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

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"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." 

instagram : @charlie.mustard

Pink Flamingo

Morgan King Clements

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"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

pink.flamingo.athens@gmail.com

James Greer

Artist

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"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

Rita oBrian

& Robert Parker

R & R Secret Farm

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"R&R began 2020 afire with big farm expansion plans and lots more flowers planted, seeded, and ready to grow for a big year. After a mild winter, the anemone was the first to bloom. February mornings at a winter market were filled with tulips. In March, we were eager to start at the Athens Farmers Market with an abundance of ranunculus, snapdragons, and poppies, only to have our spirits dropped as the virus spread, cancelling the market. Panic ensued and many tears were shed in our abundantly blooming flower field. Farming isn’t easy, and we’re familiar with the often cruel whims of nature, so we got creative and acted quickly to figure out how to continue. We had flowers and people were despairing. People were seeking connection while social distancing, and flowers and the sweet personalized notes that accompanied them served as a reminder of love and care. We began offering local doorstep deliveries and nationwide overnight shipping. I navigated new pathways through Athens, learning about new-to-me locations while escaping the farm a little to drop bouquets on doorsteps. When the farmers market opened back up in May, we hustled harder than ever to juggle a million farm-chores and tasks. Flowers held a magical connection that people were so desperately seeking, filled with beauty and hope and promise, and we were determined to get them into as many people’s hands as we could. June through December was a blur of long work days, armloads of lilies, zinnias, sunflowers, heirloom chrysanthemums and wreaths. Even during social distancing we feel more connected to this community than we had before. We are grateful for the outpouring of support for our small farm business throughout the pandemic; it continues to give us energy and momentum to make our community even more beautiful."

instagram : @rrsecretfarm

rrsecretfarm@gmail.com

rrsecretfarm.com

Molly Swindall

UGA Grad / Hotdogger

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"I’ve had a connection with Athens since I was a child, as my Dad was a Double Dog and Student Body President, we visited Athens a lot when I was a child. Three of my older siblings went to UGA and when it was finally time for me to go to college, I too chose UGA. My love for the town only continued to grow over my time at Georgia.  

After getting my Masters in Europe, I applied for my dream job: driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. I applied in January 2020 and had my final round interview in March, right as the pandemic was starting. My first taste with it was when my in-person interview was cancelled and a few days later, they moved us online. A few weeks after the interview, I received the most BUNderful news, I cut the mustard and was going to get to bring joy and happiness to people every day with the Wienermobile.  

As we waited to start the job in June, uncertainty remained prominent in the country. Then I received word that we would be pushed back a month. While this was a bummer, being a Hotdogger was the most amazing job to have during the pandemic. The first Wienermobile was invented in 1936 during the Great Depression to bring happiness to people. We came full circle and were able to connect back to our “routes,” by bringing smiles during another tough time in our country.  

In every city we visited, people were looking for a reason to smile and the Wienermobile did just that. People told us over and over how much joy we were bringing, how they needed a reason to get out of the house, and how we gave them a break from all that is happening in the world. Additionally, we regularly have people tell us that they have waited years to see the Wienermobile or that we are the best thing to happen to them this month or year. Thrice, we even had people say this was better than their wedding day and their spouse was next to them. It is difficult to put into words the joy that a giant hot dog brings people. 

While every day is different, one thing remains constant and that is the joy that we bring people. I’ve had people cry to me telling me that they knew their sick father would be greeted by their late mother when he passed away because she asked for the Wienermobile as a sign. I was able to give a touch tour to a blind woman who told me she could “see” not “feel” the Wienermobile. I was able to raise money using the Wienermobile to help a little boy with Autism get a service dog. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me I’ve brought back their childhood. I constantly hear that we don’t understand what we are doing for that town when we visit. 

There is truly something special about a job that lets you bring joy to people every day, especially when it’s during a pandemic. In March, I was able to bring that joy to Athens when I brought the Wienermobile downtown."  

instagram : @mayochupmolly (work)

 @mollyswindall (personal) 

Lydia Hunt

Pink Goblin Tattoo

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"I moved to Athens in 1999, started working downtown at 17 years old, and bartended my way through college and my apprenticeship. I care deeply for the Athens community and treasure the amazing family and support system I’ve built through out all of these years. The national emergency was declared on my 30th birthday. I had taken the first two weeks of March off to celebrate and take a much needed vacation. Right when I had planned to go back to work, quarantine had been put in place. As an independent contractor, I had no access to unemployment and no idea if I ever would. My partner is a touring musician (also independent contractor), so both of us went without an income. As time went on, I was worried I would loose my job all together, I couldn’t imagine anyone having the money to get a tattoo after all of this. I finally got my unemployment towards the end of May, around the same time I went back to work. Tattooing is an intimate job and it was scary being so close to our clients with so little information on how it was spread. But over time it became normalized. While quarantine was extremely stressful, I was able to take a lot of time to adjust my lifestyle and be more kind to myself.  I’ve always worked in a state of overdrive. But through all of this I have learned and allowed myself to take things at an easier pace, develop my artistic style, and build strong boundaries in my work and personal life. My hopes for the future at this point consist of capitalism being dismantled and burning it all to the ground, but I’m just a dreamer."

instagram: @lydiakinsey

lydiakinseyhunt@gmail.com

www.pinkgoblintattoo.com

Lori Cataldo

Realm of Madame L

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"I had just relocated to Athens, GA from New Orleans and moved into my apartment New Years Eve. My dog Zelda and I. I had guest spotted at Pink Goblin Tattoo and the girls were such a joy to work with I decided to stay. 

It’s hard to adjust and move to a new town. However life put me this way and everything was panning out like I was supposed to be here. A lot had happened the year before , such as my Father dying, which threw me into a sea of depression and being a bit unstable for awhile. I was literally sitting in the Pink Goblin doing a tattoo in March thinking to myself ... “this is good, everything is going to be ok” a day later we were closed “non essentials”. Again the rug was pulled from underneath me. I was without a job, no income, I didn’t qualify for unemployment since I had just relocated. I sat for about a week worried sick. Then thank God I got ridiculously motivated to start working on things I didn’t have time to do working in a high volume shop in New Orleans. I started designing shirts, Madame L Tattoo merch, making prints of my art. Painting mini paintings, learned candle making and essential oils. I had it in my head to travel back to New Orleans and South Florida to guest often then I would also have art and merch to sell. I, through the encouragement of a friend I had made here, opened an Etsy store “Realm of Madame L” the name because I’m quite often in my own little word and that was especially so during lock down. My artistic interests grew and I started teaching myself new things, such as working with resin, learning to relax, spread and position insects to learning and working with bones and deceased creatures which then manifested into its own art. I found I adored working with these creatures. Exploring them up close and personal. The creatures became my friends. Each piece I work with I feel a soul connection. At that point I became “Realm of Madame L” Keeper of the Beautifully Deceased. And I haven’t turned back. I quickly became a store owner, manager, photographer, writer, and many more. By the end of 2020 I had my best month ever and officially became an LLC. 

Now in the middle of all this, when tattoo shops reopened, I attempted to go back to tattooing as well but having very severe Asthma I was panicked every time. I’m a staunch mask wearer but I found wearing it for long periods of time would throw me into coughing fits. Which right now is like the plague. So I mourned my tattoo career and kept moving forward with my online business. 

Kim the owner of Pink Goblin and the girls through all this have been ridiculously supportive of what ever decision I need to make. It’s been such a nice reprieve during all this. We have now decided since I’m staying steadily busy with  my shop that I will be doing guest spots instead of being a permanent employee. I feel like I get the best of both worlds. 

Also my landlord was so understanding of my situation when all this stared, he promised I’d have a roof over my head. I fell behind of course, now I’m two months ahead. 

I had made one great friend in town before lockdown and she’s now my soul sister in death as we share the same heart about animals and preserving their beauty. 

I think what I’ve learned this year for humans and as a woman is that you can metamorphosis as many times as you need to in life to survive. I also came to have a deeper love for this beautiful nature we have surrounding us here in Athens. If I’m not creating I’m usually wandering the woods somewhere off being feral with my wildling Zelda." 

instagram : @MadameLTattoo 

@the_Beautifully_Deceased_

www.realmofmadamel.etsy.com

Kim Deakins

Pink Goblin Tattoo

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"The pandemic began as my sister and her two friends from college arrived for a visit. They were en route from Knoxville to St. Augustine, Florida to stay at a family beach home for spring break. We had a couple of days of down time together in Athens to eat and hang out.

Prior to their visit, I had heard of a virus ravaging parts of Asia and other areas overseas. I wasn’t paying too much attention to news at the time because the Trump administration was a constant barrage of drama and sadness. During their visit we continued to hear things about the virus overseas and how entire countries were shutting down. The day before my sister and her friends were supposed to be leaving for St. Augustine we decided as a group to contact parents and families to discuss the best course of action regarding travel to Florida: continue on or cancel the spring break trip. The family of my sister’s friends highly recommended returning home. My family suggested continuing the trip. As European and Asian countries spiraled into chaos we decided going home would be best. That was March 16, 2020. The following week the US began lockdown procedures and my tattoo shop was forced to close by county mandate. My last tattoo appointment with a client was March 20, 2020. We were closed almost three months.

As much as I hate Instagram it’s been a great time capsule of imagery that captured some of my actions and behavior over the course of the shutdown. The next post following my last tattoo is dated April 5, 2020 and features a picture of me in a cloth mask that I made. This was my new profession, and in the post I state, “Used to be a tattoo artist. Now I make masks.” For the next two months I took orders for masks and slaved over the sewing machine day and night, cutting fabric, making masks and shipping orders. 

My state of mind during this time was not good. I was afraid the tattoo industry was going to dissolve because people would feel disgusted and unsafe getting a tattoo. I worried over my finances and the finances of my coworkers. I worried about the future of my tattoo shop. I worried about my and my partner’s future, our jobs, our home and our families. I worried about the world. Despite all this I still had hope that we would return to normal soon. Boy, was I wrong. 

Over the next few weeks I kept myself busy with projects around the house that I wanted to do but never had the time or energy to complete. I ventured out occasionally to get supplies only to see that everyone else in Athens was also doing home projects. There was literally nothing else to do. We were instructed to stay in our homes and go out only when necessary. Going to the grocery store and going anywhere outside our home became my responsibility. My partner could not handle the stress and anguish of being in public around people. After each visit to Lowe’s or Trader Joe’s I would come home, take a shower, get in bed and cry. This went on for many weeks or months, it’s hard to say. 2020 was a complete mind warp and time meant nothing. 

I continued to plug away making masks and doing things to keep myself busy. I hustled.  I collaborated with a couple of friends, one a flower farmer, the other an artist, and made an art print to sell. The income from the masks and the print were a fraction of my usual income, but I had nothing else.

During this time the weight of being a business owner became very real. I felt helpless as a boss. Our statuses as independent contractors and small business owner rendered us ineligible for unemployment. There simply was not a category for workers like us on the Department of Labor unemployment application. The only recourse I had was the Paycheck Protection Program which was a complete nightmare to navigate. I’ve never been on such an insane roller coaster in my life. After two months of dealing with the PPP application process I was able to get some funding and help my people. 

Our governor Brian Kemp allowed certain industries to return to work on April 16th, 2020 only one month after mandatory closure of nonessential businesses. Our country was still firmly in the middle of a full blown pandemic yet a handful of states turned a blind eye and decided to reopen. My coworkers and I did not agree with this decision. Athens did not agree with this decision. We didn’t feel safe enough to return to work, so we didn’t. We remained closed.

The Pink Goblin crew held it together the best we could. We encouraged each other to make art, t-shirts, and to keep applying for pandemic financial assistance. We comforted each other through texting and kept each other informed on pandemic news. 

My apprentice had a really hard time. Her apprenticeship began in October of 2019, then the pandemic hit. Like so many of us she became depressed and distraught with the hopelessness and uncertainty of the situation. Since the tattoo shop was going to be unoccupied for the foreseeable future I made her go in and practice tattooing on fruits and vegetables. I gave her assignments and encouraged her to practice and make art day and night to keep her psyche from drowning in sorrow.

My heart goes out to all the young graduates of high school and college who were robbed of a ceremony, unable to experience the important milestone that represents growth, closure, maturity and the exciting prospects of the future. My heart goes out to all the people that were beginning new jobs, new lives, and starting families or were forced to postpone or cancel weddings, birthdays and vacations. My heart goes out to those who became ill from COVID and those who lost loved ones. My heart is heavy, my mind is tired and my body is broken. 

It’s been interesting reflecting back, remembering and feeling my way through the process of writing this piece. Much has happened and we have all experienced so much sadness and hardship. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Although Trump is out we are still struggling as a nation to find equality and equity within our system and our daily lives, to stand for what we believe and encourage love, acceptance and justice above all. Trump’s ouster was a win. The conviction of George Floyd’s murderer was a win. Getting the vaccine was a win. And the love and support of my family, friends, coworkers and the Athens community continues to be a win. 

As I sit writing this surrounded by my fully vaccinated family for the first time in a year I still feel hopeful. I have many doubts and insecurities, but I have much for which to be grateful. That is truly a win. We will keep plugging away, working and trying to feel normal in the middle of this multi faceted war. Because what else is there to do? I have grown so much during this process. I can’t say I’m thankful that all this has happened, but I’m alive and somewhat healthy and I can work and finally be with my family, and right now that’s all that matters."

instagram : @koreanhammer

www.pinkgoblintattoo.com

Betina Wassermann

Wicked World

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"I moved to Athens 7 years ago from NYC where I was born and raised. Sometimes it feels as though I have been here for an eternity and other times it feels like I only moved yesterday. The transition from big city life to small town life has been something of a challenge. I do miss my anonymity. I miss sky scrapers, and loud brazen personalities. I miss many many things about NYC but Athens has been very good to me. I’ve met many wonderful new friends and kindred spirits here whom I consider family.

Surviving 2020 was at some moments frightening, and at other moments invigorating. I had started to revamp my Etsy shop in 2019 to gear it more towards oddities and hoodoo and witchcraft supplies, vs. what I had been focusing on prior which was vintage clothing. I had been to the Atlanta oddities expo a couple years ago and thought, gee, I can do this, this is what I have always been attracted to and love. When the pandemic hit I had just started to make strides. I thought the pandemic would kill all the momentum my shop was starting to gain. To my complete surprise, the opposite occurred. Online shop sales started to escalate by leaps and bounds. I started sewing “occult themed” face masks and thus began the frenzy of sales. At that point masks were not being offered in most stores as they are now, and demand was very high. I could barely keep up and found myself sewing from morning til night.

Being quarantined was no big deal to me, it gave me the time and motivation to really concentrate on building the business I wanted to have, so in my case, having to remain at home was something of a blessing in disguise. Although I can be very social in some situations, I have zero problem being alone and in my own little world. I have three rescue dogs to keep me on my toes and keep me company at all times, nothing better in my humble opinion.

What was once a “media room” quickly turned into a studio of artistic endeavors. I learned so many new creative techniques via YouTube, such as resin art, electroforming, and preservation of wet specimens (for the oddities section of my shop). I took the opportunity of having to stay put and turned it into a learning experience.  I pushed myself harder than I ever have and I am quite sure I am a better person because of it. I had the news on daily as I worked, I endured the inane ramblings of the madman we called President. I worried about how the country would survive with this lunatic at the helm. I listened to the body count grow very grim, and watched my hometown of Queens, NY get hit harder than any other city in the nation at one point. Scary indeed.

If there is one thing we can all depend on it is that the future is uncertain. We don’t know what waits for us around the bend, the pandemic was a prime example of that. I am grateful beyond words that I had the wherewithal to get through this experience, many people did not and watching others in want of food and other necessities was gut wrenching. I consider myself extremely lucky, I try extremely hard  to never take anything for granted, 2020 just made that all the more clear."

instagram : @wickedworld_13

www.wickedworld.etsy.com

Sandice Thrasher

Frugal Fashionable Farmer

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"My name is Sandice Thrasher and I was born and raised in Athens, GA. I currently live with my partner, on a small farm just on the outskirts of Athens that serves as a privately funded sanctuary for senior farm animals, two special-needs rescue dogs, and a cat. 

The 'shutdown' of 2020 began with me taking on a long-term shelter dog as a foster because that was the only way to help after the shelters were forced to close in March 2020. It didn't take long for this dog's forever family to find him on social media, and soon settled in his loving and compassionate home, and I felt the urge to learn a new thing....

I set out to learn how to say yes to myself, Christian, and my animals, first. This also meant I had to learn to say no to others. I actually firmly started practicing this. To put us all in the forefront instead of always letting us take the backseat, which we all regularly become accustomed to. I said yes to lots of healing. Yes to emotional exploration. Yes to my health - both mental and physical. Yes to accepting help. That last one was huge for me. I grew up to be so self-sufficient that I never explored or understood how accepting help from others was in itself a good deed. 

I had to have major surgery in 2020 and having never been hospitalized or fully anesthetized, I had to embrace that this was happening, and not to fear it. After I was released from the hospital, in order to heal, I needed lots of help with the animals. They needed to be fed their evening snacks and my partner worked nights, so I learned to embrace asking for and receiving help. I saw the spark in others when I allowed them to help. I realized that when I never accept help, it deprives other beautiful souls from sharing their love and support. I learned to set limits on what I do outside of the farm and home. I learned that I cannot actually take proper care of my home, animals, my relationship, and myself if I am constantly running on fumes. 

I also went through tremendous and painful heartbreaking losses of two beloved goats, and that took a serious toll on me. 

After several months passed, I decided to adopt two more animals who were special needs 'underdogs'. This helped in my healing and allowed my heart to burst wide open again with love and light. Buddy is a sight impaired and formerly abused 22 year old buckskin horse who had been in rescue and looking for his forever for over two years. He just recently started letting me hold his face and give kisses. Poptart is a completely blind 1-year old pitbull, who sadly was found as a stray with ruptured eyes and luckily saved by our local animal control. 

Both of these new additions just feel right here. 

I feel that through the losses and gains of 2020, I was able to liberate a new, better version of myself - and be born into a more understanding, open, and free thinking individual who values how precious my own time is, and how I need to live in the moment with the ones I love.

We, as humans,  have the ability to hold on or to let go of the things that weigh on us. To stand on the edge, anxious to see what happens or to dive into our spiritual truth. I have always been a rather optimistic person, but 2020 threw some devastating curveballs and I was faced with accepting things that were out of my control, and to seek help from others. I am grateful for the clarity gained in 2020, and I feel lucky to have come out the other side with strengthened relationships among my friends, family, and my partner."

instagram : @frugalfashionablefarmer , @poptartthepibble

www.frugalfashionablefarmer.com

Penny Noah

Artist

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"The pandemic affected me in ways I didn’t expect.  The most obvious effect, and the most dramatic, was that I began the quarantine struggling with questions about my gender, and ended it presenting myself as a trans woman.  

It wasn’t that the idea of gender transformation was new to me—it has been the emotional background of my life.  But turning 70 a few months before the first surge of COVID was a reminder of another kind of trans:  the transience of life.  I knew that I wanted to enact every longing that I had ever suppressed.  I didn’t—and don’t— want to die ‘nursing unacted desires’.  

I’m not sure how far I would have gone with this if the pandemic hadn’t pushed me even harder in that direction.  The virus itself gave daily reminders about mortality, and the necessary semi-isolation of quarantine made my usual introspection more intense.  As one step led to another, I was able to inhabit my new mode without overly much contact or confrontation with the larger world.  When I did venture out, my face was masked, which helped ease the transformation.  

For those of us lucky enough to survive it, the pandemic has worked as a giant time-out.  I think the same is true for the country as a whole.  Without COVID, what political world would be living in right now?  

In Huxley’s utopian novel, ‘Island’, there are mynah birds that repeatedly call ‘Attention!’, urging everyone to greater self-awareness. For me, the pandemic has been a giant, deadly mynah bird.  I’m grateful for the lesson.  I wish the cost had not been so high."

pennynoah10@gmail.com

davidnoah.squarespace.com

Meg Darnell

Community Meat Co.

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"Hi! I’m Meg Darnell, owner and operator of Community Meat Co., a sustainable meat CSA program serving the Athens, GA area.

In the beginning of 2020 I was working 3 nights a week serving at The National restaurant while starting my seventh year of raising pastured poultry & running Community Meat Co. My daughter was 1 & 1/2 and home with me during the day so I was able to only get the bare minimum done between farm chores and computer work. Since she was born, I’ve almost constantly considered stopping farming and closing or selling the business. It was already hard and a baby didn’t make the load lighter. But, my passion for farming and nutrition has grown with every year and is now near obsession with regenerative agricultural and its potential for reversing climate change and chronic disease. So I kept going. 

The restaurant closed in the beginning of March and around the same time our CSA sales almost doubled. I think people woke up to the fact that there is real value in knowing your farmer instead of relying solely on a centralized food system. CMCo has always been a passion project, a side hustle that was more about a lifestyle and producing a product that I could feel good feeding to my family than a sustainable way to earn a living. I’ve joked that I worked at The National to support my farming habit. But during this pandemic it started to feel, for the first time, that the work I was really passionate about might be able to support me financially.

After a full year of the pandemic, I can see clearly that I have been incredibly lucky. I haven’t had any one I know die from the virus, and actually very few people I know even get it. I was able to get unemployment, which helped tremendously. My daughter started at a tiny Montessori school in Winterville in August of 2020 and with so few kids in the class, things proceeded smoothly. With this newly found “free time”, I was able to not only actually keep up with my current workload but do some serious strategizing on how to make Community Meat Co. a viable business, one I could earn an actual living doing. Although sales almost doubled for us, they weren’t that high to begin with :) So we have spent the last year crunching numbers, applying for grants, dreaming and scheming. And while we’re not there yet, it’s looking possible, so much so that I will not be returning to work at The National. We did receive one grant we applied for and we’re working every weekend on building infrastructure to welcome a new enterprise to the farm. Currently we only raise the chicken that goes into our CSA shares and we buy beef & pork from 2 other local farms. Sometime this year we will start raising rotational grazed hogs in about 5 acres of forest on our property. If everything goes according to plan, sales stay up, costs stay relatively stable, processing facilities stay open, I should be able to only do this and not have to work off farm. But, as the saying goes, I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch. As things begin to creep towards normal, I am equal parts grateful and hopeful."

instagram: @communitymeatco , @mekdarnell

www.communitymeat.com

 

Karolyn Marie

Artist / Mother

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Fragments from my fragmented mind: Excerpts from 2020

 

I'm a mother.  

Hold my hand, my baby girl

I'm here now, I'm all yours.

No babysitters, no "mommy goes shopping", no my parents, 

only yours. 

No "first Easter egg hunt" this year. It's just us. (it was really fun)

Stocked up on our favorites; we learned your favorites:

fresh pineapple- in a can,

bananas- you've got to wait until the next food pickup. Have some dried ones.

Our lush landscape, our own little island-- 

learning the wildflowers, planning the new, 

growing the corn, eating the fruits. 

I don't get tired of you.

What's on the news? 

I tuned out. 

Coping strategies.

Little fights, big fights

The grocery store's not safe.

Do you have your mask with you?

We're stranded on this island together.

Don't tell me the daily Covid numbers.

Can our baby at least hug her grandparents? No.

Ate, cooked, ate more, gained the covid 15 (lbs),

Dug out old books,

new sunroom,

New garden,

New business,

New life.

Acceptance.

I was lucky to have it pretty good last year.

I discovered myself.

I got stranded on an island with my two best friends.

We discovered unconditional love. 

Most didn't get that. 

But I think everyone can say,

"2020, you were a mother."

 

-- Karolyn Marie

Athens, GA resident of 20 years

Graduate of UGA in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology

Real Estate Investor and Broker of Classic City Real Estate

Composer and collage artist as Powerkompany

Michelle Castleberry

Therapist / Writer / Gardener

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"From 2006 until 2019, I worked as a clinical social worker at Family Counseling Services of Athens, an agency I still deeply love. But my relationship to the work of counseling had been unbalanced and I was not able to honestly do the same types of self-care I repeatedly encouraged for clients. 

The global pandemic was announced on my birthday. The months leading up to that was a combination of  personal burnout, family illness, and grief. Now the world was entering a deep grief. All of this coincided with my entering menopause. It was a season of deep uncertainty and change. 

When I hit my crisis point, I found myself tearing up a patch of sod in the yard during a rain. Without much of a plan, I ripped up grass and weeds and covered the raw patch with compost. Later I lugged a birdbath to the center of the plot and planted daffodil bulbs. It felt important to do something physical that depended on faith in the future, one that included beauty.

The quarantine forced me to slow down in order to heal and allowed me to rethink my priorities. Gardening became a way to stay active and grounded. It amused me that some associated gardening with gentleness and frivolity. I found it gritty and rife with trial and error. Bugs came, some to pollinate, some to devour. Weather humbled me despite my obsessive planning. 

And yet, some things sprouted and thrived. Sunflowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, lilies, corn. This among the stink bugs, sunburn, and weeds. All of a piece. During the sweaty work, ideas also grew, daydreams of a private practice, or deepening my writing.

That dreaming time in the garden led to starting my private practice, Four Directions Counseling, LLC and a low-residency MFA at Sewanee University. I hope to work to help others find fruitful lives and keep mine that way, too. The uncertainty is there, but while there is life, there is another day to plant and tend and hope."

www.fcsathens.com - Family Counseling Services of Athens

www.theopenmap.com - Four Directions Counseling, LLC
https://letters.sewanee.edu/ - Sewanee School of Letters

Nik Heynen

Geographer

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"I teach geography at UGA. One of the classes I was teaching in the Spring of 2020 was “Introduction to World Geography”. I always encourage students to read the news in all my classes. And, because I often start each class talking about what is going on in the world, I distinctly recall on January 23, 2020 asking the class who had seen the news from the previous day. On January 22, 2020 the World Health Organization in Wuhan had issued a press release saying that new evidence suggested there had been human-to-human spread of the Coronavirus. Of the 150 students in the class, not a one of them indicated they saw this news. While I had no idea how brutal the pandemic would become, I recall telling them to keep an eye on this story because my gut told me it was going to get bad. I also remember telling them they should all go watch the 1993 film And the Band Played On about the AIDS epidemic and the global spread of HIV. I told them it might give them a sense of how important geography can be and what they could expect if COVID-19 was as contagious as it seemed it might be. The following month, at the end of February I was at a conference in Lexington, Kentucky. I remember talking to my wife, Jennifer, from my hotel room about maybe it would be a good idea for us to stock up on some things as the spread of the Coronavirus was starting to look serious across the Southeast. Then, on March 8th, 2020 I got an email from my Department Head saying she had been instructed to start organizing a plan to transition UGA’s Geography Department to all on-line teaching. Four days later, contradicting what my Department Head had been told, on Thursday, March 12 at 12:15 PM, UGA employees, staff and students got an e-mail from the University of Georgia System saying “DPH has advised that the risk of contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Georgia remains low. Therefore, all 26 USG institutions will remain open for face-to-face education at this time.” I received that e-mail as I was boarding a ferry to go over to Sapelo Island where I do much of my current research. Then, less than four hours later at 3:57 PM, just as I was settling in to do some work, we all got another e-mail that said “the University of Georgia will temporarily suspend instruction for two weeks beginning March 16, 2020.” For faculty, staff and students at UGA, this was a chaotic time given the uncertainty that quickly emerged. At the same time, I know many of my friends in town had a much more chaotic and difficult time with the uncertainty and lack of clarity on how to navigate all of this. Bar and restaurant owners, managers, cooks and servers, tattooers, musicians, wood and metal shop owners, farmers, massage therapists and artists have all helped me recognize how hard different kinds of work have been. As a geographer, these kinds of differences are the sorts of things many of us pay attention to, to understand why things, places and processes are different across time and space. In addition to working on Sapelo Island I have started doing research in New Orleans which has also been a key lens through which I have come to understand the pandemic. I was scheduled to go down to NOLA for a research visit in mid-March 2020 but on March 9, 2020 the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Louisiana. Before we all knew it, New Orleans became an early epicenter of the pandemic as it is now again as I write this. I canceled that research trip. Flash-forward a year, I had scheduled my first vaccine shot and had rescheduled my trip to New Orleans and on March 11, 2021, three days before I was supposed to drive down, my oldest son was diagnosed with COVID-19.  Given protocols, I again cancelled another trip to New Orleans. While I could not have been any more careful taking care of my son, on March 16 I got a positive COVID test result also. We all feel fortunate to have capacity and support to make it through these difficult times with much more ease than many folks living in Athens. As difficult as it has been, the pandemic has helped me up my gratitude game considerably. While the pandemic disrupted my work life in trivial ways, I do not see it as comparable to the way it has disrupted so many other people’s lives and have learned from many people’s strength and perseverance."

instagram : @nik_heynen

 

Keith P. Rein

Artist

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"Howdy! My name is Keith P. Rein and I’ve spent 15 years of my life living in Athens before moving to Colorado for a few years. After my divorce, I decided to move back to Athens in 2019 to reconnect with my friends & family still in the south. Which only gave me one year of normalcy before the pandemic hit.

I was running my illustration and graphic design businesses out of a studio located in my dream location of town, Chase Park Warehouses. It was the first time in 8 years having a studio outside of my home, and I was loving it.

When the stay at home orders were in place, I began questioning if I could sustain the studio space if the restrictions continued. As a freelancer, it’s already tough knowing what money is coming in every month and I eventually made the choice to move the studio back to my home garage.

All art shows & conventions I was slated to attend were cancelled, and online sales were declining. Despite multiple attempts, I was not approved for any unemployment or other assistance, and my income was cut in half over 2020. Thankfully, I have some very supportive customers & clients - work was still coming in, albeit at a slower pace, and my Patreon Postcard of the Month Club continued to grow. Every little bit helped that year.

Nevertheless, I found myself somewhat thriving in other avenues of my life. I was able to put more time into my other passion, cooking. With a very large outside space, I hosted my small bubble for outdoor dinners. It was strange taking necessary steps to prepare food with Covid safety in mind, and to not share food with anyone. However, the dinners were a success. Being able to express my creativity and share with friends when I was lacking that ability in my other job, was very rewarding. So, I put more energy into my hobby, OMD “oh my delicious” - a food related instagram account.

As an introvert, I wasn’t terribly bothered with the isolation, and it actually strengthened communication with some friendships. We planned movie nights, game nights, and happy hours over zoom & various gaming consoles. I also had a couple first dates during the pandemic, one being a socially distant picnic, which was very interesting. I also had a zoom dance party first date! Which was awesome, and I recommend doing that regardless of the pandemic! 

This is getting long so I’ll wrap it up. 2020 has taught me to keep moving forward, even if those steps are small - but don’t forget to rest! I’ve maintained hope by seeing my friends and community pull together, with our businesses still operating and getting pre-pandemic business back. Also, that my long distance zoom dance party has turned into a unique love story. And, this August has me moving back to the Chase Park Warehouses into a live/work space in the Tree Room - slowly reclaiming my dreams that 2020 put on hold."

instagram : @thepisforpenis , @omdelicious

thepisforpenis.com

patreon.com/thepisforpenis

saltandpaperhouse@gmail.com

Kelli McConnell

Reiki Master / Tarot Enthusiast / Diviner

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"Resilience, to me, is an ever-evolving skill...it is human nature to strive for survival. I have had to fine tune my relationship with resilience since facing the pandemic while also undergoing treatment for triple negative breast cancer. TNBC is an extremely aggressive (and rare) form of breast cancer. When I was diagnosed on Christmas Eve of 2019, I had no idea that we were three months away from a global pandemic. I’m glad I was oblivious to that fact, because in a way it meant that I could cross the TNBC hurdle first. I could acclimate and gather my energy and secure my footing in this new “cancer reality” before being pummeled by a phenomenon like a viral pandemic. In the first few weeks of lockdown, I would joke with my friends, “Now you know how I’ve felt since January” - immunocompromised and latent with chemo, I was in a lockdown all my own and then the whole world joined me. So, in some ways, when covid came it was a relief because the entire planet jammed to a halt.
You don’t really bounce back from a cancer diagnosis; you adapt. I think the same is true for a pandemic. They tell you your options, you gear yourself up mentally and you get to work on the things you can do - you focus on the possibility of healing, not on what has been stripped away. For me, with cancer, I rooted myself in the energy of resilience from the get-go - I pledged to be open and curious, and to keep my promise to see Divinity unfolding in everything - even in the hardest moments. In short, I maintained my spiritual practices and relied heavily on levity and humor to surmount the trials of 2020. Through these experiences, I learned that resilience asks us to absorb a certain level of disturbance while maintaining a profound sense of grounding, clarity and purpose. Qualities like bravery, courage and strength are most definitely amplified when we embody resilience, but I believe that resilience itself starts when we consciously soften into acceptance...expanding and not resisting...even if / especially when we don't have a clearly lit path ahead or all of our wits about us. 
Going to the Cancer Center on March 17, 2020 for my first infusion of a new line of chemo was disorienting and dystopian. Nurses were in full hazmat gear, the normal hustle-bustle and buzz of people coming and going was no longer. There were only 3 other patients in a room that normally housed upwards of 20.  It sends a cold chill up my spine to remember it…

I knew then that we were in a Tower moment (the Tower is a potent card from the Major Arcana of the Tarot) - things would never be the same. I also knew that the way we get through the Tower and into the safety of the Star (the next card in the Majors) is to just keep going. The Tower tells us: the old way is no longer viable...chaos, destruction and sudden shifts in perception are for our own good if we take the lesson and don’t get too bogged down in the pain, suffering and turmoil of it all. Of course, we don’t bypass those experiences, we just learn to accept and adapt to new ways without expending too much energy feeling like the victim of our reality. That to me is where resilience is born: objective observation of what is and acceptance of that. No use fighting...just keep moving. 
As weeks wore into months, I found ways to adapt to covid that would support and nourish my healing. I made an effort to see friends, as safely as I could. I wrote letters and sent care packages. I received equally exciting mail on my end. Covid and cancer both gave me an opportunity to tune into what I needed most. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had permission to attend to my own needs in a healthy and balanced way. I see this whole experience as a great experiment. As an objective observer, I can be as curious as a need to - and I can laugh at the absurdity of it all." 

"I have complete faith in the continued absurdity of whatever's going on." - Jon Stewart

Kelli is a Reiki Master/Practitioner and Tarot enthusiast who has lived in Athens, Georgia off-and-on since 2001. She is currently on medical leave from her job as Director of Religious Exploration at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens where she plans faith-based programming for children, youth and families. In December of 2020 her cancer spread to stage four and she is continuing to do everything she can to heal and repair.  

 

instagram : @ke11o

www.followingwisdom.com

Ama Uzoho

Photographer / Videographer

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"As for many people, especially 2020, will be the most trying times for many creatives. I'd say when lockdown happened and was a reality, it put many things into perspective. Personally I was thinking about how to navigate this moment, it was a first and it didn't seem to be real at that particular moment for me because there was no true way to really understand what was happening and what was yet to come.

All freelance jobs went out the window. Most of my clients didn't bother reaching out because it was the unspoken Truth. And I also did not bother reaching out. Summer is my busiest time of the year and I can say that's when everything hit me. I have a full-time job but not being able to make any content with a video or photography was very very hard. It was quite an emotional roller coaster for me because I just didn't know how to navigate that period especially not being busy. But my wife encouraging me to find ways to let out that creativity. So I started a small series on my YouTube channel and it was just more centered around small town photography in neighboring towns outside of Athens. And this was the first time I purposely created something for myself that had a common theme. And it was meant for other people who are struggling as well. To this very day I still enjoy making videos centered around small town photography. What I learned during this period was that nothing is guaranteed, and when faced with obstacles it's important to not see it as the end of the road but lessons to be learned and how to adjust accordingly."

 

instagram : @amauzoho

www.amauzoho.squarespace.com

 

keela Singleton

Maker / Chocolatier

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"When I close my eyes and think about the year 2020, my minds eye goes blank. Not a peaceful blank, but rather a bright white flash bang. I’ve lived in Athens for 9 years, and I have served in some of the busiest restaurants in our local food scene. I was flying at 90 miles per hour any given day of the week, and then on March 13th the world hit a speed bump that launched me into a 25 mile per hour school zone. 

The beginning weeks of quarantine were spent relearning how to sit with myself. Being torn away from the restaurant industry was like going through withdrawals (literally and metaphorically). Like many people, I pivoted. As weeks turned into months, my initial depression and isolation started to feel less like a universal punishment and more like a chance to try life out again and see how it felt with new shoes. Like many others, I have always worked jobs that I didn’t love so that I could afford my hobbies. I had always baked cakes for friends and I took a few special orders when I needed extra income. I originally started college majoring in painting before switching to something more practical, like English Literature and Creative Writing (the irony). I always went all out during Halloween. I had all of this creativity that I saved for special occasions. So instead of finding something to do in 2020, I did everything. 

I baked bigger cakes, with more elaborate designs until I was tired of the way buttercream felt on my skin. I painted window panes with flowers to match the plants I’d acquired over the months. Then I painted protest signs with Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on bedsheets and hung them from our patio. I painted pets that didn’t make it through 2020 on canvases and sent them across the country to strangers from the internet. I helped build floral arrangements for special occasions that were deemed safe enough. Any given day, I was coasting at 25 miles per hour in a school zone, learning all I could and trying to put something out into the universe in return. 

My mental health came out of 2020 unrecognizable. I went into quarantine a shell, riddled with anxiety, depression, and terrible coping mechanisms. One of the hardest parts about 2020 was having to get to know myself and forgive her for what she did to me up until that moment. I poured over with empathy for others, but rarely saved that for myself. Being surrounded by quietness and having the opportunity to spend time with my thoughts allowed me to listen to my body. I was able to recognize triggers that I never knew I had, and regain a control I thought I had lost for forever. And in June of 2020, everything fell into place. Several friends sent me a post from Condor Chocolates and they were hiring. A chance for a real change. I sent in my resume and crossed my fingers. The idea of a steady, creative position that I might be qualified enough for was almost too good to be true. But I got an interview, and cried when I got the job. I didn’t know until that moment how important it was to me to not go back to who I was at the beginning of 2020. Now I make all kinds of confectioneries and I get to paint truffles at least once a week. To quote EE Cummings, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

instagram : @keelapaige