No. 121
Article by:
Wen Hsiao

When the tides of coronavirus struck throughout the world, it knocked everyone off their feet. Since March, in the United States alone, 20.6 million jobs were lost. The unemployment rate rose to 14.7% from 3.5 pre-pandemic. No one was exempted from getting sacked, myself included. If you were deemed an extra cost, the label of ‘excess’ was slapped on your head and you were given the boot.

For creatives attempting to stay afloat during waves of the coronavirus outbreak, it can be hard to justify seeing ourselves and our pursuits as necessities. In truth, the true necessities right now are brought to you by the essential workers who put themselves at risk every day to serve in healthcare, food, and public transportations sectors, the people who somehow keep the world turning when it’s crashing and burning.

In reality, creatives may not be considered explicit necessities to live, but they are absolutely crucial in the pursuit of full, joyful, good lives. While we don’t need art or entertainment to live (I am staring at my shelves dotted with trinkets, my walls dotted in prints and my Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO, Hulu, and Netflix subscriptions as I type this), they can still feel essential to our idea of living, imbued as they are with the ability to invoke hidden emotions and forgotten memories.

For many of us, this is it. Our creative pursuits are our interests, our hobbies, and our careers. But in the face of tight decisions and economic minimalism, more often than not, the luxury of art and entertainment feels just that: like a luxury we ought to forego.

For Olivia Ojeda, the 21-year-old Boston-based floral and fashion designer, the ongoing pandemic  meant her job and her apartment were up in the air; within this uncertainty, unsure of what the next step was, she ended up in the depths of the woods with her boyfriend’s family. Worry not: their new living conditions  did not contribute to the surge of couples breaking up, if anything it only made them stronger (Olivia laughs coyly at this statement). Before the pandemic, Ojeda had worked as a floral designer full-time, and it had been  a dream come true: she was surrounded by flowers at work and by plants at home. In her spare time, she pursued her passion in fashion design and did a fashion internship under the wings of Erin Robertson.

But in a perfect turn of events, in the past week, Olivia has been offered her old job back, along with a pay raise, and signed the contract to the perfect apartment back in ever-bustling Boston. I connected with Olivia over Zoom to learn more about what she's been doing in quarantine.

To begin with, how did you end up in Boston?

Partially following an ex-boyfriend (him knowingly), but more importantly, I wanted to apply to art school. I had visited Boston previously and loved it. I'm from southern Louisiana, and just wanted to be in a completely new environment. 

I didn't end up applying to art school, but there are so many amazing creative people I've [since] met and known that it's been just as fulfilling.

At the beginning of the pandemic, how did it feel to meet with those sudden changes?

Like most everyone that doesn't have a job that allows them to work from home, I was fired. 

At the same time, my boyfriend and I chose to leave the apartment we were living in at the time though, so luckily there's no tragic backstory there. Our 20-something landlord was our roommate, and we had the opportunity to move to the apartment my boyfriend's parents have in the city for his mom's work. We were particularly lucky in that sense because living with your landlord is as bad as it sounds, so we were grateful for any opportunity to leave.

In the end, I'm grateful it happened, because now I know what I'm worth and I'm not afraid to ask for it.

So you ended up quarantining with your boyfriend and his family. How was it like to transition into the woods and away from your usual routine?

Truthfully, it was difficult. I'm a very independent person and being in the woods with no car or any real ability to leave had its challenges. Not to mention that you're living with people you know, but don't know very well, who do things in their home in a very specific way. That might've been the hardest part of it all for me- adapting to their lifestyle and habits. I can say that I do enjoy change though, I'm not a creature of habit, so all in all, I ended up adjusting well during my time there, and just like everything in life, I grew from it. 

How did you keep your creativity afloat during the pandemic? From my understanding, you are a floral and fashion designer. How were you able to unleash your creativity and challenge yourself artistically during these trying times?

I would argue I’m just an *aspiring fashion designer* haha, but so many things in nature are inspiring to me! Even during early March when there aren't any flowers anywhere, the shapes and textures of dried grasses and evergreens were some of my favorites.

During hikes, I would always bring scissors with me to cut some of my favorite items and bring them back to the cabin to make some floral arrangements. For me though, another aspect of keeping motivated to be creative though is having a goal. 

My boyfriend's family is FULL of creative people: painters, comedians, musicians, sculptors (it's honestly amazing), and they made it a point to showcase a creative project you've been working on every week. I think it helped to get us through some difficult weeks, and even if not everyone did it, it was fun and kept us going.

Let’s talk about masks, what inspired you to make masks out of pocket to donate to the medical sector? 

I was more or less in the perfect position. I was unemployed, but was one of the lucky ones that received substantial weekly benefits through the state of Massachusetts; I was isolated, I had the sewing skills and a sewing machine on hand, and I just wanted to! 

I saw a request for masks in my hometown in Louisiana and felt compelled to help out any way I could. I donated them to hospitals that would accept them and retirement homes (friends and family too. of course). It was just the perfect set up that allowed me to work for hours doing something that felt truly fulfilling, especially during times where you sort of feel lost.

I believe congratulations are due, so congratulations on your new job and landing a new apartment! How do you feel about going back to work this week and moving into your new apartment next month?

Thank you! Excited. Also definitely anxious. The apartment I couldn't be more thrilled about. My boyfriend and I can take the next step in our relationship and have a place completely to ourselves, right outside of Harvard Square, and I'm so grateful for that. 

I won't be seeing any flowers at work for the next few weeks (as we’re moving forward with plants first), so I'm looking forward to when they return, but am so grateful for the opportunity to work again. I know I'm incredibly lucky given the times and absolutely wouldn't take that for granted, despite how nervous I am given that COVID-19 is still running wild. Very curious to see how things work out, but I'm keeping a positive attitude that it all goes well! <3

Keep up with Olivia on her floral and fashion design journey on Instagram!