Sunday, May 07, 2006


My shoes are usually empty...a lonely pair orphaned on the tile floor or locked away in the closet. In the Summer, I am wearing a pair of Birkenstocks with the cork worn wafer-thin. In the Winter, I'll find another pair of serviceable slides and live there, or in snow boots, until the trees bloom and the air is warm again. A few dress shoes gather dust until another wedding or funeral rolls around. I am ambivalent about shoes...I don't go shopping for them or lust after a perfect pair of Manolo Blahniks. These price tags make me blanch and calculate how many books I could have bought with that money--the laptop--the folk art painting--the long weekend away with M. in a bed and breakfast with a cloak of comfortable silence.

Once, M.'s eagle-eyed, design-gifted sister said,
"You can tell a person's whole life from the shoes they wear."
I glanced at her feet and saw her cute, dark, retro-heels and suddenly wanted to plunge mine beneath a tablecloth as I was nine months pregnant and in a borrowed pair of scuffed flats--swollen and aching and completely unlike myself. Considering that idea and the whole culture of shoe fetishism all around me--I now wonder about my utter disregard for footwear fashion. Does that mean I don't have a personality? Does it mean I'm missing some genetic code programmed into other women? If you can tell a life based on a pair of shoes--what does it say about me that I'd rather not wear them?

My footsoles are worn smooth and dark with the miles tread over floors, the pavement, and the tall, cool grass in my bare feet. Walking in my front door, you would trip over a pile of shoes immediately flung off by the occupants of our house the second they were safely inside. Perhaps this genetic anomaly is a dominant one, canceling out any shoe-loving ancestors on our family tree.

Shoes, to me, are tools to be worn only when walking where broken shards of glass glitter like so many dappled asphalt constellations...or when the streets are melting or slick with ice...when a function will not admit me unless I'm strapped into the requisite black pumps. I take them off when I am driving--when I'm sitting in a theatre or restaurant with my legs tucked demurely beneath me. My foot nakedness is unpredictable and inappropriate--like a college co-ed's on spring break. I shed shoes like others shed laws and rules--refusing to be tied down to one artificially imposed construct.

I am one of a tribe of bare-footed mother who declares,
"When I go, dress me up however you want--but, you better damn-well make sure I'm not wearing any shoes on my feet."
An aunt who regards hers as "grape squashers"--wide as they are--and attributes this to her half-Italian ancestry.
"Shoes hurt," she explains, hostessing a cookout with a row of vibrantly painted toenails as the sole adornments on her feet. My sister has a wide collection of lovely shoes in defiance of this trend--but, you'll catch her without them as often as not...watering the flowerbeds, talking with neighbors, getting the mail: bare-bare-bare. My children hate shoes--would rather face splinters, thorns, and bee stings than a pair of sneakers.

My shoes cannot seem to forgive me for my abandonment. They long to boldly express their creativity, form, and function. If you can tell a whole life from a person's shoes...I guess I just resist that quick definition. I want you to see the tattoo, the toe rings, the bike accident scars from my childhood wreck. I want to show off the high arch that confounded my "grape squasher" footed mother and required special inserts in my Catholic schoolgirl uniform loafers. I remember the Summer when I attended university lectures in Greek Mythology with my sandals tucked into my batik backpack, so as not to interrupt the flow of those ancient stories from the soil to my trembling heart. When we meet up...I want to be be let my foolish vulnerability and exposed strength speak for itself. My battered old shoes will be dangling from my fingertips, wishing they were yours.

Sunday Scribblings: My Shoes


Blogger paris parfait said...

Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing your (family) penchant for bare feet. Such a well-written piece.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

What a great post! It sparked so many things in me: first, that you can tell a person by their shoes! Indeed! You can tell SOMETHING, like: that they're either into shoes or not. When I was backpacking in Italy in my early 20s I vividly recall the way the women in the beautiful prosperous towns of the Emilia Romagna glancing disdainfully at my Birkenstocked feet, and I could see they thought they "knew" me. Nonsense. And though I have since grown an affection for shoes (not expensive ones!) I too come from a barefoot tribe of wide-footed women. An ex-boyfriend when fitting me for snowboarding boots informed me I had "Flintstone feet!"

10:54 AM  
Blogger Shuku said...

This is so beautifully written. Barefootedness is such a lovely thing --it's definitely a sign of home when I can go barefoot on my floors. I used to be able to, in my old apartment. Here there's far too much dust and things wot make me sneeze since we face the highway *sigh*

' many books I could have bought with that money' - I so identify! I judge EVERYTHING by how many books I could have bought. I don't know if shoes reflect a person's life; on second thoughts it's probably good they don't because the few pairs I do own right now beggar description!


10:56 AM  
Blogger bb said...

this is great! whre others have striven in their 'shoe postings' to claim the shoes they own and identify with them, your post stands defiant and bold with its shoe rejection! you can feel so much through your feet when they are in intimate contact with the earth, don't you think?
can't wait to have a read through your archives, bb x

11:03 AM  
Blogger AnnieElf said...

Your shoe closet is definitely my shoe closet. Simple, servicable, comfortable, and few in number.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was such a wonderful post. I think this has been my favorite "Shoe" reading so far. I love bare feet and only wear shoes that I can slide in and out of.

You are an extremely talented writer. Excellent!

11:31 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I love this. I remember when I was pregnant was the first time I needed quality shoes. I've never gone back. I think your shoes (or lack thereof) do tell alot about you. You seem free and independant to me.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Delia, again i feel like the crayons have been out - that was just wonderful. i love your writing style so much, and the beans you spill. 'from the soil to my trembling heart' - always so many depths to your writing. i'll say it again - i can't wait to read your book...

and BB is in for a treat when she reads through your archive

11:54 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

Ahhh. This was just awesome! And, seriously like you were reading my mind when it come to shoes. I am always as close to barefoot as I can get, too.
I love the discription of the other barefooties in your family tree.
It is a funny thing, but I like and trust people who are willing to rest their bare feet on the earth...These are my people. hehehe.


12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, my goodness! This was gorgeous and probably my favorite shoe scribbling. I so understood what you meant about your pregnant feet, and how unlike you they were.

So many gorgeous the "dapples asphalt constellations" and footsoles "smooth and dark with the miles tread over floors, the pavement, and the tall, cool grass in my bare feet."

Love the inappropriate barefeet! Freedom and self-knowledge and acceptance were just threaded through this post.

I'll stop gushing now, but!

1:27 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

Wonderful, glorious writing. I think it's true that we can hear the earth speak through our feet. And really, the best way to show off pretty nail polish and toe rings is barefoot. Thank you for writing this.

1:35 PM  
Blogger boliyou said...

Wonderful post! A nice family story.

5:57 PM  
Blogger brittany said...

Know that you have a kindred bare-footed sister in me--a long lost stranger who keeps flip flops in the car since I often leave the house bare-bare-bare without even realizing it.

8:13 PM  
Blogger susanlavonne said...

My first thought was...."beautifully written" but then everyone else had already written this! But then many of us seem to prefer Birks as well so I'll repeat the phrase making it unoriginal but no less true...
Beautifully written :-)

11:00 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

i LIKE this! it gives me so much to think about re: my own relationship with shoes. i've always felt guilty for choosing comfort over style. my sister took her shoes off at her wedding because they hurt her feet. she walked down the aisle barefoot.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

your writing in scrumptious.

i took off my Rainbows to listen. *grin*. we have similar thoughts and feelings about shoes and bare feet.

you are a beautiful soul from the tip top of your head to the botton of your high arches.


12:11 PM  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

I LOVE the kind of people who will walk right out of their shoes at my front door. Relating to people sans shoes creates such a different vibe! I do love my shoes, but I also love the freedom of bare feet, which is evidenced by my barefooted life working at home. How when I go out, I usually grab a pair of slides (bronze that go with everything) and hit the road. Lovely!

1:21 PM  
Blogger justjohanna said...

fun to read! your aversion to shoes is my aversion to pantyhose!

maybe the resistance to the shoes-tell-you-everything theory is that you have other ways you'd rather be getting to know someone than by announcements you make with your feet?

6:35 AM  
Blogger Endment said...

I sa sitting here reading your wonderful post enjoying the affirmation that bare feet are wonderful. My shoes sit down at the foot of the stairs - I only put them on to go out to face the world :=)
I am not really certain I want to spend a lot of time with people who think they can tell anything from the shoes people wear --- the concept seems shallow and judgemental to me.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Thank you for all of these thoughtful comments! I think the responses are so very interesting...people just feel very passionately about shoes--who knew? I just have to say, M.'s sister is a beautiful woman, who has a fabulous eye for design and the visual aspects of life. She is open-minded, open-hearted, and one of the greatest champions of my work to the wider world. She is in very good company, it turns out--with a whole tribe of women who have deep and passionate feelings about footwear!

9:12 AM  
Blogger m.'s sister said...

Violently flashing, LED laced turbo-charged kid shoes; haute coutre sling back heels; ninety dollar unassuming leather and cork sandals; or dollar store flipflops. All make an impact on the wearer and her audience. I love a visual statement, even you of the bare-footed tribe are telling me volumes. It is the expression that I value, even if it is not intended to be shared with me. I do pick up on visual clues, and sense one's character. Inference is not judgment, though. Judgment is not understanding. How could I understand you without spending a day in your shoes?

Incidently, I just this week ditched the third pair of paper thin Birks I have owned in the past ten years. After all this talk about shoes, I might decide to break my own mold, step out of the comfort zone, and try something new.

11:51 PM  

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