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Surviving 2020

A Portrait of Athens, GA

Athens Cultural Affairs Commission 

Arts In Community Resilience Award Project

This project began from a lonely place in the middle of a pandemic in 2020. I am grateful to have the opportunity to connect a year later with so many beautiful souls in this community and share their stories of resilience and hope

Charlie Mustard

Jittery Joe's Roaster

"I love Athens, Georgia and have lived here for over 30 years.

2020... Woooo ...

I contracted COVID-19 February, 2020 after picking up my daughter and her family from Hartsfield Jackson airport in Atlanta.  It quickly ran through the whole family.  

Never in 25 years of roasting coffee for Jittery Joe's had I not showed up for work.  It kicked my ass! Lying in bed with no umph at all.  Then watching our coffee business change drastically from large, bulk, wholesale coffee to sending out sooo much coffee packaged in smaller units sent to peoples homes. People were needing/wanting to have nice coffee at home while they got used to the virtual work world. 

I am very grateful to have continued roasting coffee and having my day to day routine be disrupted.  I did witness my wife's world be turned upside down while she tried to teach kindergarteners virtually. 

One of the things the pandemic did was allow me to spend more time with my family and outdoors. We searched fields and creeks for artifacts for weeks and weeks and found sooo many.  Day after day of walking dirt roads and fishing. 

Society hitting rock bottom in so many ways has allowed for things to be shaken out in different directions.  Hopefully in better directions.  My hopes going forward are that people hang on to the positive things they have found during the last year or so. I look forward to the changes and adaptations." 

People can connect via Instagram @charlie.mustard

Pink Flamingo

Morgan King Clements

"I’ve been living in Athens for the last 6 years. I started off as a freshman at UGA, totally consumed with the collegiate culture and unknowing of what the broader Athens community had to offer. It wasn’t until I started going to Rubber Soul Yoga Revolution that I felt a meaningful sense of place here in Athens. It allowed me to uncover parts of myself that I had buried long ago. I felt a sense of wonder and curiosity that was intensely satisfying. I began attending the yoga teacher training programs and clown school. I learned how to unicycle, improv, and to purposely enjoy the present moment. I became friends with Cal Clements, the owner of Rubber Soul. We both had a definite zest and drive for all things clowning. We were a great team in our shared artistic ventures. 

Fast forward to 2020, and Cal and I were enjoying our lives together as an engaged couple. After Rubber Soul changed ownership in 2019, we took on a new project: truck driving. We went to truck driving school, bought a truck and trailer, and started our trucking business in a span of a few months. We traveled with 48,000 pounds of cargo as west as Las Vegas and north as Maine that year. It was a great hack- we were paid to travel while taking a break from Athens, where many people were condemning us for following our hearts and being together. So, it was like a working honeymoon of sorts. Then the pandemic hit. Our main commodity, building materials, stopped being shipped as the country when into lockdown. So we paused our business and worked on fixing up our home here in Athens. Cal became entranced with the idea of handmade tiles covering the floors that would create a Gustav Klimt-esque dreamscape. This escalated into using our stimulus checks to buy a second-hand kiln, glazes and clay, and convert our shed into a studio. As Cal worked on his tiles under the name Tinker Wagon, I became excited about clowning again. I remembered going to Austin, Texas during our trucking travels and admiring their "Keep Austin Weird" motto. I had sensed that Athens was in danger of losing its weirdness, as fast food chains popped up in the heart of downtown and luxury condos kept spreading like a cancer. It seemed like the only answer was to take matters into my own hands and explicitly become an outrageous weirdo who encourages others to be weird with me. 

I decided to break out in the same costume I wore in the Wild Rumpus parade in 2019: a simple pink leotard with a flamingo hat and goggles. I love this costume for so many reasons. It is relatively comfortable (as far as costumes go), I like how it makes me become an anonymous entity, and I just feel at home in it. I made an Instagram account to encourage myself to keep doing it, even if it was just dressing up and unicycling up and down my street. The pandemic and the break from trucking really allowed the space for me to experiment with the thought that I could make myself known in Athens, and I decided that my main message would be to simply “Be Weird Here.” I applied for a couple of grants and actually received an Arts in Community Resilience Award from the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission, which helped me tremendously with my finances and allowed me to take the time and effort to keep up public appearances and performances for the community. Soon enough, local business started writing in to me about visiting, getting photo ops in their store, and in general just connecting and being supportive. Honestly, it’s become so much more than I could ever imagine! I feel so happy that all these Athenians appreciate me and think what I’m doing is important, or at the very least, think what I’m doing is funny and entertaining. My hope is that I can keep bringing smiles to people and make someone’s day a little brighter every time I go out. But my biggest and wildest dream is that when people think of Athens, they don’t think of the Bulldawgs... they think of the Pink Flamingo and the purposeful and conscious weirdness movement that I hope to kindle through my actions. I have a saying, "if you want something done, you have to do it yourself," and that’s really how I feel about keeping Athens weird. Nobody is going to do this for me and I don’t want to sit around waiting for someone to do the things I want to see. I am that someone! I am the Pink Flamingo of Athens, Georgia!"

instagram: @pink.flamingo.athens

email: pink.flamingo.athens@gmail.com

James Greer

Artist

"My name is James Greer.

I have lived in Athens, GA for 24 years, more than half my life, so I consider myself from Athens at this point. It's home.

The beginning of 2020 found me in the best condition I had been in my adult life: I had a job I enjoyed, was in the healthiest, happiest, longest relationship ever, and after battling the bottle for over a decade, every day marked the longest I had gone without a drink since I was 14. Things were going pretty well.

And then, well, you know...

I must admit that I was luckier than many folks when the shitshow started: My job allows me to work alone, and outdoors, so I was able to continue working; I was already a germaphobe clean freak, so mitigation protocol were no problem for me, besides foggy-glasses-maskface; and both myself and my partner are super introverted and live alone, in separate homes, so the lockdown barely affected our social lives. What I was not prepared for was how the behaviors of my fellow humans would affect my emotions. The bad news and horror stories were impossible to avoid, when we were all watching the news constantly, hoping for an answer, or guidance, or facts, or actual hope. It weighed heavy on my heart and mind, and every day I was so glad to be sober, because un-sober me wouldn't have been able to navigate the storm. 

As summer arrived, and my depression deepened, I decided to start "seeing" a therapist again (Thank You Nuci's Space!), and it was helpful. I cleaned my life slate: I avoided all social media and limited my news feed to 5 minutes a day; I canceled my two upcoming art shows because WHO KNOWS IF THAT WILL BE A THING ANYMORE, right?, and I decided to direct my time and energy towards a new worldview that could accept what was going on, acknowledge my place in it, and then determine how I wanted to spend what time I had, amidst such uncertainty. 

It really didn't take long after setting this intention for things to make sense for me: since most of the cause and effects of the BIG situation were completely out of my control, it only made sense to shift my focus entirely to the tiny things, like helping those close to me, if I was able, and to savor the simple things I have loved all along, like nature, my art, and naps. 

So here we all are, a year later. I am grateful every day that this pandemic and all of the associated hell didn't affect me for the most part. I lost a pet and a couple of family members to covid, but who didn't? I feel lucky, and more than that, I feel I've learned a big life lesson: Life is an uncertain, chaotic journey, with a rogue's gallery of passengers, but focusing on the small, the true, and the good, whatever that may be, will always show us the path to a brighter now, sooner or later."

instagram: @spidermountaingallery