“My boyfriend and I both lost our jobs and had zero income.”
“When everything first started I was devastated,” says Jordan Wilkie, who bartends on a small island off the coast of Wilmington. “My boyfriend and I both lost our jobs and had zero income. I had to get a job delivering pizzas so we could pay bills.”
Jordan was out of work for three weeks before she realized things weren’t returning to normal any time soon and sought out other employment. “I couldn’t take it anymore!” says Wilkie. “We were living on our boat at the time, so quarantine was a blast, but it became hard to relax with the stress of not knowing when we’d be employed again.”
A lot changed for the better for Jordan when restaurants were allowed to open at 50% capacity. “Once phase two begun, we were golden,” she says. “We had lines wrapped around the building and down the block, and the restaurant my boyfriend manages surpassed all of their budget predictions.”
For Jordan, a surplus of people working from “home” at the beach has meant a return to steady employment, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. “We did struggle with people being disrespectful and unsafe sometimes,” she says. “People refused to wear masks, left dirty napkins all over tables, or weren’t understanding about things taking longer than usual. Sometimes we had people come unreasonably close to us and then tell us they were from NYC.”
Despite several close calls, Jordan has been lucky so far. “I’ve had very direct exposure around seven times that I know of and have tested negative every time,” says Jordan, who also suffers from an autoimmune disease. “I’m less worried about myself and more worried about those with more compromised immune systems.”
And she won’t forget the kindness friends and even strangers showed her when everything was shut down. “When I wasn’t making money in the beginning, a lot of folks working from home helped us out,” says Jordan. “Someone made an Instagram post asking for people’s Venmo usernames, and my sister put mine on there. I want to do similar stuff now that I’m no longer in that position! I’ve bought some gift cards from restaurants that were struggling, and I started going onto those threads that first helped me. I’ve also had friends in cities that struggled more that I’ve just sent food or money to when I could.”
With the vaccine offering hope for herd immunity sometime this year, Jordan is optimistic about the future. “We’re seeing more business than we ever have in February before!” she says.
“When COVID hit, everything changed in a second.”
Aspiring makeup artist Paige Rabinowitz moved to New York City in August of 2018, a few months after graduating from UNC-Greensboro with a degree in film production. “When I moved to New York, I moved with hopes of doing makeup for film and TV,” says Paige. “I started off working as a production assistant (PA) for a studio in Tribeca along with PA-ing for short films and commercials when I could.”
After a few months, Paige started getting jobs as a makeup artist assistant and eventually as a makeup artist. She worked on several indie feature films, short films, commercials, photoshoots and a television show called “Wonderama.” “Then of course, everyone in NYC has a survival job,” says Paige, who worked as a receptionist at a hair salon and nannied part time.
Entertainment isn’t an easy industry to break into in the best of times, and for Paige, the pandemic made it impossible. “Before the pandemic hit, things were going really well for me,” she recalls. “I had just moved to Soho in Manhattan, I was starting to get booked for more and more makeup jobs and had a part time job, so I had a somewhat stable income, and for the most part was really happy. But when COVID hit, everything changed in a second.”
The hair salon Paige worked at to make ends meet shut down on March 14th, and all film and TV production abruptly ceased. Moreover, the family Paige nannied for decided to relocate to California, which also put her housing situation in jeopardy as the apartment she was living in was owned by them. “When they moved, they said I could stay to wait out the pandemic, but when things got really bad, I realized I didn’t want to live in total isolation for months, so I decided to come back to Charlotte to wait things out,” says Paige. “I expected to be in Charlotte for a month at most. I ended up staying from March to August.”
Paige moved back to New York in August of 2020. Production jobs were still scarce, but she booked as many as she could and worked as a receptionist at a hair salon to make ends meet. “I did this for almost 5 months while sleeping on my friends couch,” she says. “One day I realized I was miserable, very depressed and just felt lost. I had lost my momentum in terms of booking makeup jobs because there weren’t a lot, and the few there were weren’t paying a lot, and not all of them followed COVID safety protocols. The part time job I was working, though I enjoyed it, didn’t pay enough to get me off my friend’s couch.”
Paige made the difficult decision to return home to Charlotte. “I love New York, and I made a lot of friends there and worked so hard to get where I am in my career,” she says. “Ultimately, though, moving home was the most compassionate decision I could have made for myself.”
Currently Paige is back in school at Paul Mitchell getting her cosmetology license, and despite many setbacks, she’s optimistic about the future. “It’s really exciting because it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing since high school,” she says. “I think it’s going to be great for my career, too, because now I will be able to do both hair and makeup. It opens up more opportunities for me in the beauty and entertainment industry.”
“At the end of the day, my plans for the future haven’t changed that much,” says Paige. “I hope to get back to doing makeup (and now hair!) for film and TV, and I’ve realized that door is still open for me, along with some new doors that have opened as well. I have a feeling I will end up back in New York one day, and if not there, then Atlanta or Los Angeles. We will see. I’m just trying my best to live in the moment right now and soak up as much knowledge as I can from school. I’m excited to see what my future holds.”
Yet despite her optimism, Paige will always remember this time as a sort of cautionary tale for all artists and freelancers like herself. “Something I heard a lot before COVID is that both the entertainment and beauty industry are ‘recession proof,’” she says. “What we’ve all learned is that this is not the same thing as ‘pandemic proof.’ Almost everyone I know in these industries was unemployed for months, and many of us struggled to get unemployment at first because we are freelancers. It’s been a really hard year for all of us, and many people in both these industries are still struggling. I hope it has helped shed light on the fact that freelancers, especially non-union freelancers, need more protections so they can get things like unemployment and other assistance if something like this were to happen again.”
“I also hope that this has given the general public more of an appreciation for the arts,” continues Paige. “I saw how upset people got when they couldn’t get their hair or makeup done for months, the new season of their favorite TV show got delayed, Broadway went dark, and the summer concerts they were looking forward to got cancelled. I hope people start to see the arts and creative jobs for what they are: an integral part of communities, something to bring joy in a dark time, healing for the soul and for mental health.”
“I am one of the lucky ones.”
“I am one of the lucky ones that maintained employment throughout quarantine,” says Alex Brunt. “My company is huge in food and product plastic packaging, so I stayed busy fulfilling orders for my customers to keep grocery stores stocked and my customers’ production lines up and running to keep groceries open.”
Alex has been working from home since last March. While the isolation of working from home has been difficult for many people, Alex describes it as a welcome change of pace. “It’s been a blessing in disguise,” she says. “I think my favorite thing about working from home is being in my own space and having more time. I live out in Matthews, so pre-COVID I was commuting past uptown every morning and night, spending 1-2 hours a day in the car just commuting. Not to mention I’m saving more on gas – I used to fill up at least once a week, not maybe once or twice a month.”
Alex also feels working from home has helped her attain a better work/life balance and helped her to put her own health at the forefront by giving her time to work out early in the morning or even during her lunch break. “I do miss my coworkers and seeing them in person,” she says, “but we usually have weekly video chats to stay in touch, and we have a group message so we can reach out to one another if we are struggling during the day, so that helps fill my ‘social void’ during the work day.”
Alex considers herself lucky to have many supports others new to working from home may lack. “Pre-COVID, I got to work from home once a week already, so I was already pretty well equipped to work from home from the start with extra monitors, a portable phone, etc,” she notes. “My company also has a health coach, so she and I have bimonthly check-ins so she can see how I’m handling work from home life.”
“Even now we’re only making tentative plans for summer 2022.”
“We found out we were pregnant in February, and then everything shut down a month later,” says then-mom of one Kayla Duehring. “My husband started working from home, so our routine at home had to change with a then-almost two year old. We couldn’t go out to parks, play dates, or do anything other than try to entertain the kiddo at home.”
COVID has become so ingrained in our everyday lives that it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t know about it, but in February of 2020, Kayla – like so many of us – had no idea everything was about to change. For Kayla, those changes meant a pregnancy that would look very different than what she imagined, including putting off many things she wanted to enjoy with her son PJ while he was still an only child.
“When we got the two-week lockdown, I thought, well, maybe we can do something next month, but that just kept getting pushed off,” says Kayla. “Even now we’re only making tentative plans for summer 2022.”
Delivering a baby is stressful enough in normal times, but COVID added more obstacles to the process. “I got tested for COVID a few days before,” says Kayla, who had a planned c-section for medical reasons. “We had to be masked up until we were in the room, and my husband was supposed to be masked up any time anyone was in the room. No visitors were allowed at all. My mom and sister drove down from MA to watch PJ, and they had to isolate and get tested before coming down.” Despite some of the added hurdles, Kayla’s experience was a positive one, and she now looks back fondly on the time she had to relax and bond with her new baby Hunter without a lot of visitors around.
“The first few weeks weren’t bad, because most people just stay home anyways with a new baby,” remembers Kayla. Now six months old, Hunter’s first year of life has differed markedly from his older brother’s. “He’s still never been indoors publicly,” says Kayla. “He’s almost 6 months now and hasn’t met most of his extended family. We have been very isolated. We decided once we get vaccinated, we would start to feel better about going out and visiting people. PJ had his second birthday via Zoom, and we can’t plan for Hunter’s first birthday, because we don’t know what the world will be like in 6 months.”
Kayla is hopeful about the three vaccines on the market now as well as President Biden’s announcement that there will be enough to vaccinate every adult in America by the summer. But after such a long and unexpected year, she’s wary. “I just hope things get back to some sense of normalcy soon,” she says. “I’m hopeful about the May announcement, but not expecting it to actually happen. I’m in the last group, and appointments now are already hard to come by.”
“I’m starting to daydream about having a more predictably scheduled life.”
For Queen’s Grant High School performing arts teacher and foster parent Elizabeth Mills, the past year has felt like a never-ending cycle of Zoom and schoolwork, shifting and frequently multitasking between responsibilities to the students she teaches and her own family at home.
“Today is a great example,” said Elizabeth on Wednesday, March 10. “I started the day by taking three kids to the doctor for their annual physicals. It was pretty cool that I could do it without taking a sick day (because my school is remote on Wednesdays) but also, it cut significantly into the time I could use to work on grading, e-mails, and lesson planning.”
After a trip to the doctor, Elizabeth dropped the youngest off at daycare, a task that usually falls to her husband (who is currently working from home), but she takes over on Wednesdays when she’s remote as well. “I got home with the two other kids around 10:00 and worked with them on making up old assignments or redoing assignments with low grades,” she says, “and started working with them on completing their virtual assignments for the day.”
After lunch, Mills turned her attention to her drama and dance students, sitting in her bed for an hour and a half of required online office hours. “I would have been overjoyed to work with any student who attended on making up assignments or answering questions,” says Mills, “but not a single student showed up, so I worked on other things instead. This is really the essence of teaching right now–sporadic face to face time with some kids, and literally none with others, and overwhelming apathy from all parties involved.”
After her office hours, Mills switched back to parent duty, working with her own kids on virtual assignments until it was time for back-to-back meetings with social workers, both in person and via Zoom. “We’re foster parents, so we have monthly meetings with several different parties in addition to weekly therapy sessions and trainings,” says Mills. “Meanwhile, my 13-year-old had a virtual therapy session upstairs.”
After an evening of juggling assistance with her children’s virtual assignments and her own schoolwork while her husband made dinner followed by baths and bed for the kids, Mills and her husband usually sit down for what she calls “our only piece of normalcy during this entire past year:” an episode of Star Trek with dessert or a drink. Sometimes these days, though, they’re too tired and overwhelmed for that. On Wednesday, Elizabeth’s husband went to bed early and she stayed up late working on other things.
Looking back on the past year as a whole, Elizabeth sees the positive. “Overall, I have been extremely glad to have all of this extra time at home over the last year,” she says, “time to do projects around the house and time to really get involved in our kids’ education. I really enjoy having a more flexible schedule.”
But day to day, moment to moment, it can be hard. “Having to totally change our schedule and expectations every time the school schedules change (which at this point feels like a weekly occurrence), and simply just never having time to focus because everyone has such conflicting needs is exhausting,” she says. Although many people are frustrated with the monotony of the past year, with five children ranging in age from 5 to 16 at four separate schools, Mills feels the opposite. “I’m starting to daydream about having a more predictably scheduled life, when at this point in the school year I’m usually daydreaming about having full days without a schedule over summer break!”