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.
Pink Goblin Tattoo
“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.”
Pink Goblin Tattoo
“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.”