19 July 2008

The passionate journey

In a free bin in Baltimore I found a copy of The Passionate Journey, an out-of-print novel by Irving Stone. The novel - which I thought was fiction up until a few minutes ago - is the biography of the American artist John "Wichita Bill" Noble. Noble was born in Wichita, Kan. in 1874 and was raised on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. He made paintings of the Texas plains driving cattle with his father, and later went to France to live the life of an artist. He died of alcoholism at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1934.

I was drawn, obviously, to the title "Passionate Journey," and it's clear that Stone uses the word passion in the sense of "the passion of Christ:" an intense life filled with ecstasy and also great pain. Noble struggled with depression throughout his life, and so provides us yet another example of great art coming from great suffering.

The central theme is the artist's struggle to find meaning in his life. A recurring image is of a white buffalo, which Noble pursues in his dreams and works into his paintings. The white buffalo is a sacred symbol in many Native American traditions - as my paleface ass vaguely understands it, the white buffalo represents communication with the Creator. Noble also carries a pendant, given to him by his mother, which represents the North Star. In Noble's childhood, when his friends play a cruel prank on him, his mother points his bed towards the North Star, telling him
"...it's always there. No matter what happens to us, or to the world, that star is steadfast. It will never change, fail you. As long as you can find the North Star you'll know that you're secure."
At different times in his life, Noble finds the White Buffalo in death, in his work, in the love of his life, in himself, and ultimately in his experience of God, which he feels as the animating force in his art.

Humans are meaning-making animals. I've tried, especially in recent years, to resist the urge to create some whole conceptual overlay to my life. In a very real sense my life is my art, and the existence I have created for myself, through hard work, inspiration and lots of luck and serendipity, is my masterpiece. So I guess I could say that my White Buffalo is experience -good and bad - and the North Star that has always guided me has been freedom. (Having written that, it sounds awfully glib, but I'm sitting here reflecting on it and I can't find a reason to change it - so if it's glib it will have to remain so.)

Here's a chance for me to go a little interactive on my blog for a change: what is your White Buffalo, and what's your North Star?


Tui said...

Hmmm...My white buffalo, and my north star? The smartass in me wants to be all flippant and make a mozzarella di bufala crack here, but instead, I shall mull this over, and get back to you. Good questions, especially since I am feeling a bit overwhelmed lately.

Hehe - I've got Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life' in my head now thanks to the Irving Stone reference. And no, I've never had it in the ear before... ;P

Paolaccio said...

Heh. I like smartassiness too - don't want things to get too pretentious around here. Michelle set the bar pretty high though; if any of the folks she directed here come back for a second visit, I want to at least have something good for them...

Tui said...

If the bar's set high, maybe it's time to do the limbo... ;P

joanne at frutto della passione said...

No white buffalo. I don't want to miss what I have in front of me because I'm looking for something else. Or maybe not, one thing that has become very important to me is spending time with people I love doing things that make us happy. So far that has meant a lot of travel with my husband and son for the sheer delight of it. The more I think about this the more I realize that I may have been hasty is saying *no white buffalo*. Something to think about on the subway ride home :)

thotlady said...

I don't know what my 'White Buffalo' is. Maybe that's my problem.

My 'North Star' is my sense of right and wrong. I have always let it guide me wherever I might go.

thotlady said...

Thanks for coming by and giving me the pep talk on my diet. It always helps to hear how others have managed to drop some pounds. I will have to try out the metabolic boosters...do you think they worked?

thotlady said...


michelle of bleeding espresso said...

You'd think after all this time thinking I'd have a better answer, but here we go:

White buffalo? How cheesy is this? Happiness. I like this as my buffalo because it's an evolving concept, so that what makes me happy today may not tomorrow and so the search although constant is also always changing.

My north star...first thing that came to my head is my mom, who is without a doubt the one person who is a constant and who I know I can always trust and rely on. But more conceptually, instinct. I always know that I know what's "right" if only I can make myself listen and follow it.

And I have set no bars. You did that all by yourself, amico mio ;)