Xoterica 34: The Forty-Seven

Artemis Sere Xoterica 34 The Forty-Seven

“Maturity does not mean to become a captive of conceptualization. It is the realization of what lies in our innermost selves.” (Bruce Lee)

In 2002, soon after my divorce, I got my first tattoo. I had only been suffering with my chronic condition for a year, and within the year of its onset, I lost everything in my world - home, marriage, stability, a vision of the future, faith, hope, life.

Every day was an adventure in physical pain from my severe ulcerative colitis and emotional anguish from being cheated on by the one I cherished then thrown away like used trash. Every day, sustenance passed through me like my system didn't work at all. Every day, I was forced to redefine my reality. Every day, I felt closer to death. Every day, I became a shadow of the man I once was.

I became something different, and that called for something different.

After failing at my one serious suicide attempt, I decided to get a tattoo. This was before the era of Artemis, before I had spent focused time on re-teaching myself art to help heal, before I designed tattoos for others. I didn't have an idea about the concept, and didn't really have a location in mind for the inking. I'm not sure what guided me to choose oriental kanji for my design, but I did feel synchronicity with the character: ghost.

I Am Ghost

On that day, my "ghost" era began. I decided on the oriental kanji for ghost as my first tattoo with black and red as the colors. I chose my upper right shoulder for the tattoo location. I hired a popular La Crosse tattoo artist to imprint the sigil.

I drew the kanji myself, though I literally traced the kanji printout instead of inking one myself like a talented calligrapher. By going that path, I fattened up the lines and angles of the character, and when the tattoo artist was done with his work on my shoulder, the kanji looked less like an oriental script for "ghost" and more like the numbers "47".

I talk about this strange occurrence in my second book "Xenomorphine" (2013) in the passage "Ghost 47".

The start of the darker road, the schism between who I was and who I was becoming. Diagnosed with two chronic health conditions only one year earlier, my life had completely unraveled. First it was my health, then my job, then my love, my marriage, my condo, my friends... and everything I knew as familiar. In one year following my prognosis, I was single, broke and living alone in a new, cursed world.

I felt like a ghost--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And, thus, I adopted the nickname. It seemed to fit. Typically, people don’t assign themselves their own monikers. Friends or family bequeath such labels upon you. But, in this case, I felt like the incorporeal dead. Non-present. Translucent and disconnected.

The wires couldn’t be reconnected to life, not in the common means. In that darkness, someone else awoke. It was necessary to face the disassociation and make it part of me.

Now, here I am on the first day of my 47th year, and I feel like a ghost, more than I have at any point since getting the tattoo almost 20 years ago. With covid, silence is everywhere now. Solitary living is the norm for safety reasons. Since leaving social media, the distance from my friends and loved ones has grown.

Cloak of Fog

All roads have been clouded by the fog of my father's death. The pall of the end times is ever-present. Failure is common and structural breakdown the way of this day.

Is it possible that a tattoo that I got two decades ago foretold the present? In years following, I haven't been able to find and replicate the kanji I found in the inker's shop. At this point, I'm not even sure if the kanji is legit, and if someone with understanding of the language could even decipher it now.

Now, it just looks like the number "47" encircled on my arm.

It's grim business talking about death on the day of your birth. These matters are better left for stronger times, not days that make you realize how fast you're slipping into spectre. However, the "ghost" moniker stuck with me in years following. It was my primary handle in Myspace, became a nickname that reflected me well when I was sick and everything of substance passed right through me. Since then, I have added a couple more "ghost tattoos", including braille of the word "ghost" on the digits of my right hand (palm-side).

If anything, the ghosts are still haunting me. The ghosts of tragedy, of failure, and of paths not taken. Once, I didn't believe that I would heal from the conditions that sapped the life from me. The future was limited and bleak, a roadmap of painful surgeries, uncomfortable living, and embarrassing situations.

Echoes in Ink

Through tenacity, persistence, and patience, I won hope back. But now it all feels like a dishonest exchange, a pyrrhic present offered by wicked giver. My fading and unfamiliar kanji feels like an ironic marker, a cryptic clock frozen in time.

Or maybe the hands of progress are being held back by the ghosts. Maybe the events of the last two years of my life were necessary to exorcise the demons and clear away the lingering haunts and guilt from my past. Maybe fading away offers resurrection.

Maybe year 47 is tabula rasa, the renewal, the calm after these storms of life.

I sure could use the respite. While I'm waiting for fate to offer that sort of grace, I spent my birthday much like I spent the rest of my year - distant, chill, and reflective. I painted/finished seven pieces today, and shots of the following are provided below. These haven't yet been formally added to my Serenity Gallery, but they will appear in "Echoprism Volume 2".

"Barely Alive" - multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 16x20
"Ever Adrift" - acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16
"Twenty-Twenty Vision" - multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 12x 16
"Death's Caress" - multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20
"Freedom" - acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20
"Mystereons" - multilayer acrylic-resin-acrylic on canvas, 12x 18
"House of the Harvester" - acrylic on triangle-shaped canvas, 16 x 16 x 16

Happy birthday to me.  Happy Saturday to you. I hope you enjoy my birthday song of the day by a new favorite artist of mine, appropriately named Ghostemane.

May the next year not be so venomous.


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

Xoterica 31: The Bully

Artemis Sere Xoterica 31 The Bully

““I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.““ (Lee)

I've said a lot of mean, degrading, and angry things about the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, since he was elected by a slim margin in 2016. I was so exasperated and driven to anxiety by his victory over Hilary Clinton that I suffered a serious anxiety and asthmatic attack that had me on the brink of breathless until ambulances arrived to save me.

I'd never suffered an attack like that before in my life. Though prone to bronchial illness, I'd never been one to suffer from asthma. I was a soccer player and relatively active, hitting the gym or path with regularity.

I've never been in an actual fight, and, apart from raging in mosh pits, have never been in a physical altercation of any kind. I suppose I was a bit of a bully to my brothers at times while we were growing up, but that didn't last for long once I entered my teens. Bruce Lee is an idol and philosophical mentor of mine because Jeet Kune Do is more like shadowboxing than kickboxing. If you must fight, you battle with precision, purpose, and clarity.

But the election to leadership of a man I've hated since I was in my teens -- when it wasn't just fashion for rock stars to hate the rich and fight against their power, it was our duty -- felt like a Dhalsim punch to the chest.

I'm still breathless, confused, and angry to this day. The reality of King Dictator has dismantled me over the last few years - turned me from a patient warrior for harmony and truth, to an activist bent on calling out the countless mistruths, contradictions, and evil actions undertaken by Trump over the course of his life.

Understand, I wasn't a Clinton fan, just like I'm not a full Biden fan now. Obama was my favorite President, and still is one of my favorite humans. He did stand for hope, and an aspirational identity as a diverse, evolved, and harmonized people.

Some who read the previous statement about Obama will be exiting this exoteric conversation now, and probably never return. This message isn't for everyone, and everyone won't agree on my position. There's a strong dichotomy of direction in politics in America, forcing all of us to take sides.

In this case, the division is warranted.

King Donald the Dictator has operated like my antithesis since I was old enough to know who he was. When I was in high school, one of my favorite bands had the following quote in their song "The Wasteland":

"Pay your money to the landlord
Donald Trump is just a money whore
Under my bed there's a baseball bat
Goddamn taxes gonna break my back"

That was 1991. The band is Warrior Soul, a music act that was raging against the machine (and their own record label) in ways that made Motley Crue look like pacifists. They were one of the first mainstream rock bands in the modern era that could be explicit and dangerous and be true to their message. Case in point: they committed career suicide with their fourth album, which they tanked on purpose to get out of their contract with Geffen records.

Their message of revolution didn't resonate with big business and corporate interests, and Donald Trump represented everything they hated.

But this rant isn't about a rock band whose concept was eventually embraced by another band aptly named Rage Against the Machine. It's about how Trump really hasn't changed over the course of over seven decades, and how Americans have been bullied into submission by his greedy, selfish, and irresponsible actions, with very little rage left to counter.

When decorated veteran John McCain died in 2018 and US government flags were flying half-staff to observe his passing, Trump said "What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser." When he faced him on the campaign trail, Trump said about McCain "He’s not a war hero. I like people who weren’t captured."

Well, I prefer leaders that can take public health and security seriously -  not obese blowhards that think getting captured by a virus is somehow more prideworthy than a war hero who fought selflessly for a country and cause.

Trump dodged military service, was handed his riches, and has crashed companies like they were disposable. He regularly disparages his opponents or those voices that disagree with him. He cannot be debated, he cannot be questioned, he cannot follow structures or rules, and he cannot play nice. He has no integrity, respect, or patience.

His words are fists, and with them, he pounds anyone before him into acquiescence. Whether tweeting, on a Debate stage, in an interview, or at a rally, his force will not be denied. He hammers with hotheaded fury until he has razed every good and right thing around him.

He is razing the country, our Democracy, the Constitution, our freedoms and rights, and our global standing. He acts like he's the Dictator from North Korea, and sounds like he's the supreme leader of Russia. He envies both of their positions of ultimate power. He is squeezing the life out of our liberty, his chokehold asphyxiating the breath out of our once great society and identity.

Ultimately, he wouldn't be such big of a problem if he didn't have an audience that cheers on his bullying. His vile humanity is reinforced by a universe of selfish and self-serving parrots cloaked as Patriots. They cheer his violent and divisive message, and they "stand by", waiting for their sign to jump into the fray. This isn't your 60s or 70s peaceful protests; there is true unruliness and hate behind the lines of each side these days.

And now, in what may be the strongest example of bullying in American history, the President completely controlled the messaging and experience of his severe covid illness (never giving the full picture of his illness and limiting the truth of his Doctors). He left Walter Reed hospital before he was fully healed; returned to the White House to participate in a surreal propaganda event intended to project both political strength and superhuman ability to overcome his health challenges; and, did all of that while spurning long-standing medical advice from the CDC and Global Public Health experts around mask use, and spewing his viral clouds throughout the tax-payer funded mansion provided to him, coincidentally at the same time that the CDC updated its covid transmission guidelines to confirm that the novel virus can be transmitted through air, and can linger on surfaces and in water droplets in air… for hours.

Donald Trump is no longer using just his words to bruise and endanger those around him; the bully is using his obsession with power to damage the fabric of equilibrium and society.

The sad truth is that there are many in this nation that applaud his deplorable actions and despicable words. There are neighbors and friends that support his irresponsibility, arrogance, and lies.

As I delivered pizza for Dominos and rideshire for Uber, I have met these people across the landscape of this broken wasteland. I hear their side of the story, but can't relate; the people that understand and enable the bully are complicit in his abuse. They've been dizzied by his misdirection, misguided by his partisan imbalancing. Most are weary from four years of conflict between parties and people.

Yet, the punishment continues.

Down deep, a bully mostly wants attention, and gets it through violence. The bully plays to his/her crowd, pounding fists and pushing victims down in order to stand taller. The bully is energized by the applause of the audience, emboldened by every successful punch he/she lands. No social media campaign, no hashtag, no volunteer cause can stop a bully who is protected by arm-locked enablers.

Donald Trump is a demagogue and a bully who uses his power, affluence, and status to paint himself as a martyr to the suffering castes and classes. He doesn't represent anyone but himself and those familiy members that carry the Trump name with loyalty to him. I don't have enough time in my days to detail all of his instances of bullying across his history - recent or otherwise. He is a violent manipulator and power-thirsty dictator. He has already said that he will challenge the results of our coming election, and not step down as president if he loses (completely disregarding the fact that the Electoral College elects a president, not the popular vote, no matter how stark the difference between the two voting results). He is no president. He is no classy, honorable, or sane leader.

America is on the precipice of unravelling. Donald Trump does not have the best interest of the American citizenry on his mind, and is not to be trusted.

Nor re-elected.

Welcome to the wasteland, where madness reigns supreme.

#vote2020 #xoterica

Artemis Sere Xoterica 31 The Bully
Artemis Sere "Madness Reigns" Demagogue Octave 4 x 6 Acrylic & Resin on Canvas