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

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2023: The Year of Echoes

Pictures of books Obscurious and Obscurious X by Artemis Sere

2023: The Year of Echoes

Every year since the ten-year anniversary of Artemis Sere, I've assigned a theme to each year. If you're interested in art and content shared during the various years, perform a search in Google, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for more info. You can also check out the tag on my website dedicated to that theme.

THE SERE THEMES

It began in 2017 with the tenth anniversary of the Artemis Sere concept, brand and art via the #yearoftheSere tag.

It continued in 2018 with an exploration into the Sere philosophy and life practice with #yearoftheSeretic.

In 2019, I adventured into art-first existence and living the Artrovert concept via #yearoftheArtrovert.

In 2020, I charted a course to personal civility, connection, and community with the #yearofCivility. (Unfortunately, it was greatly hampered by COVID.)

2021 was my #yearofSerenity and highlighted my Serenity Gallery and "Echoprism Volume 1".

2022 was my #yearofSerein and continued to highlight my Serenity Gallery and the publication of "Echoprism Volume 2".

2023 IN THE REARVIEW

2023 has been my #yearofEchoes, a year of challenges and themes that reflect my history and gave birth to the synchronicity of my sixth book "Obscurious X".

My "year of Echoes" began as a celebration of the completion of the "Echoprism" gallery books, but quickly turned into the antithesis of their vibrant theme: darkness on the periphery, and a dread sense of repetition of old themes coming back to haunt the present. I was still adapting to a new life as a diabetic, and layoffs were happening at work all around me.

The echoes of past pain were coming back into focus during my 50th year on the planet.

The specter of layoffs started early in 2023, and turbulence at work made creation an uncomfortable outlet. Add 3 years of focus on developing the Serenity Gallery and the "Echoprism" gallery books, and I found myself making fewer trips to my easel. I created minimal new visual art pieces in 2023.

It is possible that I was experiencing a phase of creative exhaustion:  after publishing over 700 pages worth of gallery work with "Echoprism", and dedicating over a thousand hours of my time to design, publish, and market the books, I found myself lacking momentum.

Then the layoff happened. It was my first time ever being laid off from a job. Despite my success, work ethic, and experience, I was let go. Previously, when I exited 3M to start my #metalmorphosis adventure, I did it under my terms and circumstances, even if it too was a failed effort. 

The recurrence of trying and failing were consistent throughout my last year, culminating in the publication of one of my best books and a true return to the echoes that formed Artemis Sere. Unfortunately, that has failed to flourish and is tracking far fewer sales than the original.

GRAYSCALE MEMORIES

I began the year with committing to sharing only grayscale profile pics and covers across my social media profiles for the duration of the year. At that time, I didn't know that publishing my darkest book -"Obscurious X" - was on the horizon for me. Serendipity met instability when I was laid off, and opportunity emerged from that crash.

I planned the launch of "Obscurious X" in 2019 as part of a larger publishing plan that spanned a decade of projects. The goal was to publish "Obscurious X" in 2021 to celebrate its ten year release anniversary. I worked on its development a bit in 2020, but decided to make my "Echoprism" volumes the priority due to recent completion of "Project Alexandria".

"Project Alexandria" helped me track and define an inventory for over 600 pieces of my art. During 2019 I decided the creation of a gallery book of my works would help my own understanding of what I've created, but also create a content cache for all future works. Even though it took close hundreds of hours to complete, I was able to reach my goal. It is that inventory work that is the backbone for my "Echoprism" volumes.

But I only have so much time, and 2019 and 2020 involved my life falling apart following the death of my Father. The darkness that followed his death sent me searching for a new identity and stability. The Fog of Death from his passing lasted at least a year while I was also contending with COVID. Life and stability derailed, but found tracks again in 2021. During that period of stability, I used my free time to build and launch "Echoprism Volume 1" and "Echoprism Volume 2".

Fast-forward to 2023: The inconvenience of being laid off introduced a healthy amount of free time to my calendar. In order maintain my sanity while searching for a new job, I threw my focus into projects. I renovated my art space. I repainted and renovated our loft. I got back to blogging more often. I found voice and fire that dimmed while chaos dominated my life throughout 2023.

I dusted off the "Obscurious X" project and made a commitment to completing the book by my 50th birthday. It took a hundred or so hours to revise, reformat, and republish, but out of the maelstrom of unemployment, I walked away with a completed project and another book on the shelf.

And I'm especially proud of my sixth book in how much personal and creative growth I show between the two versions. When I wrote "Obscurious" in 2011, I was constantly in pain, finding my way in a demanding new job, and hurting from struggles to love and find love. It was a sometimes bitter statement and often a bleak reflection of my personality.

It was also rooted in the idea of poetic revenge. Part of my growth as a person involves letting go of the hooks from the past that have continued to infect my present. "Obscurious" was an amazing healing and cathartic exercise for me. It was the SERE acronym in first action, driving me to step out of my comfort zone, share my story, and commit to evolving my craft.

LESSONS LEARNED

"The universe will keep giving you lessons until you learn them.”

What would a reflection of this kind be without synthesis of wisdom? As my present life continues to be turbulent and I struggle with unemployment - even worse, fighting off impostor syndrome that makes me wonder what it is I'm doing here - I need to circle back to the things that I learned during this #yearofEchoes.

1. "Taking a fresh look at the pains of the past helps the present."

From the outside, it probably seems like I didn't do much work to evolve "Obscurious" to "ObscuriousX". Like bands that remix or remaster their works, it may not seem like much effort from the outside looking in. But people fail to see "how deep" someone has to go to "remaster" a previous work. I estimate that 50% of "Obscurious X" is new. The removal of revenge as a theme echoes spiritual progress. Understanding how pixels work reflects design progress. And changing the words of a poem written 20 or 30 years ago takes courage. At 50 years old, poems written while I was in college cascade differently now. In some cases, I don't have patience for the words of the past; in others, I can see the nuggets of wisdom that need to pull into the present. "Obscurious" helped me remember where I've been and how far I've come since those dark days.

2. "Never stop creating."

I have to remind myself on a regular basis that I'm representing Artemis Sere for myself. Not for a specific audience. Not for an annual salary. But for me. Through art, I find catharsis. It has never been financially lucrative for me. For the 8-10 hours I put into a piece of acrylic art, few ever see my pieces live; for the hundreds of thousands of hours I put into a book, I only see a handful of sales; for the endless hours I put into building a website and promoting, I never meet the hopes and goals that I have as a brand. If I made my art as data-driven as my profession, I would've given up a long time ago. But I can't give up. For better or worse, I'm married to my Art.

3. "I am a victory."

Right now, I'm in a phase of loss and decline. My choice of putting Art first four years ago is coming back to haunt me in the worst way and at the worst time. Every beam of my life right now feels stressed and ready for collapse. But I know I will survive whatever comes my way. I've survived worse and lived to tell the tales. In fact, the pain of my past developed into a creative ghost who has produced six books, over six hundred pieces of art, hundreds of blogs, numerous gallery shows, an authentic voice and brand, and an enviable social media following. I live in a world surrounded by my creations and people (and animals) that love me. And I know my best is yet to come.

Obscurious X: Decade of Darkness

Order your copy from Blurb now!

GET INVOLVED

I am an independent artist who does not sell his product on Amazon. My margin for each book is less than hourly wage at McDonald's, so I have no illusions of getting rich off of my work.

But sales reinforce that my art matters to my audience, and the more sales that I'm able to generate off of my art, the more resources I have to make more art. It's circular for me. I don't expect to end up a millionaire, but I will exit with a creative legacy, even if it doesn't have a large, popular audience.

My art is honest, imperfect, reflective, challenging, and hopeful. Please consider subscribing to my Artrovert Blog, buying a copy of "Obscurious X", or following me on social media.

2024 will be an exciting and terrifying year for all of us.

The #yearoftheAlien is coming.

Pictures of books Obscurious and Obscurious X by Artemis Sere

Obscurious X: Decade of Darkness

Order your copy from Blurb now!

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