Credit: jerry boyle

Stay-home edicts and orders preventing Illinois residents from public congregation have only been in place for about a month as I write this, but people are already feeling the effects of living like Emily Dickinson (albeit with access to a 24/7 news cycle and grocery delivery). Dickinson is perhaps one of our most famous American homebodies, but even the confines of her father’s house in late-19th-century Massachusetts was inspiration enough for her to come up with worldly and lascivious lines like “Rowing in Eden — / Ah, the sea / Might I moor — Tonight — / In thee!” (from her poem number 249, aka “Wild Nights — Wild Nights!”).

While most of us are, rightfully, just dealing with the juggle of the new, some can see our stay-home efforts as an opportunity for taking stock. Some of us are fortunate to have people and pets living with us with whom we’re excited to spend more time, but most of us privileged enough to have shelter can point to at least one thing that makes our home a good place to be.

I asked a group of notable Chicagoans to share some of their favorite items in their house and tell us about the things that have made this time a little easier. They all provided their own photos, and some had reflections about the experience of being in the world during this troubling time.

Attorney and National Lawyers Guild Chicago legal observer
Object: a painting by Jerry’s goddaughter, Zoharia Lev Drizin

Jerry shared a painting that his goddaughter Zoharia (now in college) gave him when she was in second grade. “Zoharia is the first daughter of my former roommates, and I was her Ba’al HaBeracha—I gave the blessing at her naming ceremony. Christians know these traditions as godfather and baptism, and we often use godfather/daughter so other people get the relationship. She’s a freshman . . . majoring in environmental studies, and I got to cover her as a legal observer at an environmental protest last year. I’m so proud of her. I love her to death, and seeing her painting every morning when I get out of the shower reminds me of her and her two sisters (who also have names beginning with Z—we call them the three Zs), and reminds me that children are our greatest blessing. And they are Gen Z, and awesome, and our future, and we owe it to them to leave them a world that is as much a blessing to them as they have been to us. It’s a good way to start the day, at least for a guy who grew up in a big Irish family, in neighborhoods full of big Irish families, and especially when I’m quarantined at home alone. Children are a precious gift, even if they aren’t ours, and even if we can’t see them in person.”

Credit: Dwayne Kennedy

Emmy-winning producer, comedian, and south side native
Objects: remote control, television

Dwayne sent us a photo of his remote control and television, familiar items for most of us these days. “Let’s just go with the picture of the TV. It’s the closest I ever want to be to visiting anybody or anybody visiting me . . . and that was even before the pandemic!”

Credit: Salome Chasnoff

Filmmaker and arts educator, founder of Beyondmedia and member of the PO Box Collective
Objects: Salome’s bed, a mannequin in Salome’s house

“Instead of jumping out of bed every morning to get to work as I’ve done most of my life, I’ve been hanging in bed for hours, reading, like I have all the time in the world. My memory foam pillow has made this delicious behavior extra special. I just finished On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous [a novel by Ocean Vuong] and I’m starting The Shape of the Ruins [by Juan Gabriel Vasquez]. We’ve had the mannequin around forever. Our daughter used her in photo shoots in high school. I put her in the window to help me participate in a local quarantine project, #neighbors4abolition—a way to vocalize our protest against people being held in prisons and jails that are quickly turning into death camps. I change her outfit when the spirit moves me.”

Credit: sharlene king

User-experience designer and information architect
Objects: dinosaur costume, cat castle, resistance band platform

Sharlene shared a few items built around the inspirational theme of making this time work for you: “I’m really digging the cat castle I built out of old cardboard boxes. All I used to build it was wood glue. I used a large bowl and some pots to cut the different holes out. All the wood I’ve scrounged and the tools I’ve accumulated over time since I was a student at SAIC 20 years ago means I’ve been building wood things during this time. One of my favorite projects is this resistance band platform that lets me do squats, deadlifts, and shoulder presses again. I’m doing a lot of Zoom calls these days and the costume is sure to bring a smile to someone’s face. I’ve also been able to help out friends with kids by reading them books or talking about dinosaurs. It is impossible not to be adorable if you dance in the costume.”

Credit: rich koz

Television host and creature of the night
Object: art by Tom Richmond for Mad Magazine (published in 2018)

“This is the original Tom Richmond art for the Svengoolie Mad Magazine satire that was presented to me as a birthday gift by the guys of my TV crew. It makes me feel happy. It was an honor to be spoofed in Mad, and it reminds me of the great people I work with that I look forward to being back with again—hopefully soon!”

Credit: dan sinker

Author, publisher, founder of Punk Planet, and cohost of the Says Who podcast
Object: Dan’s Singer Heavy Duty sewing machine

Dan has been making masks with his Singer. “It started with just making masks for my family using scrap fabric around our house and then I kept unearthing boxes of fabric that my wife Janice and I had collected over the years. We’ve sent over 150 masks out now to people we know, people we don’t, frontline nurses, an entire preschool class. It’s become my morning ritual now to get up and cut and sew masks before school and work starts. I’m always making things—though mostly online—so this is the perfect mindless busy work for me right now. And, it helps people. I know how to sew (thanks 1980s public school home economics) and usually make the kids’ halloween costumes—bought this machine a few years ago after the ancient one we had finally broke—but that’s the totality of it. When I just wanted to make masks for us, I had to look up the sewing machine manual online to remember how to thread the bobbin once the one that was in there ran out. But now this machine sits on our dining room table, moved to the floor for meals, and then back up for another round of stitching.”

Credit: Kaina

KAINA Musician, whose 2019 album Next to the Sun made the Reader‘s Best Chicago Albums of the 2010s list
Objects: plants, a Nintendo Switch

“It’s been really nice waking up to a whole bunch of plants in my room. They’re still living, and tending to them and paying attention to their habits has been a nice way of staying in touch with life as it moves. I got a lot of these from the local store Plant Shop Chicago, which is one of my favorite businesses to support—I picked up a few during quarantine since they’re offering pickup and drop-off. Some of these are cuttings from friends so it’s nice to have that reminder of socialization too!”

Kaina also sent a photo of the Nintendo Switch, a gadget that a lot of people have discovered as a great distraction. “My best friends Paige and Sen gifted this console to me for my birthday two years ago and it’s really felt like a blessing. Animal Crossing recently came out and it’s such a peaceful and cute game so it’s allowed me to calm down my everything-is-burning feelings. I use it a lot to pass time during drives on tour so it’s nice to tap into that zoning-out feeling while things are bad.”

Credit: John Cusack

Former Evanstonian, actor, activist
Object: white crystal

Mr. Cusack graciously sent me this image, which includes a white crystal that seems to have a prominent place in his home. While he wasn’t available to chat about his object, white crystals are well known in the spiritual community as a clearing stone that attracts good light and energy and invites peace into a home. Even Emily Dickinson could get into this: as she wrote in poem number 1510, “How happy is the little Stone / That rambles in the Road alone, / And doesn’t care about Careers / And Exigencies never fears.”   v