Tuesday, November 30, 2010


A couple weeks ago, I got an email from Matt. He had written back in 2007 or 2008 offering to lend me some shoes, and was wondering if the In Your Shoes project was still active. It really hasn't been. It's been a while since I've worn shoes that aren't my own. For this reason I didn't reply right away...I wasn't sure if maybe the project was finished.

In the end, I figured that if someone 2 500 miles away is offering to lend me their shoes it doesn't make too much sense to say 'no.' So while I haven't resolved for myself where the project stands, I am up for experimenting.

Matt kindly posted his shoes to my house. (There was a bit of a kerfuffle with UPS. As it turns out, there often are brokerage fees associated with crossing the border that neither of us anticipated...I mention it just as an FYI, although maybe it's common knowledge?) The shoes arrived Friday evening.

Matt sent me his Doc Martens. For some reason, I was anticipating the 8-hole variety, but as it turned out, his aren't the kind that I think about in relationship to high school. They are 4-hole docs, light brown, and could pass as business-type shoes.

I tried them on Friday evening to see if I would be able to wear them next day. I was a bit concerned that it might not work, as I've been doing a lot of walking ever since my bike was stolen this summer. I was going to a volunteer training session with Hospice Toronto on Saturday and was intending to walk the 5km or so there because of previous frustrating public transit experiences. Matt had explained to me that one of the shoes had no laces, and that I shouldn't bother to put new ones in. The right shoelace recently got caught in his bicycle gears, causing him to crash. It damaged the shoe in such a way that every lace he's put in since breaks. He had suggested using cheap insoles to make sure the shoes stay on. For some reason, it occurred to me that elastic bands might work. And since we have an abundant supply in our kitchen drawer, and they seemed to be effective, I decided to go that route.

A bit more about the shoes... Matt has had them for a couple of years, and says they've been everywhere with him: at work where he creates and prints thousands of large size maps of the
pacific northwest, on hikes, road trips and bike rides. Apparently they are also the most comfortable shoes he's ever had.

I have to agree that they are super super comfortable. I don't know if its the air cushioned sole thing, or what, but they have a bit of a bouncy (cushioned?) feel, and are pretty warm, too. Which was great, because Saturday was pretty darn cold.

I put Matt's shoes on as soon as I got up on Saturday morning. The mornings have been pretty chilly, especially in our kitchen, so they came in handy. I went about my morning routine and left the house relatively early. It was just beginning to snow and I am a wimp when it comes to winter. I wore long johns (tops and bottoms), knee socks, wool socks, jeans, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeved shirt, a wool sweater, a blazer, a coat, a hat, mitts, and a scarf. It was perfect for walking...a little less perfect for a day inside a high rise, as it turned out, but ah well. It was interesting to wear another person's shoes again. It was at once strange and familiar in a certain way. Wearing shoes that are too big for me often feels like I'm kind of schlepping about...like when I'd throw on a pair of my parent's shoes to quickly run outside, or wear ill-fitting slippers in the house. The heels of Matt's shoes dragged a bit on the ground, which made me worry about further wear on the soles. They also did that snapping back thing, hitting my heels each time I stepped. I had to concentrate for a bit to make sure that I wasn't gripping with the balls of my feet (I've been told that that is an economic nightmare), but it all seemed to be working out alright.

The streetcar decided to come when I was about 20 minutes into my trek and close to a stop, so I decided to take it. From downtown I walked south to the lake where the training was. Since I was a bit early, I made a phone call from the payphone before going up.

I found the conference room we were in and settled in. I was shocked to look out the window and see a veritable snow flurry. I'd call it a storm, but it was so short-lived that that just doesn't seem appropriate. At any rate, all we could see was white, however briefly. I had to smile thinking that it was as if Matt's shoes had brought the winter weather with them all the way from Washington.

The training was session number 8 of 8, and the morning's topic was communication. The presenter was fabulous. I think that it's the sort of topic that is easy to approach with an "I've heard it all before" kind of attitude, but I was happy that I was able to be attentive. Since we were talking about the subject in the context of hospice and palliative care, the topic of emotional boundaries and empathy, compassion and even clairsentience came up. Funnily enough, someone even used the phrase, "put yourself in someone else's shoes" and "I wear my heart on my sleeve." The conversation was interesting, and touched on some of the issues related to my ambivalence around the In Your Shoes project. People are generally disappointed when I insist that the goal of the project isn't to understand another person, or to gain insight into their life. It seems problematic to insist that it's possible to understand something as complex as another person's subjectivity. I prefer to approach it as an experiment. As more of a question than an answer.

I was aware of Matt's shoes on my feet throughout the day, as I often tripped when I went to get up, or saw the elastic bands and wondered why no one said anything. I wondered how much that had to do with being in the city. It seems that in the context of so much diversity it's perhaps harder to look out of place. Or maybe there is just so much low level out-of-placeness that it is accepted as a category in its own right. But I wonder how much it has to do with this city in particular--in St Louis, for example, it's been my experience that total strangers are far more likely to strike up conversations. Not to mention call each other "sugar" or "honey" or "babe" or whatever.

In the afternoon there was a panel of seasoned volunteers who shared some of their experiences and answered questions, which was really helpful. There was also a graduation complete with certificates and photographs. It was a good day. And a long one. I was happy to get outside when it was over, and to be walking west as the sun set. I decided that I would stop at my studio on the way home. I began renting the space just recently, and on Friday night my mom had asked me if I had been spending much time there. The sad truth is that it has mostly been a storage facility for the last few weeks. (To be fair, I've only been back in the city for a few weeks. And I've been spending that time getting settled into a new house and looking for more work...which seems more important than art at the moment.) So I resolved to spend some time there after the training, to at least get a few things unpacked so that I can get some work done the next time I go.

Less than 3 blocks into my walk 2 of the 3 elastic bands holding Matt's right shoe on my foot broke. The result was a slightly uneven gait. The right shoe dragged a little more on the ground, and gave my heel a pretty decent thwack each time it snapped back. Somehow the 3rd elastic hung in there. I hadn't thought to bring any extra with me.

On my way I passed Old Fort York and the Inglis sign with it's endless aphorisms that kept me awake when I was 8 years old and sleeping over with my brownie troupe. (This can only remind of the hard tack biscuit they gave each of us, and the one that lived in my red toy bin for years and is likely still intact somewhere.) On the other side of the bridge were about 17 cranes, which reminded me of the Crane Dance at Toronto's 2009 Nuit Blanche that I did not get to see but would have liked to.

I eventually made it to the studio and climbed the 4 flights of slightly dodgy stairs. I unpacked and organized some stuff, which felt pretty good. Heading back down the stairs was much more dodgy, as my feet kept wanting to step right out of Matt's shoes, but I made it eventually.

At home I realized that I had quite the headache brewing, and since food didn't help, I went and lay down on my floor for a little while. When I felt better, I had some dinner. I knit and talked with David until he had to fall asleep. I gave my dad a call, who seemed to be concerned about the mundane nature of my Saturday night, but I was pretty thrilled to be in bed around 10pm.

Matt's shoes are very comfortable. And they seem to fit the context of the city well, irregardless of the elastic bands. Wearing them throughout the day, with no one seeming to take notice, I felt like I was holding a secret. I also noticed the familiar concern that I wasn't doing justice to Matt's generosity in sending his shoes my way by simply going about my day as I would if his docs hadn't arrived on my doorstep. While I was walking, thinking about time and space I couldn't help but think of part of a piece I wrote and performed at A Whole New Ball Game, the launch of ANAL, by One Thousand and One Nights while I was in Banff:

Have I told you that sometimes I imagine that our bodies are connected by strings in all the places that we hinge so that when I lift my right arm in greeting, for instance, somewhere beneath your consciousness you are aware of a barely perceptible tug skyward?


The strings are red, by the way. And can elongate as necessary.

I think that there is something compelling about linking on person's day with anothers', however mundane. And even if that link is formed and remains solely on a material level, I think there's a bit of magic in it. At least, that's what I prefer to believe.
Thank you, Matt's shoes, for reminding me about that.


Tara T. said...

What a joy to see your lovely feet in such a handsome pair of shoes! I've missed reading of your walking in another's shoes adventures. I've missed you too. xoxo

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