Xoterica 35: The (Great Good) Talent Show

Artemis Sere Xoterica 35 The Great Good Talent Show

“We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. Yet it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities but its own talents as well.” (Bruce Lee)

I can't tell you how many times I've been told by people I love and respect that I'm talented.

During my job search over the last year, it has become a common descriptor for me. I'm humbled to be considered talented and truly am thankful for such a gracious compliment, but I've discovered that talent really doesn't guarantee anything but madness.

People tell me "not to worry, it'll work out" during my troubled times, shake their head in wonder at my struggle, but most of these people have never truly lived on the edge of the cliff, tip-toed on the border of oblivion. In less poetic terms, they've never had to fight to survive, never had to pick themselves up after multiple tragic falls, never had to rebuild stability. Over and over again.

Talented humans shouldn't have to fight to survive. It's a real tragedy of the human condition that we appreciate celebrity more than talent. A celebrity doesn't need talent to survive, just a pleasing frame or persona or angle.

Like unrequited love, talent seldom leads to what the blessed hope or expect. As with unrequited love, talent "is a one-sided experience that can leave us feeling pain, grief, and shame." Talent may get you to the doorway of success, but luck offers the handshake that brings you through the threshold.  Paradoxically, the more talent a person amasses, the less human they seem to the masses. The more unique an individual is, the less like the flock they are.

The Way of the Wizard

Talent is the energy that separates the mundane from the magical. We celebrate certain magicians for their wizardly ways, but most talent is met with apathy or antipathy. Talent is expressed in many different ways - physical, mental, professional, creative, a mix of all … However, translating talent to measurable momentum and survival resources is easy when you're in the spotlight or limelight, but feels like circular madness when you're not.

In fact, when you're consistently told that you're talented but are unable to use that talent to turn the applause sign on in your life, what good is it?

Talent becomes an exercise in cognitive dissonance: you're told that you're awesome, but not awesome enough to be a person that is embraced, shared, or lifted as a necessary talent. You're told to believe in yourself, believe in your talent, exercise your abilities and expand the limits of yourself, but when you do that you can stretch yourself into someone unfamiliar to the world.

I read a recent article that talked about how important friends are to the success of an Artist. It makes total sense to me, and is validated by the metrics of my life. By follower counts, I have grown a social media following close to 50,000 for my Art and art brand over a decade. By engagement counts, I have a social media following of 50 on good days, mostly made up of people I've met in person.

The Great Good People

Talent is grandly taken for granted in our digital age.

We've lost our great good places and tangible ways to appreciate the creators amongst us in the era of covid. Sensations are created overnight based on trends and tribes. Now, many people are able to oversell their talent and capabilities with social media or digital technologies. The deep-fake, digital evolution has given everyone a platform upon which to fight for attention.

If the cage fight were a balanced match, I'd feel better about my odds, but it's less about the talent now than the stage itself.  Consider,

Elisa Lam spent years on Tumblr and killed herself in a water tank on the top of an L.A. hotel. She's a Tumblr sensation because of her attention to reflective content and "deep thoughts".

Amanda Gorman read a poem full of timely poignant words during the Inauguration of Joe Biden and instantly became an internet star, signed to model agencies, and a feature at the Super Bowl. Evidently, the "Youth Poet Laureate" title was created for her. I don't remember Maya Angleou getting such treatment. I revered Angelou in college, and she deserved her platform.

Is Gorman talented? Sure.

Is Gorman special? No. She is just a creator who was gifted special platforms and audiences. As a Harvard grad, there was no way for her to fail. Her success and celebrity were guaranteed based on her  platforms.

When I was a writer at a state school fighting for attention and dreaming of getting published by a Publishing House, I wasn't offered special platform, title, or treatment. Why is that?

It wasn't for lack of trying, just as it isn't now. It is about the popularity contest, the heart of the great good show, where impressions and clicks matter more than integrity and quality.

I guess this is what it's truly like to be a self-publishing, self-sufficient, self-centered artist in the digital age: I have enough time for a small circle of friends and a content calendar that speaks to a mostly apathetic audience, but since I have to plan, create, and share  experiences outside of the lines of a normal human life, this is the best I get.

Talent for another time, if I make it that long.

The Tightrope

I realize the odds are against me. I don't have children or a large extended family, don't have a protected class or status, don't come from affluence or a place of great stability. I don't hold popular positions in this Christian nation, or in any place where trust is put in God first (and not the talents of humanity). My views are fervently opposed by millions in America. In order to truly gain attention now, I have to be partially vilified.

Be the antagonist. Lurk and snipe. Shout my stands from the tallest platform.

But I have chosen not to walk that tightrope, be that person.

Now, our political lines affect our lives more than ever - what we consume, what we endorse, what we share. What was once boycotting of products and experiences has been rebranded as "cancel culture". My way of canceling people nowadays isn't to get in their face with my opinion; my method is to unfollow. But from this point forward, everyone will have a "blacklist" of cultural creators or experiences that don't align with their personal beliefs or stances.

And they will be chastised by some, celebrated by others. I know I dwell on some lists, and have my own list of artists I don't support due to their personal or political leanings.

Such is the case of Gina Carano, an American actress who was fired from the Disney show "The Mandalorian" for inappropriate and insensitive comments in social media. Depending on which side of the argument you fall, she is either an example or a martyr. Regardless of her level of "talent", the stage has decided her path of success. I'll boycott Carano's future projects because I think her message was deeply divisive and insensitive.

But she'll power forward anyway, and people will follow her, celebrate her "talent".

I don't think she deserves to be an embraced artist. But because she took a stand, the ignorant will line up to support her. Just as the ignorant fell in line in the 80s and fought against certain types of styles of art.

Fuck the PMRC.

And fuck Nazism and white power and privilege.

I think every "American" needs to spend a month in Germany and Poland in some sort of culture exchange. That month would involve touring beautiful Feudal towers called castles that once protected and dominated the populous, and will involve hitting every single site of Nazi atrocity that can be visited - Eagle's Nest, Auschwitz, Dachau, just to name a few. Visit Berlin and see the remnants of a divided time. See what remains of the violence that once cleaved a country in two.

I saw it in person when I was a kid. The walls. The wires. The turrets and bombfields that forcefully separated a country.

Some culture, such as Nazi culture, deserves to be canceled. Visual and written propaganda was the backbone of a successful Nazi run. Very talented people in Germany created amazing works of art to sell the Nazi way of life, and the German people fell prey to the wizardry of Adolf Hitler, the talented artist and creator. In no way is that absolution of Adolf Hitler and his diabolical approach to humanity; it is an observation that before we knew Hitler as we do now, he was a talented, productive, brilliant artist.

Along the way, something triggered his talent in a malevolent direction.

Inside the Electric Circus

These days, the talent show is overwhelmed by automated propaganda machines and feed manipulation engines. No strategy matters if people don't see your content. The reach of my content is limited based on the resources I put into spreading my message. The engagement of my content is restricted based on the political or personal leanings of the beholder. The sharing of my content is abysmal based on the placement of my content in the feeds of my audience, by the sheer chance of attention.

That isn't to say I don't have a core circle of people that appreciate my work. To them, I offer my love and complete gratitude. They are the reason that my artistic focus and brand have survived for 14 years; they are the reason that I continue to communicate my works and share myself with the public. The reality is that my stage is much smaller than I view it to be, and my talent is as obscure as the art I create.

Sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes forgettable.

This year will not determine what I do with my talent in the future, but it will determine how I move forward with supporting the machines that work against me and if I continue to be an "outward artist" or "artrovert". The expression of my talent seems mostly wasted on the mechanics of marketing and audience engagement. This art is bigger than a couple of clicks to a website, and the metrics only serve to remind me how unpopular I am in the great talent show.

If luck is my only way to a bigger stage and show, then I'd prefer to focus my magic on the works I create than the experience of the audience.

The circus of madness really isn't worth it.


Xoterica 33: The Edge

Artemis Sere Xoterica 33 The Edge

““Know the difference between a catastrophe and an inconvenience. — To realize that it’s just an inconvenience, that it is not a catastrophe, but just an unpleasantness, is part of coming into your own, part of waking up.““ (Bruce Lee)

I'm not typically one that pushes life to the brink. I lived a charmed life for a long time, and forgot what the edge looked like.

Until recently.

I went from six figure lifestyle with stability and upward mobility, to a skin of my teeth scrape for survival, bouncing off social programs and onto roads I never expected to traverse again.

This blog is a thank you to those people in my orbit that have kept me from sliding over the edge over the course of the last year and into an abyss. For privacy purposes, I won't reveal names, and since these amazing, gracious, selfless humans aided the human behind this artistic mask, I will keep the specifics of individual help secret.

But you know who you are. The empowering comments, cards, and messages of belief and encouragement as I struggled to stand. Reaching out when I seemed to have drifted away for too long. The active displays of genuine concern, like long distance hugs, offering me work or a loan to get by during this difficult time, or checking in on how I'm doing. The compassion. The trust. The love.

Love keeps us from reaching the cliff; care keeps our lives from careening out of control into a freefall with an inevitable crash.

All around me, I see the survivors of such a fall. Broken, irreparable lives. Doomed finances and futures.

Diminished and regressed existence.

Squalor and compromise.

The decay of the present day is palpable. Millions of people have been pushed to the edge by circumstances beyond their control, by choices that had catastrophic outcomes, and by breaks and fractures that don't heal without focused help, support and patience. Millions go to work every day while sick in order to maintain financial survival - not just stability, but income that keeps their lives from sliding into tragic decisions. Millions have put survival over proper health discipline due to lack of insurance, stability options, and/or healthy opportunities (including me). Millions sacrifice more than we can ever truly understand, and stress more than we can comprehend.

2020 has brought me as close to the edge as I have in the last two decades.

At the end of June, I suffered an accident while on the job that brought me centimeters away from tragedy. While using a table saw to rip trim for a new flooring job, the glove of my right thumb got pulled into a spinning saw blade. Before I knew it, the teeth ripped through my right glove and into my flesh, almost severing the tip of my primary thumb. The cut was deep enough that I could see the tip of my right thumb bone, though the angle of the cut kept the tip of my thumb from coming off completely.

See the photos at the end of this blog for graphic detail. I apologize for the quality of some of the images; it was difficult to do anything with my right hand for a few months, including take photos with my left hand. One-handed phone use proved difficult. 

Given that it was my first major injury since I was a kid, I think I handled it as well as someone could without health insurance. I was calm, cool, collected, and focused to heal my own wound, even though my co-worker said what followed from my injury "looked like a murder scene". I took a dive from champion for worker safety into the bloody pool of those injured on the job.

Accidents happen, and my injury was truly an accident. I was watching what I was doing, and I wasn't distracted. I just happened to miss when the blade caught my glove and pulled it into the blade. Life is like that - you feel safe until that quick second that chaos pulls you into the saw. My quick reaction saved the tip of my thumb from being completely severed off.

It was not the first time I cut wood with a saw, and it won't be the last. I don't fear the edge of the blade, but I am more respectful of the power of chaos, of the possibility of doing everything you can to protect yourself from the edge of the cliff or the apex of the spinning blade and still falling victim to the unexpected. Precaution and focus are always necessary when dancing with danger, and any slip can lead you faltering off the precipice and into tragedy. 

Today's danger will bleed you dry faster than you can properly transfuse. I suppose my previous experience with the edge gave me the confidence and patience to live through my present turbulence while maintaining my sanity.

I can only hope the rest of those helpless people on the edge right now have a chance at and the strength for stability like I have.

Four months later, my chopped thumb is mostly healed (by my own attention to healing), and the bloody event served as a pivot in my professional direction and artistic legacy. Instead of focusing on finding a vocation where I can use my hands and stay active, I've returned to my Marketer roots and am exploring what can grow out of those dismissed skills. Instead of working in an industry that varies based on the season and on your ability to survive the elements, I'm working from home and with my head. Instead of facing a future as an artist (and human) without an operable right thumb, I have a second chance to breathe life into my art.

Instead of disabled, I have become refreshingly enabled.

But I was lucky.

In order to survive over the last few months, I took jobs that put me out in the public and into the thick of the decay. Out of social distance and isolation and into the faces of people that couldn't be bothered with masks. Out of protective spaces and into covid-possible crowds. As an Uber and Domino's driver, I've visited abandoned houses, destitute families, places strained by lack of resources, and burned husks of buildings trashed by riots and protesters. I've smiled through hundreds of rides and deliveries that resulted in zero tips. I have seen the diversity of the urban landscape around me like no time in my life before.

I exchanged a charmed life for a complex, complicated road. I swapped upward mobility and unshakeable stability for struggle and wisdom. I traded an existence of suburban, closed comfort for brutal reality and recognition of the edge.

Backing away from the brink is a constant work in progress. It has taken me swallowing my pride and asking for help in ways that I've never done in my past. It has been humbling and tear-jerking. It has been difficult and stressful. It has been inspirational and empowering.

But most of all, it has been renewing.  What doesn't kill you truly does makes you stronger.

As long as you don't tumble completely off the edge. To those of you who have helped me from discovering what that fall looks like,

thank you.


Artemis Sere Xoterica 33 The Edge
Artemis Sere "Dissecting Halos" Original 16 x 20 Acrylic + Art Resin

45 Reasons Why I Despise 45

45 Reasons Why I Despise 45

(Originally published October 16, 2018. Updated and bumped due to the coming election and current relevance.)

Seems like there's not a day that goes by now without the 45th President of the United States doing or saying something that makes me want to turn in my U.S. citizenship and find a new place to proudly call home.

Donald Trump has soiled the highest and most-powerful position in the land, and his ego and determination to carry out his vendettas grows by the day. While I railed against the Bush administration and the dumbness of Dubyah in the 90s, my disdain for Donald Trump has never been so strong. I was not a fan of him in the 80s... or the 90s.. or the turn of the century. In fact, I've never been a fan of Drumpf -- either when he was plentifully and playfully grabbing pussies and engaging in lewd sexual harassment, or when he was running his media empire and firing celebrities for fun.

The world will be a better place altogether when Donald Trump and his American oligarchy have moved on, and truth, justice and respect have the podium again. I'll add more links to specific items as I come across them.

Feel free to add the reasons why you dislike Donald Trump in the comments below.

Welcome to the United States of Madness

  1. Trump disrespects humans who disagree with him, often mocking their opposition to him. He is the biggest bigot in the Western world.
  2. Trump protects his insecurities by trashing and tearing down others.
  3. Trump is vindictive against those who oppose him, and often carries his grudge into vendettas that can last for decades.
  4. Trump has a callous disregard for the less fortunate, weak people who didn't start off with a million dollar loan from Daddy, and those people who don’t align with his white vision of an American.
  5. Trump cannot admit his faults, yet is quick to highlight and criticize the faults of others.
  6. Trump is a misogynist and disparages women, assigns rude and sometimes racist nicknames to them.
  7. Trump has an ego bigger than Jupiter.
  8. Trump is a liar, believes his own lies and the fabricated truths of others.
  9. Trump does not support personal transparency, and protects his lies through an endless web of untruths and misdirection.
  10. Trump is completely selfish and self-serving.
  11. Trump is an emotional fraud.
  12. Trump is a financial fraud.
  13. Trump is a religious fraud.
  14. Trump is a gaslighter.
  15. Trump is a tyrant and demagogue.
  16. Trump is a wall-builder, not a road or bridge builder.
  17. Trump is a divider, not a man of harmony and synergy. He is the most partisan President in U.S. history.
  18. Trump is an isolationist.
  19. Trump is a hypocrite, who cares very little about personal integrity.
  20. Trump is an enemy of the Fourth Estate, continually criticizes the talented journalists in America and calls any news that he doesn't agree with "fake".
  21. Trump uses spray tan so cheap that he looks like he fell off a Sunkist truck.
  22. Trump speaks with hand motions, as if he were trying to conjure truth like a magician (or shadowbox the ghost of MLK).
  23. Trump has the body of a horse and the head of an ass.
  24. Trump believes the his family is an American monarchy.
  25. Trump is an expert nepotist.
  26. Trump reportedly drinks a 12-pack of Diet Coke a day, eats unhealthy fast food regularly, and rarely exercises. He's had a few too many Trump steaks.
  27. Trump is infatuated with his daughter, Ivanka, and speaks of her in creepy ways.
  28. Trump is more interested in global destabilization than advancing the USA as a leader on the global stage.
  29. Trump is a puppet/muppet hybrid – a strange mix of Statler, Waldorf, Big Bird and Snuffalufagus.
  30. Trump is a horrible judge of character.
  31. Trump has delusions of grandeur and an inflated sense of self (in addition to an expansive waistline).
  32. Trump uses Twitter as his megaphone and his rallies as his platform for pushing the most recent conspiracy theory that he read or heard.
  33. Trump's moral compass shifts based on the alignment of his base.
  34. Trump condones hate as an American value.
  35. Trump criticized the swamps of Washington, yet has built an Alligator park on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
  36. Trump owns a Dark Tower in NYC (which includes offices of foreign-owned states -- which should cause conflict of interests -- and costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a day) and is the resident Randall Flagg of America. Sorry, Stephen King; the comparison works too well to ignore.
  37. Trump could care less for couth, culture and traditions of other countries.
  38. By not criticizing the actions of white supremacists, racists or other misogynists, Trump has made himself complicit in the evil actions of his supporters.
  39. Trump regularly attacks the integrity of the experienced subject matter experts around him (see Dr. Anthony Fauci), and would rather have counsel from crazed crackpots like Alex Jones, Steve Bannon, Kanye West and Dennis Rodman.
  40. The Apprentice and "The Art of the Deal".
  41. Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and is a climate change denier (even while the country suffers chronic wildfires, rise in hurricanes, and irregular temperatures across the country).
  42. Trump uses superlatives as if they were language laxatives.
  43. Trump is part of the white-male-privilege, good ol' boys network that laments the demographic shifts in America.
  44. Trump would prefer to rule like Putin and renovate the Constitution, with unending Presidential term limits and uncheckable power. He has sewn the seeds of upheaval by failing to commit to leaving the White House at the end of his term, as every other President has done before him, regardless of turbulence during their appointment.
  45. Trump leads by tyranny and authoritarianism, not by democracy nor example. His is the first true American Dictator, and has created the united states of Madness.
45 Reasons Why I Despise 45