In his famous painting, Paul Gauguin (1897) asks “Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going” (D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous). Here in Yangon, we’ve just started our new Writing, Myth and Tradition creative writing class at the Parami Institute, using storytelling – with a little help from Gauguin himself – to explore where we all come from, what we are and where we might be going.
It is a big class, with just under twenty students. They are a hugely diverse bunch. About half of the students in the group are from Myanmar, and the other half from all across the globe. The room is positively overflowing with fascinating stories and potentially enriching conversations, and we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.
Our first couple of sessions have taken as a starting point the poet Muriel Rukeyser‘s claim that “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” It is, of course, not strictly true; but what we’re interested in is the universe of human experience. And here, stories are the way that we can get a handle on things.
What we’re particularly interested in exploring is this human impulse to tell and share stories. So we’re starting with one of the most ancient human traditions of all, that of oral storytelling, and moving from there to the written word. So far, it is been enormously stimulating, leaving us buzzing with new ideas, new stories, and new possibilities. Stories have a way of doing that: because if the universe is made of stories, making and remaking stories is a way of remaking the world.