The Hero’s Journey Today: Storytelling for a Better World by Lorenzo Quinn

Storytelling for a Better World by Lorenzo Quinn

Giant hands that emerge from the Grand Canal to protect an ancient Venetian palazzo against the rising sea level or meters-high arms that bridge a canal as a call for more cooperation; the high-profile projects of the Italian-American sculptor Lorenzo Quinn call on humanity to take better care of each other.

Hands have so much power – the power to love, to hate, to create, to destroy

The central message is: we have the world in our hands, use it sparingly!

Embracing ‘The Hero’s Journey Business”

A Hero’s Journey is a complete moment in the life of a client. Important experiences that tempt the clients to commit substantial resources. The essence of the desires of the client. The opportunity to help clients become what they want to be.

We shape our stories, and then they shape us.


The Call to Adventure….. We are still mirred in Old Economy, Old Product Thinking. But we must – all of us! take pages from the likes of Virgin Group – and come to grips, “strategically”, with the fact that Winners will be …..Storytellers of the Hero’s Journey Business

The Stories I envision: Totally “Insane” Schools, Hospitals, Bookstores, Movie Theaters, Enterprises, Museums. Providing hero’s journeys, plots and archetypes something so, so far beyond services: “Impossible-Turned-Possible Dreams/Transformative Experiences/Stories to Tell”.

I love the “Hero’s Journey” idea. (I have tried to convey some dimensions of my flagrant love affair in the last 20 years). That idea is a big stretch for many, compared with our normal “business” way of looking at products and services. And yet perhaps we can stretch our minds even further. Much further?

The stakes are high…. billions upon billions of euro’s (again)

So ….. next vocabulary s-t-r-e-t-c-h : the hero’s journeys. And The Heroine’s Journeys

Now, that word/idea far exceeds the comfort zone of many. The power of storytelling is my shtick.

The Hero’s Journey products

The Hero’s Journey fulfillment

The Hero’s Journey marketing

Consider … very carefully .. the following statement again: A Hero’s Journey (or Heroine’s Journey) is a complete moment in the life of a client. Important experiences that tempt the client to commit substantial resources. The essence of the desires of the client. The opportunity to help clients what they want to be”.

What marvelous words! “Complete moment.” “Tempt.” Commit.” “Essence.” “Desires.”. And, summing it all up: “the opportunity to help clients become what they want to be”.

This is more than just a new vocabulary. It is a new story plot. From the Tragedy of the Common to Adventures in the Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey: Touching the client’s dreams

The Hero’s Journey: The art of telling stories and entertaining

The Hero’s Journey: Promoting the dream, not the product

The Hero’s Journey: Building the brand around the Main Dream

The Hero’s Journey: Building “buzz”, “hype”, a “cult”.

What I call The Hero’s Journey experiences provide (along with fulfillment to customers) returns to shareholders that are miles and miles beyond the returns from “common” products.

This is not pie in the sky. It is a ‘business message”, delivered by a practical businessman who has created and enhanced some extraordinary franchises.

Transformation Guaranteed!

To guarantee anyting in this world gone nuts is nuts. But this is one time I’ll take the leap.

Dear Ms. Customer Success Head, Mr. Reputation Strategy, Ms Strategy Director, Mr Brand Director: I will guarantee you a new lease on your professional life… if you do just one thing. You must drop, excise, remove, expunge the terms ‘product’ and ‘service’ from your workday vocabulary. When either term springs from your lips, subsitute “experience”, “story”, “quest” or “the Hero’s/Heroine’s Journey. That’s all.

The Hero’s Journey of John Grisham

Richard North Patterson told that writing briefs for judges — “the most bored and jaded audience in the world” — was great training for writing legal fiction. How helpful was your legal training? “Crucial. I seriously doubt I would ever have written the first story had I not been a lawyer. I never dreamed of being a writer. I wrote only after witnessing a trial” – John Grisham

You woke up at 5am for three years to write A TIME TO KILL, then went to work — 60 to 80 hours a week — as a State Representative. You really considered writing “a hobby? Yes, very much so. I would write for an hour or so each morning, then start to work. My goal was simply to finish the first manuscript. It was only a hobby, a very secret one” John Grisham

You’ve said you read Steinbeck in school. Because you increasingly write about social issues, you’re sometimes compared now to Dickens. What writers do you read, and who are your influences? “I still read Steinbeck, Dickens and Twain. I’m not sure anyone has influenced my style, but if I could emulate anyone it would be Steinbeck” – John Grisham

You’ve been publishing novels with remarkable regularity. The pressure on you — from readers and publishers and film studios — to continue writing legal thrillers must be immense. How do you do it, year after year? Do you have plans to branch out and try other forms, even at the risk of being less “successful? There’s no pressure. I write six months a year. I find my story, find its voice, its people, its pace, and I retreat into my attic for six hours a day and shut out everything but family. As I write, I don’t think about the readers, the sales, the movies. I think about the story. If I get it right, everything else falls into place. One day, and I don’t know when, I’ll write other types of books. But not in the near future. I’d be foolish to abandon this genre at this time” John Grisham

John Grisham latest novel is ‘The Boys from Beloxi”

John Grisham once again proves himself to be not only a bestselling and an award-winning writer, but also clairvoyant. Recently the nation learned of a growing scandal in Mississippi. Well-known public figures and politicians are alleged to have improperly used state funds for private benefit. It is believed that they diverted money earmarked for the poor to construct a volleyball facility on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. One of the participants in these plans is purported to have been NFL legend and Mississippi resident Brent Favre.

Enter John Grisham with his 48th book, THE BOYS FROM BILOXI. It just happens to be set in Mississippi and focuses on the criminal activities of many in that state. Timing can be everything.

The novel centers on two lifelong friends whose lives intersect on numerous occasions. One is the son of a local prosecutor, the other is deeply entwined in the criminal underworld. Eventually they will find themselves pitted against each other as the worlds of law and lawlessness collide. It is quintessential Grisham as he weaves a story with numerous plot twists and turns, introducing readers to his beloved South and his favorite subject for his novels: the law.

Many novelists rely on recurring characters, familiar locations or redundant plots. Not Grisham. His books defy categorization. While most have legal themes, he also has written sports tales, political adventures and mysteries. On one occasion he penned the true crime account of an Oklahoma man who was wrongly convicted of murder. Having read every book of his, I can testify to the fact that each title, regardless of setting and characters, is enjoyable and entertaining. THE BOYS FROM BILOXI, though unique in its own way, is a page-turning and compelling reading experience.

Best characterized as a saga novel, it spans decades, beginning before World War II and ending in Mississippi in the mid-1980s. While fiction, there are many recognizable real-life events here, and Grisham acknowledges at the conclusion of the novel that a number of Mississippians contributed to this work with reminiscences and stories.

While Mississippi certainly is known as a conservative, religious, Bible-supporting state, the Biloxi area has long been known for its alcohol, gambling and other sordid activities. They are built upon a foundation of criminal conduct, and in the South it led to organized crime known as the Dixie Mafia. In this environment, Grisham tells the story of two families — the Rudys and the Malcos — both of whom traced their roots as immigrants and the divergent paths their lives took until they faced a final confrontation in a Mississippi courtroom.

There are crooked politicians and police officers, crusading attorneys and judges. There are battles against insurance companies that believe that premiums are better used for profit than for assisting the insured. And there are some of the traditional plot twists that Grisham loves to employ. His courtroom scenes are always vivid and true to the law. On occasion there might be a little traveling beyond accepted legal boundaries, but it only serves to advance the story.

When you reach the final page of a John Grisham novel, you immediately start to wonder when his next book will be released and where it will take you. THE BOYS FROM BILOXI is no exception.

The Hero’s Journey in Italy: Many Italies, One Great Story

In the film, The Third Man, while Harry Lime is riding the Ferris wheel in the Prater park in Vienna, he says to his friend Holly Martins that Italy, for centries plundered, torn by interminable wars, massacres and tragedies of all kinds, nevertheless produced Leonardo, Mihelangelo, Raphael and the like, while Switzerland, despite centruries of peace, produced no more than the cuckoo clock. Apart from the fact that Harry Lime makes a mistake (Switzerland has produced eminent men – which we often fail to remember because they wrote in French, German or Italian, while the cuckoo clock was invented in Bavaria) the variety in Italy sprang first and foremost from the phenomenon of etnic pluralism and thus they are the result of a blend of many cultures. The cities were divided among themselves, but the Italians traveled from one to the other, and therefore these differences in culture, taste and aesthetic produced new hybridizations. So when we talk of Italian creativity, from the arts to literature, from cuisine to fashion, from architecture to the construction of the simplest everyday objects, I think that we ought to bear in mind this principle of variety. Italian creativity is due to the diversity of places, languages, of ancient history and even local interests.

It may be that, seen from a distance, this plurality reveals some common elements. A sense of one great story about La Dolce Vita. And this is natural, but what is equally important to reveal, underlying all that seems “Italian”, from Leonardo to pizza, from Monteverdi to Fellini, the networ of differences, the manifold roots of a creativity that we might define as “polytheistic”. Italy is a country of many gods, a plurality of myths – and many of them dwelt there before the advent of Christianity and many continued to dwell there even afterwards – a fact that can be seen in many forms of the popular religious tradition. Thus a journey to Italy (which for the foreign travelers of the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries was usually a journey to Naples, Rome, Florence or Venice and to these places alone), should always be seen as a journey of discovery that will reveal not one, but many Italies.

The Hero’s Journey in Paris: A City of Myths

The history of Paris reaches back to Roman and even Neolithic times. Visitors often have the impression that the city has always been there, and always had to be there. To move from one of its monuments, musea, theaters is to walk through history. Goethe – though he never visited Paris – called it the universal city, and over the centruies the resonances of the place have been rich and varied. Its native sons and daughters have created great, memorable stories, as have the visitors who chose to live there for brief periodes or a lifetime. Contemporary Paris is not just a center of world tourism with a glorious past. It remains a vibrant and modern city whose influence extends through time and space.

How can we have an unique experience of Paris in 2023? Both historically and emotionally? The approach I have taken with The Hero’s Journey is to give an account of its myths, a history not of factual events but of the way in which the city has been perceived, conceived, and dreamed – Paris as the capital of creative people who made the art, the music, the films, the fashion, for beauty & consolement of their fellow humans. What can you learn of this city of mythes about your own story? The story you tell yourself – about yourself? The great stories of human experience in Paris as springboard to the discovery of the story you live right now.

What are these myths of Paris exactly? Enlightement thinkers generally viewed myth as the (confused) recollection of events that had actually occurred; thus the biblical myth of a great flood was attributed to the hazy rememebrance of some ancient catastrophe. Others have proposed anthromorphic definitions, seeing myth aas the sytlization of lived experience; on this reasoning Apollo is the Greek god of the sun and Chac is the Mayan god of rain because the individual yearns to connect the essential aspects of his daily life and being to such deities, whose good will he can implore and whose deeds and voices can be fitted into vast celestial schemes. The german scholar Herman Blumenberg took issue with Descartes’s view of myths as useless and deleterious prejudice and suggested that they are instead, useful explanatioins of inexplicable mystery. There are also structural explanations of myth. In the writings of Claude Lévi-Strauss, myths are imaginary constructs that enable us to understand what might otherwise seem to defy common sense and lived experience. The myth of Paris as ‘the capital of the nineteenth century’ for instance helps us to “understand” the extraordinary assemblage of talented individuals – poets, novelists, painters, composers, philosophers, scientists – that inhabited the city in those days.

For the purpose of The Hero’s Journey in Paris I shall view myths as life stories, each of which has a beginning, a plot and a conclusion – stories that are told to elaborate the rise and sometimes the fall of their individual or collective existence. Universality is the primary characteristic of such myths. The story of Romulus and Remus concerns the origin of the entire Roman people; it does not distinguish between the plebs and the equestrian class. Its selfless heroes express the aspirations of the society as a whole. A myth of this type is, in Nietschze phrase, an “orgiastische Selbstvernichting”- a festive and even orgastic self-nullification. For example, in 1871 the Paris Communards understood their lives by placing them in a universal context: their struggle, however local it might have seemed, was that of an ecumenical and enduring proletariat struggling throughout the world to be free. What a dangerous but exciting dream it is, wrote the critic Claude Pichois in 1938, “to find the traces of eternity in the fleetingness of life that Paris offers to those who observe its spectacle”.

Paris is a unique city, unpredicable and mysterious; by wandering through its streets, I believe, the sensitive observer could better read his own hopes and fears. Nineteenth – century Parisians saw myth as a key not just to their dreams but to their lives as well. Roger Caillois has insightfully described this relationship: “From a psychological point of view, mythology … exerts its hold over people by virtue of its ability to explain individually or collectively structured tensions, which it also promises to resolve”. Jules Michelet, too, thought of the history of Paris as his personal history: “I have identified myself too closely with this city… As History universalized my private condition, I have lived through that greater life… I have recognized my own heart in its monuments… I have felt in myself, not its ices, but all of its destructive passions; I have contained its riots in my own heart”.

The city of myths is a history of constant change, restlessness and becoming and might best be termed a quest – a tale of imaginary characters involved in heroic or mysterious adventures. To paraphrase Michelet, the heroic or mythologized history of Paris lies at the intersection between the lives of millions and the salient cultural values of their age – namely modernity and alienation, the primacy of reason, and the crucial centrality of art. I see the modern history of Paris as a universalizing quest with a clear beginning, a middle and a sense of closure. Although Paris is not a blueprint for our life, its myths can expand our sense of self, of our own story, as they did for the Parisians through the ages.

The Hero’s Journey in Florence: The Power of Your Story

Midway upon the journey of our life
  I found myself within a forest dark,
  For the straightforward pathway had been lost. – Dante

The Hero’s Journey in Florence. Telling ourselves stories provides structure and direction as we navigate life’s challenges and opportunities, and helps us interpret our goals and skills. Stories make sense of chaos; they organize our many divergent experiences into a coherent thread; they shape our entire reality. And far too many of our stories are dysfunctional, in need of serious editing. First, we ask you to answer the question, “In which areas of my life is it clear that I cannot achieve my goals with the story I’ve got?” We then show you how to create new, reality-based stories that inspire you to action, and take you where you want to go both in your work and personal life.

For decades, I have been examining the power of story to increase engagement and performance. Thousands of individuals from every walk of life have sought out and benefited from our life-altering stories.

Our capacity to tell stories is one of our profoundest gifts. My approach to creating deeply engaging stories will give you the tools to wield the power of storytelling and forever change your business and personal life.

What do I mean with ‘story’?  I don’t intend to offer tips on how to fine-tine the mechanics of telling stories to enhance the desired effect on listeners.

I wish to examine the most compelling story about storytelling – namely, how we tell stories about ourselves to ourselves. Indeed, the idea of ‘one’s own story’ is so powerful, so native, that I hardly consider it a metaphor, as if it is some new lens through which to look at life.  Your story is your life.  Your life is your story. 

When stories we watch in Florence touch us, they do so because they fundamentally remind us of what is most true or possible in life – even when it is a escapist romantic story or fairy tale or myth. If you are human, then you tell yourself stories – positive ones and negative, consciously and, far more than not, subconsciously.  Stories that span a single episode, or a year, or a semester, or a weekend, or a relationship, or a season, or an entire tenure on this planet.

Telling ourselves stories helps us navigate our way through life because they provide structure and direction. We are actually wired to tell stories. The human brain has evolved into a narrative-creating machine that takes whatever it encounters, no matter how apparently random and imposes on it ‘chronology and cause – and – effect logic’.  We automatically and often unconsciously, look for an explanation of why things happen to us and ‘stuff just happens’ is no explanation.

Stories impose meaning on the chaos; they organize and give context to our sensory experiences, which otherwise might seem like no more than a fairly colorless sequence of facts. Facts are meaningless until you create a story arond them.

By ‘story’ I mean those tales we create and tell ourselves and others, and which form the only reality we will ever know in this life.  Our stories may or may not conform to the real world. They may or may not inspire us to take hope – filled action to better our lives. They may or may not take us where we ultimately want to go. But since our destiny follows our stories, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to get our stories right.

For most of us, that means some serious editing.

To rewrite your story, you must first identify it. To do that you must answer the question: In which important areas of my life is it clear that I cannot achieve my goals with the story I have got?  

Only after confronting and satisfactorily answering this question can you expect to build new reality – based stories that will take you where you want to go.

Your life is the most important story you will ever tell, and you are telling it right now, whether you know it or not. From very early on you are spinning and telling multiple stories about your life, publicly and privately, stories that have a theme, a tone, a premise – whether you know it or not.  Some stories are for better, some for worse. No one lacks material. Everyone’s got a story.

And thank goodness. Because our capacity to tell stories is, I believe just about our profoundest gift. Perhaps the true power of the story metaphor is best captured by this seemingly contradiction:  we employ the word ‘story’ to suggest both the wildest of dreams (it is just a story ……) and an unvarnished depiction of reality (okay, what is the story?). How is that for range?

The challenge? Most of us are not writers. That is what I intend to do here in this hero’s journey. First, explore with you how pervasive story is in life, your life, and second, to rewrite it.

The Hero’s Journey of Steve Keene

On a recent afternoon, the painter Steve Keene stood inside “the Cage”, a room fashioned from chainlink fencing and large sheets of plywood, situated in the center of his home studio, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Keene, who is sixty-five, was applying dabs of pink paint from a plastic tub to sixty plywood panels, each affixed to the Cage by a loop of wire. He is often cited as the most profilic painter in the world: he estimates that he has more than three hundred thousand paintings in circulation. “I love the idea of doing sixty paintings a day, and finishing them, more than the idea of trying to make one that I think is perfect”, he said. “The whole system is based on trying not to beat myself up”.

Each weekday morning, Keene randomly selects ten scenes, usually culled from cheap art books he buys at the Strand. He makes six paintings of each image, working on them simultaneously, circling the Cage, adding one color at a time. There is something modest and machinlike about the way he drifts peacefully from piece to piece, never pausing to fuss over the results.

Keene sells his paintings on his Web site, usually for around ten dollars each, but buyers don’t get to choose which pieces they will receive – they merely commit to a quantity. “My paintings have been two dollars or five dollars or twenty dollars for theirty years, and I like that” he said. “There is an informal network of people who know my work. It is not underground anymore but it is not in an art-world structure. His paintings hang in record stores and rock clubs, dive bars and used bookshops – spots where art is valued but money is generally scarce.

The Hero’s Journey of Renzo Rosso

Rosso has built his fortune on knowing what the youth want. In the nineteen-seventies he founded the brand Diesel, which rose to prominence in the nineties on a wave of cheeky advertisements. Rosso also owns the Jil Sander and Margiela labels, and recently he bought a stake in the American streetwear company Amiri, whose ripped jeans, which retail for six hundred and ninety dollars and up, are beloved by rappers and N.B.A. players. The brands are part of Rosso’s Only the Brave conglomerate. “All my brands are brave” he said. Among Rosso’s goals is to advance Diesel and its sister brands into the metaverse. He has always loved technology “I was the first company to bring the fax to Italy”he said “the vision of the company is modern, and me, I am modern”. A new division of O.T.B run by one of Rosso’s sons, is in charge of developing the business’s Web 3.0 capabilities. Customers will be able to dress an avatar in O.T.B. clothing for wearing in virtual spaces.

I am a rock & roll man, and therefore, a denim man – Renzo Rosso

Diesel pioneered the idea of luxury denim, and we still drive this market. Renzo Rosso

The Hero’s Journey of Anthony Bourdain

“I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit and basically do whatever the fuck I want” – Anthony Bourdain about his book “Kitchen Confidential”

By the time Anthony Bourdain hanged himself in a French hotel room on June 8th 2018, he was the envy of food-obsessed travellers the world over. Twenty years earlier he had been a competent but unknown chef with frustrated literary ambitions and a louche, drug-filled past. Then his book “Kitchen Confidential” was launched and the rest is history. Bourdain did his work on his terms, with a sort of punrock soulfulness – curious, intrepid and warm, yet also a little shy and diffident. It made him rich and famous – but tragedy, as Oscar Wilde knew, can sometimes stem from getting everything you want, rather than from failing to. “What do you do” Bourdain asked his viewers, near the end of a show shot in Sardinia, “when all of your dreams come true”?

The Hero’s Journey of Goethe in Rome

Goethe in Italy in 1787. ‘Only now do I begin to live’, he exlcaimed on entering Rome, and confessed that he had not spent an entirely happy day since he left it.

Passion Never Retired for Bernini

Bernini was in his mid – seventies when he set to work upon the deeply moving Death of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni in this chapel, but his faculties were little impaired. On a visit to France a few years earlier he had been described by Paul Fréart: “he is of modest height, but well proportioned…with a temperament that is all fire. …He is vigorous for his age and always wants to go on foot as if he were thirty or forty. One could say that his mind is one of the most beautiful ever made by nature, since without having studied, he has most of the advantages that knowledge can give a man. He has, as well, an excellent memory, a quick and lively imagination, and his judgment seems clear and precise. He is a very acute conservasationalist, and has a very special gift of expressing things in words, with his face, and by gesture to make you see as easily as the greatest painters do with their brushes”.

Towards the end of his life he was discovered by his son, wandering about in a church, as though he was a tourist. Domenico approached his father and asked him what he was doing there “all alone and silent”. “My son”, Bernini replied “I feel special satisfaction at the bottom of my heart for this one piece of architecture. I often come here as a relief from my duties to console myself with my work.”

He went on working to the end. In the last month of his life he was still busy as ever, restoring the Palazzo dello Cancelleria; and it was this activity, his doctors suggested, that resulted in paralysis in his right arm: it deserved a rest, he said resignedly, after all the hard labour it had performed. He died on 28 november 1680. Nine days later it would have been his eighty-second birthday. His last completed work had been an over life-size bust of Christ carved for Queen Christina.

David Bowie’s Story about Money and Creative Freedom

“I used to think that letting others handle my finances gave me more creative freedom. I have discovered that you can actually have more freedom when you control your own financial and business matters – David Bowie

Let me begin by saying you are wonderful the way you are. Your value is your talent, skill and ability. Your gift of being able to create things is invaluable. I know, if only someone else would recognize that and drop large bushels of cash at your door just for being you. Actually, that’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. When David Bowie went public and offered to sell stock in himself by creating “Bowie bonds which Prudential bought, he became human capital. But the definition of your net worth is more mathematical and material than putting a price on your talent. Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. You take your assets (your assets include cash, of course, plus any investments you own, your personal property, art, clothes, and the equity you have in real estate) minus liabilities (debt) and that gives you your net worth. (Yes it can be a negative number).

When you do the math and you get a negative number, then you have a negative net worth. Figuring out your net worth may also suprise you when you learn you have more than you thought. No matter what the number, you’ll always want more. Why do we never seem to appreciate what we have? Either way, this is a snapshot of your life at this time. The health of your finances can change. That means the diagnosis of your condition is reversible and not terminal. This is just a test or biopsy to determine what’s wrong. There is a cure that can make you (financially) healthy again that we will discuss in the Hero’s Journey seminar “What is Your Story? about Money”.

The Black Hero’s Journey: Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was first performed at the Alvin Theater in 1935, with the tap dancer John Bubbles playing Sportin’ Life) puzzled some critics. Duke Ellington deplored Gershwin’s “lampblack Negroisms”. Virgil Thomson called it “crooked folklore and half-way opera”. But the folk opera entranced the public and ran for 124 nights the longest continuous run by an opera at any American stage. The opera, and the novel upon which it was based (DuBose Haywood’s Porgy) seemed to represent a new spirit of sympathy in American attitudes towards blacks. Later generations of critics would be uncomfortable about the stereotyping of characters, but Gershwin’s music itself has retained its high place in the canon of serious American music.

The Hero’s Journey in Paris: The Call to Adventure for Auguste Rodin

At the age of seventeen, Rodin is struck by lightning, as it were: his complete surrender to sculpture begins. It is mystical that he engages with sculpture, positively and negatively. “For the first time”, he said later, “I saw the parts separately before me, arms, heads and feet, and then I started with the figure as a whole. Suddenly I saw their cohesion … I was in a state of delight… For the first time I saw clay; it was as if I was going to heaven”

The Storyteller of His Time: Boccacio’s Hundred Tales while the Plague Haunted Florence

We now know that when the plague haunted Florence in the winter of 1348 at least half of Florence’s 100,000 population died. People would retire apparently well and die of the disease before they awoke. Seldom did an afflicted person survive more than five days. A docter, it was said, might catch the disease at the patient’s bedside and die before he could leave the room.

Luckily for us, Boccaccio was there and survived to write the Decameron between 1348 and 1352. His eyewitness account of the plague became the “Introduction to the First Day” ‘To take pity on people in distress is a human quality which every man and woman should posses, ” Boccaccio begins, while asking the reader’s sympathy for his own frustration in love. To all who have been kind to him he offers this book and “where it seems the most needed – to women.

He promises “to provide succour or diversion for the ladies, but only for those who are in love, since the others can make do with their needles, their reels and their spindles. I shall narrate a hundred stories or fables or parables or histories or whatever you choose to call them”. These were to be recited in ten days by seven ladies and three young men who had fled the plague.

In the “Introduction to the first Day” he recounts the terrifying spread of the disease, the futile efforts to avoid infection, the callousness of frightened Florentines. “In the face of so much affliction and misery, all respects for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down and been extinguished in our city”. Women lost their modesty, men lost their inhibitions. Natural feelings are smothered and “more often than not bereavement was the signal for laughter and witticisms and general jollification”.

One Tuesday morning at the height of the plague seven young ladies are praying in the deserted church of Santa Maria Novella. Then in come three young men (none less than twenty-five years of age) “in whom neither the horrors of the time nor the loss of friends or relatives nor concern for their safety have dampened the flames of love”. One of the ladies, Pampinea proposes that the young men join them just outside Florence in a country estate for the duration of the plague – “shunning at all cost the lewd practices of our fellow citizens and feasting and merrymaking as best we may without in any way overstepping the bounds of what is reasonable.” Then they all take up residence in a palace with a spacious garden two miles outside the city.

To entertain themselves for the next two weeks they agree that every day one of them will reign as king or queen, will announce a theme for the storytelling, and call on each to tell a story. The sovereign for the day names the king or queen for the next day, and so it will go until each of the ten has reigned and they have told one hundred tales.

Boccacio’s Human Comedy reveals the bewildering miscellany of human experience. The topics for the Decameron days are conspicuously earthe and heterogenous. Boccaccio not only does not preach but does not even reveal a sense of sin. He does not take responsibility for the truth of the stories told. Instead he assigns this responsibility to the tellers of tales, whose varying credibility adds spice, ambiguity and nuance.

Boccacio creates a human panorama of love, courage, cowardice, wit, wisdom, deceit, and folly, seen through the eyes of ten young people. On Day I and Day IX each may choose any theme. But the other days have their special themes : (II) on people who, after misfortunes, attain an unexpected state of happiness (III) on those who attain their desires (or recover what was lost) through their ingenuity; (IV) about those whose loves have an unhappy ending; (V) who suffer misfortune but finally attain happiness; or (VI) who, by a clever gambit have managed to escape loss or danger; (VII) the tricks wives have played on their husbands; (VIII) men or women on their lovers, or by men on men, on a final day (X) about those who have acted generously or courageously.

The Decameron with good reason has been called “the epic of the merchant class”. Instead of celebrating the canonical medieval virtues, the stories tell us how much can be accomplished by a quick wit, a ready tongue, shrewdness and foresight in the marketplace. What all men and women share is their struggle to defeat ill fortune and exploit good fortune, while satisfying their sexual desires. Boccaccio has escaped from Dante’s allegory into the everyday world of love and lust, wit and deception, stinginess and generosity. If he does not teach the art of living virtuously, he does teach the “art of living well”.

Boccaccio confessed that few of the stories were entirely his own invention. He appropriated the elements of his tales from Spain, France, Provence, and the Near East, from folklore, myth and legend. The very concept of a human comedy, a secular sampling of man’s everyday experiences on earth, had to be created by Boccaccio. Boccaccio was only forty when he completed the Decameron and provided the classic prototypes for the modern short story. Novella – a little new thing – was the name given to Boccaccio’s tales. They differed from anecdotes, which came from anybody’s lips in the marketplace, by being contrived into “the artful pattern of a plot”. Each of these hundred “new little things” was a hint and an inspiration for others who one day would make a large new thing, not a “novella” but a novel”.

The Meeting of Creatives – The Electric Effect of Wordsworth and Coleridge on Each Other

In many modern cities of today you have seen innovative hubs seen pop up. The idea is that with the meeting of creative minds the innovation blooms. I love stories where some of the most creative minds in history influenced each other deeply, how that happened and to what effect. What lessons brings their story? Today the story of two of the most famous poets of all time, Wordsworth and Coleridge.

In 1795, when Wordsworth met Samuel Taylor Coleridge the effect on both was electric. Coleridge persuaded the Wordsworths to take a cottage nearer him. Even before they met, Coleridge had applauded Wordsworth’s first poems about his walking tour in the Alps. Now “the giant Wordsworth” he said, was not merely a poet of promise, but ‘the best poet of the age, the only man to whom at all times and in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior”. In turn, Wordsworth’s admiration of Coleridge was boundless. Oddly these poets of individualism who believed poetry to be the voice of the unique self, soon used the same phrases, labored over the same passages, and Coleridge even tried to finish poems that Wordsworth had left incomplete.

Coleridge sketched the contrast of their natures when he described their division of labor for the Lyrical Ballads:

It was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitues poetic faith. Mr Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us, an inexhaustible treasure……

Coleridge was voluble and sociable, bookish and mystical, charmed by the exotic experience and metaphysical ideas. The withdrawn Wordsworth, seeing himself as “the recluse” was charmed by everyday nature and the commonplace virtues. Coleridge sought solace in rural walks, spring flowers and conversation with shepherds. While Wordsworth’s life would be troubled by the love-child of his youth, he had a happy marriage to a childhood friend. But Coleridge made himself unhappy by his loveless marriage to a woman who had fitted in his youthful scheme for an ideal community on the shores of the Susquehanna.

Eventually this opposition of temperaments developed into a painful estrangement between the two poets. Each hastened down his own way, Coleridge on the rocky path of opium and German mysticism. Wordsworth on the smooth ways of rural nature and friendly neighbors. As their paths separated, the poetry of both deteriorated. And as Wordsworth became more prosperous, and more conservative in politics and religion, his poetry became more voluminous but less interesting.

Picasso’s story about his creative powers as un mystere totale

For centuries Western vision had been confined by two ways of looking. The first was the Window – the perspective view from a single point, which the artist invited the viewer to share. The second was the ancient ideal story of Beauty – the quality that pleasurably exalts the mind or senses and included the pretty, which pleased by grace or delicacy. A modern revolution would free our vision from these conventions.

While many artists played roles in this revolution, the heroic figure was Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) who was peculiarly qualified for such a work of liberation. He was self-exiled. The son of a teacher of painting in Malaga, he never ceased to be Spanish. “The character, the vision of Picasso is like himself, it is Spanish,”his close friend Gertrude Stein insisted in her very own prose, “and he does not see reality as all the world sees it, so that he alone amongst the painters did not have the problem of expressing the truths that all the world can see but the truths that he alone can see and that is not the world the world recognizes as the world”. After 1904 Picasso made France his home and divided his life between Paris and the South.

He created his own reasons for believing that he was exempt from the rules that governed artists. The legend that he was a child prodigy in the arts was of his own making. None of the few surviving works of his childhood confirms the legend, and their scarcity even suggests that others may have been destroyed. Perhaps the fact that he was not a child prodigy encouraged him early in habits of hard work. Part of the legend was the story that at fourteen when he applied to the Barcelona Academy of Fine Arts he finished on the first day the examination drawings on which other candidates spent a month. But it appears that one day was not unusual for finishing the required work, and the examiners had allowed only two days. Picasso later boasted that he was so precocious that he could not have taken part in an exhibition of children’s drawings. “When I was their age”, he romanticized “I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like them”. Perhaps such fantasies were ways of saying that he saw painting not as an acquired skill but as an aspect of himself. “In my opinion to search means nothing in paiting, to find is the thing.” And when at seventy-four he was being filmed at work, he admitted that he found his creative powers “un mystere totale”.

Rousseau’s Story on Being Truthful: Confessions

In his self-imposed exile in England in 1766, Rousseau wrote the opening sentence of his Confessions:

“I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature and the man I shall portray will be myself.

Simply myself. I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am made unlike any one I have ever met. I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may not be better, but at least I am different” Translated by J.M. Cohen.



Monet’s Story about his Search for the Now

Monet had accelerated the pace of his work to match the pace of modern life. He was in search of the now, and capturing a short-lived motif required a spontaneous style. Monet himself described the challenge of making a laborious art serve the aim of “instantaneity”. Momentarily frustrated by the too rapid changes of light as he painted his haystack series he wrote:

“I am grinding way, sticking to a series of different effects, but the sun sets so early at this time that I can’t go on…. I’m becoming so slow in working as to drive me to despair, but the more I go on, the more I see that I must work a lot to succeed in rendering what I am looking for “Instantaneity” especially the envelope, the same light spread everywhere, and more than ever I am disgusted by easy things that come without effort”.

Goethe’s story invention of “Weltschmerz” and “Ichschmerz”

At the age of 25 Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) became notorious for his short novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. In the form of letters it tells how the eager Werther falls hopelessly in love with Charlotte, already betrothed to Albert. In Albert’s absence Werther can enjoy her company only for a few weeks. On Albert’s return Werther withdraws, Albert and Charlotte are married, and Werther in despair ends his own life with a pistol. “I am not the only unfortunate,”wrote the young Werther. “All men are disappointed in their hopes and cheated out of their expectations”.

The spirit that luxuriated in its own misery and was already beginning to stalk Europe found a voice in Goethe’s little book. It became “Wertherism, the self- indulgent melancholy of youth. Concocted of the German ingredients of Weltschmerz (pain or dissatisfaction with the world) and Ichschmerz (pain or dissatisfaction with the self) it had wide appeal.

It still has, in fact.

D.H. Lawrence on why Melville’s “Moby Dick” is a great epic for the centuries

There are few more satisfactory explanations on how and why Melville, author of South Sea travel romances and accounts of life in the United States Navy, came to write the great American epic of man’s struglle against the evil in the universe than D.H. Lawrence’s:

Moby Dick, or the White Whale.

A hunt. The last great hunt.

For what?

For Moby Dick, the huge white sperm whale; who is old, hoary, monstrous, and swims alone; who is unspeakably terrible in his wrath, having so often been attacked; and snow white.

Of course he is a symbol.

Of what?

I doubt if even Melville knew exactly. That’s the best of it.

On the Work Ethic of Leonardo

Contemporary writer Matteo Bandello (1480? – 1562) recalled:

Many a time I have seen Leonardo go early in the morning to work on the platform before the Last Supper; and there he would stay from sunrise till darkness, never laying down the brush, but continuing to paint without eating or drinking. Then three or four days would pass without his touching the work, yet each day he would spend several days examining it and criticising the figures to himself. I have also seen him, when the fancy took him, leave the Corte Vecchia when he was at work on the stupendous horse of clay, and go straight to the Grazie. There, climbing on the platform, he would take a brush and give a few touches to one of the figures: and then he would leave and go elsewhere. (translated by Kenneth Clark)

The ambition of Balzac as storyteller

In a letter to Eve Hanska in 1834 Balzac outlined his ambitious project:

“The Etudes de moeurs will a complete picture of society from which nothing has been omitted, no situation in life, no physiognomy or character of man or woman, no way of living, no calling, no social level, no part of France, nor any aspect of childhood, old age, middle age, politics, justice or war… In the Etudes philosophiques I shall show the why of sentiments, the what of life; what is the structure, what are the conditions outside which neither society or man can exist; after having surveyed it in order to describe it, I shall survey it in order to judge it. Also, in the Etudes de moeurs there will be individuals treated as types, and in the Etudes philosophiques there will be types depicted as individuals. Thus I shall have brought all aspects to life, the type by individualizing it, the individual by typifying him. If twenty-four volumes are needed for the Etudes de moeurs only fifteen will be needed for the Etudes philosophiques and only nine for the Etudes analytiques. Thus Man, Society and Mankind will be described, judged and analyzed without repetitions in a work which will be like a western Thousand and One Nights. (Translated by Norman Denny).

Marcel Proust’s own answers on his questionnaire

At the age of twenty Marcel Proust gave revealing answers to what became his famous questionnaire:

Your most marked characteristic? A craving to be loved, or, to be more precise, to be caressed and spoiled rather than to be admired

The quality you most like in a man? Feminine charm

The quality you most like in a woman? A man’s virtue, and frankness in friendship

What do you most value in your friends? Tenderness – provided they possess a physical charm which makes their tenderness worth having

What is your principal defect? Lack of understanding, weakness of will

What is your favorite occupation? Loving…

What is your favorite hero of fiction? Hamlet

What are your favorite names? I have only one at a time

What is it that you most dislike? My own worst qualities

What event in military history do you most admire? My own enlistment as a volunteer

(translated by Gerard Hopkins)

Joseph Haydn on how he was forced to be original

“My prince was always satisfied with my works. Not only did I have the encouragement of constant approval, but as conductor of an orchestra I could make experiments, observe what produced an effect and what weakened it, and was thus in a position to improve, to alter, make additions or omissions, and be as bold as I pleased. I was cut off from the world, there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original” – Joseph Haydn

Yvon Choinard, the reluctant businessman

The publication of a magazine article in 2017 “really, really pissed off” Yvon Chouinard, the mountain climber turned reluctant businessman and founder of outdoor clothing company Patagonia.

In the article, Forbes crowned Chouinard as a billionaire and added him to its list of the world’s richest people. While many people daydream of achieving a nine-zero fortune, for Chouinard it was a sign he had failed in his life’s mission to make the world a better and fairer place.

The Forbes article set him on a journey to find a way of giving away Patagonia, the company he founded almost 50 years ago with a mission to help fellow climbers. This week he achieved that aim, announcing that he was giving away all of the shares in Patagonia to a trust that will use future profits to “help fight” the climate crisis.

“Earth is now our only shareholder,” Chouinard, 83, said in a message to staff and customers. “Instead of ‘going public’, you could say we’re ‘going purpose’. Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”

Explaining his decision to give away the company, Chouinard told the New York Times: “I was in Forbes magazine listed as a billionaire, which really, really pissed me offI don’t have $1bn in the bank. I don’t drive Lexuses.”

Chouinard, who drives a beaten-up Subaru with a surfboard strapped to the roof, says he hopes giving away the company “will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people”.

He is a businessperson, but very much by accident, and finds the descriptor offensive. He once told a journalist from Outside Magazine during a multi-day climbing trip up Mount Arrowhead, in Wyoming, that he would prefer to be referred to as a “dirtbag”.

Challenged by the reporter, who argued that you can’t be a multimillionaire and a dirtbag, Chouinard said he gave away all of this money and he doesn’t “even have a savings account”.

“But that’s not even the point,” Chouinard continued. “Being a dirtbag is a matter of philosophy, not personal wealth. I’m an existential dirtbag.”

Refusing to let it go, the reporter tried again saying Chouinard was a “very successful businessman” and “somewhere along the way you must have wanted to be a businessman”. Chouinard exploded back: “Never! All I ever wanted to be was a craftsman.”

And that is how he started. In 1957 he bought a second-hand coal-fired forge and set up a blacksmith shop in a chicken coop in his parents’ back yard in Burbank, California. He hand-made pitons – metal pegs or spikes driven into a rocks to support climbers’ ropes.

The pitons proved very popular with his friends and other climbers. It was also profitable as he could forge two pitons an hour and sell them for $1.50 each (the equivalent of about $16 today), giving Chouinard time and money to spend adventuring.

“I’d often climb for half a day at Stoney Point in Chatsworth, then go up to Rincon [to surf] the evening glass, [and] after I’d free-dive for lobsters and abalone on the coast between Zuma and the county line,” he wrote in his memoir Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport. “I almost always got my limit of 10 lobsters and five abalone.”

Soon he figured out that he could pack up his blacksmith tools and take them with him as he surfed his way up and down the west of the US during the winter, and on climbing trips across the US and Canada in the summer. One year he spent weeks in the Rockies surviving on a case of 5¢ cans of tuna cat food mixed with oatmeal, potatoes, “ground squirrel, blue grouse, and porcupines assassinated à la Trotsky, with an ice axe”.

Some years he spent more than 200 nights sleeping outside, and claims not to have owned a tent until he was almost 40. In 1962 he was arrested for riding a freight train in Arizona and spent 18 days in jail on a charge of “wandering around aimlessly with no apparent means of support”.

The idea of setting up a clothing business came about on a climbing trip. In Scotland in the winter of 1970, he bought a rugby shirt to wear while rock climbing as the thick collar kept his hardware slings, loaded with heavy equipment, from cutting into his neck. He kept wearing the top – which was azure blue with two red and one yellow stripes – when back in the US, and his climbing friends asked where they could get one.

He found out and started importing them, before expanding into other clothing and equipment for climbing. The company was originally called Chouinard Equipment, before he changed it after a transformative trip to Patagonia, in southern South America, to climb Mount Fitz Roy with his best friend, Doug Tompkins, the founder of rival outdoors company the North Face.

In another memoir, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, Chouinard wrote that if he “had to be a businessman” he was “going to do it on my own terms”.

“Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time. We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even be barefoot,” he wrote.

Decades before the pandemic, flexible working was always the standard at Patagonia, which is headquartered in Ventura, California, because it is one of the world’s best surfing spots.

“We don’t care when you work, as long as the work gets done,” he said in a speech at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If you’re a serious surfer, you don’t go, ‘Hey let’s go surfing next Thursday at 2pm’ – that’s what losers say.”

“You go surfing when there’s surf, you go powder skiing when there’s powder. We wanted to have a job where we would be allowed to do that. And we wanted to go work with friends – we didn’t want to work with MBAs.

“We wanted to break the rules of business.”

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