Sunday, December 2, 2007


Saturday, December 1st, 2007
A day in my shoes.

On Saturday I wore my own shoes for the first time in almost three weeks. I think I was half expecting to have some kind of shoe-related epiphany or a incredibly strong sense of having arrived home, but nothing of that sort happened.

In fact, my shoes felt utterly strange.

My shoes are a pair of brown Blundstone boots that are three or four years old. They have elastic panels on both sides of each ankle, and little tabs so that you can pull them on.

When I first put on my shoes on Saturday morning, I expected them to feel roomier than they did. Maybe it has to do with all the too-big shoes I've been wearing, or maybe my toes have expanded. Or maybe it's about the kind of awareness of the everyday that only comes after having experienced something different. I felt like my toes, and the spot just above them, were all a little squished. Or maybe not squished, but contained in a way that wasn't entirely comfortable. I also noticed the way that my heels lifted slightly in the shoes as I walked and how scuffed up my boots looked. And how they didn't look or feel as familiar as I unconsciously expected they would. It seemed so strange to me that my own shoes didn't seem like they were necessarily mine. I found myself wondering how that could be.

I actually have a number of pairs of shoes--a fancy pair, a colourful pair (okay, two colourful pairs, one of which are also sneakers), sandals with holes in them, and another pair of boots (which are also kind of colourful) . I chose to wear my blundstones for a couple of reasons: the weather (cold, a little snowy), and because I tend to revert to them as default footwear. I have worn them in all seasons, in all sorts of weather: rain, snow, mud, and sleet. They have seen many a dance floor (both proper and improvised), a number of puddle jumps, been in an MRI machine, on a couple of farms, in hospital, schools, painting studios, trains, buses and one tidal river. They have been on my feet in all the love and heartache, excitement, frustration, pain, and mundane neutrality of daily life. They've served me well.

I bought these boots at a boxing week sale at the Australian Boot Company store on Queen West in Toronto. I remember my boyfriend at the time coming with me and witnessing the whole awful ordeal of me choosing and buying shoes. When remembering it now, I either laugh or cringe. At the time I had an especially hard time making decisions. And an especially hard time spending money on myself. This combination made for a long and arduous afternoon of going back and forth about it all. I remember the acute, visceral anxiety it all caused for me. And Evan's simultaneous patience and frustration. I eventually bought the boots, wore them out of the store, and after no more than 6 steps, freaked out and went back inside. I was worried that they felt all wrong. The sales person kindly gave me some insoles to see if they helped. They did.

I don't remember when I stopped being anxious about my purchase, when my boots just became my boots and were no longer attached to a sinking hole of guilt and fear in my stomach-- guilt and fear about the money I spent, and whether or not it was the "right" decision, and whether or not they fit well, and whether or not I "should" have bought them and whether or not I needed them enough to justify it. Now I can't imagine not having them in my life. They seem natural, and are almost an extension of myself. Except when they're not. Like when returning from the world of other people's footwear, which I explored a couple of days ago.

On Saturday I wore my shoes on a quick trip to the market and Stone Store before heading over to the Saturday art class. We painted our sculptures and began making armatures for a plaster gauze project. It's amazing how loud a small group of children can be, and how amusing it can be if one doesn't have a task he or she is trying to convince them to complete, or an investment in the outcome. I caught glimpses of this as I stood back internally from the relative pandemonium. At this point, my shoes were very much in the background.

I walked home after the class to have a quick lunch before heading over the the Eco Market in Old Quebec Street Mall. I had agreed to paint faces for the afternoon. It was really enjoyable, though towards the end it became ever so busy, and I felt like a face painting machine--snowflakes, Christmas trees, crowns, flowers, snakes, spiders, bats and a tea cup. I really appreciated seeing the kids' faces light up when they saw themselves in the mirror, even when I had done a less than mediocre job, which happened more than once. I learned a few things: one 7 year old told me all about the world of lego today and ever so accurately described the frigate that he would like me to paint across his face. He settled for a single-masted ship with a Christmas tree on the flag. He told me that he didn't know if he would ever see me again, but if he did, he would be sure to bring me a picture of a frigate. For those of you that didn't know (I didn't), a frigate is a kind of ship. This fellow was quite the expert. I really enjoy it when kids are so absorbed in a subject, and eager and willing to share all their knowledge of it.

I was meant to only stay until 5pm, but it was so busy that I stayed until 7. Luckily, having a task to focus on kept me from feeling overwhelmed by the throngs of people, and the noise that came with them. Also luckily, just as I was beginning to feel like I might become completely dizzy if I didn't get any fuel in me, I saw Diane sitting behind me and asked her if she'd mind painting some faces. I was really glad to have the chance to grab something to eat. It made such a difference. Diane was also kind enough to walk partway home with me through all the cold. I think I would have been totally miserable dragging my suitcase through -13 degree weather otherwise. At home I kicked off my boots and crawled into bed at 8:00. I ended up waking up and knitting partway through the night, but sleep came again.

My shoes are scuffed and worn, practical, functional, and versatile. It was interesting to have the sense of them as strangers on my feet, when they've seen me through so much. I've now worn them a few days more, and they are feeling more familiar, more like home. Or at least neutral in the sense that I tend to take them for granted.
Today I found myself thinking about all the things that my shoes have been through and been witness to. And then thinking about how this vast array of things, these places, feelings, experiences, noticings...all this bundle of unexpectedness and uncertainty that these past years--that every year--has been, is stuff that is really challenging. And it amazes me in a way that my shoes are still here. They are still here, and my feet are still becoming warm in them, and they are still carrying me through each day. What I find even more amazing yet, is that this messy, tangled bundle is what I have somehow been through (in these shoes and others), and this seems surprising and touching and poignant and sad and joyful and confounding all at once.
Three years ago I didn't know how to imagine myself being in the world in a decent way. When I think about it, I am always astounded to find myself where I am. Even if where I am is a bit lost, or groundless. Even if where I am happens to hurt.
Today I find myself beginning to recognize and appreciate my own resiliency.
It's not a quality I thought I had, until I put myself in my own shoes.

[a detour:

These are some drawings I started doing on Thursday. I find them compelling, though they are very simple. Something about attentiveness and caring about small small things is important to me. Here I've been tracing the tiny bits of thread in the recycled paper of this book. I realized that I've done a number of projects with this kind of tracing, or other small incursions based on what is already there. I feel silly for feeling like this sort of thing matters. But for some reason it speaks to me.]