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The Pandemic Diary of Naomi Shimada, a Model Returning to Work

Like many, the model Naomi Shimada has been using the extra time at home during the pandemic as a chance to pause and reflect on what really matters to her.

Usually traveling the world for work in a blur of hotels and suitcases, Ms. Shimada, 33, has instead been spending her days in London applying to grad school, attending protests and helping her community through mutual aid projects.

She’s also had time to think about her role in the fashion industry, where she made a name for herself both as a successful model and as a writer focusing on mental health and the effects of social media. (She co wrote the book “Mixed Feelings: Exploring the Emotional Impact of Our Digital Habits,” released last year, with the journalist Sarah Raphael.)

“I was already thinking about a brand’s ethics pre-Covid 19, but now it’s on my mind more than ever because of the uncovering of the reality of supply chains, unfair union dismissals and disingenuous Black Lives Matter support, among other problematic behaviors,” Ms. Shimada said.

“Turning down money is always hard and not always possible but I’m trying to make the most informed choices I can,” she added. “I am trying to reimagine what working in the fashion industry in a more holistic way looks like or if that’s even possible under capitalism.”

Ms. Shimada compiled a workweek diary for The New York Times in July.

Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.

8 a.m. Today is my birthday and my heart is very full after having the cutest of celebrations with loved ones in the park yesterday.

9 a.m. I make myself oat and banana pancakes; juice apples, carrots and ginger; and coffee, while blasting Prince to get me in the mood for the day. I research roller blades online to buy as a birthday gift to myself.

10:30 a.m. My friend Loren picks me up and we drive to Margate, a town about 1.5 hours from London on the Kent coast.

I make work calls in the car and get through some of my mutual-aid tasks, helping some families in my local area. Today I am arranging grocery orders and pickups between people in need and a local food distribution center. This is work I started during the pandemic but plan to keep doing as long as I can.

1 p.m. Even though I’ve lived in the U.K. on and off for many years, I’ve only made it to the beach a handful of times, but today I had the deep urge to dunk myself in the cold ocean to clean my mind, body and soul.

8 p.m. I head straight from Margate to dinner at my friends’ restaurant in Borough Market, where they have built a makeshift outdoor setup. I’m meeting my siblings and besties there — it happens to be my first restaurant experience since lockdown. This is only the second time I’ve seen my sister since February. My siblings are my best friends and I have missed them terribly. And I’m delighted to not have to do the dishes for once.

12 a.m. Feeling so sleepy and so full. I get into bed sandy and pass out.

10 a.m. Driving lesson (with masks on!). Yes, I am one of those people who still doesn’t have a license. This is the year that changes. I’m about four lessons back into learning and will book my test in a few months.

2:30 p.m. I go into the BBC to record an interview for a new podcast I am working on. Going into the main building feels like a trip as I haven’t been in central London much, except to go to the Black Lives Matter protests. We record in a studio that has a screen between me and my producer. Everything feels strange but I’m grateful to be back. I take the tube home for the first time in a really long time. Central London feels empty.

12 a.m. I light some palo santo and get into bed. I make notes and write a passage in the “delight diary” that I started after I read Ross Gay’s “The Book of Delights,” which was such a beautiful reminder of how to find the poetic and prophetic in the smallest of things. I take two drops of CBD oil and turn off the lights, fantasizing about one day becoming one of those people who goes to bed at 9.

8 a.m. Wake up. Light incense at my altar to clean the air and start the day. I stretch while listening to Alice Coltrane and meditate.

12 p.m. I got accepted into a gender studies program a couple weeks ago and I am going through my list of things I need to do to prepare. As someone who has never been to college before, I am excited and terrified in equal measures because it’s such a new space for me. I also feel comforted having this plan as an anchor right now in this very uncertain time.

3 p.m. I eat lunch while on a briefing call with a local mental health charity. I’m doing a workshop with them for people struggling with social media right now. They know I’m not a qualified professional but because of my book, “Mixed Feelings,” and my speaking and writing about the complex relationship many of us have with social media, we’re planning to do an open Q. and A.

5 p.m. Packing for my trip to Paris tomorrow for my first shoot since lockdown. I’m a bit nervous about traveling. I feel overwhelmed by what used to be such a normal task for me when my life was a repetitive sequence of packing, unpacking and packing again.

9 p.m. My friend, the artist Yumna Al-Arashi, is staying with me at the moment. We said we’d have a quiet night without any wine but she cooked a delicious meal for us and we decide to open one of the nice bottles of natural wine left over from my birthday. We talk each other’s ears off, cry a little and do an impromptu “American Beauty” style nude photo shoot with all the flowers in my apartment.

9 a.m. I arrive at Kings Cross St. Pancras station to board the Eurostar train to Paris. The station feels eerily quiet compared to how it usually is: swarming with people going about their day, sweaty commuters, kids on school trips and confused just-got-here tourists. It feels like everyone is walking around with a deep sense of caution.

1 p.m. I check in and the hotelier tells me he is working alone as there are barely any guests. I unpack, light some sage to clear the room and lay out my mobile altar of a few photos, crystals and incense. I used to travel so much and I found that having my little slice of home with me always made everything better.

8 p.m. I take a quick shower and head out to meet friends for dinner and drinks. France opened up a few months ago and Parisians seem to very much be over the concept of social distancing.

12 a.m. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl staying up late on a school night but tell myself it’s fine as I haven’t done anything like this in so long. And it’s Paris, darling!

7:30 a.m. I wake up totally forgetting where I am, probably because it’s been so long since I’ve woken up in a hotel room. Suddenly the idea of sleeping in a bed that so many other people have slept in feels strange and somewhat unhygienic.

8 a.m. I check emails and send a few, one of them to the producer of my monthly radio show “M1ss World,” which explores global soundscapes and ideas of home through the music we listen to. I eat two more croissants smothered in more butter and apricot jam, down a coffee and jump in a car to a studio in the south of Paris for the shoot I came here to do.

9 a.m. Today is my first job back and for a second, I question whether I still know how to do this. It’s been so long! I am working with the same team of people that I was with on the very last shoot I did before everything shut down in March. We were in Senegal and had to leave the day after I arrived as they were shutting the borders in both Senegal and France.

I almost feel silly being on set, having my photo taken in the context of everything happening in the world right now. But I also feel grateful to be working, back doing something that feels familiar.

1 p.m. Lunch is now served in individual tiny boxes instead of big plates of catering.

7 p.m. We finally wrap after what feels like the longest day. I wash my face in the sink to try to freshen up. I say my goodbyes to everyone and jump in a car to meet a friend for dinner.

8 p.m. This is my third restaurant experience this week and it feels even more intense in Paris as everything seems fairly back to normal. We sit down at a table outside and order all the delicious things to calm the slight anxiety I feel about being back at a crowded restaurant.

I go to grab my phone out of my bag, which was hanging off the chair, and the whole bag is gone. We are both gobsmacked at how quickly and smoothly it happened under our nose. I feel stupid and out of practice from all the things I usually do to safeguard myself when I travel. I take deep breaths and try to stay calm. But inside I’m totally freaking out.

9 p.m. I do all the boring things, like cancel my cards, alert my phone company and file a police report.

12 a.m. I finally make it back to the hotel. I light a candle, burn some sage and run a bath with frankincense oil to try and clear my energy. I want to cry but the tears aren’t coming. Just like so much of what has happened this year, it seems to be another exercise in complete and utter surrender to things not going as planned, to understanding that control is a fallacy and to our attachment to “things.”

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