Xoterica 44: The 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

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