Dallas doesn’t even HAVE bookstores! You stand around staring at two-story buildings and ask if they have those newfangled indoor toilets!” Okay, so we’re not as relentlessly exciting as Austin, but we’re not completely uncivilized: the Adolphus Hotel in downtown finally took down the big “Free HBO in your room!” sign about a week ago. And if we don’t use indoor toilets, it’s usually because we’re really angry with a neighbor.
This isn’t a slam against Austin (two decades ago, if you’d told me I’d be defending Austin instead of riding a nuke into downtown, I’d have questioned your sanity, but times change), but it’s just not a town conducive to what the Triffid Ranch is trying to do. The secret to Dallas is that we’re not the hidebound, stick-in-the-mud business city popularly presented: we’ve got a wide-ranging music community, one hell of an arts community, and a lot of unorthodoxy that’s not advertised. That’s for a reason: the longer we can keep the contingent of SMU brats away, the longer a venue, locale, or community can last. It starts with a few of them coming in seeing if anyone knows any good coke dealers, and like roaches discovering spilled sugar, they leave scent trails for their friends. Before you know it, developers discover that artistic sweat equity made a locale particularly desirable, and it’s gentrified out of existence. The SMU brats who wanted to live there because it was cool leave because they don’t have a place to slum, the developers follow, and everyone else tries to rebuild elsewhere. The longer we keep quiet, the longer what we have lasts.
This means that Dallas runs on a different artistic cycle than most cities. Nobody cares if you’re an aspiring writer or painter: the only people who think this matters are yuppies who assume that crowing “Well, I’M an artist!” will get them into loft spaces otherwise inaccessible to those with neither brains nor soul. Respect comes from finishing the projects you say you’re going to finish, no matter how lonely or bored you are in the interim, and then producing more. Dallas is a tough teacher in that regard, especially since the city in general only notices successful artists after they’ve become successful elsewhere, but it also produces people who don’t quit halfway through because they’re not getting enough attention. And for some of us, that lack of attention is a greater motivator than getting attention, because it makes us strive that much harder to prove we can do it. Distractions just prevent production.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I can’t live in Austin, or Houston, or New York, or New Orleans. Please note that I said nothing about dragging out enclosures and visiting.
One of the minor issues with attempting new shows outside of the Dallas area is the sheer surface area and volume of Texas. Anybody growing up here doesn’t think twice about a two-hour drive to get somewhere, because that’s usually the only option. My friend Stephen Dedman came out to Dallas from Australia at the beginning of the decade to visit, and picked a hotel between Dallas and Fort Worth so he could visit both cities within a given day. The poor man had no idea as to how a “quick trip” between Dallas and Fort Worth could take up a good portion of the day, and that’s on a day without traffic congestion or foul weather. And getting anywhere else? Texarkana is nearly a six-hour drive away, and both New Mexico and Colorado are about eight. Only in Texas could a company like Southwest Airlines get started: for years, Southwest’s main business was in commuter traffic between Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Lubbock, and $99 weekend flights to Houston are still a significant portion of the company’s business, because it’s cheaper to fly than to drive.
(In 2010, I visited Boston to do a presentation on carnivorous plants for a science fiction convention west of town, and planned a Friday trip to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply smack in the middle of Massachusetts. My hosts were beyond horrified to discover that because of Massachusetts’s notoriously poor highway signage, I overshot my turn and kept going, only turning around when I started picking up radio ads for concerts in Saratoga Springs, New York. I’d traveled the length of the state that afternoon, something many natives never do, and back, and was completely nonplussed at the drive. These same friends were frothing and chewing the walls when I told them that I probably would have kept going just to see what I could see if I didn’t have to be back that evening: I haven’t been in Saratoga Springs for 40 years as of this month.)
The reasonably flat vistas of Texas are both blessing and nightmare for long transport trips: we took extraordinarily well to the implementation of the interstate highway system, which means that barring breakdowns, food and fuel are extremely accessible. Even the so-called Hill Country of central Texas is gentle rises for someone used to the Rocky Mountains or even the Adirondacks, which saves on fuel consumption but also leads to our famed constant wind out of the south. The flatness also means that west of Tyler, depending upon rain or trees for shade on the highway is a fool’s hope, and it’s very easy to overheat when caught in traffic jams on a major highway. Fact is, doing out-of-town shows in Texas makes the thought of doing shows outside of the state a bit rougher: I was recently invited to be a vendor for a big convention in Salt Lake City, and the biggest reason for turning it down was the thought of having to drive through the Rocky Mountains, with or without chains, for most of the way. (The snowstorm that hit the area the day I would have been driving back was confirmation that I made the right decision.)
At the same time, years of shows at Texas Frightmare Weekend have introduced me to a throng of wonderful folks, both customers and friends, who hop on commuter flights to Dallas from the rest of the state. It’s going to be a while before I get the chance to see them all in their home turf, but I’m working on it.
When it comes to carnivorous plants in Texas, the middle of November is a problematic time. The temperate carnivores, particularly the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants, are ready to go to bed for the season. They’ve already stopped growing new traps, and the existing ones are only good for photosynthesis until the next spring. However, they’re still green, and customers demand to see at least one flytrap. On the other hand, the temperatures can drop enough that tropical plants such as Nepenthes pitcher plants might have issues with the relative cold inside a transport van. The latter are easy to deal with: crank up the heat and try to keep time outside to a minimum. The issues with the former, though, mean having to inform customers that as beautiful they are now, the plants have to be allowed to go into dormancy over the winter, or else they’ll wear out and die. After all, who wants to buy a plant that they won’t be able to enjoy watching capturing insects for another five months?
The trick here, of course, is no trick: it’s all about being completely honest. Yes, that big clump of Sarracenia is about ready to start pining for the fijords, but the best time to repot a clump into a permanent bog garden is when it’s dormant. Yes, that flytrap has lost its narrow summer leaves, but the ones remaining are going to spend the winter capturing every last photon they can and convert that energy into starches that allow the plant to come back with a vengeance in spring. See the colors on the traps right now? This is what you have to look forward to 11 months from now, when the pitcher plant grows fresh traps at the end of the summer. Oh, and if you like them now, wait until they bloom at the end of March.
Part of the reason why I started the Triffid Ranch a decade ago was because garden centers selling carnivores fell flat on their faces as far as imparting proper care and preparation to new customers. “Don’t worry: you can make tap water safe for carnivores by boiling it.” “Flytraps at Christmas? Let me ring you up.” “Yes, you can use flytraps to control insects in your house, ESPECIALLY bedbugs.” It may disappoint some customers to warn them about a new plant’s life cycle, especially when that cycle interferes with their need for some green. The trick isn’t to downplay that life cycle as a bug, but to celebrate it as a feature.
When twentysomethings ask me if science fiction and horror conventions were better back when I was their age or today, I practically shriek “TODAY!” As a vendor, online promotion of events beats attempting to mail envelopes from a mailing list via First Class USPS, and don’t get me going about Eighties-era credit card processing machines. The biggest innovation to the live show scene, one that even out-there futurists like John Shirley and Ernest Hogan wouldn’t and couldn’t have predicted thirty years ago? Food trucks and GrubHub. These kids don’t remember the days when the only options for food within walking distance (or, with some shows in Austin, driving distance) were a horrible and horribly overpriced hotel restaurant, an even more horrible concession stand within the hall stocked with surplus rations from the Whiskey Rebellion, or a lone fast-food pit whose food quality would have been improved by setting the place afire with the owner in it. I remember shows where the meal options were so poor that running across a major highway during rush hour was a viable option, and the restaurants on the other side taunted those of us without easy access to transport. As a vendor, this still applies, especially when considering “Do I give up this this great parking spot and risk not finding anything in an hour, or do I settle for grazing in the hotel front yard?”
This show, Horror For the Holidays didn’t have any food trucks because of the vendors setting up booths outside, but it has something every year unseen at other shows: a Bloody Mary bar. I can’t drink, so the alcohol content has to stay below “virgin,” but consider the situation. You’ve spent the last two hours hauling heavy tubs full of glassware and plants across a parking lot, across a back stage, and to the booth location. You get finished just as the first customers come barreling in, and the crowds don’t slow down for the next six hours. Eating anything of significance just isn’t an option, especially if that anything of significance requires two hands. A nice big glass of tomato juice and celery salt, with a handful of blue cheese-filled olives, gots a long way toward replacing the seven kilos of salt you burned through during setup, and a second glass takes away a lot of the deep muscle pain inflicted during breakdown. No matter where Horror For the Holidays goes in the future, the Bloody Mary bar has to continue, because we vendors depend upon it.
After a decade of Triffid Ranch shows, the most appropriate truism about outside shows is that the more horrific the path getting to the show, the better the actual show will be. Take a look at Texas Frightmare Weekend. The day of this year’s show, I wrenched my ankle while loading the truck, slowing me so badly that arriving in time for the Friday opening was impossible. The year before, my truck was hit by lightning, causing the staff to nickname me “Sparky”, and I broke a differential rod on the truck while leaving DFW Airport and had to be towed back to the gallery. Without fail for the last ten shows, something Interesting has happened right before the event (including finishing up an extensive move the weekend of the 2010 show, where we discovered the housecleaner hired to take care of the final cleanup of our old condo had done absolutely nothing and the Thursday before was spent frantically sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing) where a little voice in the back of my head kept saying “Jump…jump NOW!” Ignoring that voice takes effort, but that action always yields rewards. Now, it’s the shows where setup is easy, the vehicle starts every time, and the booth is ready an hour ahead of schedule…those are the shows where staying at home and watching television would have been a more productive use of the weekend.
That’s pretty much the way every Horror For the Holidays show goes as well: this time, the big menace was an impending cold wave. Getting subfreezing temperatures this early in November isn’t completely unheard of, but it’s rare, and the last big one threatening snow came through in 1993. (Oh, Black Friday in Dallas was a mess that year.) Complicating matters was Interstate I-35, which connects Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas and splits to pass east and west branches through downtowns Dallas and Fort Worth. Because of its value as a trucking and shipping route, and because it’s the only remotely efficient route between Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, it’s perpetually under construction on a scale unseen this side of Interstate I-5 passing through Seattle. North, south, doesn’t matter: out of the 200 miles/322 kilometers separating Dallas from Austin, approximately a quarter of that is construction zone, with the road narrowed to two lanes, big concrete barriers on either side, and no shoulders and therefore almost no clearance. Try that in the dark, with mist starting to fall and a north wind picking up, and the idiot who got on the highway in front of you is bobbing and weaving across both lanes, well under the speed limit, while towing a trailer with half of the lights out…yeah, “white knuckle trip” is as good a description as any. Coming back to Dallas, feeling the temperature drop through the windshield, was fun, too, as it coincided with a further cold front that kept promising snow. Just don’t look away from the road, slip while reaching for a drink, and make absolutely sure to have a selection of only music that the driver likes (you do NOT want the driver to snarl and attempt to throw the radio out the window when the only terrestrial radio station available has a classic rock format consisting of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” playing six times an hour), and you might get through alive.
But you know what? Once inside and set up, the trip was worth the adventure.
It’s been two years and three shows since the Triffid Ranch booth first polluted shows outside of Dallas, and attending shows run by the Blood Over Texas crew in Austin makes it worthwhile. This November is particularly noteworthy for the number and variety of events in the Dallas area, but they’ll have to wait. Horror For the Holidays, now finished with its fifth year, gets precedence every single time.
Heading to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays bazaar on Sunday: if you aren’t heading out that way, don’t wait up.
And because I’m from Dallas, I expect to hear this all weekend:
Texas weather is a famed teacher of humility: regular readers may remember how last month’s outdoor Garland Urban Flea show was cancelled due to rain. A little rain we could have handled: the deluge with occasional hail blasted the whole area, and the Urban Flea locale would have made a great duck pond. Maybe it did. In any case, the revised plan was to move everything and everybody to the next show in November. Considering that early November in North Texas ranges from shortsleeve weather to “maybe I should get a jacket, just in case the wind picks up,” this was a very reasonable choice.
Well, that was before the weather report this week. You know that ominous music in horror films as the protagonist is trapped and unable to move, and the monster moves closer and closer in preparation to attack? The Weather Channel should license a theme and run it in the background when meteorologists discuss cold fronts. For the past week, the Weather.com prediction of an impending front dropping temperatures to or close to freezing left me checking my phone every few minutes. “It’s gonna miss us. It’s gonna miss us. I’m reasonably sure it’s going to miss us…”
It’s not going to miss us. Temperatures are going to drop to very near freezing, and that’s pretty much fatal to most of my plants. Hence, it’s a straight trip to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show on Sunday, but the Saturday Garland Urban Flea just isn’t an option. Next year, after things warm up again, though, it goes right back on the schedule. And so it goes. Don’t let this stop you from going, though: just know that out of all the wonderful things being offered, carnivorous plants won’t be among them.
Nearly sixteen years of marriage later, and it’s STILL this much fun:
The fourth Triffid Ranch Halloween event was, well, unexpected. For those keeping track, every previous open house this year has gone up against weather disasters: rain, hail, tornado sirens, and even a thick fog when torrential rains encountered a hot-enough-to-cook-flesh parking lot. The October 2018 open house? Clear skies, cool temperatures, enthusiastic crowds…everything we could have asked for. Many thanks to everyone who came out, because you’re the reason we do this.
As for the next open house, that’s going to have to wait until December because of a troika of shows in November and the necessary recuperation between them. The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas will have to be truncated because of several shows in which Tawanda! Jewelry will be involved, but we’re still on for December 15 and 22, as well as being open by appointment for the rest of this month and the next.
And to add to the fun, while an open house probably isn’t in the cards, one in early February definitely is, probably the weekend after a plant show and lecture at the Perot Museum for its Social Science “Wild World” 21+ event on January 25. As always, details will follow.
One of the best available arguments against the existence of advanced indigenous or extraterrestrial civilizations on Earth in the distant past is a lack incontrovertibly artificial artifacts or technological byproducts in geological deposits predating modern humans. Even with radioisotope decay, the byproducts of that decay would still be recognizable as such, as with the Oklo natural nuclear reactor. Even in a degraded or decomposed state, if an advanced civilization sent representatives from other stars, or developed on its own from native life forms millions of years ago, detritus from exploration, settling, or accidents might still be found eroding out of badlands, moraines, and other areas of rapid geologic upheaval.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24 1/2″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes “Poi Dog” (unknown hybrid)
Construction: Polystyrene, polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, strontium europium glow powder, stone.
Shirt Price: $150US
One of the challenges of working with Nepenthes pitcher plant species that like to vine, particularly ones with heavy vines such as N. bicalcarata, is supplying a suitably strong and visually arresting backdrop to allow proper growth. Armed with a fascination for the New York series of murals by the Swiss surrealist Hans-Ruedi Giger (1940-2014), the final backdrop combines strength, anchor points for bicalcarata vines, and an object lesson in how Giger’s famous biomechanics works implied function and stress loading as much S aesthetics.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes bicalcarata
Construction: polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride hose, polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, silicone.
Shirt Price: $250US
This commission had three absolutes: it had to fit into a very small space, the plant in the enclosure had to be a Nepenthes “Bloody Mary” hybrid, and it had to be a surprise. Considering that the recipient was an enthusiastic Star Wars fan, months of research into weathering and oxidation on World War II ordnance and installations paid off. If nothing else, the project also gave a whole new appreciation for the modelmakers in special effects workshops, because they’re obviously underpaid.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes “Bloody Mary” hybrid
Construction: Polystyrene model kit, polystyrene foam, epoxy putty
Price: Custom commission
Shirt Price: Custom commission
Today would have been my grandmother’s 96th birthday, so let’s celebrate it in style:
If you’re in the Dallas area or happen to have quick access to the Dallas area, you are cordially invited to the Triffid Ranch open house running today. If you aren’t, there’s always music.
One of the many inspirations for the gallery and what we’re doing died 25 years ago today, so it’s particularly appropriate to doff hats and remember Vincent Price. If not for an NBC broadcast of a documentary on carnivorous plants narrated by Price, my life would have turned out very differently.
One week until the next open house, and a perfect song as soundtrack for the Nepenthes enclosure currently finishing construction this weekend…
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.
And in the theme of the cold front passing through: