By Aleenah Ansari
Photographs by Liezel Villanueva
Time is in abundance these days. I think that’s a good thing, but I’ve also discovered that work expands to fill the time you have. This means that my adventures in full-time working from home haven’t been as productive as I’d like. With everything going on in the world, I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend my time in my little Seattle apartment, which has turned into my office for the foreseeable future.
As a writer in tech, my days are full of interviews, writing, editing, photography for my stories, and content management. I’m still doing all of this but from the safety of home. I jump from meeting to meeting about how we can write stories that customers need. How can we support remote work? What tools do people need for effective collaboration? How can we adapt to keep data secure? These are questions we’re exploring on a daily basis amid COVID-19. Instead of scoping out photoshoot locations at Microsoft, I take screenshots over Microsoft Teams or guide their loved ones through the process of doing an at-home photoshoot.
Although I didn’t miss my two-hour bus commute to work, I was experiencing digital burnout. In a world that was always trying to get my attention with headlines, emails, and notifications, it was challenging to stay focused while going from document to document, call to call. I found myself missing the micro-interactions of running into co-workers in the hallway or on the bus and learning more about what they’re working on. These are the moments that energized me to check out a new event or try a new approach for one of my stories. Fundamentally, everyone, whether introverted or extroverted, wants to feel connected.
I quickly realized that I needed an outlet to be creative outside of my work. Amid quarantine, I’ve learned a few things about what inspires me. While scrolling on my Instagram feed, I discovered a few content creators who were turning everyday objects into props for indoor photoshoots. It was clear that they were keeping novelty alive, all from the comfort of their homes. I had a few flower bouquets of my own and an apartment with windows that overlook the street, and the sun streams in on occasion. My home became the set for all of my at-home photoshoots. Bedsheets turned into backdrops, iPhones turned into professional shooting equipment, flowers and milk from Trader Joe’s created an ethereal photoshoot in the bathtub, and my Christmas lights from last year transformed me into a space queen.
Amid all the uncertainty of the world, these photoshoots gave me something to look forward to every week. I’m learning to define creativity in a way that’s expansive and interdisciplinary. It was also a way for me to play creative director and come up with a concept that brings together color, styling, and props into a cohesive photo that tells a story. In the process of sharing my photos on social media, I found that others were excited about the photos and looked forward to future posts.
Everyone has ways of coping with quarantine. I still attend all of my meetings and carve out time to read the headlines, but it’s equally important to find a release that supports my mental health. It could be scheduling regular calls with friends, picking up a new hobby, making banana bread for the third time that month, or watching whatever Netflix show is going viral this week (looking at you, Tiger King). And if all you’re able to do is take things one day at a time, that’s OK too.
Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is a journalist at heart who works at the intersection of technology, education, and storytelling. Her identity as a queer, Pakistani woman empowers her to tell stories about communities of color that are committed to lift as they climb, and she hopes to inspire the next generation of designers, writers, and makers by making them feel represented in the stories she writes. Follow her on Instagram @aleenahansari.
Liezel Villanueva is a sonographer who studied diagnostic ultrasound at Seattle University, but she also loves doing photoshoots as an outlet for creativity. You can usually find her watching YouTube, eating Molly Moons ice cream, or playing Animal Crossing.
This piece is a part of DISTANCED 3.0.