Not All Who Wander Are Lost, But Most Are.

by Richard Collins

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, I went through a bad breakup. By bad breakup, I mean after we slept together for six weeks, she told me she didn’t want a relationship and I got depressed. The worst part was that we worked together, teaching English at a Christian school, where my mornings became a highly-choreographed ritual of trying to avoid her.

I tried to write about the whole thing, to find some cathartic words, but whenever I sat down and stared at the keys, I got afraid. It was too raw, too real, too painful.

After putting up with a few weeks of me moping around, drinking too much and neglecting my personal hygiene, my friends insisted I do something besides wallowing in my own watery melancholy. They invited me to Healing House.

We drove (all three of us squeezed onto one motorbike) outside of the city district, to a quiet suburban soi. I was not excited. I was doubtful. My friends had described this place to me as “more than a house – a movement, a community, a free zone.” It was a house party combined with an open mic night. An open arena for self-expression.  I have always considered myself artistic but always cringe when in the company of  other artists. The idea of watching hipsters weep and hug all night was about as close to a description of my personal hell as you can get. I tried backing out, but as my friends reminded me, I had nowhere else to go. I was broken and I needed healing. They were taking me to the right place.

We walked into an eclectic mix of cultures. East and West all scattered around the house, talking, laughing, drinking, smoking. That night started out like most typical parties do for me. I was awkward, clunky, hit the wrong conversational notes, and ended up being resigned to staying in the background. Drinking from my beer every four to six seconds did nothing to help. I was already picturing myself going home, when the MC emerged, literally from nowhere, with a microphone in his hands.

He started beatboxing into the mic. Smooth, rhythmic. The conversations, in the living room, the kitchen, and the garden all halted, and the congregation flocked to their leader. They formed a circle around him and took seats on sofas, chairs, the floor, or anything else they could find. The MC paused, looked out at everyone, and smiled.

“Thank you so much everybody for choosing my home tonight. If this is your first time, let me just say what I gottasay . . . this is a safe place. A place of healing. Respect the process. Respect the environment. Don’t ruin the night”

An aging hippie, clad in the standard Leo vest and sandals, joined in, “Yeah man, I hear you!”

“Damn right. This is a house of expression, freedom of expression. You can speak your mind in here. But this is a house where only love is welcome.”

The old hippie started the rigorous applause, which was followed by everyone else. It seemed that only I was not smiling.

The MC held up a clipboard.

“So then there’s the list. You wanna do something? Write your name down. That’s all there is to it. If you have something special, some secret talent, this is your night. Maybe you’re the best juggler there’s been for generations, but you’ve always been too afraid to show anybody, well, here, in my house, you can juggle, sing, dance, read, rap, joke, or even just share whatever you’ve been going through; whatever made you come to Healing House tonight. No one is here by accident. We are all the same in many, many ways.”

As he said that last line, something broke through my crusty, stubborn exterior.

We were all the same.

We were all lost, together, crawling around in the jungle heat of Thailand, searching, running, figuring it out, terrified and clueless and brave and bold. I had seen the people around me, with their colourful hair, elephant pants, piercings and tattoos, and thought them strangers, fools, liars. But we were all there together. We were living, growing, and suffering together. Somewhere inside me a tap started leaking and would not stop.

The MC introduced a variety of acts. I was half right in my assumption; poets wept, people hugged, cried, congratulated and masturbated each other. But I was wrong about one thing; I did not hate it. I watched a poet rage about Trump, a stoned comedian ponder death, a girl dancing to no music. I watched it all, and, for the first time in a few weeks, did not think about my dumb breakup.

I saw inside myself. I saw the real reason I had been so resistant to mingling with other artists. I was afraid to admit the truth –   I was exactly like them. I was neither special nor gifted. I was desperately seeking peace, thousands of miles away from home. I, just like them, was stuck with the feeling of being a tortured genius, without actually being a genius.

As I watched a middle-aged man sing bitterly about his ex-wife, I felt myself smashing through a wall. It was now so obvious to me: to escape my own sadness, I had to immerse myself in others’. I gained perspective on my own feelings by listening to the outpourings of others.  I did not come to Healing House with any expectation of healing, but like life often does when you are at rock bottom; it surprised me.

I left Healing House early. Not to go home and drink myself to sleep; but to write.

After over three years of working and travelling in Asia, and rather enjoying writing about it, Richard returned temporarily to the UK to complete a master’s degree at Bournemouth University. He writes novels, scripts, articles and short stories. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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