Saturday, November 24, 2007


My brother Zach lent me his shoes last Sunday. It was an unplanned occurrence--I walked him to the car when it was time for my family to leave, and he took off his shoes and passed them to me from where he sat in the passenger seat. He told me that he bought them a few years ago when he first moved to Toronto--he lived in a kind of falling apart place in Little Italy that had squirrels in the walls and sometimes on his bed. Since then I think he has worn them just about all the time. Early in the week I received an email from Zach that warned me not to smell his shoes, that they've been in Algonquin bog. I don't know if that fully accounts for the stinkiness, but I took his advice and didn't attempt to smell them directly. I still got the occasional whiff without even trying.

Zachary's shoes are brown and black sneakers (skater shoes? I'm not entirely sure). The most striking feature is that the outer heel of each shoes is just about worn away. The left shoe, in fact, has no sole in places, which explains my wet socks.

This morning I was incredibly sleepy, and it took a lot of effort to get out the door. I made it, and walked in Zach's shoes to the Saturday art class. I was really caught up in the strangeness of how his shoes felt on my feet. It was really an unusual feeling to take a step and not have shoe in contact with the ground where normally it is. It wasn't until much later in the day that my awareness of this faded into the background. It felt in some ways like every step was a bit risky...almost like walking down uneven stairs, which can take a bit of trust and concentration. I kept feeling like my foot was going to fall out somehow, or that I would trip in a way that I never have before.

Zach's shoes were also very large on my feet. I tied the laces tightly in order to keep them on. It was more of that comfortably roomy feeling of too big shoes. Why don't I normally wear too big shoes? It's actually kind of nice. The insides of Zach's shoes are also falling apart, so things shifted and moved and scratched in weird ways. They came with some tiny pebbles, too, which I didn't bother to remove. Though it's possible that I actually picked those up along the way (what with the dirt spread on icy sidewalks, the holes in Zach's shoes, and the action of too big heels snapping up to meet my feet with each step).

I found myself thinking again about reciprocity--how although Zach may not be putting himself in my shoes, I was taking his shoes to places and situations that they may not have ever been in. I don't know if Zach or his shoes have ever been in a room of six year old girls who in high pitched six year old voices declare that they are all going to marry him, who make rice crispie squares and brownies out of clay, have conversations with him through mail slots and sing renditions of "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" that somehow include underpants. This is where I found myself this morning. I don't know if Zach has ever been to the Guelph farmers market, or any farmers market, or if he has any friends who kiss him in greeting. I don't know if his shoes have ever been worn by feet in pink Valentine's Day socks in November (or at all). I don't have any idea what his favourite bread is, or where he gets it, and I don't know if any of this familiar Saturday routine of mine would be at all enjoyable for him. Wearing his shoes doesn't reveal any of these things, really. Or even very much at all, necessarily. It just makes me wonder about it all.

The thing is that I surely haven't been to many of the places or in many of the situations that Zach's shoes have. We may be related, but are quite different people. And I don't know if wearing Zachary's shoes bring me any closer to his experiences, or him to mine.

At home after the market and seeing many lovely people and picking up some lovely bread I made some lunch and did a bit of work before Natalie came by. She had offered to give me a lift to the Trillium Waldorf School winter fair, which I thought I'd go to for a short while. On the way we talked about shoes, and about that feeling (which I experienced again today) of disconnect when wearing shoes that weren't chosen by and for myself. Zach's shoes are dark and wide and unfamiliar and looked so strange to my eyes whenever I glanced down. We talked about clothing and self expression and how it is a topic I always want to avoid because I know how much I enjoy wearing clothes that I feel good in, and that in some ways I'm particular in my choices of what I choose to wear. I know this and fear that it means something bad about me, that it means I'm a shallow person. Natalie suggested that it's not necessarily shallow to be playful with clothing choices, especially when it's not driven by materialistic concerns (which it certainly isn't for me). It's still something I'm not sure about. Why do some shoes that are perfectly functional and comfortable seem so out of place when I see them on my feet, to the point where I have some sort of aversion to them, to the point where I want others around me to know that they aren't actually mine, that this is all part of a project and not what I would otherwise choose to wear? It's interesting to me that appearance can be such a concern of mine. And also something I'd rather not think about. Hmm.

At the Waldorf school I found myself completely overwhelmed. There were lots of people. And lots of noise. And just plain lots of everything in a very narrow hallway, spilling out into the playground. I think that had I been closer to home I would have left after the first ten minutes. It was interesting, because I know that I can feel overwhelmed in the midst of crowds and busy-ness, but not always so strongly. I thought it would be a nice break from school work, but I found it stressful. A little surprising to me because I was looking forward to seeing Christina and others who I knew would be there. I don't know what Zach would think of such an event. He likely would have wanted out of there as well. Or not have gone in the first place. At one point I offered to take care of Caleb while Janet looked around. It was helpful to feel some sort of purpose. Caleb was fascinated with a battery run tea-light type thing which he kept turning on and off, "it disappeared!" And then he had fun eating a muffin in "big bites," which he insisted I imitate. He knows words like "sweater" (we both were wearing them), and other words that seemed big and impressive for a two year old, but that I couldn't understand. He also was excited by the water fountain. Pulling up a stool he seemed to know exactly what to do, but when I bent down to his level I saw that the spout was entirely in his mouth, and water streaming all over the place. I suggested he catch the water in a different way. It still streamed all over the place, but that was okay. It was nice to spend time with him.

I ended up there for what felt like a very long time, and was really lucky to get a ride home with Maureen and Cheryl and their little one, who is the only 10 month old that I have heard snore. He's really good at it.

At home I kicked off Zach's shoes, and my heels felt like they were sinking into the floor as I walked in stocking feet. Ben and I were both exhausted for different reasons. I told him the jokes I learned yesterday as I made dinner. I've since then been plugging away at school work, and feeling like it will all get done somehow, even if it's not entirely clear how that will play out. I have a bit of a headache, which may be chocolate induced. Cecilia just came by my window pretending to be an abomidable snow man. We had tea and talked about socially uncomfortable situations, for which we plan to make "I am socially uncomfortable" cards (similar in form to the cards that some deaf people sell) with signals to help us navigate those inevitable awkward silences that make her overly aware of the state of her cuticles, and me unconsciously knead my left arm.

Zachary's shoes are certainly well worn and much used. And although they are falling apart, they still are useful (perhaps more so in dry weather). I feel like today I was taking them on an adventure as much as they were taking me on one. And although I felt odd in Zach's shoes, some how that feeling of disconnect faded into the background and became less problematic as the day went on. This has been the case all along, really. The extreme wear patterns in his shoes made me wonder if my walk took on some of his own as I went throughout the day and felt less and less odd in them. It made me think about gait, and Zach's own relaxed, unapologetic, heavy yet purposeful way of moving through the world. And this again makes me wonder how much of a record of a person their shoes really are, or can be. And how such a record might be decoded, if it exists at all.


Zachary said...


I can't believe you walked with them in the snow.

aislinn thomas said...

Zach--did you get new shoes? Oh, and have you ever had a room full of six year old girls declare they are going to marry you? I'm curious.
The shoes actually weren't so bad in the snow. Mind you, there wasn't much of it...