‘The Poetry of Nobody Home’: Craigslist’s Missed Connections

Photo by Jen Maiser

A student and I were talking in my office right before the semester ended, chatting about books and Facebook and the Internet, when he asked me if I had ever read the “Missed Connections” section of Craigslist.  My student was especially fascinated by the long posts that people sometimes write there; though he didn’t use the word “journal,” he remarked how strange and sort of interesting it was that people would be chronicling their feelings for someone else, journal-like, in this impersonal, electronic forum for anyone to read.

I think most everyone has checked “Missed Connections” at least once or twice–if for no other reason than to see what it’s about.  I’m a more frequent visitor to that section than most; though I don’t check it every day, I read it regularly–not to see if anyone’s posted a message for me, but because I like the messages on their own for the kind of artifacts they are: snapshots of a fantasy in progress, a printed record of an encounter so striking that the writer has imbued it with a cosmic significance.

When my student brought up “Missed Connections,” we (as a class) had just finished reading Don DeLillo’s novel, Mao II,  so certain scenes from the text were fresh in my mind as I thought about the shouts into the void that are the posts in “Missed Connections.”  One passage in particular speaks to the peculiar pleasure I take in reading MC: Early in DeLillo’s novel, the protagonist (a reclusive author named Bill Gray) leaves a long, rambling message on the answering machine of a woman (a photographer named Brita) whom he has come to regard as a kind of kindred spirit.  Bill’s monologue into the answering machine darts here and there, but at one point he says, “By the time you listen to this, I’ll no longer remember what I said. I’ll be an old message by then, buried under many new messages.  The machine makes everything a message, which narrows the range of discourse and destroys the poetry of nobody home.”

As I thought about this passage, it occurred to me that “Missed Connections” are the “poetry of nobody home,” and that is precisely what I like about them.  Underneath the peculiar kind of loneliness that comes from being just one half of a hoped-for conversation (and that’s what MC are–one half of a hoped-for conversation) is the shared human desire to be understood by someone else.  In Mao II, Bill remarks that his message on Brita’s answering machine brings about “a new kind of loneliness […].  The loneliness of knowing I won’t be heard for hours or days.”  In the MC column, of course, the writer might never be heard at all.  But I have begun to wonder if “being heard” is even the goal.  Instead the messages seem like a tangible way to preserve a fantasy, a printed record of the love that could have been, like having a blurry photo of the one that got away, in which the shape of something can be glimpsed, ever so slightly, in the moment just before it wriggled forever out of view.

So the posts can be a kind of souvenir of sorts, one that might be far less romantic if it found its way to the muse who prompted its creation.  After all, it’s one thing to imagine that the person who slipped through your fingers was probably your soul mate; quite another to find out that while you had imagined talking to this man about books and poetry, the last thing he read (besides your Missed Connection post) were the directions on the back of a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  And you don’t even like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  During the giant message he leaves for her, Bill tells Brita that outside his window, “There’s a partial cloud cover, which makes the light seem to hush the land, quiet light, soft, calm, pale, a landglow more than a light from the sky. I thought you’d want to know these things. I thought this is a woman who wants to know these things more than other things that other people might attempt to tell her.”  But what if Brita doesn’t want “to know these things”?  If she did pick up the phone, Bill would have to find out for sure, and he could be wrong about her.  But in the time during which he will wait for a response, Brita can–in Bill’s mind–be any kind of woman he needs.  That is “the poetry of nobody home.”

So there is this figurative poetry, but what if there were actual poetry, too?  I decided I should end this post with a poem of lines culled completely from recent “Missed Connections” posts–the kind of verse known as a “found poem.”  [Tangent: I took a poetry class in college, and one of our assignments was to write a “found poem”–that is, a poem you construct using words and phrases from a longer prose piece.  I remember I used a Rolling Stone article about Hunter S. Thompson, and somehow there happened to be a line in there about The Great Gatsby–I think because Thompson had quoted it or talked about it in the article.  I remember being so happy with that poem, because Thompson and Gatsby were two of my favorite things at the time.  I’m sure it was awful, though I remember my boyfriend of the period liked it.  Anyway…]

I took the title of this poem from another passage in Mao II; it comes at the end of the book, when two characters are looking at portraits Brita had taken of Bill at the beginning of the novel.  To these two characters, “The pictures of Bill were glimpses of Brita thinking, a little anatomy of mind and eye.”  I think the same could be said of Missed Connections; they capture the person the writer wants to be with, which may or may not be the same person he or she saw.  Enjoy the poem.

Anatomy of Mind and Eye

I think I fell in love this morning…
We both looked then looked back then looked back again,
I wanted to talk but was afraid.
What if our timing was all wrong?
A black dress and glasses.  You are amazing.
I want to think the best of you–
I imagine that you would be a good friend to have, and I like good friends

You are very handsome, and looked like a kind person.
Your energy was great, I loved your smile.  I think you are perfect.
If you’re reading this…
I turned around once my mind caught up with my heart, but you had left.
I know this is possibly the longest and most awkward sentence on missed connections, but it’s just going to exist out there with all the rest of them, for you to find.
I am struggling to figure out what to do.
I hope you see this, cowboy.

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About Sarah

Grammar goddess, cultural critic, full-time media junkie. I read, I bake, I watch tv. And then I write about it.
This entry was posted in Alternate Realities, My SF and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘The Poetry of Nobody Home’: Craigslist’s Missed Connections

  1. Shane says:

    Great post. Whenever I see or hear about Missed Connections, I think of Steve Buscemi in Ghost World, and it kind of bums me out.

    I’m now even more excited to read Mao II! Delillo rules so hard.

  2. verbalcupcake says:

    Thanks! Yes–good example, and I think that speaks to exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote this: that it’s better for a MC message to go unanswered. Seymour gets his answered, but that woman is sooooooo wrong for him, and it’s painful to watch them together. So the sad part isn’t (for me) that he posted a MC, but that the person he hoped she was when he met her isn’t who she actually is.

    You will have to tell me what you think of _Mao II_; the same student who asked me about MC asked if I like _Mao II_ better than _White Noise_, and I finally was able to admit that I do. I did my thesis on both of those books, so choosing one over the other feels a little like someone deciding she likes one of her children more than the others, but _Mao II_ is satisfying in certain ways, artistically, that WN isn’t. (But I still love, love, LOVE WN.)

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