We gathered at Fort Warden, a place from which an army could lob death at an invading navy. The Fort’s rock and concrete caves, built to protect and transport munitions and warriors, attract modern invaders. The town’s limbs hug the hillside, flanking the darkened places with homes spewing their youths. These new forces attack, armed—unlike the earlier unrealized aggressor—with spray paint, cigarettes, and condoms.
And Greg defends against the new horde. Greg rides his State-Park-issued bicycle, equipped with three important things: helmet light (to see, even in broad daylight, into the secret dark), radio, and “the fear of God” which he imbues into his teenage POWs. Those captured learn from Greg what this place is for, what it means for them to be here, and how they are expected to behave. They absorb his lessons, if he has his way.
We writers paid our price for our own invasion. Yet, no Greg appears before us, no cycle-motivated issuant of purpose and revelation. Our financial sacrifice does not equal the reward we seek, cannot claim victory for us over our dream of putting successive, successful word after word to page. The full payment for our quest is drawn from us through work—at uncovering, discovering, and offering—to gain access to our deep dark places. Since the path to the self is the most difficult one, since the writer’s journey is one of self-discovery and of truth, that path—mine at least—is torture. I bow and scrape and beg at Beauty’s feet. When She allows a phrase of wonder to slip and to brighten a passage, when Her radiance enlivens an ode to the everyday, I rejoice. Yet bliss coexists with torment. Joy and pain live easily, harmoniously side-by-side in the soul. One refuses to obviate the other.
Rather than receiving some new gift of insight, at this old outward-focused place I see more clearly what I knew when I arrived: the quarry remains as before, foggy, haunting, hunted.
Paths to the written word are many-tendrilled and invasive. On my forays into the creative, I encounter a different sort of Greg who polices the dark places. He defends his realm, unhappy and afraid when I am there, pen in hand. The treasures I find, even when brought into the light, disguise themselves as rubbish: his words echo out of the dark, “Worthless! Garbage! No one cares!” Yet I write. On some days that adversarial, curse-ive tone is trivial; on other days, I crave a friendlier voice.
Fellow writers, battling their own Gregs, arrive at the Fort with an arsenal of such voices. This new army of allies illuminates its truth that walls spray-painted with my scrawl can indeed be beautiful.