“My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.” –Russell Means
There are several stories I love, and love to tell, and can never quite write down. Every once in a while I try: just imagine you’re talking to someone, I tell myself, and write down what you would say. I start writing–sometimes I even start talking to myself–and it sounds stiff and serious, or lazy and unimportant, or–impersonal. It sounds like a dead bird’s wing locked in a glass box.
When I tell a story out loud, I get to listen to (and with) whoever’s listening. We get to share whatever comes up, whatever grows in the words: the wild weeds and playful flowers and sorrow’s somehow-sweet sharp thorns. Afterwards I often want to say, “Thanks for telling that story with me.” (People often respond, “But you’re the one who told it.” And then I’m either quiet, or I try to explain that, really, it was something we did together). I like telling stories. I like it more than anything, it’s tempting to say, but that’s not true: I like it so much because I like you. You. Whoever you are. The person who’s reading this, who’s standing on the other side of a (however shaky, however short lived, however thin) bridge we make from words.
I love writing. I love reading. I love the worlds they open up. But deep down, inside all that, I like relationships. I like conversations: person to person, wind to leaf, foot to stone. I don’t write these words to write them. I write these words so someone might read them, and then they’ll come alive. Maybe the very act of writing is dangerous. I can mistake the dark shape on my screen for the sound, or the sound for the moment–shared–of speaking to each other. I think it’s important to remember that the abstraction is an abstraction, and that beneath it, outside it, around it, the world is breathing. All the same, if we’re careful, I think we can use this abstraction to move closer to each other, like a ship returning home by looking at the stars.
And by the way, I really do want to tell you those stories. Ask me sometime. We’ll try telling them together.