125: “The Spoken Relationship” (Russell Means)

                “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.

One thought on “125: “The Spoken Relationship” (Russell Means)

  1. How can one tell stories together?
    If we share an experience your memories will be quite different from mine, leading to the question if stories can ever be told by different people about the same things. That is the beauty of storytelling, the same story can never be told twice !


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