Thursday, November 6, 2008


Mary contacted me curious to see what it would be like to lend me a pair of her shoes, and write about the experience. I dropped by her office in early November to pick them up. She was in a meeting, but the shoes were waiting for me in a clear green plastic bag with an attached sticky note with my name. Mary was kind enough to step out and chat with me a bit about her shoes before I went on my way.

I was excited to learn that the shoes Mary chose to lend me at one time belonged to her sister. The exciting part about that is that her sister happens to live in St. Louis, Missouri, where I have a lot of family. Mary herself is also an American citizen, and I had intended on wearing her shoes on November 4th, the date of the U.S. election, for which I had an interesting party/art project planned.

Mary's sister, Judy, purchased these shoes because she thought they'd be good shoes to work in. She works for Anheiser-Bush, and is on her feet all day. Judy found the shoes too tight, and so she gave them to Mary, thinking that Mary or one of Mary's daughters would be able to use them. Mary told me that her kids think that the shoes are ugly, but that she likes them: they are comfortable, they are black and therefore go with most anything, and they are overall pretty practical shoes. Mary explained how she considers the shoes to be Judy's, but that Judy considers them to belong to Mary. After reading the posting on Berndt's shoes, Mary was curious to lend me shoes whos ownership was somewhat ambiguous.

Mary/Judy's shoes are sneaker-type Asics shoes. They seem to be black suede with white plastic detailing and white laces. When I put the shoes on I noticed how elasticy they were (the tounge is elasticized along the sides where it attaches to the rest of the shoe). They were a little big, but my feet didn't slide in them. At first I couldn't help but notice how low the arch of the shoe felt. I was actually worried that the shoes might be uncomfortable for this reason, but I soon adjusted to it. I also somehow was shocked each time I looked down to see the shoes on my feet. I had dressed in red, white and blue for the occasion of the election, as well as a performace that was planned for a class that afternoon, and had I been wearing my own shoes, my red sneakers would have been on my feet. I kept unconsciously expecting to see them there.

(I was just thinking now about how I half-expected people to ask me whose shoes I was wearing that day, but nobody did. This project has become more occasional of late, and I guess people no longer expect me to see me wearing shoes that aren't my own. Some small part of me was disappointed that no one asked me. It was interesting.)

I had a full day. The morning was spent preparing for the election night event. Weeks earlier my grandmother had mailed me a jell-o mold of the continental United States (minus Alaska). I knew that I needed to do some sort of project with it, but it took me awhile to realize what that was. With the upcoming election, it seemed to make sense to incorporate a jello-o USA or two into election day, and it occurred to me to do the following: I made one red (strawberry and raspberry) jell-o version of the USA, and one blue (mixed berry) version of the USA. The red jell-o represented the Republicans, and the blue, the Democrats. I planned a party to watch the election coverage, and when the Republicans won a state, we ate the blue version of that state, and vice versa when the Democrats won a state. This left behind a record of the election results in the form of a jell-o map of the USA.

I'd spent the past few days in and out of the grocery store buying blue and red jell-o. In the morning I decided that it was an oversite and a mistake to not somehow represent Hawaii and Alaska, so I made one more trip to No Frills. I made Hawaii and Alaska x 2 (definitely not to scale), and proceeded to check on the Republicans (the red jell-o map), which weren't doing so well the day before. It turned out that they were doing even less well, and so I biked back to No Frills for three more packages of red jell-o. I made a smaller (shallower) version of the Republicans and hoped that it would set in time.

I went to the studio to work on a drawing of the jell-o map that we could colour in throughout the evening to help record the election results and our consumption of jell-o USAs. Then I loaded up my bicycle with mugs for another art project, and hauled it all over to the art building. Once there I realized that the performance we'd planned for that afternoon would have to take another form: right across from the space that we'd planned on having "High Tea" the annual halocaust memorial reading was taking place. It wouldn't have been appropriate to for our project to be anywhere nearby. So we made some last minute changes and had High Tea on Johnston Green (a field on the North side of campus).

I collaborated on High Tea with my fellow classmates Karen Hawes and Allison Zuk. It was originally a performance documented in the form of a video for installation. Karen and I had tea in various high places: in a tree, an elevator, on a hill, at the top of jumps on mini-trampolines, on a rooftop, at the top row of stadium bleachers, and on scaffolding at a construction site (I should note that we dressed appropriately for each occasion, and consumed tea that somehow seemed to fit the situation). We thought it would be nice to include the class in another incarnation of the project. We gathered as many ladders we could find, and enjoyed tea and cookies together while sitting on ladders in the middle of a field. (Did I mention that the weather happened to be spectacular? It was sunny and warm, and we didn't even need jackets! A photographer from the local paper was taking pictures of students wearing shorts and sunbathing on Johnston Green, and came a snapped some photos of the High Tea.) We went back to class, had a guest speaker--Dean Baldwin--who made us pina coladas that we drank out of coconuts. We showed our video, and critiqued it and another project.

After class I had an hour and a half before an art history lecture. I decorated the classroom with streamers and got ready for the election night party. I had dinner and went to class. And after that, the party.

I have to say that I was so relieved by the election results that I wasn't sure what to do with myself. I have to admit that I've lost faith in the electoral process, and didn't fully trust that Obama would win, despite overwhelming odds in his favour. The significance, symbollic and otherwise, of his victory is so great that at the end of the evening I felt quite lost. I think that a number of people here are able to approach the whole situation lightheartedly or even with a certain amount of dismissiveness. There are some things, however, that I am just not willing to take lightly. After cleaning up I had a short cry, just because what I wanted so badly, yet hadn't let myself believe was possible, seemed to have happened after all.

Some of us made plans to go out to the Albion afterwards, but when I arrived on my bike, it turned out to be closed. After some difficulty deciding what to do next, we dispersed. I walked partway home with Margaret, who spent part of her childhood in the states. She was also relieved by the events of the evening, and struck by the implications of such a turn of events. It was more than helpful to talk to her.

As I was watching the election coverage, I couldn't help but think about Judy, and wonder what she was doing that night. Mary and her family, like mine, are Democrat supporters, in a state that is traditionally Republican. I wonder if she felt a similar anxiety, and if it was followed by bewilderment or relief or joy, or some combination of the above. Did she cry? Did Mary? I wonder how many people in the world shed tears in front of televisions, or next to radios that evening, and if the tears could somehow be collected, how much volume that would take up, and where we would keep them.

Mary/Judy's shoes are comfortable and versitile. My day in them was quite full, and involved a whole range of activities, experiences and emotions. It seemed so brilliantly appropriate that I should wear on that day the shoes of someone that not only spends most of the day busy and on her feet, but lives in the United States. In St. Louis, no less--not far from so many of my own loved ones and memories. In the hustle and bustle, like always, it seems, I eventually forgot the unusual-ness of Mary/Judy's shoes on my feet. But they were there, throughout the stream of a day that included oddly terrific weather and the (in my opinion) terrifically terrific occasion of the election of Barack Obama.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

sandals at last

I took this picture post-rolling down a step hill, and pre-swimming and and trail-exploring.
My feet are pretty happy to be enjoying the last few sweet days of summer in sandals. (Summer, for me, ends with back to school time, which is somehow here already.)

I began my quest for sandals last summer, but never found any. Instead I wore an old pair that had holes in the bottom. The holes got bigger, and eventually I threw them away. This summer I was having such a hard time finding sensible yet lovely sandals that weren't over $100 that I decided I would just wear a pair of sandals that I found at my parent's house. I got them when I was somewhere between 13 and 15 years old, and they were really well worn, but relatively functional still. After a day on my feet at the art camp I was teaching at, I had to trash that idea. My back was totally achy and awful. The same thing happened when I wore another pair of nearly done for (and totally arch-less) sandals that had been my aunt's. So I began to take the sandal hunt slightly more seriously.

My main predicament with things like proper sandals and dish drying racks and home internet service, is that while very helpful and pleasant, they aren't necessary enough to encourage me to want to spend the energy it takes to make them a part of my life. With enough time (which is (perhaps) surprisingly little), I can adapt to living without these kinds of things. So I've been wearing closed shoes in the summer, and leaving dishes to dry in a plastic tray and seeking out free wireless around town.

But finally I decided to actually take the plunge and buy this pair of sandals. Part of the reason it took so long to do just that is that proper shoes are a bit of an investment. I wanted to try a few different kinds of sandals on first. I am still not sure if I got the "right" or "best" pair of sandals for me. In the end it was a bit of a compromise. I figured that it was worth just going for something that was good enough instead of trying to go on any more far flung excursions.

So I bought them from a store in downtown Guelph, just blocks from where I live. I'd been in the store once in the middle of the summer and tried them on. Waiting so long to buy them was a bit of a gamble, but when I went in the other week, I ended up getting the last pair. They happened to be just my size (actually one size too big, but that doesn't seem to be a problem). They also happened to be less than half their original price, which was a good thing.

I had a bit of a hard time the first few days I wore them. I didn't love them like I would like to love my shoes. They aren't red or especially cheerful or unusual. They don't slip on (my ideal sandals would do just some points my back has been so painful that I have depended on other people to do up my shoes for me). And while they are sensible (i.e. supportive) and not overwhelming sensible (i.e. clunky) they gave me blisters. Blisters!
Blisters are not any fun.

I was talking to my dad. He frequently suffers from what he has come to term "buyer's remorse." This is something that I also know well. He commiserated with me. Apparently he has had lots of bad luck with sandals. It was nice to talk to someone who understood. I asked if he had any suggestions. "Well, you know what the cowboys do."
I didn't.
"When they get a new pair of leather boots, they fill them up with warm water, and then wear them."
Hmmm...puzzled (I was picturing cowboys and their boots and bathtubs), I asked if they dumped out the water first.
"Well, aislinn, as you know, the water would be displaced by their feet."
My dad is a scientist.

This so-called "cowboy technique" sounded like a bad idea to me. I couldn't imagine my sandals being any more comfortable wet. In fact it seemed to me like that situation would be a whole lot worse (blisters + wet sandals = no more blisters? This seems like a clearly imbalanced equation).

I kind of dismissed it, and wore band aids. But over one lunch break, I was enticed by the thought of cooling off a little and went for a walk in the Elora gorge. I didn't know it, but lots of people do just that, and there are stone steps that lead down to the river for just that purpose. I wore my sandals, since it was super rocky and slippery. The gorge was gorgeous (no pun intended), and the water clear and cold. The rest of the day my feet were cool and comfortable, and ever since then I haven't had any blister problems.
Go figure.

So anyhow, I've had a few days off before classes begin again. I'm trying to do summer-y things so that I can't complain about the season passing me by. I've canned peaches in these sandals (sticky and slightly dangerous), biked to swimming holes (yay for swimming!), gone for circuitous walks (surprisingly challenging), eaten gelato in the middle of the Yonge and Dundas scramble (lemon! raspberry!...super yummy), picked tomatoes (they taste like summer) and danced in my living room (highly recommended any time of year).

The shoes are beginning to seem more natural, and less like alien parasites on my feet. I have been thinking about what it means to commit myself to a pair of shoes, to chose them and to put myself in them each day. And what it means more generally to wear one's own shoes. I feel like I have more to say about this, but it's still not fully formulated in my head. And this post is long enough as it is.
So it will have to wait.

Happy September, all! I hope your feet are enjoying this late-summer sandal weather, too. And if they're not, consider doing what the cowboys do...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

shoes in the news

Here's the story that ran in the Guelph Tribune the other week, and a picture with Mike's shoes on my feet.
Just for the record, I happened to be wearing safety shorts under that dress.
It turned out to be a wise choice.

She's Walking Miles in Someone Else's Shoes
By Dave Bowden
Arts & Entertainment
Aug 15, 2008

Imagine wearing shoes that don't fit, shoes so old they're nearly falling apart, shoes that are meant for the opposite sex. Now imagine spending a day in them.

As part art project, part social experiment, Aislinn Thomas decided last November that she'd try taking the phrase "put yourself in someone else's shoes" literally.

Since then, the University of Guelph art student has borrowed shoes from friends, family members and complete strangers, wearing them for a day (or as long as is comfortable) in an attempt to learn about herself and the people around her. While she admitted that it's difficult to know someone by just wearing their shoes, she said she's surprised by how much she's learned since she began.

"I thought (the project) would be . . . doomed because I didn't think there was any way that I could get that kind of a sense of a person from just wearing their shoes," she said. "And I don't (get that sense), necessarily, but I have learned a lot of other things." For instance, Thomas said she's been touched by the generosity people have shown when she explains the project.

"Even strangers have been really generous with me, because shoes are kind of an intimate thing in a way," she said. "Strangers on the street, even in winter - in blowing snow - will take their shoes off and exchange shoes with me."

Of course, not everyone has been so forthcoming. When she first conceived of the notion and pitched it to friends, Thomas said reactions varied.

"The first person I asked seemed a bit hesitant," she recalled. "Some people are really excited about the idea right away. Other people warm up to it."

Thomas established a blog, "In Your Shoes," to share the stories associated with the shoes with a broader audience. One man was so taken with the idea that he actually mailed her his shoes all the way from Pennsylvania. She said she's been surprised and humbled by the response and attention her project has garnered.

"People lend me shoes that have been all over the world, or have seen them through really trying experiences," she said. "(And) I'm thinking, I'm riding my bicycle, is this enough? Am I doing these shoes justice?"

Thomas estimates that she's borrowed about 50 pairs of shoes since she started in November. She has no end in sight for the project, choosing instead to stop "when it sort of comes to its natural conclusion." For now, she said she's not done experimenting.

"I'd like to keep going with it, because I feel like there's still stuff I can learn from it."

To read the stories Thomas has gathered, visit her blog at

(You can also read this story at:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Not long ago, a friend of mine told me that I had to ask Mike about his shoes. I happened to see him a few days later at a cafe, and he was kind enough to let me pester him with questions. Mike has been suffering from serious back pain for some time. He told me about his sneakers. The day that he bought them, he wore them to walk over to the pharmacy to pick up more painkillers. In that short amount of time, his back pain was reduced by 50% (!!).

So I was inaugurated into the world of terms like "pronation" and "supination," and bright white sneakers. Mike explained to me how running shoes are meant to keep ones weight evenly distributed, and correct the habits that an individual may have (rolling in or out, for example). He showed me a website of athletic shoes. I had no idea that sneakers were so specific. The pair that he bought were "neutral" shoes, that keep him centred in the shoe, and help his tendency of rolling towards the outside of his shoe. He urged me to try a pair. I think that he could sense my hesitation and said, "you could always paint them."

I did end up trying out a bunch of running shoes one rainy evening at a store downtown. The woman there was really helpful, and okay with the fact that I had no idea if I actually wanted to invest in a pair. I must have tried at least 5 different kinds. She told me that when walking, my weight is evenly distributed, so it's not rolling that's causing or prolonging any back pain. The shoes felt strange on my feet. Like whole other worlds.

Anyhow, that was a whole bunch of preamble. The upshot of the whole situation is that I thought it was about time to put myself in another person's shoes again. And I thought it might be a good idea to ask Mike if he was willing to lend me a pair of his.
He was.

Of course Mike didn't lend me his miracle sneakers--he needs those on his own feet each day. But this pair of shoes came to mind as a pair that I might find comfortable. He described the as "deck shoes," which is a term that was unfamiliar to me. Since then I've heard it a few times (as a sidetrack, I have also been seeing a lot of desert boots these days, which I haven't seen in about 17 years...). Mike told me that he got these shoes, which are light brown leather Aldos, at a factory outlet store in Quebec. He said that they were pretty comfortable shoes, and would likely stay on my feet despite their large size. He kindly brought them into work, where I picked them up from him the next day.

That week I was working mornings in Elora. I decided it was unwise to wear Mike's shoes to work. The previous day a little girl had (accidentally) dropped her paint palette on my feet. My shoes were covered in yellow paint, which happened to be washable, but still not something I wanted to risk subjecting someone else's shoes to. The other reason that I decided to wear them for just half a day, was that they were difficult for me to walk in. Although they have laces, even when tied as tightly as possible the shoes still felt like they were at risk of falling off. I had to do that ball of foot kind of grab with each step, which was fine for a little while, but eventually didn't feel like a helpful thing to be doing.

So I wore Mike's shoes for an afternoon and evening. I biked with them to the library and bank (it was funny to see the length of them sticking out from my bike pedals as I did so). I met with Dave Bowden, a reporter at the Guelph Tribune. I tried hard to smile comfortably as he took photos for the article he was working on. I went to an appointment, and noticed that there was a receipt in the bottom of one shoe. It was for cantaloupe. I worked on a video briefly at the school, made dinner, and walked with a friend of mine to an art opening downtown. On the way I tripped at least 3 times, and noticed for the first time ever that the Curry in a Hurry restaurant at the bottom of the hill is in a house that is only half a house.

I saw some really great paintings and reconnected with some friends. We wandered back home, and my pal showed me photos from her trip to Costa Rica. We pined for distant travels, and I walked home and went to bed. Mike's shoes stayed at the bottom of the stairs with all the others as I slept.

Mike was right--his shoes were comfy. I enjoyed how big and roomy they were on my feet. They just didn't want to stay on there, and continually conspired to trip me. In the end I decided not to wear them for an entire day because it didn't seem like the best idea for my back. Which is interesting, because that's the same reason that Mike opts to wear different shoes these days as well.

Mike's shoes are comfortable. They are soft and floppy and kind of squishy on the inside. They are comfortable, and yet not what he choses to wear these days. And not the best thing for me to be wearing, either, although neither of us predicted that. Mike's shoes made me think about what it means to outgrow ones own shoes, to own shoes that are no longer helpful. This is somewhere where the phrase ("put yourself in his/her shoes" ) may fall short. What happens when someone's shoes don't support them very well? Can they still be reflective of that person, their life, and their perspective? I'm not sure that there is an answer. But it's interesting to think about.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Reva is a good family friend.
My mom grew up in Missouri, and whenever I visit St. Louis, I have a very hard time seeing all of my relatives there--my St. Louis family is huge, and there is an intricate and enormous network of relatives and friends. My mom understands how they all fit together, but having grown up out of town, I always forget just how it is that this cousin or that aunt is related to me. Not that the how of it matters. Suffice to say that the experience of going there (which I try to do at least once a year) is like coming home to a stadium full of people who think you're the bees knees regardless of what your day (or year) was like.

Reva is one of those people in the stadium. Her family isn't related to mine, but they may as well be. Mama Jean and Reva met when a mutual friend indirectly accused Mama Jean of stealing Reva's daughter and passing her off as her own. Amy Beth (my aunt) and Amy Beth (Reva's daughter) are the same age, grew up blocks away from each other, and looked very similar as infants. They are also the best of friends.
(They are also both tornado babies, but that is another story.)

Since Reva lives so close by to Mama Jean, and since I love her and her family dearly, I almost always get to visit with her when I'm in town. One of the marvelous things about her house is that she is always finding interesting things to do with it. She has raised chickens, installed a "diamond mine", has a mouse house underneath her stairs, and is working on a wall tattoo. For a number of years now, a good part of her basement has been designated "the costume room." There is an impressive contingent of bridesmaid's dresses on the metal racks that line the wall, as well as Hallowe'en and Purim costumes, vintage dresses that make me swoon, boy scout uniforms, wigs, veils, gloves, hats, masks, and of course, shoes.

In the past Reva has let me take outfits out on long term loan--dresses to wear to weddings, or just for fun. In fact, the local high school borrows clothing for their annual musicals, and neighbourhood kids and relatives "shop" at Reva's for costumes and formal attire. This year a pair of tap shoes caught my eye.

I've always been intrigued by tap shoes. Growing up I took ballet and modern and jazz classes, but it was a well understood rule in our household that tap was out of the question. My mom had three other sisters in her family, and two of them were avid dancers. The sound of tap shoes drives her nuts. So tap dancing is something that I've always been a bit curious about.

My Auntie Andrea let me try on her tap shoes once when she was visiting. They were white, and a bit too small. My Auntie Amy once told me that I could have her old tap shoes if she could find them--her feet are closer to my size. About 6 years ago, my old dance studio was celebrating their 25th anniversary, and invited a bunch of graduates to come back and dance in show. It was a tap number, and having never taken tap lessons, I wore an old pair of (tap-less) character shoes and did my best to seem like I knew what I was doing. I really wished I did know what I was doing, but had a good time not having to worry about any sounds giving me away.

When I saw a couple of pairs of tap shoes in Reva's basement, I got excited. Reva wasn't sure of the origins of the shoes I ended up taking home with me. My guess is that they belonged to Auntie Amy. The other pair, which was larger, shinier, and the flat-heeled style, belonged to Reva. She told me their story.

Reva said that she and her sister were sitting together "kvetching about the fact of their lives," and that their family wasn't able to afford to let them take dance lessons when they were younger. They had both always wanted to tap dance. One of the sisters suggested that since they were able to afford it now, they should buy themselves tap shoes. And they did.

Reva recounted how she and her sister could be found giggling and goofing around at the dance store, how the staff and other customers must have thought they were crazy with the noises that were coming from their feet. They bought the shoes, but Reva never took lessons. I don't think that that was important to her. She and her sister just enjoyed making noise and "tip tapping" together.

Reva encouraged me to try the "tapping shoes" on, the ones that were closer to my size. They are capezio heeled tap shoes, size 8 or so, with dance studio pink insides. It turned out that they fit me really well, and I stepped off the carpet, onto the cement floor and started making noise. Reva was astounded, "you sound really good!" She said that it sounded like I knew what I was doing, that it was as if I was making music with my feet. She was so impressed that she said I should bring them home.

I tried walking to my grandmother's house in them, but I gave up after about half a block. It seemed so wrong tapping as I walked on the sidewalk, plus I think that it just feels wrong in my body to spend so much time in heeled shoes. So I took them off, and reverted back to my regular shoes. Inside Mama Jean's I put them on when no one else was home and tapped up a storm of made-up moves that may or may not be proper moves or pass as tap dancing. (We had recently seen part of a documentary on dance, and I think that watching Fred Astaire and the way his body moved made me all the more eager to try dancing with taps.)

Back in Guelph, I decided to wear the shoes for just part of the day, due to the heel factor. I
wore them while taking a much needed break from planning camp programming and gathering books at the library. I was nervous -- I wasn't sure if our downstairs neighbour was home, but risked it anyway. I just put them on, and started making sounds. It felt kind of freeing, although I was a bit tentative. I found a very funny book at the library that I thought might help me, but turned out to not be very helpful at all. I imagine that it's the sort of book that my mom would weed off the shelves, if she was weeding at the Guelph Public library.

Unfortunately, Erica wasn't home. She had offered to show me some moves. Later on, she tried on the shoes and showed me what she could remember. According to her I do a pretty good modified buffalo-type step. Hmm...

The tapping shoes are exciting and playful. When I put them on, if no one else is home, I can imagine that I'm a super-swell tap dancer making up my own music to dance to as I go or slow, syncopated rhythms and pauses that I can play with and delight in. It's also a bit of that feeling of breaking the rules, doing what I wasn't allowed to as a kid, being really loud, and making lots of really loud mistakes, and just laughing afterwards. Although the tapping shoes' original owner is a mystery, I imagine them as having belonged to my aunt and having lived in Mama Jean's house, probably packed away in the basement for some time. I also somehow imagine them as carrying Reva's story of two sisters finally just doing what they had wanted to for so long, making their noise and laughing. And they are also caught up with my idea of St. Louis...that stadium full of people ready to hug me, or applaud after a convincing series of pseudo buffalo steps.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

the perils...

of wearing other people's shoes may be more than one might imagine. Or at least more than I imagined before I began this endeavor.

I wanted to say a word about this after a recent conversation with a friend. I was explaining that I have nerve pain as a result of a herniated disc, and his immediate response was, "that's because you wear other peoples' shoes."


Interestingly, my doctor doesn't approve of this project. When she found out about it, she told me that while it's an interesting idea and has a nice sentiment, it's practically just not a healthy thing to be doing. She herself avoids second hand shoes, because shoes become so personalized as they are are worn in. She thinks that I should forget the shoes and stick to helping people wear their hearts on their sleeves and the like.

Could it be that putting oneself in another person's shoes is so risky? Dangerous, even?

I should make it clear that my back trouble began at a time when the only shoes I wore were my own, so putting other peoples shoes -- in the literal sense, at least -- isn't the root cause of the pain by any means. But I do notice how my back feels differently after a day in heels, or shoes that I have to grip with my toes to keep on my feet. The sometimes physically uncomfortable repercussions of putting myself in other peoples' shoes are the main reasons that I no longer wear others' shoes so frequently as I did at first.

I also have talked to people who speculate that things so personalized and intimate as a worn pair of shoes hold a lot of a person in them. Some folks think that it is easy to take on another's baggage and energy by wearing their shoes. I'm not convinced of this, but it's interesting to think about.

It's also interesting to think about what goes into choosing a pair of shoes for oneself, and what it means to have ones feet firmly in ones own shoes.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how different pairs of my own shoes effect my back, and my day. My biggest shoe-related challenge of late is to find a sensible pair of sandals that aren't overwhelmingly sensible. I like to wear fun things on my feet, but most fun shoes seem to be decidedly unsupportive (in the orthotic sense). I've been wearing an orange pair of sensible-disguised-as-fun shoes to work, but they have had one too many blobs of paint dropped on them. As I hold out for a fun-yet-proper pair of sandals, the summer is passing me by, and my feet are screaming to be let out of their sock encasements. I've begun to wonder if it's unreasonable to pass up so many decent but less-than-fun sandals in this ongoing quest of mine.
I don't have an answer yet.

[post barefoot dancing at Hillside feet...I'm not sure if it's clear in this photo just how extraordinarily dirty my feet were...the quest for sandals continues...]

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I met Jordan that first day in the café. She told me that I reminded her of her friend Stephanie, who is a chef and now lives out of town, but happened to be visiting. Jordan wanted us to meet, we seemed so alike, but it unfortunately didn’t end up happening (“You’d really like her, she’s also really down to earth and friendly and caring and open and positive”…I was quite flattered that I reminded her of someone that sounds so lovely, especially after sharing such a short conversation). Jordan seemed happy to lend me a pair of shoes. She said she would bring by her converse sneakers so that I could pick them up from Matthew. So that’s what I did.

Jordan told me briefly about her shoes—that she got them in Toronto, when she was 19, I think. It sounded like they marked a pretty exciting time for her. It also seems that she's enjoyed them--they have little holes and tears hiding all over.

I was quite drawn to the colour of Jordan’s shoes…a kind of mustard yellow-gold, I guess. I don’t think I’ve worn shoes quite that colour before. It was like having autumn on my feet.

Although Jordan’s shoes were large for me, they still managed to just about disappear under my jeans (which get wide at the bottom). I experimented with rolling my pants up so that I could see them there, which helped me remember that I wasn’t wearing my own shoes. Other things helped me remember as well were: the fact that I could feel the ground through the thin soles—whatever things I happened to step on would poke through—and the way they kind of flopped as I walked.

My sister Katie had a day off of work. We had decided to go on a mini adventure. Weeks ago I told her I had come across the website for the PEI Potato Museum, and she was dead set on going. I have to admit that I was pretty curious myself. The promise of the giant potato sculpture in the parking lot was the cincher for me.
(By the way, did you know that it's the International Year of the Potato? Hmmm...I'm actually about to go to the community garden to hill mine.)

We had already been to Brackley Beach a couple of days before, and although I really wanted to see Cavendish, we decided to include just the museum on our road trip, with a quick stop in Summerside if we had the time.

In the car ride, I stitched up Matthew and Michael’s shoes with white thread. We mostly drove by fields (so green! so red!), as well as some interesting roadside signs, and a couple of awesome looking diners. We finally came to the big potato in O’Leary PEI, and pulled in the parking lot. We were the only visitors.

The museum was really quite large, and included a local history component (where we saw an iron lung, various severe-looking medical tools, and a cast iron stove manufactured in Sackville, NB…earlier in my travels I had actually come across old crates outside where the stoves used to be made ). Highlights from the potato exhibit included pictures of all the ways potatoes can be served, and (my favourite) a row of miniature coffins containing faux diseased potatoes, illustrating the many and varied ways that a potato might become unfit for human consumption. Oh yes, and a Stompin' Tom record.

After being inside without daylight for so long, Katie and I enjoyed roaming through the buildings outside (an old church, a one room school house, an old telephone switchboard…). Katie’s very favourite was the wooden train climbing structure. We played on that for awhile, and then we went on the swings.

We eventually made our way back to the car and drove to Summerside. It was quite overcast, and it eventually began to rain. Katie and I walked a bit, and spent some time in the Pro Hardware, which was definitely not your average hardware store. It was like a cross between Action Surplus, Home Hardware and Stedmans. Most things in there seemed like there were from a different era (or universe), and there was a lot of dust. I couldn’t get over the post cards and sunglasses and bizarre touristy trinkets. There were even these super strange monk dolls whose erect penises would emerge from their robes when their arms were squeezed (just sitting by the teapots, below the postcard rack, near the glued together seashell puppy dogs). I’m telling you, monk dolls aside, this place is just a million art projects waiting to happen.
Katie, by the way, was absolutely mortified. The monks offended her sensibilities.

(There were actually a whole variety of the emerging penis dolls, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the other characters were. Maybe if you are reading this, and you are near the Summerside Pro Hardware, you can let me know. And maybe also tell me what your favourite thing in that store is. There is so much to choose from.)

Maybe it was because our Summerside excursion began with an investigation of the Pro Hardware, or ended with passing by the used bookstore that had “Cooking with The Young and the Restless” in the window, but the town seemed to have a strange feeling about it. Katie and stopped in a little café. She bought an orange soda mostly to humour me.

When I arrived in PEI, they were just in the process of phasing out their policy on carbonated beverages. Having to be conscious about waste as an island, all carbonated beverages until very recently were sold in glass bottles, which are sold with a deposit, and collected to be re-filled. Pop cans are now allowed on the island, and the bottles are being phased out. Folks worry about what this will mean for the bottling industry and local soda manufacturer. I worry about where government’s head is in making this decision just as so many other governments are waking up to the reality of needing to seriously reconsider our habits around waste, and the environment.

I won’t launch into a rant.
Katie and I sat and shared her locally made orange soda, which was very very orange. I was proud of myself because I haven’t eaten or drank anything so unnaturally colourful for a really really long time. I was heartened by the presence of orange pulp at the bottom. And, I must say, it was pretty yummy.

We headed back to Charlottetown and made a brief stop to say hello to Matthew. I wanted to pass the shoes by him, and see if he’d like me to add some embroidery floss to them. He liked that idea, and told me some of Michael’s favourite colours.

Katie and I had dinner and watched Juno. I hadn’t seen the film, but was already in love with the soundtrack. I stiched up Matthew and Michael’s shoes all colourful, and sang along to the parts I knew.

Jordan’s shoes are thin-soled and floppy. I enjoyed wearing them on my little excursion. I feel like they let me take in things that I wouldn’t have otherwise: the precise feeling of the grass outside the potato museum, the pebbles by the swings, concrete, pavement, wood, carpet, tile. It was interesting how they at once blended into my day (and my jeans), and yet were also such an essential part of it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to separate the giant potato sculpture and orange soda in a glass bottle from the colour of Jordan’s shoes. They may mean, “Toronto, age 19” to her, but they are forever caught up with PEI, giant potatoes, and unexpected friendship for me.