Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Adam mentioned that he would like to lend me his hiking boots when I spoke with him some time ago at the Kyoto Now rally. The other day he left I overheard Ben leaving a message for Adam that he had found a pair of boots in the back of the car and was wondering if they were his. They were these boots! I brought Adam's shoes along with me to Oakville to wear at some point over the holidays. I decided to wear them today.

Adam told me that his hiking boots have traveled all over with him, that he has walked in them long distances and many places... and it shows!

Adam's boots are falling apart in all sorts of places. They look very sturdy at first glance, and they are sturdy, but they also happen to have rips and tears hiding all over the place. I think they are quite beautiful.

When I put Adam's boots on, I was struck by how sturdy they felt, tears and all. My feet felt really well supported. And while they were a bit large on my feet, it wasn't in a way that was problematic or comical. Just a bit bigger than my own shoes.

Walking in Adam's shoes, there were aspects that were very particular and specific to his shoes. Mostly I was aware of a stiff part of his boot right where the laces began at the top of my foot. I could feel it each time I took a step. I also like the look and feeling of his shiny silver insoles that insulated his boots.

As I walked, I could only see the tips of his boots sticking out from my jeans (which I sometimes roll because they are kind of long on me).

In the morning I did tided a bit of the residual mess from Christmas dinner...there wasn't a lot, really, just dishes to put away. In preparation for our usual boxing day visit with Grandmitch (a good family friend, who is like a grandmother to family likes to make up names for people), I typed her a long letter. We've kept up a correspondence since I was a kid, but I haven't written her in ages, and really owe her a letter. Her eyesight hasn't been so good lately, so for sometime I've been sending her type-written notes-- I often send her 8 pages of size 36 pt font. This letter was 16 pages long. I had to engineer an envelope to get it all to fit.

We all headed off to the East end of Toronto. It was super squished in the car. We had trouble fitting the shoulders of 3 adult children in the back seat. I had a bit of trouble putting on Adam's shoes as we left...I think that all the sitting down lately (from traveling, etc.) has made my back a bit more stiff and painful. The rest of the day, I didn't bother doing up Adam's laces, which made the process easier, though perhaps far less authentic.

In the car, we each had our own distraction. I used to think this was pretty sad, but I guess it's just become a fact.

( A soon-to-be-felted snowflake.)

We stopped at Harbourfront first. For years we had a tradition of going to the zoo on boxing day--admission used to be free, and there was a walk lead by zoo keepers on the back of a truck with megaphones. Each of the animals along the walk were given special holiday treats during their usual feeding times, and we used to delight in watching their reactions. It was fun, and also very very cold. We haven't gone the past few years, either because of the distance or the need to get up so early, or just lack of enthusiasm. Last year we went skating instead, and we did the same this year.

At Harbourfront, what is a pond in the summer is an artificially cooled rink in the winter time. Being there brought up entertaining memories of when I worked at the Harbourfront summer art camp, and used to roll up my shorts to wade in the pond and help the kids during their canoe lessons.

My dad tied up my skates for me. I've always preferred the way he ties them up to anything I could do, but now it's almost necessary having help just because of how my back has been. So I waited while he wandered a bit first, and then came back and declared that the only way he was going to lace up skates was if we went inside where it was heated. So we did.

My dad did a good job, as usual, but it happened to take a very very long time as he decided that the shoelaces needed to come out of my skates and everything be entirely re-laced. I told him that his propensity for precision is sometimes an impediment. By the time my skates were on, he still had to put on his own, and already Zach had been on the rink for half an hour. My dad told me that I should go ahead, which I did, and got about halfway around one lap of the rink before the Zamboni came out and we all cleared off.

At this point my dad came hobbling out of the change room with his skates on his feet. He was visibly uncomfortable, and obviously frustrated. Grumbling, he sat down, unlaced his skates and demanded that I pull them off his feet. I was a bit afraid of tumbling backwards onto the ice, but didn't. My dad never made it onto the rink. He said that his skates weren't too small, but just aren't very good. I think they are too small. They were awfully hard to get off his feet.

("Pull! Pull! Don't fall onto the ice! Pull!...")

So my dad went back to the car, and Katie took her skates off, and I waited for the Zamboni to do it's thing, as I was determined to skate around at least one full lap, which is about all I ended up doing.

My brother and sister and I never learned how to skate properly. Zach looks the most comfortable on skates. He has no fear. He likes to go as fast as he can, even though he doesn't know how to stop. My sisters technique is to hold on to whatever is closest to her. Last year it was me. The entire time she repeated, "don't let go, don't let go." This year I felt like I couldn't risk being pulled down by her, so Katie stuck to the edge. I just move along awkwardly and hope that no little kid happens to fall directly in my path. This happened once before and my reflexes saved me. I don't know if I could repeat it, but I jumped over the kid. This year all the little ones were skating circles around us to the Christmas carols that played over the loudspeakers.

We left and headed to Grandmitch's. I tucked Adam's shoelaces inside his boots and wore them that way. When we got to her retirement home we each carried a component of the meal we brought to share with her. I got was in charge of the mincemeat and the butter tarts. Grandmitch lives on the 5th floor, but we took one look at the elevator and decided to take the stairs. We came right at their lunchtime and there was a line of elderly women with canes that they have been known to use at weapons in claiming space on the elevator. So, five flights later we got to Grandmitch's apartment, and unpacked our picnic style lunch.

It was nice to spend time with Grandmitch and her daughter, my Auntie Jo-Jo. We talked about many things: Cockney rhyming slang, accents, my dad's growing up. I remembered visiting family in England when I was young (we no longer have any living relatives there). My dad's voice would change, and he would take on the Yorkshire accent that he apparently had as a child. I've noticed the same in my mom's voice when we're in Missouri, and to a certain extent, I notice it a bit in my own. My dad said that he thinks we take on accents when we're in a place because of a perhaps unconscious desire to be understood...and I would say to belong. It was interesting.

Even though Grandmitch's hearing and eyesight isn't what it used to be, she still kept up with much of the conversation, and at one point, when my dad asked what she wanted (expecting, I imagine, that she might want some more wine or turkey or cheese), she answered, "a young man." I don't know if he even heard her, but I did, and it was nice to see that she still has her sense of humour.

Coming home, we all somehow felt exhausted. Even so, my dad agreed to get off the highway and drop by Mari's place of work so that I could return her shoes to her. We got there and I found that the store was closed. I felt badly making my family take the detour, but we were all a bit too tired to make much of it, I think.

At home I helped my mom clean up and took a nap. It was really hard to get out of bed afterwards. I felt like Christmas had drained me entirely and I wasn't sure who I was anymore. I watched the last 15 minutes of "Everything is Illuminated" with my family, which made me want to read the book again. I had dinner, and thought about heading back to Guelph.

My day in Adam's shoes was not unlike the one I spent in Mari's. Both their shoes are obviously well-worn, and much enjoyed. I loved coming across all the little tears and rips that were hiding in Adam's boots. It was like finding hidden treasure. I had a conversation with a friend today about how broken things have a special kind of beauty. I think it's a kind of wise beauty--it's true to the world. And definitely genuine. It's the kind of beauty that's found in realizing that perfection isn't necessary--or even so desirable, really. This is a relief, and moreover, touching...and, I think, disarming.
I wore Adam's shoes on a day that felt a bit draining, and challenging, but also held lots of fun, and lots of reconnecting with good friends. They were there on my feet during a lot of that up and down, even as I was distracted from their presence. I find myself thinking now about how well-worn shoes are faithful and gentle witnesses. I appreciated them being there.

Monday, December 24, 2007


I visited with Mari yesterday. When I got there, we each liked what the other was wearing so much that we traded dresses for the afternoon. We walked around Kensington market, became overwhelmed by people and wool and shared a muffin, tea and a long chat. At the end of our visit, Mari told me that she was going to have to give me her favorite pair of shoes.

They are a pair of boots that are from Brazil, and made of reused canvas tarp that used to cover a truck. The wedge-heeled soles are made of recycled tires. Mari's shoes are definitely well used and well loved. Each shoe has a little hole forming above the big toe. One zipper no longer works, and she stitched it closed ("I don't know how to fix things"). The same shoe has a broken shoe lace, and Mari's solution reminds me a lot of Cecilia's answer to the same problem.

(It's hard to get both my head and my feet in the same picture, it seems...)

I actually remember these shoes well. I think that Mari was wearing them when we first met after she came back to Canada from Brazil after a long process of immigration-related rigmarole. I am certain she was wearing them some weeks later when she came to my parent's house for a special party that I was having. The way she tells the story, that party was the reason she moved back to Canada. It's a bit of a magical tale.

Mari told me that this pair of shoes is very much a part of her. She explained that if people don't like her, it often is expressed indirectly as a comment about her shoes. She told me how when she quit her last job, a woman she worked with looked at her feet and told Mari that she hated her shoes. Mari joked about how a lot of time could be saved in navigating the world of human interaction by asking people what they thought about her shoes: "if you don't like my shoes, there's no way you're going to like me, because these shoes basically are me." She said it with conviction.

I found this really interesting, and I also felt a bit of pressure. I was worried that if I didn't feel entirely at home in Mari's shoes that it would mean something about our friendship. I felt for the first time that there was something really tangible at stake in wearing someone else's shoes, and so the usually curiosity that I approach the task with was coupled with a bit of anxiety. It was interesting.

I put Mari's shoes on in the morning to catch the 9am train to Toronto. At the moment, I'm staying at my parent's place in Oakville for a few days over the holidays. I was lucky enough to get an appointment with a Structural Integration practitioner. I rode to Union station, went to the bank and walked around a bit, before taking the subway.

Mari's shoes looked small to me, even though we wear the same shoe size. When I put them on, I was surprised to find that they were quite roomy, especially around my toes. I found myself thinking as the wind blew through the canvas that I could have easily worn a pair of wool socks over my cotton ones.

I also found, as with other heeled shoes, that it feels really unusual for me to take a step without flexing my heel more. It seemed to me that wearing Mari's boots changed my gait a bit--my hips swinging more, and my feet extending in a different way. It seemed also like there was automatically more spunk in each step.

It's funny, I wore this turquoise coat and orange hat when I came to my parents' place on Saturday, and it felt really good to be "a symphony of colour," as one person put it. But today, I found myself almost dreading wearing them because I just didn't feel like I had the energy to keep it up--to be so colourful, to be alive in that way. While my coat and hat didn't feel like an accurate reflection of me today, I didn't have any other options for keeping warm. So I wore them. The whole thing felt even more complicated wearing a pair of shoes that felt like they didn't really go with the clothing that I didn't really want to wear. It's interesting to me how conscious I am about this sort of thing, and how wearing other people's shoes brings up my own ambivalence around clothing and appearance.

At the appointment, the practitioner did a lot of work on my legs (and also hips and neck). After watching me walk he said that I seemed really uncertain in my legs. Also, in relation to talking about how the body can store emotions, he told me that he sensed I had a lot of anxiety. I found this interesting. I suppose I do have my fair share of anxiety, and certainly have had heaps of anxiety in the past. I don't know if I would describe myself as an anxious person, and in fact, some friends have told me that they think of me as a calming presence. But I think it is definitely possible that my body's holding onto all sorts of old stuff. It was interesting that as he told me this, I felt disappointed in myself, like I had somehow failed the adequate person test because I have anxiety stored up in all sorts of places, and a body that doesn't want to cooperate with me. I, like many, am good at being hard on myself.

Anyhow, afterwards I felt like my body was 40 times heavier than before. I felt like I was a part of the ground and my arms swung loosely from my torso. It made me teary to feel so different, to feel so much in the world. When I put Mari's shoes on, I felt like I wanted to badly for my heels to be closer to the ground. I didn't want to let go of that sinking feeling. As I walked to the subway I tried to stay loose and heavy, which somehow also translated into being slow. I don't know how to be loose and heavy and rushing for the subway (or anything) all at once. Usually I think I walk as if I'm about to jump out of my body. Especially if I happen to be going quickly.

I ended up with time before the train back, so meandered a bit. Back in Oakville I made some tea and got some gifts ready. I had a much needed nap. I was beginning to feel like I needed to escape and skip out on the rest of Christmas before it had even begun, but sleeping a bit made everything seem less desperate. My sister came in and spooned me as I was contemplating getting up and wondering why it is that I often drool when napping, but never when sleeping at night. I got up and my brother and sister and I decorated our neighbor's front porch and tree, something we've been doing for some years now. I cut up some celeriac and beets and roasted them as part of our dinner.

As an amusing aside, Zachary announced at the dinner table that he would from now on refer to his soy egg nog as "snog." A few months ago Zach began having horrible reactions to milk, and last night really wanted some egg nog. We went across the way to Whole Foods to satisfy his craving, and for me to find an iron supplement that doesn't make my teeth grey. I laughed most of the way over--Zach's favourite way to get to the plaza is to scale the berm that separates my parent's street from the main thoroughfare beyond it. He does by taking comical leaps on the way up, and a funny run on the way down. I followed behind him laughing, and moving more cautiously. All sorts of spiky things attached themselves to my stockings. Inside I was pushing a cart and examining the overwhelming variety contained in that store while Zach went up ahead and played with a 'Buddha Board' water painting thingo that was on display. I walked by to check out his creation. He had scrawled, "Hey Aislinn, watch out!" and as I read it, he tripped me from behind. His timing was impeccable, and we both laughed a ton.

(Zach kindly helped me take off Mari's boots after our decorating. When I pulled out the camera, he started making this face.)

So tonight my mom proposed a toast, and we clinked our snog or water-filled glasses. After dinner my dad read a few Christmas stories, which Katie and Zach feel too old for, but I don't mind listening to (especially since I can see how much he enjoys it). My dad is currently baking yet another batch of mince tarts. My mom and sister are watching Christmas movies on TV. Zach is in bed. I hope to be sleeping very soon, myself.

Mari's shoes are well loved and well worn. I really enjoy shoes like this that hold lots of stories about a person, and in this case, evoke my own memories of a person. Mari's right--these shoes do seem to be so much a part of her. Today I wore them a bunch of places...on trains that are familiar from what seems like a distant part of my life; on grey city streets; in train and subway stations absolutely filled with people and noise and parcels; and on a sneaky tree-decorating mission. For the first time, I think, the unfamiliarity of someone else's shoes was paired with the kind of unfamiliarity of a day that didn't have the usual structure or common ground that most of my days have. I haven't slept at my parent's house since this time last year, I haven't taken the GO train in ages. Maybe that's part of the reason that I found myself partway through the day craving some kind of anchor, longing for that heaviness, wanting to feel my feet more close to the ground, and missing the comfort and familiarity if my own shoes. Or maybe it's the season, which I usually find to be very strained and difficult to enjoy. Maybe it's sometimes hard enough being present in my own skin, without adding in the complicating factor of something new between me and the ground; something that I want to be attentive to, that is so much a part of another person who is important to me, another person who I want to be close to. But I'm not Mari, and maybe it's okay that there were moments when my feet didn't want to be in her shoes, didn't feel like it was where they belonged or what they needed. And maybe that doesn't have to mean that our friendship is ill-fated.
I really, truly, definitely, certainly hope so.

christmas trees

(The tree I felted...I think the buttons and beads make it much nicer. It also helps that it has a home now...
...on Tara's lovely and clever Christmas tree!)

Merry, merry, everyone. I hope that whatever you are doing, you are having a time!