Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Sunday, December 24, 2017

White Noise

My Mother, Photo by My Father - 
The bones of our lives bleach in the naked sun when we tell our secrets. We all have them, you and me, but rarely do we find the opportunity or desire to knock on that particular door. I walk past bleach-white cow bones, a jawbone, vertebrae, and a rib or two … almost every day. They reside within the Bone Grotto in the nature reserve near my home in Zikhron Yaakov. Many times I find the bones there scattered into new arrangements, as if other beings … a jackal, boar, or human disturbed their previous formations, like constellations seen for the first time with new eyes … through a new type of telescope.

Down the hill from me, in a town called Jisr ‘aZarka, built by Turks using African immigrants resistant to malaria for the clearing of swamps around the source of the Tananim Stream, a print of an image hangs. It’s called The Dream, and is a visual reminder of a dream that I had once had about my mother … and her decline from health and ultimately her death … zikhron le’brakha. The story of my mother echoes beyond the last movement of her chest, with breath borrowed, with life infected. My mother died of a broken heart, zikhron le’brakha. God had failed her, the only thing that makes sense to me … now looking back. She was only a child, an only child, so … even though children nowadays are grown so much faster, her life path was set by others … far her senior. This is the story she told of her journey, anyways. As a storyteller myself, it’s hard to know how the actual truth weaves into the telling, but I, as a human being and as a once loved son … have to believe that truth lies between the bones; even though my mother’s bones became the cremated remains of my memories … once vital and vivacious … once a beautiful woman, my mother … playing the guitar, the flute, singing … planting wayward flowers into the SoCal garden controlled by my father, a manifest urban planner planning his domain. My mother died years ago, now; but, I haven’t missed her as much as I do now … sitting here in my bomb-shelter studio writing this. She loved me more … the most. She loved me with all of her heart, broken as it was. I was her first born, her hope. And, in my last conversation with her, this amazing woman that brought me into the world, as I merely uttered words over the telephone from far, far away, I live with and I know, to this day … that I was the one ... actually, that failed her.

We all have our lives and our worlds to inhabit, loved ones or not, and our thoughts and experiences define who we ‘will’ be… always. Often I imagine living in the jungles of Mexico or somewhere in South America, only seeing the light of day when the seasonal swells have risen on the Pacific Ocean,  and wandering down out of the shadows of living to ride the biggest waves all year. There are actual people that do this … year in and year out. I’ve heard of some and I’ve known some that aspired to be. I have yet to meet one. I imagine the lonely worlds that these individuals would inevitably inhabit … just each of them and God, mano a Mano. I imagine them as I descend the mountains nearby on a mountain bike, full-bore and without purpose … other than to forget, and to remember. I imagine them as I sit in front of an empty canvas … or screen as I write … mano a Mano. I failed my mother because I was the prodigal son. I failed because I didn’t follow the prescribed path. She should have known, you would think, the moment that I refused to wear the brand new polo shirt she had bought me. She should have known when my grades came in with F’s in anything I didn’t care for, and straight A’s in everything else. She should have known that I was cutting my own path, or so you would think … at least I would like to as I look back on my mother’s life and death. She died of a broken heart, I already said, but really it was a broken womb; my mother died of neglected and unchecked uterine cancer, and in the world that I inhabit … this means that my mother’s cancer started in the same place that I did, in her womb. My father died of cancer also, but his was a heady, cerebral kind of affair, being a brain tumor, not connected to genetics but to randomness and/or so-called environmental issues. Stress killed my dad, while birth killed my mom.

Once my mother died, a few years ago now, the courts took over … with lawyers and judges and all. The system took charge, as it should have. I relegated my last conversation with my mother to the ongoing insanity that lead up to her death. She couldn’t speak because of a medical device strapped across her mouth, enabling her to breathe; but, she could listen, and she could hear if she chose to. I imagine her husband, the alcoholic carpetbagger that she had bailed out of jail and then secretly married in Las Vegas, holding the phone to her head as she listened to me tell her how she had broken the law, broken the family trust, and broken her children’s hearts. It was the last conversation that I had had with her … and it haunts me to this day. I woke one morning from a terrible nightmare. I was expected to organize the arrangements, the billing, and the disasters that had already come to pass. I was the first born and was compelled by hand to try and put all of the pieces back together, as if ‘I’ were all the king’s horses and men. In my dream, using my skills as a carpenter, I hammered and screwed the parts together, hoping that tape wouldn’t be needed … all the while knowing that resorting to mere tape is a death-sentence. As I connected one part, the first would fall off, then the next, as I would attach the first again. My time became consumed with repairing the past. I stopped breathing and my face turned from red to white. But, in the last moment before I disappeared into nothing, I awoke to find that it had all been a dream! I was so excited, so enthralled … that I immediately flew straight up into the air. I hovered above my town, Zikhron Yaakov, and then began to fly. I flew over the path that I daily walked upon to get to my ‘then’ job at the German Christian Zionist’s doing marcom and website design. I was so damn happy … not to have to deal with all of the emotional stress of managing from afar my mother’s would-be whereabouts. I was so damn happy that I flew. I flapped my arms displaying an embarrassing display of complete insecurity living in the world, and I flew … far above anyone that could ever care or even want to. I flew.

My mother’s remains were entombed within an urn. Her husband had them burned and compacted thus. My mothers’ children weren’t allowed to speak to her … on the phone … anymore. She died. I have had a sweet‘n-sour relationship with my mother, starting way back from the time of my father’s death … and now, just now, my mother has finally passed to the next world. I realize that, today, I miss her almost as much as I miss my father; but, I suspect, with God’s help, that my connection with her will now be able to grow … and maybe even to bloom into something tremendous and altogether alien to my current whereabouts … bistrat Hashem.

I love you Mom, Drew.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The End

In the real world we dream. In the dream world we create with our legs spread wide across a chasm of despair—at least perceived “despair;” since, after all, in reality it’s only a dream. The first dream that I remember … was a repeating dream that happened over and over as a child, but repeated itself throughout my life as an adult, as well. Back in reality, as a young teen, back in Laguna Beach, California, we would gather at the mouth of a drainage culvert next to our Little League baseball field with candles and matches. The concrete pipe was only a meter and a half high, so … being the tallest of my compatriots, I had to duck the entire way or else scrape my head on its top. They later installed a pirate jail-door type of grid over the entrance to our underground maze, but back in the days of my youth we were free to roam the tunnels there as we dared to do so. Flashlights had already been invented, but we were young and batteries were expensive … so we used candles instead. Hot wax would drip onto our skin as we descended into the concrete tunnels, causing brief discomfort and collective grins after conquering the temporary pain from wax burns. We descended beneath streets and parking lots. We descended below earth that had been installed after a canyon had been filled to create usable land, covering an inland waterway where sailboats had once moored and skipped about. The mall that was built above us was called Boat Canyon, for just that reason. As we traveled the tunnel’s length, we passed feeder pipes that were too small to enter, dripping water that pooled down to the larger pipe’s trough at the bottom. The entire way we had to walk spread-legged on each side of the tiny stream meandering down its center, or get wet-feet and have to return topside asap. We continued through the darkness, all the while attempting to visualize the real world above us, and where we were. At some point, off in the distance, we could just make out tiny streams of sunlight breaking down the darkness that was candlelit around us; so, eagerly, we continued on…

The stark depths that we had journeyed only solidified the answers we sought, which were just under the surface of our ‘real’ thoughts … waiting to open and to blossom unto the world. I’ve seen it first-hand as my eldest son, then only three, sprinted to the front window of our suburban home in Boulder, Colorado, emanating the sounds he had heard from a passing garbage truck … Bbbrrrerrr … bbbrrrerrr… and with naked abandon looked at the machine that changed his world view, or, no matter … meshed into it with ‘perfect’ precision. I’ve seen it as the shuk salesman, in the Arab quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, came out of the backroom smiling, wearing an Ivy League hoody ready to bargain in English on a really bitchin lighting fixture that now hangs over a semi-mural covering my kitchen cabinets. And … I’ve seen it as I’ve read the words that have been handed down for generations, for thousands of years, from a time that has been so removed from our daily lives that it has been launched into the realm of dreams and of nightmares for all ‘practical’ purposes; in the Torah.

As a young teen I had many problems with societal norms. My legs had been casted and braced for Osgood-Schlatter’s disease for years, causing me to separate from the world at large. I was incapable of team sports. I was shunned on the playground. I was labeled a freak. So, when I found friends that accepted me I found that they were all younger than I was—which is one of the reasons that I was the tallest as we explored the tunnels under Boat Canyon. The next canyon over was called Laguna Canyon, and there resided the Boy’s Club, an after-school hangout with a gym, a woodshop, and other meeting opportunities for young teens. Mostly I loved hanging out in the woodshop, but my father was a college basketball star and wanted me to play too. My brother and I joined the league and did our obligatory team sport. We sucked, for the most part. I was always the tallest, so always put as the Center. This was the time just before my Osgood-Schlatter’s kicked in, so I was unable to use that as an excuse for my incompetence as a basketball star … which, actually, caused me to rebel and to seek attention in other ways. I became a ‘problem child.’ And … the principle of the Boy’s Club became my nemesis, and I his. So, as it turned out, a lifetime of reliving, over and over, my revenge upon the principle of the afterschool became my subconscious feeder-tube. I emerged from a manhole and lobbed a hand-grenade at him. He exploded, but then morphed into a gazillion tiny versions of himself, which I then tried to squash underfoot. Eventually, after saving many of my younger compatriots as they were overwhelmed with the gazillion tiny principles of the afterschool, we ran away back to the safety of the tunnels below.

The tunnels always lead downwards, to the open expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The way led us under the mall that was built upon the canyon of boats, and we passed manholes letting light in from above. At each vertical pipe junction there was a maintenance ladder installed that would allow workers to descend into the tunnel we now traversed. We crisscrossed against traffic, as all ‘young’ teens should, and ascended the ladders, catcalling and finger poking through manhole finger-holes at passersby. Rarely would we hear a response, and more often than not we would recoil as a passing car would threaten to smash our fingers poking through the manhole cover-holes, just like white worms expressing existence to the air above. The water in the bottom of the tunnel became thicker as we descended downstream, with moss and debris collecting at its edges. The sound of traffic overhead became a distant memory as we inched our way downwards, deeper and deeper into the backfilled and artificial earthen tomb. The worry was always that we would run out of matches, or our candle would go out and we would be left in utter darkness. There was an extra-long expanse as we tunneled under the Pacific Coast Highway, and we all feared the time we’d spend completely isolated from the universe there. All we had, then, was each other. The candle-glow on our faces was theatrical from the bottom up, causing adrenaline to rush at every glance. The path was long before us, and after, with no light in sight, but we continued on in spite of the younger one’s protests. I was the tallest, so I went first, ducking, hopping, and skipping as I went, hot wax creating abstract sculpture down to my wrist. I was the first to see the light, but not the first to boast of its existence. The tunnel was coming to an end, and the ocean waves began to resonate around us and bounce off of the tunnel walls … Wwwishhhhwaah, wwwishssswaah… We emerged from the concrete tunnel and stepped onto the warm sand. The ocean stood before us, as if waiting patiently the entire time. We emptied out into Diver’s Cove, a place I knew intimately from snorkel adventures and blowhole diving. The sea air drove its way into my lungs and I breathed a sigh of gratitude for all that existed in the world. It was ‘truly’ the beginning.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Gibush Training and Bagpipe Girl

The Gift, by Drew Doron Noll, All rights reserved © 
The sound of wailing broke the silence one evening, as I sat on the deck watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. It emanated from the nature reserve nearby, but wasn’t the typical howling from jackals that we had all become used to. It was a sound as distinctive as bagpipes from Scotland; and … as a matter of fact, it was exactly that, but it was coming from the darkening woods of Baron Rothschild’s burial plot, Ramat Hanadiv. The sounds carried over the crisp air in a ghostly manner, as if they didn’t exist on the same plain that I sat within. It was exciting and spooky at the same time. I thought, then, of making it a painting, or of writing about it, or even hiking into the woods to follow the sounds over the hills and through the trees. Someone was out there, wondering perpendicular to the trails, playing with the Universe. The sounds faded, eventually, but would return occasionally as the seasons changed and the green began to sprout. Other times the sounds would erupt unseasonably, and the rumors began to ruminate throughout our sleepy neighborhood enclave. It was a girl, I heard, she was tall and blond, she was playing bagpipes, she was an apparition … I heard. I spoke of it too, to my children and friends, and to others. I passed on the stories I’d heard, and I passed on my own experiences listening to the wail wondering across the setting sunlit shrubs in the nature reserve.

My son had graduated from high school and was now training hard to get into the IDF. He would disappear into the nature reserve and run, do pushups, find a tree to do pull-ups on, and walk through the bushes carrying a log over his head, challenging his mental and physical abilities as far as he could push them. I told my son about Bagpipe Girl, like I’d told others, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that he’d also heard of her … and heard her playing in the woods, as well. Bagpipe Girl was becoming famous throughout our neck of the woods. Someone said she was from Benyamina, a town nearby; another said she was from Zikhron and that she played bagpipes professionally. I pictured a parade, then, meandering down the Midrakhov, our local walking street that overtook the founder’s road in the middle of our town. Bagpipe girl was the leader in my vision, parting the crowds of tourists as the parade progressed down the cobblestone paved hill, followed by high school marching bands and stilt-walkers, as if the Purim circus had come to town.

Bagpipe Girl also entered my son’s repertoire of stories. He told me once of his encounter with Bagpipe Girl. He had a perplexed look on his face when he told the story, like he wasn’t sure it was the same bagpipe player that ‘he’d’ heard stories about. When he told the story it was a matter-of-fact kind of process, with my son explaining how he just decided to walk towards the wailing foreign sounds he’d heard emanating from across the nature reserve. Then he began to express frustration as he relayed how he topped the hill in front of him, all the while carrying the log over his head, and then realized that Bagpipe girl was still beyond the next hill’s horizon. So he continued on, the sounds consuming the mist around him, towards the eerie music emanated from somewhere off in the distance. He climbed up the next hill, watching the trees round over as the horizon flattened them all into visually rolling plains. Then he looked down into the next forest depression, the valley below. Bagpipe Girl was still beyond sight and understanding …  it had to be the next valley over … he must have thought, so my son trudged on, and with log overhead he put his back into solving the mystery once and for all.

I know the woods throughout the nature reserve intimately, having walked off-trail for years now, attempting to discover dens of jackals, hyenas, and moles. I’ve seen gazelle grazing and galloping, and I’ve seen families of wild boars trotting into the underbrush away from foreign interlopers. A variety of ants, scorpions, and dung beetles are always underfoot in the nature reserve, with birds of prey, their predators, circling above. The central gardens, where Baron Rothschild and his wife are buried in a cave, I’ve only had the opportunity to visit once or twice, but I know every section of the garden’s exterior wall, lined with shrubbery and electric fencing to keep out the ‘wild’ animals. There are bush trails made by wild boars foraging for grubs, then entrenched by visiting cows from a nearby ranch to reduce foreign vegetation and weeds in the reserve. I have spent time maintaining these pseudo trails, moving wayward stones and clipping encroaching branches, so have a good idea of exactly where my son and Bagpipe Girl met that day.

Like wondering planets hovering with atmospheres bouncing and circulating, my son topped a hilltop bristling with trees … then the vista before him opened wide—a wide expanse between trees from horizon to horizon. The clearing unveiled itself, spotted with stones, lonely shrubs, and rotting branches, only to feature Bagpipe Girl placed in its center. She was wholly alone, and entirely happy. Surprised, she lowered her instrument from her lips and stared. My son did the same. He had anticipated Bagpipe Girl; so … with an escalated heartbeat, and an endorphin/adrenaline flooded bloodstream, my son’s jaw dropped, as did the log over his head. They stared at each other and a knowing smile crept upon their shared face. My son learned that Bagpipe Girl had brown hair and was of a normal height. I know this because I, much later, also witnessed her stepping from between the bushes with her instrument toted aside. We, too, had a smile, but I sense that it was a different sort of smile. The face that my son shared with Bagpipe Girl was unified into a collective grin. Atmospheres had collided and a knowing wonder had been set free. The moment was momentary … then my son turned, as did Bagpipe Girl, and they both disappeared, once again, into the shade of the forest.

My artwork is currently showing in the group exhibition: Tehudat Zehut - Resonance of Identity, organized by Ramat Hanadiv, that explores spatial identity and regional sustainability. Please come and visit the various exhibition sites around the region!