So Long 2013! Make Sure the Door Hits You on the Way Out…

Last night I watched Disney movies and ate comfort food as an antidote to an afternoon spent fretting in a hospital waiting room. I know it’s unreasonable to expect a trick of an arbitrary calendar to make much of a difference in one’s life, but man, 2013 cannot end soon enough for this guy.

I’ve been reading all these year-end reviews. Some of them, like Lola Frost’s, are just beautiful. And it is a real honor for me to see, here and there, that I’ve been allowed to play a role, however small, in some people’s happiness. 2013 hasn’t been a year without highlights for me, for sure, but the low points have been rather overwhelming.

So here are the bullet points of 2013 for me, the good and bad in the order it came. I don’t know if there’s much point to this kind of exercise, but I’ve never had a year like this and maybe writing it down will help close it out right. 

January: We started noticing my dad was acting weirder than usual. Over the next several months, the situation would get worse, culminating in a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in May.

February: I was invited to speak at Catalyst Week, a monthly TED-style event that brings speakers and other participants from around the country together in hopes of sparking cross-fertilisation of ideas across domains. You can watch my talk here; I think it was pretty good.

March and April: 80-100 hour weeks preparing for the Weekender. I realized a long-standing goal of giving the BHoF Weekender it’s own site at, which allowed me to completely re-think and re-design the museum’s website. Stayed up all night for a week rebuilding it from the ground up, which if you’ve ever built a website, is frustrating but when it’s done, oh-so-satisfying.

May: With the help of several co-curators and writers, we launched a new temporary exhibition at BHoF, “Not-So-Hidden Histories: Performers of Color in Burlesque“. Of the dozen or so exhibitions I’ve curated, this is the one I’m most proud of, and I hope to keep building on the foundation laid there throughout my museum career.

Vacancy - Dustin M. Wax

“Vacancy” from 89XXXhibition

And of course, at the end of May was the BHoF Weekender. This is the first one I was fully involved in – I was involved in 2012 but mostly just as oversight. This year, I worked closely with Joyce, our executive producer, and with the rest of the executive team on virtually every aspect of the event. While there are certainly things we can, and will, do better next year, I am very proud of the work we did in 2013, and even prouder of our team.

But that pride is tinged with sadness, as just a few days before the event we lost Sparkly Devil, a performer who touched and inspired virtually everyone in the burlesque community in some way, and who had been an important supporter of BHoF and of my directorship.

June: I had two photos selected for inclusion in the Contemporary Art Center’s “89XXXhibition“, a collaboration with Yelp Las Vegas spotlighting our relationship with our local community.

I fell into an impossible love affair, which ended a couple months later, as impossible affairs must. Because they’re impossible. No regrets.

Flea Circus (Behold the grandeur of the circus, the pleasures and delights of a thousand distant lands brought together to dazzle your senses and delight your mind's eye) - Dustin M. Wax

“Flea Circus” from The Greatest Show on Earth

July: A drawing of mine was included in the Blackbird Studios exhibition “The Greatest Show on Earth“, an examination of the circus and related entertainments in American culture. The piece, a tiny drawing of a circus big top called “Flea Circus” — actually, the full title is “Flea Circus (Behold the grandeur of the circus, the pleasures and delights of a thousand distant lands brought together to dazzle your senses and delight your mind’s eye)” — was dashed off as a bit of a joke; imagine my surprise when it was singled out in a review of the show, widely complimented by fellow artists and patrons, and yes, bought – my first real art sale. Life is weird. (This was an AMAZING show, check out some pics of the whole installation.)

But my sister-in-law’s father died in July, leaving a hole in the center of our family. And our father was spiraling ever-downward, on the cusp of a psychotic break that were still recovering from.

August: On the day of my sister-in-law’s father’s funeral, Dixie Evans passed away. I had about enough time to change out of my suit when I heard the news and was out the door to Laura’s (my predecessor and a long-time friend of Dixie’s) to lend my support. Before long, the phone rang with the first of what would be a month of calls from reporters looking to place Dixie in the history of the last half-century.

Meanwhile, my dad was getting worse and worse, and if you’ve ever had a family member with Alzheimer’s, you know how your life and your family’s lives get twisted and cracked around it.

September: Labor Day weekend – Dixie’s memorial service, my 43rd birthday, and the decision to put my dad in a home.

October: By October, it was becoming obvious the financial strain that supporting a parent is going to exert. And the practical strain of having a parent in a home – I take my dad out every week, meaning my 7-day work schedule has to fit into 6 days.

And there’s work to do! October is when the last year’s worth of planning and foundation-building at BHoF starts to pay off: a revamped membership program, an online store, a new staff member (the first paid stuff after me!), and the Sparkly Devil Memorial Scholarship. I don’t remember who had the original idea for that, but it is such a beautiful idea and I’m honored to be able to have made it a reality.

Also in October, I was invited to present on crowdfunding at the Nevada Museums Association annual meetings, and I got to attend the first Las Vegas NV Burlesque Festival.

November: BurlyCon. So much amazing.

Also, a personal triumph – we opened applications for Miss Exotic World more than a month earlier than ever before. This after announcing the dates for the next Weekender in October, TWO months earlier than ever before. Small things in the grand scheme of things, but a big deal for me and the other folks who’ve worked on the Weekender in years past.

December: I have two pieces in Blackbird’s current show, “Dr. Seuss: A Tribute”. One’s a tiny drawing of a plate of green eggs and ham, called “Flea Eggs and Ham”, essentially a joke making fun of the joke in the circus-themed show over the summer. (Actually, the full title is “Flea Eggs and Ham: Knowledge of self may indeed be the key to wisdom as expounded by the ancients, and yet it is important to recall that ‘the self’ is a moving target, always in flux and always already something new.”) Once again, it’s a popular piece and got mentioned in a review of the show. As far as I can tell, nobody’s noticed my other piece in the show, which I think is much more interesting. Because life is weird.

Cat - Dustin M. Wax

“Cat” in Dr Seuss: A Tribute

Other than that, working like a dog to get things done before the holidays and taking a needed week off between Xmas and New Year’s.

Which brings me to this week, and to the waiting room. My mom had a heart attack Monday, angioplasty yesterday. All signs indicate she’ll be fine, but what a scare. Today I’ll close out the year by visiting my dad and trying to decide how much of the last couple days’ news he can bear. Or even understand.

There are lessons in all this, I’m sure. I don’t know what they are yet, though. Maybe just this: you live, and you deal as best you can. You take these blows and try to roll with them, just to cope and keep your head up. And when you get the good stuff, you grab onto it and hold it as tight as you can. ‘Cause you’ll need that for the tough times.

I’ll tell you one thing: I’m surrounded by amazing people. Yeah, I saw some ugliness this year, saw some people do hurtful things just for the sheer pleasure of hurting someone else, but for the most part, I saw people offer a helping hand and a warm heart to people who needed it, including me. People who don’t really know me, even.

That’s what I choose to carry with me into the new year. I don’t have much of a choice about the bad stuff – my family has a lot to deal with, and there’s not much I can do about that, and yeah, people get sick, and people die, and there’s not much I can do about that, either. But I know that whatever happens in 2014, I’ll be able to draw strength from the people around me, the artists and performers, students and scholars, remote acquaintances and close friends, and I hope they’ll draw strength from me. Because we really are in this together, whether we’re making fantastic things or weathering horrors.

So hey, for those of you who stood by me through some rough times, thank you. For those of you facing rough times of your own, let me know how I can help. And if you’re one of the many people who friended me here who I haven’t met yet (or just barely met at an event or show), drop me a line and let’s get to know each other.

All right, 2014, show us whatcha got!


1 comment to So Long 2013! Make Sure the Door Hits You on the Way Out…

  • Linda Logan Peace

    Dustin, it was great to finally meet you. I read about your yearend review and watched your presentation. Sorry to hear about the difficulties of 2013. You have accomplished so much and have mattered to so many. BHOF 2013 was a masterpiece. I look forward to reading some of your work. I, like you, work as an educator. Your students are so lucky to share your passionate presence. I look forward to seeing you sometime soon. Have a great year. I love your advice about keeping the things in your life that you want. I am definitely taking that to heart!! Thank you!

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