Monday, November 26, 2007


Victoria lent me her shoes just over a week ago. She lives across the street from me, but I'd never met her before--or even seen her, that I can remember. Her husband was working on their roof, and also hanging up numerous Christmas decorations: icicle lights, light-up candy canes, an inflatable Santa, and inflatable penguin, and a reindeer on the roof. There may be more, but I think that's the bulk of it.

I crossed the street, nervously introduced myself, and told Tracey and Victoria about the whole shoe thing. I asked if they would be willing to participate. They were incredibly friendly about it, and open to the whole strange thing, even as I was having trouble making eye contact. Tracey said that of all of Victoria's shoes, surely there was a pair she could lend me. Victoria agreed. She went in, and came out with these shoes. She told me that there is no hurry, that they don't fit her well anymore. They both smiled kindly and easily.

Originally when I was thinking about how I wanted to put myself in other people's shoes, it seemed most meaningful and important for me to put myself in the shoes of those who I have complicated or tenuous relationships with: my parents, my ex-partner, my siblings, a current love interest. I didn't know what to expect from the experience, but wanted to try and make a genuine and heartfelt, if misguided, gesture that seemed to me to be somehow bittersweet. I think that I expected utter failure at being able to put myself in other people's shoes in any metaphorical sense by simply wearing other people's shoes. And in almost every way it is a failed gesture, when separated from its intent. But the experience has been richer than I anticipated.

There actually (thankfully) aren't a whole lot of people with whom my relationship is complex and challenging. Interestingly, what have been some of my closest relationships are the same relationships that are now the most fraught with difficulty or tension. There was a time that I was sure that this meant there was something fundamentally horrible about me. I don't find that notion too convincing now.

But yes, I wouldn't really have been able to experience being many pairs of shoes if I had limited this endeavor to my original ideas and motivations. It was actually thanks to a conversation with my teacher (who happens to have an uncanny knack for helping people flesh out and even come up with ideas) that I saw how it would be important to try and experience the shoes of as many people, and as many different people, as possible.

This included strangers.

So far, Victoria's shoes are the only shoes that I've worn that belong to someone that I had never even seen or met before. To be honest, the biggest challenge in borrowing the shoes of a stranger, is me working up the nerve to ask them. I figure that it takes a lot of trust to not only fulfill such a strange request, but to fulfill a strange request that involves lending something as important and personal as shoes. I figure that in this case it helps that I could point to where I live as I asked to borrow footwear. Victoria can always knock on my door if she finds herself missing her black pumps, or feels I've crossed a boundary in the length of time I've been holding onto her shoes.

Like Andrea's shoes, Victoria's shoes are both too small, and have much higher heels than I am accustomed to wearing. I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to last the whole day in them. So I decided to wear them this morning. And since I have a bunch more audio editing to do, I thought I would just wear them as I went about my thing.

Victoria's shoes are black pumps with large (as in wide) heels and an almost suede texture to them. They have little gold details at the top of each shoe. The heel of the shoes were a little squished in when I got them--perhaps they'd been sometime in a closet underneath other shoes, or otherwise molded into shape. This might be part of what makes them feel uncomfortable.

So this morning I wore Victoria's shoes as I made and ate breakfast, did some computer work, drank tea, and all the stuff that my mornings usually include. They are on my feet right now. The interesting thing is that although they are uncomfortable and squeeze my toes (especially on my right foot), they actually aren't too small, but perhaps even a little too big--my heels pop out of them every so often. Another interesting thing is again that feeling of wearing heeled shoes. It feels like way more of my weight is on the balls of my feet than usual, and this combined with the hard bottom of the shoes makes my experience of the ground less forgiving, and more unpleasant than I am accustomed to.

But like I've noticed with most of the shoes I've worn, bodies seem to have a way of adapting. so although I've only been wearing Victoria's shoes for an hour or so, already the discomfort and unfamiliarity seems ordinary. I still am having trouble recognizing my feet when I look down, but if I'm able to wear them for any length of time more, that will likely subside as well.

Victoria's shoes seem business-like and proper. They also remind me of my mom and mom shoes in general. My feet aren't very comfortable in them, and they aren't really suited for my entire day (it is very snowy here right now), but my morning in them has been interesting and somehow feels more business like than usual. Perhaps that's why I wore a tie.
Also, I am both surprised by and grateful for Victoria's trust in lending me her shoes. Even if they are not a pair she wears often or at all. I am not sure how much closer wearing these heels has brought me to her, but the exchange I had with her in requesting to borrow her footwear means that I at least know her name now, and her face, her generosity, and her smile.
shoes of someone I don't know. left with only the experience of the shoes.

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