At this desk I made some of the most consequential decisions of my life. I had just returned from three years living in Mainz, Germany, and rented this one-bedroom apartment at Five Points in Davenport. By the time this photo was taken in December, I knew I could not stay in my home town.
It’s not that I disliked Davenport. I was insulated from seeing how average the city was by a family that welcomed me and tried to do their best by me. As I returned after a long absence, There was little vitality running through the city. I didn’t fit in.
When I sat at the desk and wrote, I felt like a writer.
The early part of my post-high school intellectual development centered around Saul Bellow. “I want,” he wrote and I agreed. At Five Points I became enamored of Joan Didion. I bought The White Album from The Book of the Month Club. After it arrived, I went to the public library and checked out everything Didion had written. I read three of her early books in two weeks about when this film was exposed. I couldn’t get enough of her.
“Didion speaks with a voice, the voice of a person sitting in a sunlit room at a typewriter,” I wrote in my journal. “Her paragraphs seem well-written, her vocabulary is enriched with new words. I particularly like her image of the end of the 1960s. The spread of word of the Tate murders across the valley.”
Didion’s thoughts seemed to evolve before my eyes on the page.
She was from a military family. Her father was an Army finance officer and the family often moved. I found commonality in this experience. “She touches on something it has taken the four years in the military for me to realize,” I wrote in 1980. “It is a feeling more than anything else, but I suspect that it may be something peculiar to the military environment.” I saw how her experiences in a military family influenced her writing and in turn how my service would influence me.
During the following years, I sought out every book Joan Didion wrote and began reading them soon after publication.
I continue to think of Joan Didion while I’m writing.
In every place I lived, I had a desk on which to write. What makes this one different is it rests a few feet from the writing space I established after inheriting my father-in-law’s library table.
At university I struggled to find a path. I was on a trajectory supercharged by the death of Father in 1969. Didion’s writing was something I could look to and see myself. Being successful as a writer wasn’t meant to be my career. Yet Didion gave me hope in dark times.
I needed that at Five Points as the 1970s ended and I began to call myself a writer.