Why Lisa Icarus writes fake love letters to strangers
Icarus has written at least a dozen fake love letters to the Georgia Straight. What is she looking for?
February 11, 2016
A man carrying a blue Nalgene water bottle with a “No Pipelines” sticker strikes up a conversation with a woman in a health-food store on the Drive. It’s mid-December, 2014, and they chat about kombucha and Hornby Island before parting ways. Later, the man regrets letting her go without even an email address. He submits a heartfelt letter to the Georgia Straight’s I Saw You section and hopes for the best.
No one ever replies.
This is because neither the man, nor the woman, nor even the Nalgene bottle ever existed. Trying to contact the man from the shop—or the woman folding her delicates in Rainbow Coin-op Laundry, or the man in the black sweater in La Taqueria on Hastings—will only lead to Lisa Icarus (not her real name). She’s the elusive author of at least a dozen anonymous I Saw You letters. And, therefore, possibly the most prolific inventor of supposedly genuine romantic encounters in Vancouver.
Lisa uses I Saw You as an outlet for her musings on desire, loneliness, and love. “I wouldn’t call it a remedy to social isolation in Vancouver,” she says. “It’s one of the places where we can go to say what’s on our mind about connection.” Lisa is single, 35, was born in Langley, works in communications for a non-profit, and, aside from the fact that she writes about imaginary encounters between strangers in Vancouver, won’t reveal much about herself for fear of being mocked for her admittedly weird hobby. As she puts it: “I think it speaks to an almost unhealthy obsession with another person if you’re having to create an outlet with I Saw You.”
Indeed, her dabbling in I Saw You began as the product of an actual missed connection in her own life: a man she had pined over for months but had no way of contacting. Lisa, inventor of so many imaginary personal moments between imaginary strangers, wrote her only honest I Saw You for this man. With characteristic coyness, she refuses to reveal who he is—or which one of her published tales is true.
The section is, of course, one of the Georgia Straight’s most popular. The cultural phenomenon speaks to a sense of what Lisa describes as “romantic optimism,” which thrives even in a romantically pessimistic city such as this one. “In Vancouver, there are constantly people watching other people but not connecting with one another,” she says. “There’s hardly a chance of someone seeing the I Saw You, or seeing the sentiment, but we’re still putting it out there and being positive and making some sort of wistful romantic connection with somebody—even though it’s probably futile.”
It’s not always futile, though. One Halloween night, Anna Russell went to a bar dressed as a banana. She soon met Scott George, who was dressed as a monkey, and naturally the two hit it off. Then her roommate was thrown out of the bar, taking Anna with her and leaving Scott alone and disappointed. “I thought I was going home with her,” says Scott, to a smirk from Anna. “I went to get my jacket, walked outside, and she was gone.”
A sensible person would assume they would never meet again. They hadn’t exchanged numbers, and all Anna knew about Scott was his name and that he worked “with film.” She even tried to Google people named Scott within the film industry and turned up only strangers. But a few weeks later Scott’s friend pointed out an I Saw You: “I was a banana, you were a monkey, maybe it was meant to be? Sorry I didn’t say goodbye.” Today, the cute couple sipping coffee on their couch—the dog barking in the background—have been together for three years.
Over and above its raison d’être—connecting strangers like Scott and Anna, a happy outcome that, as far as one former Straight editor says, is a rarity—I Saw You gives the rest of us an excuse for our romantic optimism. These small stories reassure us that, even in Vancouver, we’re not alone in pining after perfect strangers or falling in love a dozen times a day. The letters offer a glimpse into the private moments occurring all around us as we go about our lives: fleeting eye contact between the men pretending to ignore each other on the bus; the electrifying brush of one hand on another in a cash transaction; a shared laugh over an obnoxious stranger on the street.
“I guess it’s a way of being brave about making connections with other people, while not being that brave,” Lisa says. “It’s a middle ground between seeing someone and not saying anything, and seeing someone and walking up to them and starting a conversation.”
Lisa’s I Saw You Letters
I was strolling your way at Tower Beach and paused to comment on the Sun Kil Moon song coming from your iPhone. You smiled confidently and asked me to smoke a joint with you. I had to dash up the stairs and back into the real world, but would love to return to the sand and have a sunset smoke with you one of these days. Get in touch if you see this.
When: Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Where: Tower Beach
Flight–Toronto to YVR
We sat next to each other on a mid-day flight, enveloped in comfortable silence. You (brown hair, soft features, studded belt) were reading non-fiction; I was absorbed in magic realism. You drifted off a few times in a leftward-leaning direction, and my shoulder gratefully absorbed the weight of your body and the warmth of your breath. Just wanted to tell you that you made a cozy impact on my travels, and that you’re a very handsome man. Happy holidays!
When: Sunday, December 21, 2014
Where: Westjet; T-dot to V-dot
I was looking at you looking at me looking at you in the wall-length mirror at La Taqueria on Hastings last Tuesday. You (blonde, Navajo-print sweater) seemed embarrassed by the mushroom mixture that trickled from your tinga de hongos taco as you took the first bite, but you recovered swiftly and with sass. I was the guy trying not to get creamy corn taco filling all over my black woolen cowl. I’d like to challenge you to a discreet sushi-eating duel—drop me a line, and we’ll see who dribbles the least soy sauce.
When: Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Where: La Taqueria on Hastings
—via the Georgia Straight
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