Smile Politely

Dispatches from isolation: May 2nd

This  column offers a glimpse into how people in C-U are working and spending their time during this stay-at-home order. You can read previous installments here. Have questions, or want to suggest a person for this series? Email us at

How are you spending your days in isolation?


7:05 a.m.

I wake up on a Saturday same as most days — later than usual, as the commute to work for me is a short one.

7:20 a.m.

A white book titled

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

One kid is already comfortably at his home-schooling station in the living room, even on a Saturday (probably looking at weather websites). I spend some time over coffee with my friend Ned’s new and hopeful(!) book about politics, illustrated by Sekani Kenyatta Reed, a former Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center artist-in-residence.

8:15 a.m.

I move on upstairs to my workstation, pretty much the same as a weekday, though I have a relatively open day ahead. Just after the shelter-in-place order I spent a weekend extricating our twins from the office we shared, and set up this station where I spend days and many an evening.

View of a desk in a home office. On the white desk is a microphone, a computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse. There are books on a shelf above the desk, and another bookshelf with books to the right of the desk. On the wall behind the desk is a pin board, with postcards and noise-buffering foam. Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Here you see my university laptop open and wedged up between the monitor and the wall, in order to get the camera and zoom-grid out of sight of the chats, emails, pdfs, docs, and browser tabs. My weekdays are pretty much a straight run of zoom and phone calls, with me rushing up and down to the kitchen at around the 55-minute mark for more coffee and the occasional visit to the dog, who is blissfully available for scratches and fetch all the day long. Though today is a beautiful spring day and I could probably detach from this routine, I have a good bit of sound editing to do, and so settle in to my usual post.

9:20 a.m.

I do a little online sharing for the latest in my new series of interviews with colleagues in the college. (This of course means that throughout the day I’m checking for “likes” at times known only to our internet overlords.)

9:45 a.m.

I’ve settled in for a long day of recording and editing sound. My work doesn’t require it, but early in the pandemic I knew I needed to build in some creative activity to keep myself whole. So I started calling colleagues to ask them what art is helping them through this time, and editing the calls into short radio interviews. I also started approaching my monthly teachings for New Covenant Fellowship as a form of sonic collage. Like any novice, I’m probably mostly mimicking my loves in all this, from sound and radio art.

10:15 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.

Five boxes of Moon Pies are stacked on a table with an orange polka dot covering. Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Time gets lost in the editing process. Grazing through the house on more relaxed coffee wanderings than in my usual days, I pay a visit to the Moon Pie stash. Back when other kids were preparing actual pies for “Pi Day” on March 14th, we were already not so excited about open-plate food situations at school. So we ordered a crap-ton of individually-wrapped Moon Pies to contribute. I’m happy to eat one a day. Neither kid is accepting further Moon Pies at this time.

4:15 p.m.

Continuing a Saturday habit from many years back, I make pizza dough for dinner to let it rise.

4:30 p.m.

Since just before the pandemic, I’ve been taking walks from my house in southeast Urbana to the Barnhart Prairie Nature Preserve. I like this walk for its length, and for how most of it is in places not meant for people. As Barnhart has been closed this winter, I typically walk to the entrance and come back. A sign had announced a reopening on May 1st, so today I thought I’d investigate.

View of a park with a swing set taped off with caution tape, and an empty baseball diamond in the background. Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

I download some old Aretha Franklin recordings for some research along the way (thanks Urbana Free Library!) and head out. On the way, I pass Jeff Kaufman Fields, which is normally booming with little league action on a Saturday like this.

5:05 p.m.

The sidewalk ends on the south end of Philo past Windsor. Beyond that, I’m mostly walking on the edges of fields and roads. I count one medical mask and a blue latex glove on the way, among the usual beer cans and roadkill.

A sidewalk running parallel to the road ends. There is a green field beyond it. Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.
A semi-flooded, barren field extends to the horizon. The sky is blue. In the foreground are dead, broken corn stalks and a large pond of water in the field. Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

5:40 p.m.

I make it to Barnhart and discover it still closed, sadly. In fact there are a bunch of new signs and ropes up; people must have been as eager as I was to get back in there. Nicely though, there are some good new logs to lean against. One of the best parts of Barnhart is the soundscape, which changes seasonally between the insects, birds, and grasses. Thankfully sound doesn’t stay within boundaries, and I can still enjoy the pheasant squawks and birdsong from outside (between the car traffic anyway).

The lower legs and feet of a man are pictured in repose on a green field. Just in front of the person is a paved pathway, horizontal across the picture. Beyond that is more green, and a very blue sky with whispy clouds. Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

6:10 p.m.

I head back north, my shadow now stretching across South Philo Road. I step out into the fields every now and then, as car traffic is surprisingly busy — way up from previous weeks. I re-enter Urbana, thinking about that population number, and the role of density in differing experiences of this pandemic.

A view of a road cutting through plowed fields. There is a road sign that says

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

7:10 p.m.

It’s time for my Saturday night ritual of pizza-making to the sound of WFMU’s Transpacific Sound Paradise. The freeform station of the nation is operating with a skeleton crew, but Rob Weisberg still delivers a fantastic show featuring a taped session with a Sámi-Finnish duo.

8:00 p.m.

Over pizza, I hear about a century’s worth of political invention played out over a day in Minecraft, as friends made, broke, and revised social contracts. Dinner peters out into dishwashing and dog-doting as we listen to Kathryn Calder’s quarantine concert from the night before.

A round pizza with a variety of colorful toppings sits on a table with an orange polka dot covering. Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

Photo by Kevin Hamilton.

8:30 p.m.

Saturday night has been Doctor Who night lately. Having watched the two most recent seasons, our family turned back a week or so ago to the quasi-beginning: Series One from 2005. The twins are decidedly unconvinced about the Doctor as a man. Somehow seeing pre-2005 London makes me nostalgic.

9:55 p.m.

I turn back to audio editing as the twins go to bed, trying to complete the piece I promised for Sunday morning. Thunderstorms roll in, causing recording pauses from time to time.

11:30 p.m.

My sound editing program crashes, erasing hours of work. The storm passed, I open the window for some night air, and dive back in for a fresh start. The early hours of Sunday roll on by. I’m as lost in the creative work as in earlier days, when my most pressing matters were meeting exhibition deadlines and creating demonstrations for class.

Kevin Hamilton is Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he has taught art and new media in the School of Art and Design since 2002.

Top image by Kevin Hamilton.

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