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Making an Entrance

A photograph of a gate opening in a hedge.

Dear Readers —

It’s September. Two weeks till equinox means sunset is arriving 83 seconds earlier every day. The moon wanes, rising an hour later each night—this morning it rose at 2:18am. Thursday it will rise at dawn, and the sun will only illuminate its far side, and we will call it a new moon. Meanwhile the schoolchildren have already started the school year, leaving at the same time every morning. Our world is rich with change.

Here in West Hollywood it’s been muggy, which means that my apartment is rich with breeze. I (Jasper Nighthawk, a writer) come to you with a fan trained right on my face. Ahhhhhhhh. Imagine I am humming into the fan, which is folding up the sound of my voice into little slats like a Venetian blind. It feels nice, an artificial wind against hot skin.

But that’s not what today’s Lightplay is about. No, no. What I want to tell you about is a little home improvement project I recently undertook.

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My brother-in-law Deru used his pants the way a woman uses a purse. Everything he carried everyday had its place in a specific pocket: keys, knife, wallet, lighter, hankie. The specific pocket assigned to each item was where the item lived, whether he was wearing the pants or had left them draped carefully over a chair beside the bed. When it was time to wash the pants, he transferred each item to the corresponding pocket of the fresh pair of pants.

“That way,” he told me, “if you get up in the middle of the night and there’s a fire or some other emergency, you just pull on your pants and you’re good to go.”

When he told me this, I was fourteen. Of course I went home and immediately copied him. For a decade, every night my jeans hung on a peg, each pocket containing its standbys, like so many compartments in a purse. With each new pair of pants, after a few months, faint outlines of my wallet, my phone, and my knife would appear, worn into the denim over the pockets where those items lived.

I loved how this practice made me feel manly and well-prepared, like I was this superhero who always wore the same tactical gear pouch and always knew where each tool was. But because they were in these halfway dirty jeans worn day after day it was even more ferally masculine, like a habit picked up while working as a roughneck in North Dakota. In those years, I wore my ratty Carhartt jacket like a cape.

A photograph of the author with a large beard and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth

Self-portrait of the author – March 9, 2015

Deru, my role model of Mendo masculinity, was a gardener by trade. In that stage of his life, he lived with my sister in a cabin miles down a dirt road. When he put on his well-equipped pants, he might step out his front door and strap a propane tank to the ATV to bring it up to his van, or he could be off to his garden for a few hours of tying branches to stakes and resetting rat traps. He leaned into this performance of being a rugged rural dude, and that was what made his brand of masculinity so fun to learn from and imitate. Instead of feeling like a societal burden, he made it seem like an energy you could play with and make your own.

I leaned into this energy for years after I graduated from college and moved back to my hometown. But the work and the drinking were hard on the body and soul, and by my mid-twenties I decided to abandon my fledgling career as a carpenter. Instead, I embraced my grandma-prophecied career path of becoming a writer. And, gradually, I started taking off my hyper-masculine drag.

Today, aside from my telephone, most days I have almost no need of always-with-me tools. With the advent of work-from-home, I often get dressed, drive the kid to daycare, and then drive back and sit all day at my desk in the nursery, breaking only to make elaborate pour-over coffee or put together lunch. I really don’t need my keys, my knife, or my wallet in my pockets. All they do is press into my leg, denting the skin and causing discomfort.

So for now I have given up pants-as-purse. Today, when I pull my pants on, I don’t have to be cautious so that my precious items don’t spill from the pockets. The denim over the pockets is untraced. And I have to admit, it’s really comfortable. Sometimes, simply sitting there without a big wad of keys biting into my leg can feel halfway to pajamas.

But where, then, to keep those keys?

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The solution, I learned from my partner Lisa, is to place a special key bowl in your entryway. With this method, you drop your keys into the key bowl the moment you walk in the front door—and then the inverse, when you’re walking out as one of your last moves before departure you reach into the key bowl and grab your keys.

It takes some getting used to, but it’s a good method.

Of course, once you adopt this practice you then realize that you can have multiple key sets: a big honkin’ multi-ring set of keys with everything including for the car and the storage unit, a slim ring with just apartment keys for when you’re going for a run or taking the trash out, etc.

Then you realize you can leave all sorts of other things by the door, too. Hats, sunglasses, purses. Disinfectant, anti-motion sickness bracelets, nametags. Lip balm, facemasks, flossers. Your shelf, which initially just had an owl key tray, ends up looking like this:

A photograph of a bookshelf crowded with hats, bags, and keys.

The chaos isn’t contained to this shelf, unfortunately. Below it, right at your feet when you walk in, there are a great number of shoes. That’s because upon moving into this apartment we expanded on the leave-your-keys policy by implementing a policy of no shoes in the house. In previous dwellings we had attempted no-shoes policies, but here we finally succeeded. It turned out that the effective intervention was to place a line of aqua masking tape five feet inside the door; the visual threshold helped us remember and respect the rule. But as is so often the case, success only bred new problems. The shoe pile grew and grew.

And then the mail, which for three years now we have carried into our apartment and without fail set down right on the dining room table, creating clutter and running the risk that an important letter might end up buried in a pile of random crap.

To all of this was added, three weeks ago, a new backpack full of meals and spare clothes that we send to the daycare with our one-year-old.

This was finally too much. Our entryway situation became untenable. It became the space in our house most in need of healing.

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This wasn’t our first attempt to solve the shoe problem. Years ago we bought a narrow shoe rack to put by the door. It held six or seven pairs of shoes:

A photo of a doorway and the shelves next to it.

Now it was time for a more effective solution. We talked it over and considered buying a piece of furniture, but nothing we found could meet all of our needs. So I decided to handmake a solution, tailored to our space and needs.

To start, we wrote out a brief listing out everything we hoped for this to accomplish:

Entryway Storage Solution Needs™
• Store 5-10 pairs of shoes
• Store Lisa’s Backpack, Jasper’s Backpack, Baby’s Daycare Bag, Baby’s Diaper Bag
• Store Lisa’s purse + Jasper’s pouch
• Jasper Inbox, Lisa Inbox, Outgoing Mail

The solution needed to fit in the twenty-six-inch gap between the bookshelf and the door. And it needed to have a low enough profile that the door could open.

Is there anything better than a narrowly constrained design problem?

As I considered how to tackle the project, I thought that this might be the perfect place to experiment pegboard, the regularly-perforated panels that people used in the ’50s to organize their garages. I figured this could help from screwing into the wall too many times, and it would create a modular solution flexible enough to keep tweaking after it was built, so that we could get it just right.

In the design phase, as I researched different hardware options, I had to make some adjustments to the initial vision. In particular, I abandoned the idea of shoe shelves hanging off the pegboard. It turned out to be much simpler and sturdier to screw basic shelf brackets directly into the studs. Also, I realized that part of why the primary use case for pegboard is to hang between studs in an unfinished garage is because it really does need at least half an inch of clearance behind the holes for you to be able to attach the pegs. I ended up furring out the wall as such:

A photograph of a doorway with half-constructed shelves.

Fabrication presented some difficulties, as our two-bedroom apartment doesn’t have space for anything like a workshop, and I mostly just have rudimentary hand tools. I was delighted to find that it was much easier than I thought it would be to rip a six-inch board of redwood fencing into two three-inch boards by hand using a box saw, with the dining room chairs as sawhorses. 

It all came together relatively quickly—and it had to, because the baby wasn’t going to nap forever! Here’s the final (for now) product:

A photograph of a doorway with completed shelves and pegboard next to it.

Other than storing more than one backpack, the design entirely accomplishes the brief. And I think the pegboard has a fun energy—unpretentious, crafty, modular.

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There is a specific satisfaction to making extremely bespoke furniture that solves a minor problem when space is at a premium. It always puts me in the mind of what I imagine are some of the pleasures of life on a boat. Everything has to tuck away and fit just so. Everything has to respond to everything else. The shelves have to be angled so that the door can open wide. Everything is right where you need it.

I think about extremely rich people living in extremely large houses, and how they are deprived of these pleasures, the pleasures of limitation. And that goes not just for physical space, but for everything. When we heal a small part of our world, we feel the pleasure of living in a less injured world. The very human-sized-ness of our individual worlds is the whole reason that we as individuals can be agents of tangible change in them.

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That’s all I wanted to say about my do-it-yourself home improvement project. I do have a bit more to say today, though. First of all: I hope you have been eating your fill of perfectly ripe late-summer tomatoes.

A photograph of a bowl of cherry tomatoes being struck by the light.

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. It’s enough to make you want to make salsa ranchera.

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One of the fun things about writing is that you can really chew on an idea. A couple months ago I wrote a blog post titled Thoughts on Jasperland, Micro.Blog, and Writerly Psychology. In it was this concept: “As a writer, I find it to be a great gift to have a gradient of formality in the places that I publish.”

That term, gradient of formality, is low-key a really useful idea for me as a writer. It explains the difference between a book, a Tweet, and all the places in between—and it suggests how to navigate these options. It reminds me that if I don’t always want to be highly formal, nothing says I have to be. I take that as permission not to spend every drop of writerly energy on my book project. Sometimes it’s good to spend my words in more casual venues. To write something at 300 characters, or at blog post length, or as a Lightplay. That can even be freeing. Energizing, even.

I just want to share that I am having so much fun blogging. Mostly I’ve been posting Tweet-length microblogs, but I have also been writing longer posts, like Another Entry in the Iconic-Weirdo-Documentary Canon, Costco: Soviet-Style Utopia? and my review of the Kagi search engine, Online Search and Muscle Memory. I don’t think many people are reading my blog, but who cares? It feels good to write these things out and be done with it!

Are any of you, dear readers, still blogging? If you are, please send me an email with the link. I love seeing what other people are doing in this medium that most people seem to have given up for dead over a decade ago.

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That’s really and truly it for today. Here in LA, the midday heat is coming again. But it’s Sunday. It’s time to go to the beach. To set the baby down in the sand, where the waves can just lap at him. To see what he makes of it.

The world is full of wonder—most of it to be found in areas as small as a child’s eyes. I hope your day has some wonder in it, too.


A photograph of a reusable shopping back with water and some baby wipes inside it, so you can see a picture of a baby printed on the wipes.