Writers Have the Best Shoes …
I once went to hear Mary Karr interviewed by Calvin Trillin at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco (City Arts & Lectures series). Karr was fresh off her incredible success with The Liar’s Club, a memoir that kick-started a craze that was to last years–what felt like decades to those of us struggling to get fiction out there. I happened to be toying with my own memoir, first as a novel, then as a memoir, then as vignettes. I had hoped to glean from Karr a nugget that might bump me out of a rut. What happened instead was I fell in love with her shoes.
They were red, and chunky, and strappy. In short, they had big personality balanced by the kind of delicate architecture wildly expensive shoes are known for. She crossed her legs and was swinging her foot, and within a minute Trillin was asking her about them, and Karr responded like she’d never been asked a more insightful question. I had hoped she would say, let’s stick to the writing, and let me tell you how I wrote a killer best-selling memoir. Instead, she described the trip in which she’d come upon the shoes, then came the deliberation, and the fantastic cost. With every detail she beamed with the satisfaction of her purchase, and Trillin was smitten. I think he added a shoe story of his own, but I’m not sure, because the shoes were glowing like radioactive material and I was finding it hard to concentrate.
For the next fifteen minutes, the topic touched ever so gently upon writing, but then would veer off suddenly into metaphor, as again interviewer and interviewee reveled in the shoes. Finally, my husband who isn’t a writer but always happy to accompany me, looked over, and I looked over at him, and we left.
Years later I was accompanying a fellow writer to a reading where we hoped to be captivated by a piece of prose, to find inspiration, to make a good contact or two. We were a room full of writers, and our projects buzzed in our heads, full of that self-absorption that can really wear thin. I was feeling alternately bored and nervous over the pressure to network, so I decided to sit down and wait, while scouring the room in search of interesting things to look at. Then I remembered my shoes. Though the weather had turned a little cold, I wore my gorgeous new sandals snagged on sale at the end of the season. They were blocky, and strappy, and comfortable enough for streetwear, and I was thinking how nice it was to have my toes free as the room filled up with the bodies of writers and so much excited chatter. Were we really feeling that pleased with our chosen profession, the progress we were making on our work, and the world’s stunning indifference?
Then, as the reading was about to begin, I noticed them. Leopard, green patent leather, booties impressed with a painting by an old master, and what looked like a lemon wedge. They were everywhere, exceptionally good shoes in amazing colors, and with that perfect balance of material, heel, and mood. What effort had been put into finding these shoes, what careful selection, what wading through dross, the over embellished, the poorly constructed, and the mixed metaphor, to finally arrive at this simplicity? It was no small thing to find so many good shoes, each conveying a world of story and emotion, and with such economy, like the best prose.