I had been teaching at the Nebraska Writers Conference all week, and on my way back to Ames, Iowa (where I lived and worked at the time), my buddy (and former colleague) Dean Bakopoulos called, said he needed my help moving something, and asked me to drop by the university on my way home.
There I discovered my office door cracked open, with light and music falling through the crack. And then my wife's laughter when I found her inside.
While I was away, my wife had enlisted the grad students and arranged an office makeover. The walls had been painted a storm-cloud gray. My pictures were framed and hung. Wooden bookshelves, arranged by author and genre, ran along one wall. A wine-red chair sat in the corner with a matching ottoman. Next to it was the desk.
At the university I used whatever Nixon-era model came with the office — metal framed, plastic topped — and at home I used a crumbling composite wood desk bought for $40 off Craigslist.
This was solid wood, maple the color of caramel, Ethan Allen. I felt sick with gratitude, and weirdly grown-up. For the first time in my life, I had an honest-to-goodness desk. As a writer, you don't have many tools (not like a mechanic who needs wrenches and oil, not like a farmer who needs tractors and combines and four-wheelers), just a computer, a printer, some pencils, paper, books, a desk.
For financial reasons (for so many years, we were living month to month) and out of neglect (I will wear the same pair of jeans for seven days and eat my lunch standing over the kitchen sink), I never bothered to make the investment in myself. My wife had done it for me. And, as silly as this sounds, when I sat down for the first time and laid my palms flat on the wood, I felt like a real writer with a solid platform for my imagination.
We have moved since then — out of the corn-flats of Iowa to the snowy woods of Minnesota — but the desk remains with me. The wood is polished from my elbows. Its edge is cracked from where one of the movers dropped it. There are crumbs, a few coffee rings, piles of paper. This is where I wrote Red Moon — and this is where I will write however many more novels my mind permits me.
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