This has gotta be one of the best examples of art imitating life we’ve ever seen: Ships That Pass is, to use the site’s own verbiage, “a collection of fake, imaginary and literary missed connections posted to Craigslist and then re-posted here [at Ships That Pass' Tumblr page] with real responses.” The brainchild of Brooklyn-based poet Brett Fletcher Lauer (who’s written an awesome guest post about the endeavor here), it’s what an online performance-art installation commissioned by Margaret Mead might look like. Or a post-millennial, dot-com remake of those Griffin & Sabine pop-up-ish epistolary epics of my romantically angst-addled adolescence. (Anybody else remember those?) [YES!!!! Sob! -- BG]
Here’s how it works: Myriad poets, writers and artists craft ersatz missed-connection posts, complete with the fictitious posters’ ages and the appropriate tag (m4w, w4m, m4m, w4w). These are uploaded to Craigslist as any real missed-connection missive would be; simultaneously, they appear on Ships That Pass. Should any unsuspecting Craigslist readers reply to the post, those emails are readable on Ships That Pass as follow-ups to the original. On the flip side, should a suspicious Craigslister flag a post for removal — as has happened a handful already — news of that post’s untimely demise is likewise reported. A missed connection that receives no action at all (overwhelmingly the case) is earmarked with a little sad face like the Zoloft mascot, informing Ships That Pass readers of “Another Missed Connection Missed.”
As anyone who’s read missed connections for sport knows, it’s the unknowable of “But did Girl with Nose Ring Wearing Military Jacket ever hear from Guy Reading The Tender Bar on the Uptown 2 Train?” that feeds their addictiveness. That, and the messages’ unbridled sentimentality. Whereas Craigslist’s other alt-personals, Casual Encounters and Misc. Romance, can depress the hell out of anyone hoping for a shred of flirtation, intrigue, chivalry or grammar to hang onto, Missed Connections is a bastion of well-intentioned, intelligently penned, old-fashioned courtship. One’s for nutjobs; the other’s for l’amour fou.
Enjoying the newly-habit-forming element of “Is it live or is it Ships That Pass?” probably won’t bode well for anyone’s to-do list. And then there’s the question of whether Missed Connectioning under false pretenses is ultimately setting up a stranger for disappointment. Judging by the responses so far, though, it seems that what drives people to reply isn’t the expectation that they’ve been identified/fancied/remembered. It’s their complicit understanding that the heart wants what it wants, and their immutable belief in art for art’s sake.