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The Kindness of Strangers

Honoring the Lovelorn and Hopeful

Autustralian-born, Brooklyn-based illustrator Sophie Blackall’s Missed Connections envisions the characters in the messages she finds in the popular classifieds section of Craigslist. Her book is reviewed on page 53.

How do you choose which Missed Connections listings to illustrate?

It’s all about the subject line. I look for the lyrical, “Billowy Red Scarf Girl,” or the funny, “Hipster Chick Who Passed Gas,” ones that immediately suggest images, “Furry Arms in Morning Lecture,” or the plain odd, “Seeking Girl Who Bit Me TWICE.” I haven’t read a Missed Connection yet with someone wearing a monocle but, rest assured, I’ll snap it up if I do. After I’ve harvested a bunch of messages, I let them settle and see which images float to the surface. By the time I sit down to draw, the picture is almost fully formed in my head. The original messages seem, for the most part, brief and spontaneous and uninhibited and I want my drawings to mirror that … they shouldn’t feel labored.

Based on your observations, what types of people seem to post Missed Connections ads?

Most messages express the writer’s personal regret at not being bolder and for missing an opportunity. They’re written as a shot in the dark, a small missive filled with hope for a second chance. There are also more than a few messages from lonely people wondering why they never find themselves described—I illustrated one, “How Come No-one Ever ‘Misses’ Me?” They kill me, those.

Where do most Missed Connections seem to occur?

Missed Connections take place on street corners and elevators, in emergency rooms and dog runs, in line at the grocery store and at Laundromats. Basically everywhere human beings collide, but especially in places where we are forced to stay still a while: waiting rooms and airport lounges and every form of public transport.

Missed Connections classifieds are widely followed, even by those who do not post them. Why do you think they are so popular?

Missed Connections are small glimpses into strangers’ lives. They are packed with mystery, pathos, beauty, and humor. I know it’s not a New York phenomenon, but somehow it seems the perfect product of this city— people seeking intimacy in a crowd. There’s more than a little voyeurism going on. And I think on some subliminal level there’s a vague desire to recognize ourselves as the person “missed.” It’s nice to know that people are looking at each other so attentively and even tenderly, noticing and appreciating details, that we’re not just a swarm.

You moved to Brooklyn, New York, from Australia in 2000. Do you find that the popularity of Missed Connections classifieds is mostly an American thing?

There are Missed Connections equivalents in London newspapers and I have given interviews on the subject for Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Brazilian, and Israeli magazines and newspapers, which would suggest the theme has global interest! And of course, the theme itself is not new. For centuries the lovelorn have carved messages in tree trunks and rolled letters into bottles and cast them out to sea.

What has the experience of illustrating Missed Connections classifieds, and creating this book, taught you about the nature of love?

Love at first sight is almost entirely visual. In most cases we don’t even hear the other’s voice. I think there’s a lot to be said for this. We can fill in the blanks and create our own particular knight in shining armor. Clichéd as it is, it’s a wonderful thing to have someone you love bring you a cup of tea when you have a cold, or curl up with you to watch a film on a rainy night, or turn on the oven while you knead the dough. Some of us find that person early on; for the rest of us there’s the hope of a second chance. And that hope can linger a long, long time. We have only one life, and we rush through it pretty quickly. We make choices and follow paths and we don’t linger too long at crossroads. Moments of intimacy with strangers are minor detours we rarely explore, but those moments make us feel alive, and human, and part of something greater than ourselves. They connect us to each other.

Sophie Blackall

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