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  • Collin McFadyen

In the middle of a conversation, sometimes my wife will interrupt me, frustrated, and say "I have no idea who you're talking about." and I'll have to explain;

"You know, my friend from writing class"

"my skateboarding buddy"

"my friends from the farmers market" "my pal from the bike shop" "my friend from the bank"

My circle of friends is more a constellation of stars, miles apart, with no expectations that they should ever come within a million miles of each other. I don't need to see or speak to them daily, or even monthly. I know they're out there behind the cloud cover of daily life.

Recently, I read an article that divided the contact between humans into two categories. "Heavy" contacts are best friends, family, longtimers that you share your life with on a regular basis. Back in the day, these were the people whose phone numbers you knew by heart.

"Light" contacts are people you see every once in a while, or never, but your interactions with them feel positive and friendly. Whether you see them on the street, or one day you just share a few texts, they feel like... friends.

I've been feeling a little off the past few months. For years, I've posted daily on the big three (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) but in the waning months of 2020 I slowed down... and mostly just started dropping a little red heart next to a friend's post, or leaving a fire emoji instead of a comment. My own posts? Aside from my writing-related things, I didn't really have anything interesting to post about.

Because face it, the pandemic can get boring as hell.

I'm lucky. My two best friends live within walking distance and I see them several times a week. I have a tight-knit crew of close friends that get together for bike rides and backyard happy hours. I love them all, but I need more. Something to take me beyond little red hearts and fire emojis.

The article stated that previously, "heavy" contacts had been scientifically accepted as more important to a person's well-being than"light"contacts, but recently, studies had shown that most people need the daily interactions with friendly acquaintances to keep us engaged in our lives, to keep things... interesting.

Can you see me over here, hand thrust high, yelling ME ME ME?

The problem is, in our own circle of heavies, we all have the same information, especially during Covid. Put it this way, none of us just got back from Japan, went to a Blazers game, can't stand their new coworker at the office, or even ate at a new restaurant where the food was crap but the waiter was super hot so they might go back.


I've decided to do my best to get my collection of light pals going again, the best I can in an online world. I've registered for a writing class at PCC, RSVP'd to a poetry workshop, and signed up for a five week skateboarding camp. I feel better already. I'm looking forward to introductions, breakout room conversations, trying to hit that 50/50 grind on the curb in front of my house, knowing that my virtual skateboarding pals are doing the same thing... but in Seattle.

I'm going to be pretty busy, but don't worry.

Andrea from writing class,

Dev from skateboarding,

Alicia and Sam from the farmers market,

Alex from the bike shop,

and Lelani from the bank

I've got time for you, too.

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  • Collin McFadyen

I've always done my best "brainwork" in the middle of a crowd. Sitting in a public space, a bar, a coffee shop, a laundromat. The louder, the better. Just me, a notebook, and a pen; sometimes my computer. Quiet places are fine for tasks, like resumes or filing for unemployment, but really, the louder spaces are where I love digging into a piece of writing that's screaming along like a hot rod, and I can't help but laugh a little every time I start a fresh paragraph. It's the kind of writing that feels so good while I'm doing it that I immediately come right back to edit the typos and love it even more. I'll read it ten times over, then send a copy to a friend I've been missing because she lives on the East Coast... and then I send a copy to a friend I'm missing right now even though they live a half mile away. Covid + Internet+ Distance is a hard equation to understand. Everyone seems both close and far away at the same time.

My mind moves more quickly in public space, the background chatter sounds like a crowd cheering if I don't really listen to it. Sunday NYT crosswords at my local library in North Portland? Nope. The library's fine for job hunting, but a little too quiet for actual creative thinking. The Florida Room across the street fuels my cerebral pathways with a good splash of Maker's Mark and Joy Division or White Zombie played just a smidge too loud. Tucked in into my favorite little corner, I used to become invisible enough to keep my brain switching lanes until every clue was solved.

"Anonymous in public." That's how I've always described why I like writing in loud, busy spaces. Sadly, Covid has changed that in the year my unemployed self finally has the time to devote to writing. Except now, there's no hanging out in coffee shops or bars, and sharing a space with enough people talking around me to make it "too loud" is a thing of the past.

I have a long history of public introspective writing. After my first real breakup, the kind that happens when you're a grownup and can't just go find another girl to be there while you waver between the loss of true love/joy of new love- I bought a big, heavy black blank book. It wasn't quite a notebook, because to me, notebooks require lines to keep things orderly, and it wasn't quite a sketchbook, because the paper was too smooth to smear charcoal into artistic shadows. I bought it because it was hardbound, and heavy, and I knew I'd be writing in it for a long time. I named it the "Big Black Book of Sadness" and it had an expiration date. One year. I promised myself that I'd feel better after a year, at least enough to stop writing about it. I kept that promise, and the final entry in the Black Book of Sadness read "Okay, Big Black Book of Sadness. This is it. I'm done with you, even though I technically have a few pages and days to go. I'm feeling better and your days are numbered, so let's say goodbye now."

The point of this is that I spent an entire year sitting at different bars scribbling out my heartbreak, sometimes crying, sometimes not crying, but always, always feeling the security of a warm, protective blanket of voices and laughter and music around me. Every so often I'd look up and see happy people and hate them, but on a good night I'd write about what it would take for me to become happy like them. I put my house on the market and drew pictures of my new houseboat on Hayden Island. Before the sale was completed, I wrote about the strange sounds I'd hear at night on the river, imagining the creaking of the pilings and the low gurgle of boats churning up the channel, slow and wakeless. I was excited about having a new neighborhood, and a fresh local bar to write in.

The new Black Book was exactly like the old one, except I started it in a different bar, a hotel bar on the island. The best place to be anonymous in public is a hotel, according to celebrities, spies, and cheaters. But I hated the hotel bar. The guests were quiet, and boring- and alone, mostly. They poked at their phones, or studied paperwork spread out on tables for two. Some just gazed out the window at the Interstate bridge and slowly ate dinner on their own. There were no conversations around me, nothing but smooth jazz or Motown if it was happy hour. Instead I spent those winter nights alone in the houseboat, looking at the dark river while I listened to Little Sue's latest album"Crow"on repeat. The new Black Book sat open on the coffee table in front of me, but I couldn't find a way to wrap myself deep enough in Little Sue's heartbroken voice to keep scribbling my voice on paper. I wrote exactly fourteen pages in three weeks before I decided that since I couldn't write about sadness, but I didn't have any joy, that I must be better. I wasn't really, but I believed it was going to happen someday.

I started dating again, finally met one woman I loved but wasn't ready, a few short-time flings and many painful/painless false starts in the years before I met my wife. She and I fell in love in my tiny place on the river where I'd listened to Little Sue all winter long, drank red wine, and couldn't write about it. Eventually, I did indeed feel better.

I'm writing now, during the middle of a pandemic, anonymously masked and at a table for one. Underneath a hastily erected patio in the middle of an epic Portland rainstorm, the slightly too loud raindrops sound like heavy metal and the people at the tables far away from me are laughing about the storm, my fingers are flying on my keyboard and I just laughed out loud when I hit the return key.

Be positive, friends. Our collective "Black Book of Sadness" is coming to an end. We will all feel better someday, soon.

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  • Collin McFadyen

Writing has been a bit tough for me the past few weeks. Checking Submittable twice a day, spending more time on Twitter than editing. I've told myself that if I just back away from my missing words they will come to me like shy cats on the sidewalk. I tried opening the vault of Drafts and Ideas, looking to dust something off and renew it's shine. Nothing, just nothing seemed to grab me.

So I took a break, got my metal detector, and went out to the local park to dig holes and think.

Metal detecting? Yes, me. Back in the late 90's for some unknown reason I bought a crappy used metal detector and destroyed my back yard digging up nails and a bit of change. I started going to local parks, but never found much more than spare change and once, a silver souvenir necklace from Alaska. I joined the Oregon Treasure Trail Society, a detecting club that met every second Tuesday of the month at the Eagle's aerie on 52nd and Hawthorne. I was the youngest by at least 25 years and my inexperience showed. These old guys were detecting All-Stars, bringing up gold coins, antique jewelry, and artifacts. I never seemed to hit anything interesting, just urban trash and half buried nickels. I remember thinking it was just because they were retired and had all the time in the world to wander around and get lucky. I thought I wasn't hitting any treasure because I had a more than full-time job and couldn't just drive out to some farmer's field on a whim. I was stuck in the park picking up pennies in the barkdust while everyone else was finding treasure, and I couldn't understand why.

Okay, back to the present. My detector, recently freshened up with new batteries seemed to be working perfectly. Swinging it in arcs over the barkdust, it beeped and chirped like it was brand new, but it's digital readout bounced between GOLD RING and BOTTLECAP, so I didn't bother digging. Again, the beep, then NAIL or PULLTAB, so I didn't dig. Eventually a light chirp signaled something, maybe a ring, was underneath if I just dug deep enough. I started to walk away without digging, but stopped.

I finally understood. Those old guys in the club found great stuff because they did the work; they researched the history of that farm. They checked in with cement companies and hunted underneath broken sidewalks while the workers were on their lunch break. I wasn't finding anything because I wasn't following clues, and I wasn't digging deep enough.

Aha. I picked up on the metaphorical nature of metal detecting and word detecting. My word hunting was stalled because I wasn't doing the work, researching and editing, and I was never going to find the words if I didn't follow the little chirps in my mind that could possibly, just maybe, lead to treasure. I just needed to dig deep enough.

So I went home and started writing a short story about a metal detecting club meeting. The words popped up fast and easy. I just clattered out all my memories on the keyboard and didn't try to sort them out, just let them be when they fell. I even did a little research and found the Oregon Treasure Trail Society website, and they're still going strong. I guess it's time for me to renew my membership and start taking notes.

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