Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Over the past few weeks, I've been doing another shoe-related experiment. It involves approaching people in public spaces and explaining that I've been wondering what it's like to be in other people's shoes. If they don't walk right by, I ask them if they'd be willing to exchange shoes and walk together for a minute or so.
Some people decline, some agree to trying it out, and some like to talk about it for a while and mull it over before deciding.
So far it's taken the form of two videos, and most recently some stills, which may or may not make it into postcard form.
I especially like the moment when we swap shoes and negotiate stocking feet on snowy concrete.
I will try to find a way to post the videos (they are substantial files), but for now, here are the stills, with special thanks to Christina, who took the photographs.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Steve's shoes arrived on my doorstep last week.
I received an email from him about a month ago. He told me that he had stumbled across the blog and was wondering if I would wear a pair his sneakers. Of course I was more than happy to.
Steve and I have never met; he lives in Pennsylvania (although his shoes have been many places), and he was kind enough to post me his sneakers. I was touched that he was willing to do so.
Steve's shoes are blue, white and grey size 11 men's New Balance sneakers. They arrived in a cardboard box with a plastic air cushion packing material, and came with what may be a few stray dog hairs on the inside of each shoe.
When I put them on, I laughed. They seemed comically large on my feet. They also felt large--my feet moved around in them as I walked, trying to negotiate the arch made for feet much larger than my own. Where they wanted to bend was actually before my toes started, so it was pretty interesting.
This morning I felt a quite tired and a little dizzy, but decided to try to take my bike to school as it promised to be a fairly mild day. As I had hoped, riding woke me up, and I didn't end up having to walk my bike as I thought I might. (Except for on the bridge, where I am still wary of repeating my previous spill). The roads were dry and it was beautiful outside. Oh, and my brakes are working.
In class today we had our first critique this term. It was a bit of a mad rush in the studio beforehand making sure that files transfered over properly, things were hung on the wall, and stomachs full of butterflies were allowed to do their thing. But it was fine...great, even, to see everyone's work, and to hear feedback. We had a guest who is in curatorial studies, and offered lots of engaging thoughts and made some interesting connections (he also kindly shared some of his corn muffin).
(The shoes of fellow classmates. One student's work was installed in the library, which is where we are standing, discussing the value of contradictions, and issues posed by public space.)
During a break I chatted with a classmate. I told her how I was surprised how big Steve's shoes seemed on my feet, and she told me that this particular brand of shoe is known for being wide, which was interesting. She also told me about how when she thinks of shoes, she thinks of stories of people who have survived especially trying times. She described how shoes often play a big role in those stories, perhaps because we are so vulnerable without shoes (especially in climates and geography like our own). This led me to consider a number of things, which I have thought about before, and continually return to: how shoes negotiate the intersection of survival and self expression; the degree to which self expression may or may not be necessary; what it means to be able to choose the shoes that one wears; and shoes as economic objects.
On my bike ride home I thought about what it means to put oneself in the shoes of a stranger, and how peculiar the word "stranger" is. I wonder if it's possible that I might be able to understand the world from the perspective of someone that I know very little about by wearing their shoes, or if it's an utterly empty gesture. I don't know the answer, if there is one.
But I did completely enjoy biking down the hill on such a sunny, mild day. I was so excited that I sung especially loud as I sped along. I made a brief stop downtown, and headed home. A train went across the level crossing near my house, and I waited some time for it to pass. I thought about something Christina said the other day, which was that we don't wait much anymore. I have been noticing that I am not well practiced at waiting for certain things (like the city bus), but don't mind others (the train, mail, seasons). People darted across the tracks after the signal went to avoid watching boxcar after boxcar inch past. Not being in a rush, I was able to enjoy noticing what what written on each car, the way that shadows played across the surface, and the sounds that came out as it clunked along.
At home snow was melting and icicles dripping, which was its own lovely music. I didn't want to go inside, it was so delightful out, and I felt excited for such friendly weather. Standing at the kitchen sink I laughed out loud (and screamed a little) when I noticed it was approaching 5:30pm, and it was bright outside.
(How is it that in the middle of winter, I forget the fact of spring?)
I thought about how I have no idea what the weather is like in Pennsylvania at the moment, or what Steve's shoes are used to this time of year. I also thought about all the places they've traveled: Mexico, Italy, France, Spain, the caves of West Virginia, the beaches of Hawaii...and now Guelph, Ontario, Canada, where they spent a pretty average day on the feet of someone they didn't know. I started to feel the kind of guilt that residents of southern Ontario have when they don't take their out of town guests to Niagara Falls or the CN Tower. Those were never my favourite places, though. Maybe a ride down the Gordon Street hill on a sunny day is enough.
In the evening I packed--I'm moving at the end of the week. Today it was surprisingly not such an overwhelming experience, perhaps because I am tackling it in stages. I have never before realized how good I am at making a place a home. Taking it all apart, I can see how anonymous and empty it feels with out the familiarity of objects. I wonder how it will be to begin the process of inhabiting a space all over again.
Steve's shoes traveled quite a distance for me to be able to put them on my feet. I was delighted that someone I don't know was willing to offer me a pair of shoes, and moreover, to go to the trouble of mailing them to me. Steve's shoes are big on my feet, but while they don't fit me properly, they certainly treated me well. They stayed on my feet through a beautiful, sunny, spring-like day; a glimmer of warmth sandwiched between winter, and more winter still.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Michael told me he had a pair of shoes for me. He brought them to class in a plastic Canadian Tire shopping bag one day. He explained that they were from another part of his life and that he doesn't really want them anymore. In fact, he's been getting rid of all physical reminders of his skater days. Not long ago he gave his skateboard to Miles in exchange for some photo paper and a camera bag. I told Mike that if he gave me his shoes, than they wouldn't be his shoes for me to wear, so he agreed to take them back after I wore them, and look for another way to find a new home for them.
Michael's shoes are black Vans that used to be dark brown. He actually took paint to them. When I asked why that was, he said that he liked the way it looked when the paint rubbed off in places. I have to agree. It makes for what my painting prof would call "a lovely moment."
There are also traces of paint on the white shoelaces, and bits along the white rubber part where the sole meets the upper.
I thought I would wear Michael's shoes as I assumed they were meant to be worn (and how they came to me)--with the laces loose, and not tied up at all. This turned out to not be an especially terrific idea on such a snowy day.
The shoes were awfully floppy on my feet. They didn't look so large, but were actually quite big on me. With each step outside, snow would be flung up my pants and into the shoes. I ended up with very soggy clothing, and very cold, wet feet.
I headed off downtown, briefly to a classmate's house before going to an appointment. It was interesting to see how damp feet made me feel a bit on edge. My feet also soon became sore from trying hard to keep unlaced shoes from falling off. I was able to relax a bit as I noticed the ways in which I was making things more difficult for myself, and eventually cold feet didn't seem so bad.
What I found especially strange was not really being able to see Mike's shoes under the legs of my exceptionally wide pants. They just kind of disappeared under there, except for the tips of the shoes. I had this experience of feeling strange and awkward in shoes that didn't quite fit, and were full of snow, and having a visual field that didn't necessarily correspond to that. It was interesting.
After class I came home and changed my pants and socks. I had actually packed an extra pair of socks in my school bag, but never found an opportune time to expose my feet. When I went out later in the evening, I wore three pairs of socks, and tied Michael's shoes up tightly. That way they stayed on my feet without effort, and no snow migrated inside of them. I bundled myself up in my mom's old arctic parka and really enjoyed walking in the cold that way.
Cecilia and I were expecting our first Cuts 4 Cookies client, but unfortunately she had to reschedule. Instead I hung out for a bit with Ceil and her pals, who were having a heated discussion about bikes and bike culture.
[On a related note--this Friday, being the last Friday of the month, is Critical Mass. January's Critical Mass was superhero-themed, and involved hot chocolate as an added incentive to come ride in the cold (it also, unfortunately, involved rain and hail). Warm drinks and superheroes didn't seem to entice many people, as the three of us below comprised 75% of the Critical Mass population this time around. So, if you have a bike, and you like to ride it, consider joining us--or critical massers near you--for a ride!]
Michael's shoes are quirky. They are the first painted shoes I've worn. They are probably also the first shoes I've worn that are quite distant from their owner's present way of life. I appreciated their surprises--the spots where paint had rubbed away, the way the paint had bled onto the laces, how they flicked snow up at me. It was interesting to notice my frustration with the wet feet situation, and how it wasn't such a big issue once I accepted it for what it was. And it was actually comfortable having the shoes flop around on my feet, especially after I tied them up. The not-so-careful paint job turned out to be very useful: the paint on the laces indicated where to pull the laces back to when I was done with them. I especially enjoyed this (perhaps) accidental feature of Mike's shoes.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I have been curious for sometime about how other languages express the value of considering another person's perspective.
In English, there are of course sayings about walking in another person's shoes, as well as seeing things through another person's eyes.
I was wondering what other solutions there were to expressing this important and perhaps complicated sentiment of trying to be or understand another person in order to be less judgmental of them, to have more compassion or patience.
I wasn't sure how to research idioms and proverbs in other languages, so I emailed someone who seemed like he might have some ideas. Simon Ager is a language enthusiast and web designer. He kindly posted a call out on his blog, and has had some interesting responses.
- In Catalan: posar-se en la pell de l’altre, literally "putting yourself into someone else’s skin."
- In Italian: mettersi nei panni di un altro, literally “to put oneself in someone else’s clothes.”
- From the book, Walk Two Moons: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”
- In Hebrew: al tadún et xaverxá ad še tagía li mkomó (אל תדון את חברך עד שתגיע למקומ), "don’t judge your friend until you will stand [literally ‘reach-’] in his place."
Monday, January 14, 2008
A short time ago, Magda mentioned that she had a pair of ski boots she'd like to lend me. I was picturing in my mind the big plastic downhill ski boots that I once knew, and wondering how it would be to clunk around in them all day. I was concerned that it might not be good for the boots. She then explained that they were cross country ski boots, that her dad bought them at a garage sale some time ago, and that she didn't expect it would hurt them to walk in them all day. I was excited.
I was even more excited when I saw them--I found their shape and the blue and red of them really appealing. One of the first places my mind went was to figuring out what I might wear with them (I think that what they really need is some kind of red jumpsuit, which I don't own). In a conversation with a friend I was talking about how my extreme ambivalence around the issue of clothing and appearance. I believe I've written about it before, and it continues to come up when wearing other people's shoes. On one hand I take a lot of joy in wearing different colours and finding new combinations of things. On the other hand I would like to ignore entirely the issue of appearance, would like to not ever think about it, even though we live in such a visually-centric world. These two parts of me collide and argue, but I usually choose to not think about it too much, so it remains all very messy and unreconciled.
Usually when I get dressed, I choose what shoes to wear at the very end, often as I'm heading out the door. When someone lends me a pair of shoes, the process is either all backwards (me choosing what to wear based on what the shoes 'demand'), or I choose what I want to wear that day using typical parameters (what mood I'm in, what I feel like wearing, what I'm going to be doing that day), and then put on someone else's shoes.
This time was interesting because I have obvious outfits to wear with Magda's boots--red and blue things--that would look pretty goofy (in a fun way). I felt, however, just not so very bold on Monday, and so wore what I felt like wearing. Magda's boots may have been incongruous with spider tights and the black and grey of everything, but that's okay.
Monday morning my stomach was a knot of anticipation for the day. I found it hard to sit still. I went early to the grocery store and to pick up a paper before coming home and finishing an assignment due later that morning. Magda's shoes tickled me with delight. They make a wonderful clicking sound with each step, as the metal loop at the end of each toe meets with the ground. I was also very aware of the arch in them, which was high and felt good. Magda's ski boots were about my size, maybe a bit bigger. There was enough room in them for a pair of wool socks over my tights, but it wasn't so cold outside that I needed them.
We had the first real snow in a while. As I was walking through it, the insole in the left shoe slipped, and continued slipping towards the back of the shoe until the toes of my left foot were making contact with the plastic bottom of the boot. It was an interesting sensation having those toes be so much more cold than the rest of me, and I eventually adjusted the insole. This happened later on in the day as well.
I really appreciated the details of Magda's boots. They are old enough that parts of them are crackled and peeling in all sorts of accidental and lovely ways.
At school Michael asked, "where are your skis!?" in his usual way. Class was punctuated by fire alarm testing, which was strange at best as we plowed on through.
Walking through the buildings on campus, Magda's shoes made a prominent and echo-y sound as metal kissed tile or wooden floor. It reminds me of the sound of teachers in elementary school. I felt a bit self conscious about my steps making so much noise, but liked watching my feet as they did so.
In class we pitched ideas for our next project. I had a bunch of ideas that I wanted to pursue, and narrowed it down to a few. One of them has to do with elevating the status of abandoned objects. I've been wondering about what happens if I care a lot about things that aren't cared for. I have been thinking about collecting the things I find at the side of the road, cleaning them up and mending them, and placing them in cardboard boxes marked, "lost and found," on street corners. To that end I made a concerted effort to pick up things on my walk home.
I also picked up an ear plug, some wire, plastic beads, and a battery. I ran into Greg as I was picking up seashells, and we walked downtown together, stopping every so often to grab a stray piece of something.
I went to a meeting before heading home. I had wanted to go to an artist's talk as well, but felt way too antsy and cluttered inside. Instead I had dinner, and then went to drop by Tara's. She wasn't home, but there was a small line of cross country ski boots on her front porch that made me smile.
(One of the best things about Magda's shoes was what happens when standing like this. It felt elegant how my whole foot could rest on top of the metal loop on the ground. It made my feet feel long.)
On my walk to Tara's place (and back) I found a glove, a child's shoe, a strange piece of metal, a rag, a washer, and a pair of underwear. I also found a diaper. It was dark, and I actually began to pick it up before realizing my mistake. I guess that there are some things that I am less willing to deal with.
I went by Sharleen's, but didn't see any lights on, so stopped by Lea and Dave's. We had tea and a chat, and it was really nice. I appreciate being able to drop in on people. I felt like it was what I needed.
The day was actually quite all over the place for me. I spent some time thinking about the idea of 'both are true'--that apparent contradictions co-exist all the time without negating each other...boldness and fear, strength and vulnerability, gain and loss, give and take. I actually spent a lot of my day in Magda's shoes a bit preoccupied with my own stuff; I liked having her shoes there to draw me away from all of that. Magda's shoes are lively. Their click on the ground and migrating insole was a nice counterpoint to various anxiety-tinged events that occurred throughout the day. Smiling faces, an engaging class, soggy carrots, seashells, hunks of metal, and good friends also pulled me out of my head and into noticing the nowness of things around me.