Yep, it’s rolled around again! That time of year (my birthday, Jan. 14th) when I reflect on what it means to have successfully navigated another year wholly and purely barefoot.
Well, to start, WOW!
It’s cold, as usual on my birthday, so I got dressed this morning in a pair of favorite bell bottoms, an undershirt and big cozy blue sweater covered in shiny stars. I, of course, wear my usual array of baubles, bells and bangles, and of course necklaces with Ganesh and Shiva on them, but also, around my ankles, anklets, and a pair of leg warmers, which do a lot to keep my feet warm. Lately at night it has gotten a little below freezing, but not much colder than the fifties during the day, days that are easier by far on bare feet than the winters I left in Ohio. Though I still hate the cold with as much weather-resentment as I dare hold on to now that I am in Florida. I was thankful that this is about as bad as it gets as I stepped out onto the cold bricks towards my car.
My first stop, the local Indian restaurant, the buffet has become an almost daily part of my diet. I have been learning to speak Hindi, so I start off my day chatting in Hindi with one of the waiters, who has taken it upon himself to let me practice my sloppy Hindi on him. Funny, a couple years back I was told customers had been complaining about my bare feet… moronic customers who not only cannot mind their own business, but are wholly ignorant of the laws. It took some convincing, but they eventually welcomed me back, and I have become more than a regular, a friend. I’m proud to say I have been close to many of the Indians who work there, and that we have not only enjoyed hanging out together, but have helped each other out quite a lot. This place is warm to me, friendly, and altogether my favorite place in Gainesville, apart from my home and SAW.
It’s cold in my little studio in the back of SAW (the comics school where I work), but my space heater makes it cozy within minutes, which is good as I have a lot of work to do. Soon my feet are warm and I am deep into the little Wind In the Willows and Winnie the Pooh type world I am creating for a proposed animation project that will help educate people, especially children, about the Florida Springs and our water. It’s a project that excites me, not merely because of the lovely theme and characters I am creating, but because it will get me in good graces with prominent environmentalists, good people, real good people. I am establishing strong and deep roots here, which I want, as this is the place I chose to call my home. This place, this town, this school, my room, are the only places I have ever chosen as my home. Finally, I am settling down.
All day students are wishing me a happy birthday as I ramble about the school, the chilly linoleum underfoot. It’s essential, to any hardcore barefooter, to find a job that will allow us to be authentic, so essential to me as I have designed my life around being barefoot, and I have been now, for far more than the last 4 years in which I really started counting. In fact, in the Hindu sense, in this manifestation, I have never worn shoes, nor am I merely a person who does not wear shoes, I am barefoot, and as we all learned in “Barfuss,” there is a difference.
Finally, the deadline met, I took off towards the bookstore to get a diary for my Hindi lessons, as I have been being tutored in Hindi and Urdu. As seems to happen more often than not these days, people don’t hassle me for being barefoot, perhaps it’s because I look them in the eye. After handling every diary and journal in two stores, the diary I chose had a Kay Nielsen cover.
Javed called as I was shopping (my student, Hindi tutor, and friend) to ask if I wanted to go out for ice cream for my birthday, but in classic Javed fashion, there were complications… fortunately, also in classic Javed fashion, the complications led to a better plan: to go shopping, make a spaghetti dinner, get tea for chai (made from scratch, of course), get cake, and watch a Bollywood movie. I stood in the kitchen and put together the meal, and then we enjoyed “Dedh Ishqiya…” stupendous film, by the way. And all in all, a fine birthday, as I had feared I was going to be spending it cakeless and alone.
Bollywood has become my latest passion. I’ve not only been going to a local theater here in town that actually runs Bollywood films, but I’ve been buying DVD’s as well. Dedh Ishqiya, which Javed and I just watched, what a film, I’d like to talk about it for a moment. On the surface the movie seems to be about a pair of criminals and conmen (very much in the style of Firefly), but soon it takes some turns and becomes a movie about women seeking release, and particularly about one woman seeking both a release and a return to who she is and not who the culture might force her to be. Madhuri Dixit is in the film, one of Bollywood’s best, an actress and dancer full of finesse and emotion. She is aging delightfully, though hardly old. Bollywood, a little like Hollywood, seems to prefer it’s women super young, so such a juicy role for Madhuri was a real delight. In the film she has become a rather formal aristocrat, rather like aging actresses become, but there is more to her. Due to her romantic interest, she is encouraged to dance… and what a glorious moment it is to see Madhuri being who she still is… a dancer, a beautiful woman! The camera zooms in close on her silky bare feet as she repeats the exact moves we had all seen in a famous dance scene from one of her earlier films… what a triumph! Madhuri’s character wants this, she wants out of this formal life, and wants to run free and return to her dancing, to her sense of self and not the sense of self derived from societies expectations that aging actors and artists become elderly statesmen. It was inspiring, especially in light of my own reflections on being a year older. In the end the film seemed rather like a tribute, a poem to Madhuri Dixit. My heart soared for her.
So, 4 years barefoot. What does that mean? The same thing it means every year, that it’s possible to live barefoot, and there is no need to entertain the thought of conforming or submitting. It means we can live the life we create if we are bold enough to commit to it, if we are strong enough to say “NO” time and again to those who would deprive us of our true selves. I even navigated a situation with a surgeon who I thought was really going to give me a run for my money on this account, but he seems to have backed off. Yes, gang, I went through a surgery this year (involving my face.. it was a nightmare), and all barefoot. I didn’t think I was going to pull all that off, but did. When the surgeon gave me a hard time about it, I simply told him that I had survived cancer in Korea, and a near-drowning in Thailand, and that I had promised myself ever since that I would not conform or submit ever again… I WILL see my vision of my life through, and in that vision I am barefoot. He looked like he wanted to stand his ground, but he backed off, and seems rather content teasing me about it instead. Perhaps I have won him over. Perhaps he is wise as well as a gifted surgeon.
“Solitude scares me. It makes me think about love, death, and war. I need distraction from anxious, black thoughts.”
Why is it so important that I stay barefoot? There are many reasons, the main one simply being because it is important to me, and that is all the reason I really need. There are also reasonable explanations, and one being that I have a very busy mind, one that tends to chase rabbits into some pretty dark holes, but being barefoot grounds me, keeps my mind on the eternal now. When I am barefoot a part of me is experiencing the sensuality of the world, of my flesh, and of my very being, and all of that helps keep me out of my head… connected to life, to where the real stories are being told. My head is full of illusions, my feet forever in touch with life and living!
What were the highlights this year? I guess getting away with the surgery situation… I thought I had been up against my Waterloo on that one, especially when I had to enter that hospital. Ultimately that one won battle really only convinced me that I need have no fear that anyone can force me to do anything no matter the situation. The problem is, the machine is BIG, you know the machine, the one that tries to suck everyone into its monolithic vision of how things must be, the “THOU SHALTS” and “THOU SHALT NOTS” that are as set in stone as the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain, those blockages in people’s minds that convince them that this or that may not or cannot be done. The constructs of the culture… the bullshit and madness everyone else calls normalcy and reality, which I have learned is nothing more than a logjam of bullshit everyone protects as if civilization itself depends upon it. Hey, guys, break that logjam loose and watch how much more freely the water flows! But no, we are all too afraid that free flowing water will bury our constructs under a flood, a dangerous flood of new ideas and sensual experiences. We are all too afraid of not being protected from ourselves, from true freedom. Well I can tell you, I do not need the constructs of the culture protecting me, I need it to get the fuck out of my way.
But that is the culture’s job, isn’t it, to civilize the wild things… the wild women? Being barefoot is wild, and threatening to those who need society to create and demand submission to its constructs.
What else have I done? I had a nice trip to the Hindu Temple in Orlando. This was another of those lone roadtrips where I hopped barefoot into a car and took off. While the temple itself was great, and while it was magnificent to see Lord Ganesh in all his glory again, the rest of the experience was not so grand, still, barefoot roadtrips are fab. I had another one of those about a month back when I got into the car to go to Jacksonville with some friends (see more on that in a post I put up a few weeks ago).
I also attended the ballet I worked on. That was quite a delight, getting myself all dressed up and sitting in such a cultural moment stoned and barefoot… what a joy! Earlier this year I attended a similar event, a play, and noticed one woman scandalized, she stared at my feet then scurried off to get her husband so she could point to me and my feet… I mean, how weird is that? It’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is… pretty damn weird.
I think the big lesson this year was partially realized just last night, right on my birthday as we were watching our latest Bollywood movie, as my hand slid down over my toes, and as I enjoyed the sensuality of the feel of my own silky topsides and the warm fleshy underside of my toes, as well as the leathery flesh on my soles. This physical body can be a source of pleasure, a source of connection to this experience of being here now, that of being alive. It seems I sometimes forget that, sometimes take it all too much for granted. And in the end, isn’t that what being barefoot is all about? Being connected to my physicality, being sensually aware? I suppose this is a rather long-winded way of saying that being barefoot is the heartbeat of my own hedonism, and that sometimes I take it for granted. That’s really the thing, isn’t it… to learn not to take things for granted, to keep our favorite experiences fresh. And it’s not easy, keeping our joys fresh and our appreciation for them ever-flowing. It’s very easy to forget.
I woke up this morning, the day after my birthday, and realized I still had a few things to say about this, so for a while I wrote a little of what you read above, all the while, thanks to the magic of DVD’s, Bardot was being her fabulous wild barefoot self in “And God Created Woman,” and I began to consider how easy it is to lose track of why I do this. The truth is… it’s a buzz… a sensual high, sure it distracts me from my busy mind, sure it’s who I am and what I’m about, but at the end of the day, what it’s really about is the titillation. Yep, that is the truth of the matter, and it’s why I am not on any of the barefoot lifestyle boards, because for me this is most definitely an extension and expression of my sexuality… much as it was for Bardot. Is it a fetish? Perhaps… but it doesn’t matter. It is life, it is a pleasure, and you can call it what you will.
There is one aspect of all this living barefoot that most people might not fully understand, the physiological. My feet have changed, even changed shape. The supple leathery hide of my soles being only the most obvious change. Now that they have been freed from the binding and malforming confines of shoes, they have spread out, particularly my toes. My toes have become not only much more spread out, but vaguely more rubbery. I’m not certain I’ve had a cold or flu since I started living this way. I’m not certain of the science of it, but I know I am stimulating pressure points, invigorating my circulation, and I know we absorb things through our soles. I believe I absorb inert viruses and my body fights them off, like flu vaccinations. The changes have all been for the better… just like the changes in my life. To be quite honest, I have gained far more than I have lost in being so honest and authentic about who I am and what I want. People respond more positively to me now, things happen more readily for me now, and I have become a tad superstitious. My life was not working back when I was conforming and submitting to so many expectations, now it works better, so like hell if I’m going to change, if I’m going to strap boards or bacteria incubators to my feet.
At the moment I am sitting in my studio, my belly full of veggie and shrimp tempura and veggie fried rice from my favorite Thai restaurant (Wahaha), another of those lovely places where I am welcome barefoot. Here now I am very aware of the sounds of Paul McCartney’s deep catalog work playing away in the background, my brave little space heater warming the place up, and of my ever bare feet, a lovely little chill dancing about my toes. And that’s what I want, to be… aware, aware of the music I play, aware of the pleasure of being barefoot… moreso, aware of the intense pleasure of truly being wholly barefoot, of not owning shoes, and of all the lovely adventures I’m going to continue having.
Below… that’s me, smiling away in my studio…
So, here’s to years of pleasure, of adventures, hope, joy, and hopefully this will be the year the right man comes along. Well… hope springs eternal.