Category Archives: Personal Interlude

Buy the ticket, take the ride


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 Annihilation comes 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.

But.

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.

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Meanwhile, Back In Reality…

While it’s been a bit quiet around the electronic homestead, that’s due to changing priorities instead of deliberate omission. Last week’s show at All-Con was quite the success considering the timeframe (this was the first time in seven years that I’ve tried to conduct a plant show right after a move, and that’s a game best conducted by the young), and all available time since then has been dedicated either to getting the gallery in operational condition or in cleaning up the greenhouse. If someone has a good working vaccine for sleep without nasty side effects, please pass it along.

Anyway, for those keeping up with the Triffid Ranch over the years, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the priority right now, and for the next five weekends, is preparing for this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend on the first weekend in May. This involves getting together a lot of surprises and probably the largest collection of plants ever displayed at a Triffid Ranch event. With the move from the Galleries at Midtown and the subsequent ending of the ARTwalks, it’s time to amp up the number of outside shows and events, and the first one on the schedule is SmallCon in Addison, Texas on September 9. This list WILL expand throughout the next few months, so keep an eye open for further updates.

Other than that, it’s back to the linen mines: photos from All-Con and a final overview of leaving the old Valley View Center space will be up shortly. Again, if someone isn’t developing that vaccine for sleep, this is what is called “creating a new market.” Get to it.

“It’s the beginning of the end, nothing lasts forever…”

The last nearly twelve months of work on the Triffid Ranch gallery have been among the most productive and successful months of my entire life. Besides having the opportunity to work on larger enclosures than what was practical or sane to bring out to Triffid Ranch shows and lectures, it helped buffer the massive leap between a home-based business and one that might actually grow into a full-time retail establishment. I’ve met an incredible number of wonderful people, heard a lot of fascinating commentary, and managed to juggle full-time employment and gallery fun with only a few regrets that nobody has discovered the 87-hour day. The only other regret is that this stage ends in another six months.

Upon moving in, every artist at the Galleries at Midtown knew that this was a great but ephemeral opportunity. We knew from the beginning that the once-great Valley View Center, which had survived innumerable threats from other shopping venues only to succumb to the power of the smartphone, was going to be demolished and replaced with an outdoor mall arrangement. We knew from the beginning that we’d best make hay while we had the chance, because the combination of central location and inexpensive rent would end once the next stage started. We knew all this, and yet it’s still hard to get over how the current gallery residents will be the last people in Valley View Center as the lights go out and the demolition crews come in. Gee, it’s as if life imitates art:

Well, we got the word last week, but the official notice came out today: the city of Dallas approved the new plan for the mall redevelopment, so everything has to be turned off by December 31 as part of the deal. We’ve been told by the owner that they’re seeking an interim location for the galleries until the new MidTown is complete, and that gallery and workshop space is going to be part of the draw for MidTown, but that’s at least three years away. In the interim, the Triffid Ranch is moving.

Where we’re moving is a good question: a lot depends upon location, rent, and available parking. “When” is a good question as well: we’re going to stick it out in the current location for as long as we can, knowing that when the Christmas season ends, we’re leaving whether we like it or not. In the interim, work continues at the space, we’ll continue to prepare for shows and events, and ARTwalk, obviously, continues all through the remaining time here. In particular, stick around for the one-year anniversary party on August 20 (this doubles as Caroline’s birthday party, so grab cake and barbecue while you’re here), and let’s celebrate what we have while we still have it.

When we moved in, we figured realistically that we’d have a year in the space before the demolition started, and we hoped for two years. 18 months is a good compromise. Now let’s see where we go from here.

Ah-TSU!

A minor update, but one directly tied to (anti)social media. After starting a Facebook account eight years ago, it became time to close everything down. It’s happened in bits and pieces over the years: realizing that work wasn’t getting done because of constant queries while online, deactivating the account, and then getting back on when that was the only way to contact old friends or vital sources for information. The combination of the utter toxicity of Facebook in the current US presidential election cycle, the fact that Facebook was holding the Triffid Ranch page hostage in the hopes of paying to get updates viewed by people who had requested as much, and the simple fact that Facebook was making me nostalgic for the thoughtful conversations and commentary on LiveJournal, finally pushed me over the edge, and I’m staying off. Probably permanently, too.

That’s not to say that the Triffid Ranch is staying off social media. It’s just time to move to a healthier place. In a roundabout way, that’s to mention that everything that doesn’t quite justify a full blog post is going over to Tsu. If Facebook is that unemployed uncle at Christmas dinner who can’t speak except in Fox News bullet points, Tsu is that artist aunt who keeps getting you hooked on Spirograph and polymer clay. Besides a much less obnoxious ad presence, Tsu actually pays for original content, so with the combination of being compensated for new material and being reasonably sure that comments won’t be hijacked by that friend of a friend who only wants to pick fights, it’s a much better idea.

Anyway. https://www.tsu.co/TexasTriffidRanch. Come by to say hello, or just come by to read. Either way, I promise that the Drama Llama will not come along and take a forty-pound dump in the middle of your living room.

Reminder: December Midtown ArtWalk

Just as a friendly reminder, the December Midtown ArtWalk is scheduled for the 19th, and we have reason to celebrate. The soft opening for the Triffid Ranch space occurred right between the Czarina’s and my birthdays, so we brought out separate birthday cakes that pretty much summed up our relationship. Yeah, it’s that bad.

opening_cakes_1opening_cakes_3

opening_cakes_2

Anyway, this month’s ArtWalk is special for one particular reason: at the end of the month, we celebrate 13 years of wedded bliss, so it’s time for a party. You can imagine my disappointment at discovering that the theme for a thirteenth anniversary isn’t tacos, so this is one tradition that changes on December 19. Come out for the carnivorous plants and the jewelry, and stay to place bets on whether we’ll survive to see 14.

Twelve years of marriage…

As of this evening, the Czarina and I celebrate a full 12 years of marriage: a full quarter of my life. Naturally, that’s absolutely no way that I could possibly make her shake her head in dismay and horror, and so in tribute to the great Dave Brockie, I believe this should be played at our fiftieth wedding anniversary:

Not-so-great news: the new mailing address

It’s been one of those years. On top of everything else, the insurance settlement check for the bike accident finally came in, literally the day before an emergency trip to a 24-hour dental office for a root canal. 12 hours earlier, a little twinge in a bicuspid, and any Sunday morning involving a very sweet and friendly dentist uttering the words “pus” under her breath more than three times in five minutes isn’t a Sunday morning you want to repeat. On the bright side, at least I know for a fact that a day job co-worker is so annoying and fatuous that a root canal is a preferable experience. Always look for the positive, right?

Well, it keeps adding up. After 15 years of keeping the same address, the old mail drop simply wasn’t practical any more, so we decided to keep up the tradition of a mail drop. This isn’t just to discourage random passersby from dropping by because “I wanted to see your plants,” or even the flood of Abilene residents who drove all the way out with their grandchildren with no advance warning. When it comes to plants and plant accessories that require stable temperatures, the local UPS driver leaving these on the front porch isn’t an option. This is in addition to legal documents, seed catalogs, and other items that can’t be sent by E-mail. It may be a tax writeoff, but it’s one that we use nearly to death.

The problem was that out of a sense of misguided loyalty, I stuck with a UPS Store location, not knowing that my original locale was an exception when it came to customer service. That was my first mistake. My second was assuming that the neurotic manning the front counter, a control freak who wouldn’t let customers get their own mail from their own boxes, might get better with time. My third was in sticking around for nearly five years, even after discovering that the UPS Store headquarters takes no responsibility for how its franchisees behave in public. This included throwing fits about being asked for packages that he didn’t see right away, or fussing about the contents. Finally, after the second or third time he yelled at my wife because of his unstated policy that mail couldn’t be left for more than a week (a policy, I might add, he never brought up with me), we figured that if we were going to take abuse from a failed EDS engineer, we might as well get paid for it and moved to a new locale.

Our fourth mistake was trying to get mail forwarding while we let friends and businesses know about the move. The owner of the franchise took our new address and a credit card number, with the idea of forwarding mail at least until after tax season and being charged every two weeks for shipping the mail. That lasted until we discovered this week that the neurotic was returning that mail as undeliverable, and when asked why he wasn’t forwarding it, he told Caroline “We don’t do that.” When I got on the phone, not only did he rationalize and argue, but he then blatantly lied and said “We weren’t informed of the forwarding.” Uh HUH.

Anyway, for those considering a mailing to the old 5435 North Garland Avenue address, please belay that, as things have changed. Our new mailing address is:

Texas Triffid Ranch
2334 West Buckingham Road
suite 230-204
Garland, Texas 75042

I’d like to add for locals coming across this via Google searches that this main address offers a great shipping alternative. John, the owner, is a consummate professional and a joy to work with, and a professional is always better than a guy with his head so far up his own rectum that he’s a Klein bottle with legs. Give John lots and lots of business, and tell him specifically that you heard about him here. He’ll love that: apparently our old UPS Store is responsible for a lot of his return and repeat customers. And so it goes.