I'm going to explain this once, at length, and then I hope never to have to explain it again.
The shoes thing.
I've taken a lot of grief over the years about my shoes. I'll probably continue to take a lot of grief over the years about my shoes. I have no doubt that I'm going to sound cranky at times in the following. I'm not so much cranky as just tired of having to explain myself. I'm not mad at y'all, I'm not asking for apologies, I'm just asking for a few of you to let up a little. Here goes.
To the fellow archivists who doubted my wisdom and/or sanity at the Pittsburgh SAA when I wore forest green suede high heeled pumps on a rainy walking tour of Falling Water. I'll never regret it, because over those shoes I struck up what was to become a long friendship with Jodi Allison-Bunnell. But here's the background story. It was my second SAA, ever. I had attempted to sign up for the tour earlier, to be told it was sold out. When I arrived at the registration desk that morning, all dressed up in my professional clothes for a day of professional networking, I ran into Rand Jimerson who knew of my interest in the tour and told me that they'd chartered an extra bus and I could go if I wanted, only I had to leave NOW. No chance to run back up to the room and change. My preference would not have been to wear green suede spike-heeled pumps over what was a quarter mile hike across a mud road to the house and without a coat, but my only other choice was to miss the tour altogether and I'm not sorry I went. It was a great tour and besides, I netted Jodi A-B.
To the fellow archivist who, when we met up after I'd spent a vacation day shopping, said to me: "you bought 4 pairs of shoes in one day? I haven't bought 4 pairs of shoes in the last 4 years." This wasn't exactly a spree of criminal proportion. One was a pair of winter boots of the type which I find it nearly impossible to find (more on that in a bit) and one was a pair of sneakers which I wear nearly every day when I work out on my elliptical and which replaced a much-beloved, much-worn 12 year-old pair of Avia sneaks that were no longer up to the task. And all checked in at together at less than $60, a heckuva sale. Frankly, your admission that you don't regularly replace your shoes--and I know you work out very regularly--should not be anything to be bragged over. How can your geezer shoes possibly be doing your feet any favors with all that athletic activity?
To the people who keep giving me shoe-related items: I appreciate the thought, really, I do, but please stop. What I need you to understand is that I have no interest in shoe earrings, shoe soap, shoe bottles, shoe calendars, shoe holiday ornaments, shoe spatulas, shoe bottle openers, shoe artwork, shoe shower curtains, shoe figurines, and anything that resembles a shoe that can't actually be worn as a shoe. On my feet. For several hours a day.
To the colleagues and friends, now and in every job I've ever had, who when I wear flats for over 2 days in a row make the point of saying something about it to me or who insist on introducing me to new co-workers or professional colleagues or who-have-you by drawing attention to my shoes: your interest in my footwear is far more obsessive and fetishistic than mine. (I'm far too tired to go look up if fetishistic is a word, sorry.) I wear what I feel like wearing, what matches what I've got on, what works for that day, what was sitting closest to the front door as I was running out it. I really, truly, don't spend much time thinking about it. If you really want to obsess about my footwear? My full permission, only please, leave me out of it?
To all the shoe manufacturers who think it's amusing to put flat, smooth soles or open toes on winter boots: you should be ashamed of yourselves.
To those of you who worry about me shortening my Achilles tendon by wearing heels all the time: thank you, but your concern is unnecessary. I spend most of my home life barefoot. I also spend a great deal of my leisure time in tennies. I own--and need--several pairs of hiking boots for my summer berry-picking and other wanderings in the semi-wilds of Alaska. Those tendons are in great shape. Trust me, if my doc could figure out a health reason to get me to stop wearing heels, she would. Same thing for bunions, corns, hammer toes. Not a problem here.
And now that I've alienated at least half my colleagues, co-workers, and friends, here's the explanation. It's relatively simple.
I have a motor memory and coordination deficiency. If you ever want to see any member of my immediate family burst into uncontrollable frenzies of laughter, just use the phrase "It's like learning to ride a bike." My big brother is particularly susceptible to that one, since he's the guy who had to teach me both times as a child. Every spring, the first bike ride is still a bit of a challenge. I've learned how to swim 4 times. I cannot swim now. My mother who taught knitting to all sorts of strangers and friends for years, tried to teach me how to knit at least 3 times. I can't knit. I had to learn how to drive a stick shift twice, though the first time was in a 1973 Beetle, so that may not count. All of you who learn to do some sort of physical behavior and hit a point where you can do it more-or-less involuntarily? Not me. I mostly have to think about all of it. About the only thing I've ever managed to get to that point on is driving a stick.
So how does that translate to wearing high heels? My very conservative mother (I couldn't get my ears pierced til 16, had to wear a dress to school at least twice a week through all of elementary and junior high, couldn't go to movies, couldn't go dancing, etc) struggled with my lack of coordination for years. She took victories when she could find them. And so when one Sunday before church the fifth-grade me put on the Nordstrom's plain black pumps she'd put out for herself to wear that day and walked around the living room in them, the most expensive pair of shoes she'd ever bought for herself and given inflationary rates probably still the most expensive pair of shoes she's ever bought for herself, she let me wear them. That Sunday, and for many Sundays to come. And also went out and bought me some more age-appropriate and inexpensive heels of my own.
So I started early with heels and wore them regularly. In other words, years of experience and training.
And my best heel height is between 2.5" and 4". I can do a 4.5 if it's built exactly right (which most shoes--of all heights--are not) but anything above that, I can't do.
Why do I mention the heel height thing? I not only have a motor memory and coordination problem, I also forget that I have a motor memory and coordination problem. When I wear heels in the proper height range? I don't forget. I become very careful about how I walk. When I wear flats or low heels, I tend to forget. I tend to treat them like I'm barefoot. I've seriously sprained an ankle twice in my life: the first time I was wearing sneakers (was walking sideways down some steps, missed the edge, and ankle touched the step below while foot was still on the edge of the step above) and the second time I was wearing a pair of 1" kitten heels (freshly waxed tile, heel went out from underneath me, ankle again touched the ground while I remained upright.) Neither of those events would have happened in real heels since I would have been much more careful about my foot placement. The most recent time I seriously injured my foot/ankle, I was pulling a flatbed handtruck loaded with 500+ lbs of records, walked in front of it, and ran the protruding front end of the flatbed into the back of my ankle/lower calf. I was wearing flats at the time. Had I been wearing heels? The cart would have collided with the upper part of the shoe's heel and probably broken it. My ankle would have been fine. But again, if I'd been wearing heels, I probably would have been thinking about what I was doing and never would have walked in front of the cart.
I don't wear uncomfortable heels. If my toes can't do at least 4 hours in them, they're not for me. I don't wear shoes that don't fit properly, that are too large or too small. I don't wear shoes constructed to put my weight on the balls of my feet because I walk heel-toe, all the time, and when I stand, my weight is on my heels and not the front end of my foot, which explains why I can't wear anything above 4.5 inches which at the heel height/foot length ratio would force me to put the weight forward. If it has a pointy toe, my toes are at the widest part of the shoe box, not crammed down into that tip. The arch of the shoe has to bend with my foot as I walk, thus no wedges, platforms, or thick heels. I also tend to have several pairs around because swapping them out regularly also helps me avoid the rare repetitive stress injuries that could be caused by wearing the same pair of shoes for days on end. Are you getting the picture that I'm super picky and careful about my shoes and shoe-wearing? The winter boots that I purchase for everyday wear--on the rare occasions I can find them--have lug soles and spike heels. The soles provide the traction most of the time, and the heels work just like studded tires do for your car when you're trying to stop on a layer of snow or ice.
To illustrate the winter boots point: a few years ago I was in Fairbanks in November for a work meeting. They'd just had a thaw/freeze cycle, leaving the streets and sidewalks covered with a half-inch thick sheet of glare ice. Two wonderful colleagues and gentlemen, Bob Forshaw and Jim Simard, and I were walking from the university to Bob's house to pick up Bob's car so he could drive Jim and I to dinner and then to the airport. Bob and Jim were both wearing standard Alaskan winter boots. I was wearing a pair of spike-heeled lug-soled boots (they looked exactly like steel-toed construction work boots, if you can imagine those in lilac, with pointy toes, and a 4" stiletto heel). The guys were clearly worried about my walking ability under the circumstances, but after an initial foray into the topic, took my edged "I'll be fine" as a definitive hint to leave it alone and as the gentlemen they are, let the subject be. About 15 minutes into our 20 minute walk, Bob slid sideways on the ice--he didn't go down, but it was a near thing. Jim assisted him with his balance and then graciously offered me his arm. I smiled and declined. Ten steps later Jim went sideways. He didn't go down, but it was a near thing, and he almost took Bob out with him. Once he recovered, I smiled and offered him my arm. He took it and we walked safely the rest of the way to Bob's house.
So, believe me when I tell you I'm safer and more comfortable in the heels that I wear. The Pollyanna Arlene occasionally tries to convince herself that this focus others have on her shoes that results in anything but complimentary phrases is light and unintended jealousy. For those of you for whom that is true, please stop taking my foot attire as a criticism of your own: I realize that in this case, I am an original created by some very unusual circumstances of both nature and nurture, and what is right for me is not likely to be right for the vast majority of people around me. By wearing heels, I am not casting aspersions on your own choice of shoes. For the most part I try not to comment negatively on the footwear of those around me (even when they're in shoes I regard as being evidence of the decline and fall of civilization and no, I'm not going to tell you what brands those are since that would be mean-spirited. Not to mention that those shoe manufacturers have plenty of money to hire attorneys.) It's also not vanity. I'll admit I like pretty or eye-catching shoes but comfort will always take precedence over looks for me. And I'm not being profligate. The most I've ever paid for a pair of shoes is just over $200 and that was a pair of dress black leather winter boots I bought this last winter that I fully expect will last me for many years to come, and most of the rest of my stash cost no more than $20-$30 (I'm good at finding sales).
To Erin, who recently said about me: "I've witnessed her walking on ice with more grace in a pair of heels than anyone in a pair of those ice grabber shoes. I was stunned at how effortless she is in heels in all conditions...now I'm a believer." Erin, I love you. I also love your own taste in shoes and knowing that I could never walk in most of them is one of the few things keeping me from stealing them from you.
To Val who, about a year after I left my job at the Utah State Archives, called me up and told me he'd heard the click of high heels approaching the research center that day and was gravely disappointed when the woman who rounded the corner wasn't me and that he missed me, thank you. Sense-memory is an amazing thing, isn't it? I miss you too.
To my immediate family who, though they make every attempt to point out every deficiency they can find in me, still have never been rude about the shoe thing and who occasionally have encouraged it, thank you for that.
Related to that, to Joel, a beloved nephew who as a teen not only spent hours with me in a shoe store but managed to pick out shoes for me that still bring in compliments years later, your taste in shoes is impeccable and trust me when I tell you that this trait will serve you in very good stead with women all through your life.
To the guy walking across campus near me one snowy winter night last November who blurted out "Wow, you can really move in those!" That was very sweet. But please be careful: judging by the expression on her face, I think your wife was plotting to tackle me, rip my boots off, and beat you to death with them. And I suspect I might have been next in line for grievous bodily harm.
To Jenny, who met me over a pair of fantabulous shoes she was wearing back when we were both undergrads in the dim past: thank you for introducing me to some of the few men I know who really appreciate my footwear, your own innate and well-developed respect for heels, and your company on countless shoe-shopping expeditions. You've been one of my mainstays, one of the very few to whom I have never, ever had to explain this.
And for those men and women who are willing and able to compliment me on my shoes without any extra or hidden meanings, thank you. Glad I could brighten your day in so minor a way, even though I'm doing it not for you, but for me.
It's about comfort, it's about safety, it's about what works for me. So please, can we stop with the "I don't know how you do it," or "I'm just concerned about your health" or "are you sure you're going to be okay on this walk" or all those other statements that often start out with a sort-of compliment that morphs into an implied criticism of my footwear choices?
Really. I'm okay. I'll be fine. And if I do stumble, I'll smile at your "I told you so," knowing in my heart that it wasn't the shoes, it was the distraction of your company that kept me from paying close enough attention to how I was walking.
And if you need an arm for balance, let me know. I'll be glad to offer you one.