Saturday, January 7, 2012

Missed Connections

Sophie Blackall, illustrator of the Ivy and Bean books, has written and illustrated a book for adults. “If you like doing something,” she writes in her introduction. “Find a way to call it work.” That’s how she turned her fascination with missed connections into this wonderful book. When she was seventeen, Blackall was traveling around Turkey and saw a truck full of men drive past. One of them, with strikingly blue eyes, appeared to wave at her. Afterward, she couldn’t forget his face. She felt that if the truck had stopped and if she had met this beautiful Turkish man, true love may hay flourished.

Blackall highlights the details that most strongly affect the writers. If an admirer mentions the mystery person’s long curly brown hair, Blackall makes that hair look straight out of a Botticelli painting, so it’s almost as if the smitten people had painted the idealistic portraits themselves.

The patterns on the characters’ clothing also revolve around the theme of their chance meeting. A man with a nosebleed on the subway accepts a tissue from a girl whose dress looks like it has blood splotches on it. A woman with freckles and bruises has purplish swirls on her sweater.

Some of the little quirks people possess in the drawings sound like those of people I know, making me feel like love is everywhere, around every corner, altering everyone’s lives. I recognized my friends in the face painter seeking the handsome man whose face she painted at a party and also in the tambourine player wearing an ugly green skirt, whose admirer would not have noticed her had her tambourine not jangled so imploringly.

Someone wrote a missed connection about me once. It went something like, “You have red hair and glasses and you work at the PSU Bookstore. You helped me find a Carl Sagan book and you gave me butterflies in my stomach.” Co-workers asked me if I was going to respond and my answer was a flat out no. This person knew where I worked and if he/she really wanted to talk to me, what was keeping him/her away? In Sophie Blackall’s book, she illustrates missed connections by a few men seeking men and I wondered if fear about coming on to a straight person and suffering some homophobic backlash would be too embarrassing for them to stomach. Hence, they expressed their hidden feelings with all the other seekers who were too shy to speak up.

Missed connections can reach out to unintended people and result in unexpected friendships. In the movie "Ghost World," a sardonic character named Enid prank calls a man who wrote a missed connection, only to feel bad afterward and befriend the man. The artistic possibilities in missed connections are endless. I’m actually thinking about writing a couple myself, one to the Thai exchange student I was friends with in high school and another to the camp counselor named Jolly who made me a friendship bracelet when I was twelve.

This is a beautifully illustrated, tender and funny book. It’s sure to connect with everyone who reads it.

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