Earlier, in the before times, Charlotte McDougall would wake up at 7:00 a.m. on weekdays. Her morning ritual was the same, whether she was staying at her mom’s or her dad’s house: roll out of bed immediately after waking up, get dressed, brush her teeth, hair, makeup, eat breakfast, out the door by 8:00 a.m. The rush hour commute from Bloordale, where both her parents live (although in separate homes), to the Etobicoke School of the Arts, where Charlotte is a senior and studies visual art, takes about forty-five minutes. On March 14, the first day of spring break, she began sleeping in a little later. As classes were moved online, first for two weeks, then indefinitely, she stopped keeping a regular schedule. Last Friday, a full five weeks since her last day of school, Charlotte woke up at 1:00 p.m., as is now normal for her.
Not quite yet eighteen, Charlotte is stuck in the same weird limbo as teenagers across the globe, their plans for impending adulthood put on hold as the whole world seems caught in an extended adolescence filled with uncertainty, angst, and curfews.
She’s still in her pyjamas when we chat over video at 4:00 p.m. “I feel like routine is very good for people, just because it gives you a little bit of stability in your life,” she says, soft-spoken and well-mannered. It’s one of the many concessions she’ll make to me throughout the day. She knows she should keep a routine, she should get up earlier, she should be checking her school email more regularly to see updates from teachers, but with everything so ambiguous, regular life disrupted as it is, it’s difficult to find the motivation to go on as if things are normal.
Charlotte is a straight A student, and she likes her art school, where she can pursue her passion for photography. Classes are continuing online, though studies are self-directed now. Teachers will generally post assignments for the week on Google Classroom Monday morning, and deadlines are only loosely enforced. Before the pause, she was presenting a photography series for peer critique in her class. “My work kind of goes around the idea of generational trauma, and how past and future experiences shape a person,” she says. She used her breath on the lens of the camera to alter the images to create, as she puts it, “an intimate bond with me and the model through my photography.”
Art teachers are still figuring out how to adapt to this new format, especially as students have limited resources at home. Charlotte has a camera, but nobody to pose for her. Though close with her parents, she’s an only child. She tells me wistfully about friends she has in the art program who are twins. One, like her, is focused on photography. “She has an older sister and also a twin, so she has a lot of subject matter at her house,” she says, and then pauses. “But I don’t know. I don’t know if she’s still producing work.”
Her day starts slowly. She’ll stay in bed for a while, scrolling through Instagram and Snapchat, before making her way to the kitchen for breakfast. Netflix has just that morning released a new reality TV dating show called Too Hot to Handle, which Charlotte calls “good crappy TV.” She’ll watch a couple episodes while still waking up, before starting her homework.
She’s managed to fill her schedule with humanities; aside from her two art classes, she’s taking an arts management course, an extra photography class, plus philosophy, English, and the writer’s craft. For her philosophy essay, Charlotte is planning to apply the thoughts of Plato and Simone de Beauvoir to the treatment of non-monogamy within the reality TV show The Bachelor. Technically, the essay was due last week, but students aren’t penalized for late work. The school board says students’ grades can’t go down at this time, but part of Charlotte finds that difficult to believe; what if all this suddenly ends, and things go back to normal? Still, homework feels superfluous in all this. The Plato gets pushed aside. Another episode of Too Hot to Handle.
She’s in touch with friends all day—a text group chat with three of her classmates, messages on social media traded throughout the day. Her boyfriend Devon, a drama student in the grade below, would have been her prom date; she was planning to shop for dresses over March break on a trip to Montreal that never materialized. She assumes prom has been cancelled though, as with their grad, there have been no updates.
Not seeing Devon has been difficult, especially because Charlotte doesn’t know how long this moment will last, and their time together before she moves away for university is already limited. She relays this information matter-of-factly, the same way she tells me that she’s sad prom has been cancelled, or that she’s stressed out by the newly structureless days. There’s no one to blame in all this. “It’s a little difficult,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate.
She and her mom cook dinner together, and then spend a couple hours together painting their nails. After dinner, somewhere between finishing the season of Too Hot to Handle and working on her English essay, Charlotte logs onto her computer to confirm her acceptance to the University of Victoria’s visual arts program. UVic wasn’t her first choice—she was originally planning on attending Concordia University in Montreal, where her friends, including the twins, will be attending.
But nobody knows when this moment will end, and how that will affect school next year. Charlotte’s dad’s girlfriend recently accepted a job teaching at UVic, which means that if there is another wave of illnesses, if school residences get shut down next year like they did this year, Charlotte will at least have family she can stay with. There are financial considerations to take into account too. Charlotte received a scholarship to the University of Victoria and her father, a freelance designer who works in the film industry, has seen his work put on pause.
After our last conversation, at 11:00 p.m. on Friday, Charlotte has no intention of going to sleep anytime soon. The hours between midnight and 3:00 a.m. are a surreal block of time, previously occupied by insomniacs and night owls, but now just another part of Charlotte’s day. She might watch a movie or experiment with a makeup tutorial that will be seen by no one else, except maybe her group chat. She’ll go to bed eventually, although there’s no rush. Tomorrow is the weekend, whatever that means.