I have over a hundred pair of shoes and I still don’t know where I am going. I feel a bit like I am in purgatory, but at least my shoes are wondrous and varied, while many are over a decade old. I must confess I even have some shoes from my college days. It’s nice to know that some things from the days of yore still fit. Actually, I am thinner than I was in college but that is a monster story for some other time.
I grew up being a shoe fanatic. But I couldn’t always afford to be. I remember my mom forgoing the purchase of something she needed so that she could buy me a pair of converse hightops. I used to walk to school in the South Bronx thus sneakers were a dangerous but very much needed shoewear that allowed one to outrun a stalker. Just thinking back to those sneakers make me a bit misty eye as I take in for the hundred and one time how much my mom sacrificed for me. She walked around in three dollar pair of shoes that barely provided foot support so that I didn’t have to.
I should know where I am going. I had grand purpose as a teenager making my way onward and upwards, never stopping in my tracks– that Was a luxury I never allowed myself to do. But I am in a bit of a holding pattern looking for a path while staring at my closet full of walking shoes.
This reminds me of the Iranian film “Children of Heaven.” I cried for hours after it ended. The movie in a nutshell is about a very poor young brother and sister who must share one pair of shoes (after losing their other pair) without their parents finding out. The brother enters a race in the hopes of winning the third prize which is a pair of new sneakers. The outcome of the race just shatters you. Film critic James Berardinelli noted back when the film was released that the movie was more than the race and the shoes. That it was about how “things define a family.” I totally get how shoes can serve as a symbol of love, frailty and despair. I look at my shoes and think of what hard work went into getting them. I think of the journeys I have been on with them. I think of how many of them have become my “brand.” My shoes are meant to help me stand out and stand tall. For every business trip I take, I bring with me at least 4-5 pairs of shoes. Each one is unique and is “me.” I have my favorite gray sling back Nine West shoes that although have high heels are extremely comfortable and dainty. I have my red plaid Betsey Johnson super heels that look like I am going to rock out and take no prisoners. I have my black Kenneth Cole flamenco like high heels that add a sense of mystery to my persona. It is all about manipulating perceptions and disarming folks. It is amazing how that can be done at a subconscious level through shoes. I still have a pair of clunky platforms that for some reason I had worn on a trip to Puerto Rico to visit my mom way back when. It is one of my remaining pictures with her. Considering that I do not have that many of her personal items left with me I guess that is why I keep those clunky shoes. They remind me of the time I spent with her and she smiled that awkward smile of hers for the photo. Boy, did she hate having pictures taken of her. I miss that. I miss her.
In the movie, The Silence of the Lambs (a movie that set my life course), Hannibal Lecter notes to Clarice “You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you’re not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling?” While she was trying to move forward in her life, her shoes gave away her history. Her shoes betrayed the image she was trying to showcase to the world-or at least-to those that were looking. How often has one had to choose between a nice quality bag and a nice quality pair of shoes? Assuredly, the handbag wins out, 7 out of 10 times. The handbag is presented front and center. Shoes can be a dime a dozen hidden beneath a long-flowing skirt or masked by uniformity. Historically, shoes have been intended to protect and cushion the foot but they have become more and more about decoration, status and one’s own personal history. Look at Cinderella’s story where the glass slipper serves to prove her authenticity and how she is the right fit for the Prince. While the wearing of shoes can have deep meaning so does its removal. Shoes can be removed to show servitude and deference. They can be removed in order to not bring dirt from the outside world into the inner sanctum of the home. My mom, on the other hand, always wanted her shoes on. She was uncomfortable if they were off. She felt as if she was naked. Kind of the way I feel without earrings on. At the end of it all, shoes carry with them a lot of heavy baggage. Or rather we have invested a lot of our personal baggage into our shoes. Growing up, my mom had her own brand of feminism that was accented by Nancy Sinatra’s catchy tune “These boots are made for Walking.” My mom would gleefully sing that song every so often noting that a woman’s boots should always be ready to start walking. It would just crack me up to hear her sing that so happily. Perhaps that is why she would never take her shoes off inside. She wanted to be ready to walk, run, or skip away.
At the end of the day, we all make our shoes our own. Carl Jung, noted that:
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases”
And so it is….