Hi lovely readers,
Welcome to my first blog post!
This first post is a creative non-fiction short story that is about the circumstances surrounding the writing of 'Dreamer's Sea'.
I started with this song because, while the lyrics are some of the most clear, simple and the least allegorical of my songs, the circumstances surrounding it's composition were vibrant, chaotic and full of taste, texture and life. This song was written while I was working as a researcher in the Congo Forest Basin in the Central African country of Cameroon when I was twenty-one.
I have included below, both the original recording from that little concrete house, and the final studio recording of the song, recorded and released in 2016. I will be putting up another blog post shortly with producer notes from that recording!
I hope you enjoy the story, you are welcome to download the recording for free, or make a donation if doing so makes your heart sing.
with creative joy!
I would like to take you on a tour of a little cement house. It sits partway down a packed red dirt road that extends deep into the tropical rainforest like a vein reaching towards the lung’s oxygen-giving alveoli. Many roads in— branching, fanning, reaching, but only one road can take you back out.
At the village road, we walk down a little dirt path, past the home of my neighbour, the Very Friendly Grandmother, who made watery hibiscus flower juice, owned several kittens, chickens and a mutt named Mowgli, and who cared for her Very Popular Granddaughter (whose teen birthday party I once attended) and her Very Strange Grandson (who lit my curtains on fire).
The little cement house will come into view; a small low structure with a silver tin roof, set under an impressively large mango tree that had long ceased to provide any fruit.
We will walk up three steps, onto the veranda where I, on many occasions dragged my plastic buckets and kneaded laundry soap into my red earth tinged clothing. Arms elbow deep in swaths of bright print fabric, overlooking the glistening tangle of jungle, with a heart calmed by the sound of rain on a resonant tin roof.
We enter the house through two metal doors that open wide and welcoming, and are locked at night with a large metal bar that slides with a metallic grinding noise through two rough rebar hooks, welded onto the door.
I listened from within my house to the sounds of the world around me. The distant village motorcycles, laughing friends walking down the hill, roosters, the rustle of the rainforest around me, the creaking sun hot tin roof that gave way to a cool evening breeze. With the breeze came the shrill chorus of crickets, voices speaking in tongues that floated through the metal bars on my windows from the Pentecostal church on the next hill, the boom of shotguns from night hunters, the blaring music from the wooden dance clubs in town— Shania Twain, Justin Bieber, French African dance beats.
At the end of the hall, you will find my kitchen; a simple room with a two burner propane stove and buckets of water that were delivered on motorcycles from a pipe that spewed clear water into a lagoon across town. This kitchen was where Mowgli, the neighbour’s mutt, and his flies, found respite from the hot weather on a cool patch of concrete floor. I tried to evict him once with a soft poke from the end of a long broom but was introduced to sharp teeth and a snarl. And so forever after, I let Mowgli stay, and he and his flies came and went as they pleased.
This room was also where I had a standoff with my first tarantula. With a fast heartbeat and sweaty palms, I drew a can of insecticide level with my squinted eye and sprayed. The tarantula did not back down, and so, they too came and went as they pleased, with the privilege of right-of-way.
This kitchen, with its dark cupboards and elaborate mouse traps, is where Estelle and I cut the neck of the chicken that I had been keeping in the dark cupboard under the sink, feeding it sugar and one sided conversations that I’m not sure it liked. Her rubber-sandalled foot covered its head as the chicken wrenched its last movements. We plucked it, and the round pull and pop of the feathers as they reluctantly released from the warm body, filled the room. I felt sick. She laughed.
She told me stories about the brothers that stole her things, how her child’s father was hiding somewhere in an even deeper part of the tropical forest, nursing the eye that his lover’s lover had gouged out in a fight. She told me of how she worried for him, and how her daughter doesn’t know who he is. She told me how she wishes she could have gone to school.
With my bare hands, I grasped the slippery chicken, and cracked its bones. I dug a knife into the joints that resisted. She showed me how to empty the stomach. It flayed out like a pink muscled butterfly. Chicken went into the pot. Fat went into the pot. Maggi cubes from a dusty market shack were unwrapped and tossed in. She tied a neat bow from the green lemongrass that grew out back and tossed it too.
That night we ate warm peanut lemongrass chicken with sweet plantains under the low light of a single bulb.
The last room, which I will allow you to glimpse only from the threshold, was mine. From the doorway, you will see the rough walls that I painted an intrepid but unconvincing cheerful yellow, the bars on the windows that held my fears just beyond reach, the pink mosquito net that kept the tarantulas out of my sheets and the stiff blue and shiny pink curtains that I hand sewed one evening with Estelle. You might notice a small rough hand made Canadian dream catcher that my mother sent across the ocean at Christmas.
At the end of the hall is the door to the outside world. This is where I sat and recorded a song, in this little house, to the shrill cricket orchestra, with my back against a wooden door with two locks and a deadbolt.
There I sat and sang in the simplest words, the darkest corner of a dream that I had for myself but could not make true. The crickets chorused, and when I finished singing, I gave away my furniture, unlocked the door and travelled back along the the reddest vein through the most lush lung. The bus home kicked up red dust that settled on the small hairs of my body, turning me a rusty red; the village claiming me one last time.
And with me I took the memory of those who saved me with their friendship. I took the memory of the most vibrant foods and the most magnificent lushness the acrid smell of burning curtains, and the fresh sweet smell of the rainforest when it rained.