Ships That Pass: Craigslist Missed Connections and the Imagined Other

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10/18/2010 11:02 AM |


Ships That Pass is a relatively new tumblr project started and curated by old L friend Gretchen Scott and Brett Fletcher Lauer, the poet. It’s accurately and officially described as “a collection of fake, imagined, and literary missed connections posted to Craigslist and then re-posted here with real responses,” if any, and it’s written by a series of guest writers. We recently emailed with Brett and Gretchen.

All Missed Connections are, if not fictional, at least speculative, aren’t they? They’re about what you imagine somebody else to be like, and what you would say and do together in some what-if alternate universe.

Brett: Setting aside the rare Missed/Failed Connection based on actual contact (“Your phone number washed off my arm in the rain!” or “We made out in the bathroom!”), certainly most missed connections are based on an imaginative speculation—the two parties might never exchange words or even eye contact—so the other person is a complete fantasy.

Gretchen: As residents of a major city, we’re always creating stories about the people we see in any given day, either for our own amusement or to feel connected. That said, people do meet via Missed Connections and wind up dating, so perhaps sometimes the fantasy does match the reality.

Brett: When we began the project, we recognized that Missed Connections are, in a sense, a genre of fiction or poetry (more specifically, maybe flash fiction or the prose poem), and we thought it’d be an interesting project to have writers and creative people we knew and/or admired experiment in writing for the genre.

And their takes have varied considerably, from exercises in pitch control and telling detail, to parody (the hasid) to wishful thinking (Lena Dunham’s, say). The missed connection is poignant in a way that speaks to both the truth of human interaction and the imperative of writing (“only connect”), and it’s interesting to see the responses some of these posts have gotten from Craigslist readers.

Brett: Some of the responses to the posts have been incredible, from awful to curious to helpful. Certainly part of the fun of the social experiment aspect of the project is to see which posts receive responses, but that is a secondary concern for us. Posting the entries on Craigslist is also about completing the writing exercise and placing something in the world which can be stumbled upon. And we like the idea of Craigslist being an alternative publication venue.

Gretchen: Since starting the site (and setting up a Google alert for “Missed Connections”) it has been fascinating to see how many people are writing about them as a topic. Obviously we knew about and are fans of Julia Wertz’s graphic novel collection and Sophia Blackwell’s illustrations, but we’ve enjoyed seeing newspapers reporting on the most romantic stop on a train (Belmont in Chicago) or most popular line for Missed Connections (L Tain in New York), or people writing on their blogs about how they check Missed Connections every day either killing time at the office or desperately looking for a post about themselves.

I suppose it is a kind of interactive literature, albeit with (mostly) unwitting secondary participants—public literary performance art, or a game of exquisite corpse. What do you tell people who respond?

Gretchen: We don’t respond to anyone who replies to our posts. Sometimes I feel bad that we’re misleading people, but I don’t know that there’s an expectation of truth or reality within the Missed Connections section of Craigslist (or Craigslist as a whole). And we share all responses anonymously, so we’re trying to be as kind as possible.

That’s true, about the expectation of truth or reality, and I would assume it goes both ways. Now, given the breadth of possibilities in the form, I assume the project will continue for at least a while longer, but I wonder if you have any evolution or endgame in mind for it?

Gretchen: We’d love to continue Ships that Pass indefinitely, but realistically it would end when we can’t find contributors or if it is no longer fun for us, which could be soon if Craigslist keeps “ghosting” our posts (acting as if they have been posted but then not including them in the queue). 

Brett: I’m not sure I’m going to start floating from library to internet café on my lunch break hunting for unique IP addresses to post from, though I guess that could add a cloak-and-dagger excitement to the project.