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.

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