#WFH Diaries: Nicole Ellingson of Quigley-Simpson

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to upend life across the globe, we're checking in with creative people to see how they're faring. Here's an update from Nicole Ellingson at Quigley-Simpson.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

I am a creative director, artist and altruist who loves imaginative storytelling and strategic problem solving.

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

While I live by the beach in Venice, Calif., I've been hunkering down in my partner George's more remote and spacious house in West Hills (the valley). The universe has given us a great test drive for living together in this crazy process. It was challenging, however, convincing my cats to relocate since they haven't left my apartment in years. We're all settled now and doing well.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

Our ad agency is usually a great in-person think tank, but we've successfully transitioned to work-from-home life. Our workload has actually been quite demanding these past few weeks, as we navigate this new normal. Some of our top clients are travel brands, so it's time to truly be creative and start problem solving for the impact this virus has had on the travel industry. I do find it challenging to brainstorm solutions with my team remotely. There is less of that magical energy that flows when you're just riffing ideas in person together. We've been Zooming, FaceTiming, chatting on Teams Chat and trying to stay connected as much as possible, and keep the ideas and work flowing. 

Describe your socializing strategy.

I've found this time to be surprisingly more social than I anticipated. I'm fortunate to have a large social network, and we're finding new ways to stay connected—we've hosted video dance parties, workout sessions and happy hours. My musician and DJ friends have been posting livestreams. My friends and I have also created a weekly Sunday fancy hat brunch where we video chat while cooking, toasting mimosas, and wearing outrageous hats. We've been pretty creative with our social get-togethers. As the famous quote from Jurassic Park states, "Life finds a way." I think that is very true for the human need for connection.

What are you reading?

Even though I'm an Angeleno, I love reading The New Yorker every week. It's a great way to dabble in current events while also engaging in incredible investigative journalism on a variety of topics, as well as inspiring reviews of the arts, and short stories. It collects everything I love into one easily bathtub-able read.

I also just finished reading Jitterbug Perfume. I like books that stretch the imagination, and Tom Robbins' command of language and metaphor is dazzling. 

What are you watching?

Tiger King! All of my friends were talking about it, so I had to jump on the train wreck. Those stories are pure gold. I love real human stories. Some things you just can't make up. I've also been watching High Maintenance and Westworld on HBO, and love quirky indie movies, dark comedies and documentaries. 

I recently hosted a Fabulous Fungi documentary virtual screening, which was originally scheduled for a mass theatrical event on March 26, though was obviously canceled. I was turned on to the medicinal benefits of mushrooms when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was incredible to hear that the mother of the host of the documentary was diagnosed with breast cancer, and despite all the odds, beat it while taking a supplement of chaga mushrooms. 

What are you listening to?

While I work or clean or pretty much do anything, I am listening to music. While meditating, I like to listen to "Weightless" by Marconi Union on Ambient Transmissions Vol. 2—it's been praised as one of the most relaxing and calming compositions which is perfect at a time like this. 

I also enjoy a mix of funk and soul, groovy jazz and psychedelic rock, and have gotten back to practicing my piano. I play classical, ragtime, and classics like "Bohemian Rhapsody," the ultimate singalong song.

How are you staying fit?

YouTube workouts are a godsend. I've been doing at least a 30-minute video workout each morning, ranging from HIIT training, to pilates, to yoga or Qigong. I like to mix it up and vary levels of intensity. 

After lunch, I go for a 30-minute walk or bike ride to get outside. I was bummed when they closed the bike paths at the beach, but now that I'm up in the valley, I'm back on my bike and enjoying the more intense rides through the hills. 

Have you taken up a hobby?

I've always dabbled in a few hobbies, but a career in advertising often leaves little time for too much on the side. Since the stay-at-home policies took effect, I've transferred my commute time to artistic time. I've enjoyed having more time to practice the piano, draw and paint. I've had a series of paintings in my head for years now that I'm hoping to finally bring to fruition.

My home chef-ery has also been a fun daily challenge. I've always loved to cook, and now I get to play my own version of Chopped at home, where I see what I can make with what I have in my cupboards. I've made homemade ramen, where I finally used the dried wood ear mushrooms lurking in my cabinets. I have an abundance of lemons from our tree, so I made lemon olive oil cake. My freezer has a treasure trove of quality meats from Butcher Box, so when I was craving ribs one morning, I was able to cook them slow and low while working at home—periodically coating them with my famous sweet chili sauce. 

Any tips for getting necessities?

I was ahead of the game with auto-ship and ordering online. I don't like to drive around in L.A. traffic, so many of my necessities have already been set up online. I have auto-ship setup every other month through Chewy for my cat things. I support a local farm and have a monthly farmer's market box delivered with seasonal, organic produce, eggs, and other items. Thrive Market is my go-to for pantry items, and then I have a subscription to Butcher Box for quality, humanely raised meat products. It will be interesting to see how our society transitions after this period of isolation. I think more people are learning the benefits of delivery items. 

An awkward moment since all this started.

That awkward moment when you suddenly move into quarantine with your boyfriend and your cats proceed to destroy his place … ha! Overall, I'd say our transition to living in isolation together has been fairly smooth. Our relationship is strong, and we prioritize being kind. We know it's an adjustment, so we're being patient.

With work, I've been missing the face time during meetings that have now become calls. It's hard to gauge when to speak, there are a lot of interruptions. 

Best work email you got since all this started.

There are a lot of comedians in our creative department. We have the benefit of talented writers and art directors creating their own jokes and memes. We have an ongoing challenge making content related to Tiger King. We've also been sharing hilarious "tips" for staying sane during isolation, like how to grow toilet paper.

An aha! moment since all this started.

Since the stay-at-home policies began, I've hopped on more phone calls to check in with friends and family. I'm not one who normally enjoys talking on the phone—that is a privilege reserved for my mom. I usually connect with friends when I go out. When I stay in, I'm immersed in my own little world. I've since discovered how easily and important those phone check-ins can be. Texting is very limited in what you can express and the emotion that is intoned. I feel like I've actually deepened many relationships despite being apart. 

What's your theory on how this is going to play out?

I think this period of reflection will help us appreciate the importance of human connection, while also problem-solving for a future when that may be limited. The silver lining to any catastrophic event is it challenges us to find new solutions, to be inventive, to get outside our usual way of being, and to think about ideas from a new perspective.

As an advertiser, I'm interested in seeing the creative solutions that marketers dream up. Right now, we need to be very sensitive and thoughtful. Communication needs to lean into the hopeful and the positive without being blind to the tragedies people are living. I think many business models will need to change. We need better planning and social safety nets to support the workers that build and buy into our economy—and our advertising. We're witnessing what happens when workers stay home. Now is the time for bold change and strong thought leadership. Now is the time to truly support one another. 

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and the founding editor of Muse by Clio.

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