Xoterica 44: The Limbo

Artemis Sere SS-SG-00562 Limbo

Xoterica 44: The Limbo

“I am not teaching you anything. I just help you to explore yourself.”  (Bruce Lee)

The last four months have been a very busy time for me. Between releasing "Obscurious X", looking for a new job, working freelance with two small businesses, and pulling together the ALIEN INSIDE Gallery Show and Book, my life has moved at a frenetic pace.

However, the amount of work that I put into my life versus the results that I've seen has been greatly disheartening and disappointing. The lack of tangible progress has nullified all of the hard work that I've put into getting my life back on the right track and moving my art forward.

When you're stuck in the middle of nowhere familiar, it's hard to understand what direction to follow toward civilization. When you're lost in the midst of a storm, you can't use the sun and shadow to guide your path.

When limbo becomes you, the abyss begins to swallow you.

Stranger in the Strangest Land

How did I get here? How did I end up in a place remote from who I was and wanted to be? How did I become a person that can't seem to make anything work in a positive way?

This landscape is very unfamiliar. The faces are foreign and temporary. The sun is gone and navigation seems impossible.

Even art betrays my confidence, revealing all accomplishments as illusions, ghosts in the hallway of my history with few friendly faces keeping me company and aiding my survival. All the whispers and claims of greatness are countered by numbers that tell a different type of story:

A story of failure.

I'll soon run out of time, where collapse, retreat, and regression are the only options left for my survival. At 50 and having run a productive art brand for 17 years, I shouldn't look around my world with bitterness and confusion. I shouldn't feel lost and divorced from path. I truly don't deserve my current fate - I'm smart, focused, talented, experienced, well-educated, and productive.

But in this strange land in these strange days, none of those enviable attributes really seem to matter.

I apply for jobs and get no response. Hell, I go through interviews and am ghosted by the interviewers, even if I worked with them in a previous life. I push my art out to the universe and can count the engagements with my art on two hands. I've sold even fewer books, even though I've released two new ones and some of my best work in my history over the last few months.

I feel abandoned, exhausted, and insecure. I don't know what comes next in my story, and that is a frightening feeling. Even worse, even with all of my progress, production, and positive attributes, I don't feel like I have control anymore. The river ahead is less clear than the waters behind. Even with all of the learnings from my mistakes and wrong turns, the path to nowhere led to me after all.

Crash & Collapse

Last night, a major Maersk container ship crashed into a major bridge in Baltimore causing a full collapse of a bridge that spanned 1.6 miles and was an important Interstate in Maryland.

Evidently, power failure on the ship caused it to crash into one of the pillars forcing the rest of the support beams to collapse. It feels like the 35W collapse in Minneapolis, only that tragedy happened during rush hour and led to the loss of many. The tragedy in Baltimore could continue to unfold and become a larger tragedy; however, that crash took place around 1:30 in the morning and few were on the bridge at the time.

Had the ship careened into the pillar 8 hours later, the crash and collapse of the bridge would have led to more extensive loss of life and tragedy. But timing limited the scope of the disaster. That aside, a tragedy is a tragedy, and my heart goes out to all of those affected by the Key bridge disaster.

It will cost billions and many years for Baltimore to recover and rebuild the Francis Scott Key bridge. It stood for almost 50 years before a power-challenged ship hit the foundation and sent it sinking into the depths of the Patapsco River.

Nobody expects a power failure to disrupt the stability of their life. I spent 13 years dealing with a chronic health condition, and even then I felt more alive and hopeful than now. The struggle to rebuild and survive drove me to find an answer to the ailment that destabilized my life, caused me to lose all jobs and possessions, and recycle my life many times over.

Yes, that has led to a certain resiliency. I do my best to smile through the stress. But the present is different than the past. Despite all of my experience and production, I can't get an interview for a job, and when I do get one, I can't get an employer to believe that I'm the right person for the job. The stability I enjoyed for much of the last 14 years of my life and the professional brand that I built to pay my bills is no longer reliable.

I didn't see the container ship coming in my life, but I probably should've been less experimental with my path, just in case one did. I should've spent time over the last couple of years firming up my own foundation. I should've been more conservative and less liberal with my resources. I should've been more protective of my path, rather than confident of its defenses.

But you don't build bridges thinking they're going to sink by some massive accident. You don't make connections with people thinking that the integrity is flawed and the link will be severed by simple actions. You don't plan for instability to hit you when you least expect it (or want it).

Now, all of my past and present is in the river, sinking to the bottom after another major collapse of everything I built for stability. Barely floating now, I'm not sure if the undertow of nowhere will take the rest of me.

Flights of Flotsam 

This is the lowest point I've experienced in a long time - personally and professionally.

By most measures, my ALIEN INSIDE show was a disappointing adventure. Even though I created a digitally-accessible experience, a Gallery Book that anyone can own, a podcast to support my story, and numerous blogs to promote the exhibit, engagement and participation was abysmal.

  • Attendance to my Artist of the Month reception at the 1106 was low, with other show conflicts in the Twin Cities and in Eau Claire supposedly to blame for the lack of traffic. I sold 1 piece out of the 53 ALIEN INSIDE exhibit, and only ended up selling 3 Gallery Show books (and one of them to my brother - thank you, Ryan!).

  • Foot traffic to the exhibit altogether has been light, possibly aided by the fact that The 1106 building is for sale and businesses are closing their doors. There seems to be some confusion about whether or not it's still open altogether.

  • Traffic to my website on the day following my Gallery Show Reception spiked with hundreds of visits, but only a couple led to the purchase of a Gallery Show book. Traffic has plummeted since then, back to the disappointing baseline I had before.

  • I architected a digital journey that involved spending hundred or so hours developing fine art experiences on my website for each piece of artwork from the ALIEN INSIDE exhibit, adding to my digital Serenity Gallery. I created QR codes that intersected with each piece so that visitors could scan a live piece, learn more about the piece, and see digital variants of each piece. I created several blogs, a Gallery Show homepage, and developed a social calendar that leveraged every URL across 3 social media platforms. All of the work resulted in few shares from my friends and disappointing engagement from my network in general.

  • Promotion by my 1106 counterparts was lacking - but my family posted hundreds of flyers throughout the area to help compensate (thank you, family!).

  • A shout in local entertainment magazine VolumeOne got the name of my show wrong, even though I was considered a "Best Bet" for that Saturday night in Eau Claire.

The exposure of the event led to some really great connections with a handful of local artists that will continue on well past my residency, but the blip was temporary. The event itself led to connecting with friends and family that I hadn't seen in decades, but I'm puzzled by the throng of people that chose to ignore my effort altogether.

Connecting the Dots

Recently, I interviewed for a Digital Marketing Analyst job. The interview didn't go as well as I hoped, and I'm not hopeful that I will get the job. It didn't go well because I didn't have tangible examples of analysis of digital experiences and journeys and where I "connected the dots" for a business. It's true - I haven't spent much time doing that in my professional history. I was more project-oriented than analysis-oriented with 3M and Deluxe. I was built by major companies to do specific jobs - not do and be responsible for everything.

But I know how to connect the dots. I know how to read the metrics and coalesce the story that the results are providing. I know how to paint the picture from the lines provided.

I know that's why I'm so hard on myself as an artist. When you spend your professional life behind the microscope, the microscope is the lens you see the world through. I can't disconnect it for my art, because I engaged the SERE discipline and philosophy in order to EVOLVE.

To make it to the next dot with pride and purpose. To keep growing, not slowing.

Not regress. Not create the best art in my life and have FEWER people see it than before. Not increase supply of my art and have LESS demand.

The dots have led me to an island. I look around me now and all of the waters are foreign. The lights from the shore shine like a betrayal now. Bitterness accompanies me with the sand and signs of impending surrender.

The SERE feels like an artistic impostor now, a twin of the professional impostor I feel like I've become.

Moments ago, I read that the wonderful café in the 1106 - Sweet Driver - has decided to close their doors at the end of next month due to ongoing issues with the sale of the building. Nobody knows if a buyer will show up that will allow all of the great artists within to continue doing what they've been doing for the last 8 years. Their dots are leading to a possible closure and eviction of all the great art and artists within.

Such is the way of the artist, I guess. We ride the flotsam and survive as the tides support us and allow us. We cling to the discarded waste and natural disasters until we find stability. We build bridges with and to others, hoping that catastrophe won't become us or sink us.

But time has a way of dismantling every bridge, bleeding the acrylic from every canvas,  silencing every instrument, and closing the doors of every dream.

Some just find the abyss faster than others.

#xoterica

Artemis Sere SS-SG-00562 Limbo
Limbo V1

Xoterica 43: The Impostor

Picture of Artemis Sere Digital Art

Xoterica 43: The Impostor

“We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I'm no different." (Leonard Shelby, "Memento")

Continuous rejection is not good for anyone's self-esteem, especially when success has been the pattern. This job hunt has been a dismal experience that has started to nullify the past in my head and cause me to wonder what I've actually accomplished. This self-doubt has allowed a stranger to creep into my subconscious. This stranger has started to become my identity.

Angel Down

I was RIF'ed (eliminated due to a reduction in force). Not because of performance or lack of experience, but as a cost-cutting measure for a company facing severe challenges finding its future. So I - along many others - was let go, disposable hero with a pink slip and kick in the ass.

The kick didn't land on my ass, however - it hit me in the gut. I was reviewed as "Exceeding Expectations", had generated millions in promo revenue for the company, and was seen as a digital experience leader. By all accounts, I should be someone to keep around. I was active in resource groups and was a champion for my colleagues.

The job wasn't a perfect fit. I was hired to fill a specific role and need in their digital experience. The job was unlike my previous titles and experience in Marketing, and I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn about and guide a different touchpoint in user experience and online transaction. I had other interesting opportunities when I chose that one in 2021, but ultimately decided to take that job because a few former coworkers.

It saddens me how my life now so closely parallels 2020, when I was re-entering the workforce after my bereavement and attempted #metalmorphosis. COVID was receding and hope of a return to normalcy was the state of the world. I desperately needed to find a job, and leveraged my previous experience and connections in Marketing to find one. I felt really lucky at the time to get the job I did.

Echoes of Endtimes

Then the company started to change. People left. Finances tumbled. Layoffs became the culture.

And the job I enjoyed deeply lost its stability. The people I enjoyed working with became exes. The path returned to chaos, much like the miasma of time of the breathing virus.

Adrift, with only the paddle of my past to propel me to waters of new prosperity.

I will find a job to ensure my survival. Eventually. As noted in my previous blog, it hasn't gone well for various reasons. And this blog isn't about employment progress. I've applied and have interviewed for some great opportunities that I'm hopeful of. There's promise on the horizon.

But I've also lost out on some great opportunities because I wasn't good enough. Jobs that I was once considered clearly qualified for. Jobs that I interviewed for and had a great exchange. Jobs I wanted a chance to excel at.

Jobs that reinforce I am who I think I am, and appreciate my body of work as legitimate.

It's hard not to internalize this struggle. It's difficult separating the real from the circumstance, the ghosting and the lack of second chances. When you're someone productive, talented, and self-directed, apathy hits even harder.

Self-Wrestling

Sometimes, it feels like I'm in a wrestling match with myself. There's part of me that agrees with the masses and dismisses all that I have produced and accomplished. In the great nullifying present, the proof is apparent in the struggle for mere survival. That muscled version of me berates my past, denies the very lines on my resume, and beats the hopeful, proud version of me into submission.

It's hard to believe in yourself when you are reminded on a daily basis of your failures. It's hard to be proud when the hits are still hitting. It's hard to see light when shadow is the sun.

It's hard to stay sane when the impostor takes your name. I discovered its name: impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome (also "imposter) is the condition of feeling anxious and not experiencing success internally, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways. This condition often results in people feeling like "a fraud" or "a phony" and doubting their abilities.

And that's why I feel lucky to have developed another identity. In times when I am at lowest, I find comfort in the escape of Art. Art shields me from the impostor and allows me to find hope in creation. In art, I am not judged. I am not flawed.

And I cannot be dismissed.

Art screams and calls. It claws at impostors and reveals their true selves, tatters and all. When I become Art, the impostor is silenced and forced into submission. I cannot control the impostor, but I can overwhelm its energy.

And energy is what it all comes down to. The energy to survive. The fire to create. The power to keep the ghosts in the mirror at bay.

In Art I Trust

We need alternate identities to help keep us sane.

Fantasy has helped many get through tragedy, captivity, or torture. It certainly has helped me get through the turbulence of adult life. It has reminded me of the greatness that I have within, even if others can't see it or life challenges the integrity of it. It has offered me an escape to a stable future state, while enticing me with a vibrant life of hope and happiness.

The Art will always remain. It will never reject me or underestimate me. It will never question me or second-guess me. It will never judge me as "not good enough". It will not bow under the weight of the message, nor will it get lost in the algorithms of careless engines. It will never wear a false face or hide behind a façade of grace.

For by the simple act of honest creation, as a unspoiled act of expression and communication, without arrogance or self-importance, is pure and unfiltered truth. It is the counterpunch to the impostor that seeks to meeken and weaken. It is the roundhouse kick that beats the bluster of self-doubt.

Art believes in me when many others don't. It speaks for me when many others won't. And when the impostor lies and reduces all that I am, my Art stands as a testament to all that I can be and have been.

While life works to diminish all that I've accomplished in my professional life by introducing an impostor, I will not be confused or bruised or downed by this distressing doppelganger.

In Art I trust.

#xoterica

Picture of Artemis Sere Digital Art

Xoterica 42: The Hunt

Artemis Sere SS-SG-00469 Thankful for the Carnage

Xoterica 42: The Hunt

“Nothing is more dangerous than a half-hearted attack; let your attacks fly.” (Bruce Lee)

Dehumanizing. Nullifying. Depressing.

I wish I had better words to describe my experience trying to find a job since I was unceremoniously and callously laid off by my previous employer in a "cost-cutting" move.

The CEO called it "rightsizing". In reality, there's nothing "right" about it. Poor decisions by years worth of management, bad strategic decisions, and a market turning away from their core product forced them to find a new identity, and they've done it at the cost of their workforce and talent.

I started a brand blacklist now because of them, my own little form of activism so I - and others - don't forget what happened to me and can reconsider patronizing the brand or business based on my treatment.

It took a bitter layoff for me to get angry, but here I am: can't get a job to save my life and staring at a life collapse. During winter, no less. Good thing I don't give a shit about the coming holidays - I'd be far more negative about my situation.

Falling Down

I guess I'm supposed to be understanding and sympathetic. I'm supposed to smile and nod and think this isn't about me. I'm supposed to pull up my bootstraps, be proud of what I did over the last two years, and be excited about new opportunities and adventures.

These days, all I can think about is how I'm going to survive off unemployment, what the process is for getting SNAP support, and what life will be like if I'm still jobless on my 50th birthday. The internal pressure is building and beginning to boil into my conscious life.

The clock is ticking, and I can't do anything to slow it down. 

With my experience and success in marketing over the last two decades, these shouldn't be my thoughts. At 3M, I consistently exceeded expectations and was on an upward trajectory for almost a decade. At Deluxe, I exceeded expectations regularly and delivered them increases in AOV, CR, and revenue that should've secured my stability - not to mention bridging SEO into Ecommerce, advancing their content experiences, and leading and taking on projects regularly.

I did whatever they asked me to do, not what I should've been doing to advance my career. At the end of the road with them, turns out that they were nothing more than a paycheck and a short line on my resume that seems to be hurting more than helping.

Kiss My ATS

The state of the workworld post-COVID means that most jobs have a remote or hybrid element to them - which means that more than anytime in our employment history, opportunities are more national and global than ever. Employers don't have to take a flyer on someone with great potential and interesting job history because, well, they don't have to. If every remote job gets hundreds to thousands of applicants, then they'll find the exact match easily and discount anyone else in the pipeline.

How easy? Most medium-to-large corporations use Applicant Tracking Systems to manage their intake for applications. These systems boil resumes down to scores based on matching keywords. They also don't work with any kind of designed resume that isn't formatted explicitly to appease these automated tools. Where I once was able to show off my skills by weaving design and job narrative into a compelling answer, I'm now reduced to keyword stuffing, minimizing my resume content so it's quickly scannable by recruiters, and creating 10 different resumes and cover letter versions that appeal to a specific job title.

End result: I've applied for over 80 jobs since mid-September.

Out of that, I've had 2 30-minute interviews with "talent reps" that screen whether or not I should make it to the next interview step. I've got a full interview for a Marketing Manager job next week, and I will jump at the chance to take it - even though I'll take a $30,000 salary hit and fight to survive in the non-profit industry.

I suspect the organization that I'm interviewing with doesn't use an ATS. Ironically, it's also a job that I didn't have any help from my network finding or getting an interview. While many connections in my network offered job listings and in some cases had a conversation with a hiring person about my candidacy, so far none of that has helped.

Careening Career

What really defines a career? Gone are the days when you could feel comfortable staying in one place for your employment history. Growing with a company. Valuing who you work for and feeling valued for your contributions.

Even at my previous employer, I tried to be a leader, drove volunteerism, and engaged in resource groups that advanced company culture. I coached and cheered my colleagues. I took on work that was never congruent with what I was hired for. I showed a willingness to learn, adapt, and excel.

Those things don't end up on a resume. Neither does empathy.

Even now, I'm considering drifting away from what I do best because it doesn't seem like my best is what employers want. In fact, I'm starting to feel like I don't know what I do best anymore. The last three months have made me question whether or not I even know what I'm doing. Impostor syndrome has set in.

I built a brand that provides no financial stability and amounts to little more than creative masturbation.

I have books and a website full of content that should serve as a great portfolio, but I can't get regular traffic or subscribers.

I have a resume bursting with achievements and talents, but not the right success to give me (or employers) confidence that I'm on the right track.

The Waiting Game

I wish I had the life fluidity to not care so much, to believe the bullshitters that say "the best things come to those who wait". They've obviously never been unemployed and under stress to pay bills and provide life support to others. They've never felt like their best is constantly not good enough. They're not strategizing how to survive.

I suppose I could turn that wisdom back around and shine the light on my progress - once, I was a temp worker struggling to survive with a severe disability and with a dim light of hope; now, I've had over a decade of professional experience with two reputable companies, traveled around the world as a Global marketing manager, and achieved some neat bullet points on my resume.

I had patience, and patience saw me through - with some great people that offered me opportunities and were looking out for me.

For the first time since 2010, I'm relying mostly on the power of my resume and past experience to open doors. Unfortunately, they're now the same doors that have hundreds of people huddled in front of - weary souls hoping for the same desperate shot that I am.

How did it come to this? I made most of the right moves over the last thirteen years. My only key failure was believing in the lies people were telling me about how great an artist I am, the whispers that drove me off of my career path in 2019 and into oblivion clutching the whisps of a dream that faded fast.

I chased my dream of being a welder and full-time artist, and fate laughed in my face.

Hero for Hire

"You're not good enough".

I was told that by a former friend and fellow artist in 2021 at the end of my solo run before I turned my focus back to marketing and digital experiences. I'll never forget that statement. It hurt immensely and still sticks with me to this day, and unfortunately is reinforced by every wrong turn in my career path.

When are we ever good enough?

The reality is that we're all disposable heroes. One minute, your job is touting how they support work-life balance and how happy they are to have you; the next, they're stripping away the human parts of the job until you're an automaton that exists to meet numbers and lives in fear for your next annual review.

AI has already started taking over our lives, and a key area right now is hiring. If automated engines don't assess and score your resume and experience well enough, you don't even get a 30-minute opportunity to sell the 360 narrative of who you are and what you can do. And so there are thousands of great people left to struggle to survive, cast to the bitter battle lines where we fight against each other to thrive.

That's the new American dream: if you survive the algorithm, the brass ring and white picket fence can be yours.

Until the next time that you don't fit "right", search well, or aren't good enough and have to hunt for your survival again.

Truly, our modern times are as Darwinian as they ever have been. Welcome to the new Thunderdome. 

#xoterica

Picture of Artemis Sere SS-SG-00469 Thankful for the Carnage
Artemis Sere SS-SG-00469 Thankful for the Carnage

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