It’s a balmy, almost-summer day in Toronto and the streets are astir with cautiously optimistic activity: people walking, cycling, and distantly gathering in parks, on boardwalks, and—for the first time in months, thanks to Ontario’s entry into stage one of its reopening plan—on patios. Sidewalk patios, alleyway patios, backyard patios, dining areas-occupying-slivers-of-space-so-small-they-have-no-business-being-called-patios-but-hey-it’s-a-pandemic-so-we’ll-take-what-we-can-get patios.
Elaine “Lainey” Lui’s mind, however, is on another al fresco space—one about four thousand kilometers away in Malibu, where days before, rekindled flames Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck were snapped packing on the PDA during a swanky dinner at Nobu. “I think these two would’ve been mocked for doing something like this in the past,” observes Lui, who’s known for her celebrity scoops and cheeky, no-nonsense pop-culture commentary on her website, Lainey Gossip, as well as for being a co-host on talk show The Social and a senior correspondent on entertainment show Etalk. “Now we know better. We know to appreciate them for what they’re giving us: they’re giving us life. And they’re giving us our gossip life back.”
Not that Lui’s gossip life—or anyone else’s, for that matter—was taken away during the pandemic. It did change, though; or to use everyone’s favorite pandemic word, it was forced to pivot.
Instead of who’s going out with who, we chat about who’s quarantining with who. Or who’s breaking public health guidelines by forgoing a mask; or who’s seeing people outside their household, or jetting outside their country. Or who’s vaccine-hesitant or anti-vax. “Even the NBA bubble,” says Lui, “had a snitch line.”
Besides the content of our conversations with friends, family, and neighbors, we’ve all experienced many other lifestyle changes over the pandemic. For Lui, this includes the dining room in the Beaches home she shares with her husband and two beagles being transformed into a makeshift office, where she films segments for her broadcast gigs and cranks out daily posts for Lainey Gossip. The family’s living room now also pulls shifts as a gym, where a folding treadmill—an item the typically exercise-averse Lui describes as her best pandemic purchase—takes prominence over the sofa and coffee table.
“It has really helped me start my day off in a productive way that isn’t just about work,” she says. “And I’ve given myself permission to not care that we have this giant treadmill in the middle of the living room.”
The blurring of lines between public and private space has made creating a sanctuary at home important for Lui. During the pandemic, this has meant visiting her local florist every Sunday to source bundles of fresh-cut flowers. It’s also meant blasting BTS in the kitchen where, over the past year, Lui has discovered an affinity for tackling dishes like shrimp stew, Vietnamese meatballs, and hawawshi, a meat-stuffed pita that’s a popular street food in Egypt. “My cooking energy lately,” she says via phone, “has been a lot more ambitious.”
In between balancing multiple gigs from her dining room table and trying to survive a global pandemic with her health and sanity intact (relatable), Lui also found the time this year to co-produce a video in support of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice. Titled “Eyes Open,” the project is a public service announcement for anti-Asian racism. It features an original poem by Chinese-Canadian artist Christopher Tse and is inspired by traditional athletic ads, filled with uplifting music and fast cuts of scenes from Chinatowns across Canada. A slew of prominent Asian-Canadian faces were involved, including environmentalist David Suzuki, businesswoman Carol Lee, actor Andrew Phung, and of course Lui herself.
Makeup by Natalie Matias. The full interview is available exclusively in Natural Habitat Print Issue No. 1. Order your copy here.