Tuesday, January 1, 2008


I happened to run into Chris on New Years Eve day. I don't see him very much anymore since he no longer lives in Guelph, so it was a nice surprise. He was standing on a corner downtown having a chat with another friend, Ben. I interrupted to give them both hugs, which was awkward, because my hands were full with bags of groceries. Chris took my bags and suggested we have tea, which we did, and which was nice. We talked about big things and not so big things (but mostly big things) over lemon ginger tea, and then Chris gave me a lift home.

Chris happened to have a pair shoes with him that he could lend me, but he was only going to be in Guelph for the next 24 hours--the deal was that I was to begin wearing them that afternoon, and he would pick them up the following afternoon on his way back home. We shook on it.

Chris' shoes were on the floor of the passenger side of the car. They are black suede Puma hi-tops, with shiny gold detailing. This alone makes them quite striking, but they also happen to be of formidable proportions. They are size 16. (Chris is t-a-l-l.)

Chris explained to me that he is not sure really how he feels about these shoes, that they are a bit of a guilty pleasure. His father bought them for him online--take a look at oddball shoe company: "Big shoes, large shoes for big feet." They are the first trendy-type shoes he's ever owned, it being somewhat difficult to find shoes in his size. Chris said that he can understand now how people can have closets full of shoes, which I guess he couldn't ever relate to before. It seems he hasn't quite reconciled how enjoying fancy shoes fits with his values and aesthetic.

I remember last winter seeing Chris burst into the Farmers Market wearing clear green No Frill's shopping bags on his feet, tied at his ankles to protect his then new shoes from the snow and salt. Coupled with the helmet on his head, and the way he had secured his bike lights onto his helmet with packing tape, as well the gigantic chain that served as a non-functional bike lock / necklace, and his incredible height, it made for quite a striking entrance. It still makes me laugh.

I told Chris how I remembered the green of those plastic bags, and agreed that I would avoid slush and salt while wearing his shoes, or else resort to the bag method. He told me how his shoes have spent many long hours in the anatomy lab, and soaked up all sorts of chemical smells. I gave them a sniff and can confidently report that there are no lingering formaldehyde fumes, or any such thing. Chris seemed surprised that I would dare put my nose near them, but I was curious, and I figure that it's all just part of getting to know certain pairs of shoes. Maybe that's weird.

As he was telling me about his shoes, Chris was taking an extremely round-about route to my house, which is easy because my neighborhood is filled with streets at odd angles. Our drive included a meander down Sackville Street, which is a dead end and past my house from the downtown, but a lovely street none the less. It is aptly named, I think, as it reminds me of Sackville, New Brunswick. (I only lived there for 8 months, but feels like it was much longer--Sackville seems indelibly etched into my being.) There are houses on the west side of the street only--the east side is occupied by an infrequently used train track that curves around to the west. The houses are simple and don't have much yard in front of them, and somehow the coexistence of all these components add up to creating the feeling of the Sackville I knew. At the end of the street there was a man playing golf in the snow. It seemed as if he was aiming for the car as we turned around in a driveway, but it turns out that he was just practicing his swing. He wore a cap with ear warmers that were tied up, and not warming his ears. When I waved, he waved back.

We eventually made it to my house. Chris came inside and said hello to Ben before leaving. I tried Chris' shoes on. When I put them on my feet, I couldn't help but laugh. I have worn many shoes that were larger than my own, but nothing like this.

After I stopped laughing, I noticed how each shoe felt different. Chris had explained to me that he wears insoles--that his left leg is shorter than his right. He had actually taken the insole that was in his left shoe and put it in the boot he was wearing. He explained that he had actually stuck other insoles in his left shoe as he thought that the one wasn't high enough. Despite this, it felt as though the right insole was higher than then others that were in his left shoe, and it was an interesting feeling to feel a squishy, thick insole that had a discernible arch on my right side, and a completely different (not so squishy, no real arch) feeling on my left.

I also noticed that my walk becomes more of a march when I wear Chris' shoes. This is out of necessity, for if I don't lift my foot high enough off the ground as I take a step, the toes of the swinging shoe drag on the ground big time. For this reason, it took a lot of physical effort to be in Chris' shoes. "A lot" in relative terms, of course. My feet and surrounding muscles were efforting in ways that I didn't know they could, and while it hurt enough to be interesting, it didn't hurt enough to be problematic.

I realized as I wore them out in the world, that this had also to do with the precariousness of Chris' shoes on my feet. Most shoes that are big on me still happily stay on my feet if I simply tie them tightly. Even tied as tightly as possible, the tops of Chris' shoes were still large enough that my feet threatened to step right out of them. I think that this wouldn't happen unless I was actually trying, but it seemed like it might happen, and so I was for a long time unconsciously gripping with my toes and the bottoms of my feet as I walked. When I noticed I was doing this--which was about the time that I noticed my feet beginning to ache--I tried to relax my feet and put less effort into each step.

I wore Chris' shoes as I walked over to Christina's place for a New Year's celebration. It was a 'goodbye to the year' party. I left the house early, because I know myself well enough that if I were to wait until 8 or 9pm, I would likely opt to go to bed instead of going outside in the cold and dark. I brought soup and bread to share with Christina and Kim. We prepared for the party, had dinner and such. On my way I spied two colourful creatures from a distance, and didn't think much about it until I heard my name. It was Cecilia and Sarah. We waved and blew kisses to each other, and Gary, who was crossing the street, asked me where his kisses were. I blew him some as well, and we both agreed that being showered with blown kisses was a nice way to bring in the New Year.

The walk over was interesting as I was so aware of Chris' shoes on my feet and the unusual places that my legs and feet were aching. I was also extremely careful to avoid salt and slush and piles of snow. And to make sure that Chris' shoes stayed on my feet.

I found myself thinking that in a world where it really was important to put oneself in other people's shoes, there would be a contraption to help out with scenarios like this one. Such a contraption would ensure that shoes that were vastly too big for another's feet could be worn with ease and without the danger of stepping out of them and missing the point of being in another's shoes, which is to be in them, since we happen to be out of them most all of the time anyway. I am not sure what such a contraption would look like. As I was walking along Suffolk Street I was picturing the stilts we made out of tin cans and twine at day camp. This would not be ideal, as it would mean that hands would become an integral part of walking and of keeping shoes on feet. My next thought was duct tape. I don't think that I am a very good inventor.

There would, of course, be other contraptions as well--contraptions to accommodate wearing shoes that are too small for a pair of feet, and contraptions to help one experience what another person feels in their own shoes, and contraptions to help put oneself in the shoes of another who doesn't wear shoes, or who doesn't have feet, and contraptions for those who don't have feet to walk in the shoes of another. And this would all be a priority because in this imaginary world that isn't the one we know, wearing other people's shoes is so important that there are entire agencies dedicated to connecting feet with shoes that belong to other feet, and holidays dedicated to exchanging and borrowing well-loved shoes, and extra hours in the day to contemplate the knowledge gained from wearing others' shoes. Actually, there aren't extra hours. People just make time for it.

Actually, as I think about it more now, maybe there wouldn't be contraptions. Maybe the struggle and the impossibility of certain feet wearing certain shoes is all part of the point. Or maybe not. Maybe the issue is that it's just hard to figure out what exactly "ideal" would look like. I think that it's a bit complicated by the fact that my appreciation for the less-than-ideal has grown, and the line between the two has become rather blurry.

Alright--thank you for indulging me.
Back to Chris' shoes: something else interesting happened as I wore them to Christina's. Chris' shoes seem to have wandering tongues. Part of why I think I had a stronger and stronger sensation that I was going to step out of them was that the tongues eventually ended up as far away from where they were supposed to be as is possible considering that they are attached to the shoe. When I got to Christina's, I actually did just step out of them. This was really nice, since it is sometimes hard for me to reach my feet of late.

Part of Christina's "goodbye to the year" party included making goodbye cards to 2007. One of my tasks in helping to set up for the gathering was to set up the card-making area and to make a card. I was really happy to have this job. I ended up making two cards: a "goodbye" card and a "hello" card. Each has a pocket where I put little pieces of paper with the things that I want to say goodbye/hello to. The idea with the goodbye cards was that we would burn them, but I kept mine so that I could remember what exactly I wanted to say goodbye to, and what exactly I wanted to say hello to. I figure that I might need reminders.

Kim made hummus and cut up veggies, and Christina pulled together an impressive cake. We also decorated plates with shiny juicy pomegranate seeds, and everything just seemed gorgeous. People started coming around 9pm or so, and we made cards and some folks played Crokinole and Jenga. We ate yummy snacks (check out the cheese map!) and danced, and at midnight we went outside and burnt our cards and the things we wanted to say goodbye to.

Christina was wearing one of her favourite shirts. Janet had given it to Christina, as it no longer fit her, and Christina was despairing that it no longer fit her comfortably either. After an hour, she was ready to take it off. Christina's goodbye card was a goodbye card to her rose shirt. She suggested that I try it on. It fit me, and she said everyones reaction was just like when she first tried on the shirt. She gave it to me, which was really kind, and I wore it the rest of the evening. Erin suggested that by next New Years maybe the shirt will have caused my boobs to grow to the point of spilling out, and I'll have to find someone to pass it onto. I don't think my boobs have ever spilled out of anything...

After burning things and a bit more dancing, people decided to go scatter the ashes of their 2007s at the river. I walked with everyone for a block, and then headed in the direction of home. I had a hard time staying alert the whole way, and was glad I didn't ride my bicycle. It was snowing fine snow, and was quite windy. People I passed on the street greeted me with, "happy New Year!" It was nice to see strangers smiling and talking to each other.

Once home, I was happy to find my bed, and also happy that Ben and his pals were ever so quiet when they came in some hours later. The next day felt like a bit of a write off. I felt super sleepy and foggy most of the day. Mama Jean called twice around 9am, which is normally a very decent hour, but I was asleep and there were 5 other sleeping bodies sprawled in our living room and spare room, so it wasn't very good timing.

I called Chris around noon to make sure he got his shoes back before he left. He told me he would be by in 10 or 15 minutes. For a couple of minutes I tried to decide if I should get dressed, or walk more in his shoes. I decided that I couldn't pass up the opportunity of wearing his shoes with bags over them. The previous day I had worn his shoes without bags, just being careful of things that might harm them, but for a complete experience, I thought it was pretty important to try them on with plastic shopping bags.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any green No Frill's bags, or any green bags at all, for that matter, so it wasn't really so authentic. But I did find some white bags, and put Chris' shoes on, and the bags on top of them, and went for a walk to the corner and back.

Again, I was laughing most of the time, and also being careful not to slip in the piles of snow that we got. Interestingly, Chris' footprints seemed almost the same with bags as without, and they were all over the driveway by the time I was done.

When Chris came by he came inside just long enough to grab his shoes, give them a kiss, and give me a hug before heading off. I had meant to ask him if he had come across my mittens in his car, but forgot to. Later on, though, when I was heading out for a walk, I found my mittens wedged between the screen door and the door frame. I figure that Chris, or else the mitten faerie, put them there, and I was glad.

Chris' shoes are definitely different from any others that I've worn, and posed certain challenges in their size and propensity to want to come off of my feet. They also provided me with lots of different things to notice--the experience of wearing differently heighted insoles, the way I marched in them, the muscles that ached in them...and also the reactions I got while wearing them. Many people didn't seem to notice (which is an interesting experience in itself--me being hyper-conscious of what is on my feet, and others not showing any awareness of the footwear I happen to be wearing), and others remarked about them ("wow, those are such big shoes!"). Others still recognized them as Chris' (and Chris told me New Years day that he had already received emails from people who spotted his shoes on my feet). Ben told me that people would think to themselves, "that little girl is going to grow up to be tall." I mostly found it funny and wondrous to look down and see shoes sticking out so far in front of me. Eventually, though, they did just blend into my experience of the day, and became normal and natural (until someone remarked about them, or my muscles began to ache). And I have certainly never walked around with plastic bags on my feet.

It was all very interesting, and an unusual way to bring in the new year: wearing super-sized shoes on my feet and thinking about worlds that are made to accommodate the wearing of others' shoes. I look forward to the other new possibilities that this year may bring.

May all feet and shoes and people everywhere enjoy health and happiness and ease in 2008 and in all years to come.


Tara said...

i love you!!!! i wish i could randomly comment throughout the post because several times i had something to say but now at the end i'm just smiling
this makes me so grateful to be part of this community ... my heart would bust both out of your lovely new shirt and chris' shoes!!

aislinn thomas said...

I'm so glad to hear from you, Tara! Today I was thinking how great it would be to set up a shoe exchange. In fact, maybe I'll do just that--like a lemonade stand, but it's actually meant for signing out and exchanging shoes. I was thinking earlier that it could be a gallery piece, but I like the idea of it just being on the side of the road somewhere. Then maybe you could wear Chris' shoes, too, and mine, and Ben's, and, and...
And I was wondering if it would be feasible to wear the shoes of everyone in Guelph. It seems a bit daunting, and kind of idealistic. What I would really like would be to do some kind of cross-Canada (bike?) tour, and wear the shoes of at least one person in every town I stop in. I think that I could dedicate a good chunk of my life to such endeavors. Goodness.

Tara said...

oh i really love you now ... i mean, i always did but you just get better and better :)
i find myself missing you and come here for aislinn hits

aislinn thomas said...

Tara, I think you must be my biggest fan! You are certainly the most vocal ;)
Thank you--I really appreciate it. I love you, too!! And I hope to see you soon!