word-smitten

Charles Frazier‘s second book,Thirteen Moons, is narrated by Will Cooper, who has a friend named Bear, a Cherokee Indian chief. 

“I cannot decide whether it is an illness or a sin, the need to write things down and fix the flowing world in one rigid form.  Bear believed writing dulled the spirit, stilled some holy breath.  Smothered it.  Words, when they’ve been captured and imprisoned on paper, become a barrier against the world, one best left unerected.  Everything that happens is fluid, changeable.  After they’ve passed, events are only as your memory makes them, and they shift shapes over time.  Writing a thing down fixes it in place as surely as a rattlesnake skin stripped from the meat and stretched and tacked to a barn wall.  Every bit as stationary, and every bit as false to the original thing….Bear recognized that all writing memorializes a momentary line of thought as if it were final.”

Bear is objecting to the loss Mark Doty was writing about that occurs when we leave the physical world for the world of words. 

Bear would be against catching days, would say that we remember only what we remember for a reason.  And that we should let memory and time play with the facts.  Bear would say, let it go.

I agree that the way memory works is fascinating, but the fascination comes from the variance with the truth.  To be able to see the variance, we must know the truth.  So I tend to side with Will over Bear. 

He says, “…I was always word-smitten.  Always reading in a book or writing in a journal.”