Do the Shoes Make the Life?

This month I had nothing to write about.

Well, maybe that isn’t exactly true. Topics swirled in my brain but none seemed quite appropriate to write about. The current political primaries would be too divisive and personal. Bernie vs Biden vs Why Not Warren? A few former students have a sense of where I fall on the political spectrum and I wasn’t about to get into that mix. Then I considered anything to do with my religious/spiritual journey since motherhood. Again, no way. Heretical and traditional at the same time – nobody wants to read about that mess, and most would get offended at some point. Moving on. Then I considered something close to my heart: the way that mothers sometimes do not support other mothers and quickly deleted that in my head before it even took a phantom shape of an essay. Finally, I realized my Momma brain is currently too fatigued, worried, and occupied with some weird virus thing-y to focus at 11pm. But no one wants to hear about my hypochondriac brain freeze.

So. What to do? What could I share and write about?

My eyes glanced down at the magazine on the couch and the movies in my Amazon cue. My own very private survival, keep-your-sanity kit. How do I negotiate the mess in my head and heart that I just described above? Well, here goes.

My mother and I subscribe to and swap Victoria, Country Living and Southern Living magazines. (I hear some of you starting to scroll away from this page. Bear with me.) Of all three, Victoria is probably closest to my literary and intellectual preferences – tea settings, English cottages, book rooms, gardens. This magazine is a favorite portal to a calmer, prettier, more intellectual perhaps made-up world. Now, Country Living and Southern Living. I stumbled upon these and guess what? They are fun. I am not about to redo my house in some Low Country style. We don’t have a front porch to paint light blue. My cooking skills would never allow me to replicate those recipes. And I will NEVER look like a Southern belle with the huge bouncy hair, perfect manicures, and lipstick for every occasion. My nails are bitten to the quick, my Yankee hair has had one side part since my junior year in high school, and these days I can’t even keep track of my chapstick. But these magazines allow me to imagine living in a world so unlike my own and at the same time, give me a tip or two to maybe, just maybe, organize my house or myself one degree neater or stylishly….this afternoon, or…someday.

Then I looked up at my movie cue. Recently, I have returned to a plethora of movies made at the peak of “good movies” between 1999 and 2006. These were the movies that got me through my 20s – while I was trying to figure out where I was going, what my life was going to be about. The favorites were Tortilla Soup, Monsoon Wedding, Tango, Chocolat, Under the Tuscan Sun, Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Devil Wears Prada, you get the picture. I realize now they share one thing in common – a young heroine trying to find her voice and herself in the midst of life’s challenges, all while looking trim, stylish and vibrant. And usually wearing really great shoes.

At the time, the very beginning years of the 21st century, these movies were touted as having “strong female characters”. As I re-watch them now as part of my late-night sanity restoration, I wonder how many of them hold up to the feminist standards of our time. I suspect most fail miserably. In the age of #metoo and a woke sense of checking your privilege, most of these heroines succeed partly for using and manipulating their sexuality (as defined by the male gaze) and by living and using whatever privileges they have (as defined by a narrative primarily comprised of a Northern White gaze.)

But here’s the thing. These ladies were all striving to live something we now call #bestlife. How many of us say we are “living our best life”? What does that even mean? Is it up to each of us to define it, or is there a subtle underlying unifying definition? I get the sense that it means ‘I am doing the best version of “me” which implies some sort of post-modern feminist freedom, expression of creativity and sexuality, and ability to do what I want to make myself feel good when I feel like doing it.’

How far have we really come?

The irony to me is that sometimes living your best life in fact means invoking those very privileges we are trying to check everywhere else. And it all leaves me a little confused.

What I do know is that at 11pm, as I fight the urge for my Momma Wine 0’clock or food o’clock, as I avoid any more news before bed and pick my early 2000’s nostaglic feel good movie, I feel neither trim, stylish or vibrant. There are days I want that Girl back so badly. The freedom to swing my hips in really clicky shoes and appropriated ethic prints down the streets in New Haven, grad backpack in tow. Hair full, lips colored, mind engaged. I remember her so vividly. But she was also a bit selfish, elitist, and ignorant. Was she living her best life? On my couch tonight, I do no purport to be woke or checking my privileges, and I don’t know at all if I am currently living my best life.

But I do know that I am living a messier life, and I am living a realer life. And I am living into a much more realer “Me”, even as I scan these magazines and movies. And in that messy realness, my feet have widened from Birks and sneakers, my face has wrinkled and softened a bit, and my heart has swelled. And my brain, well, she will stay engaged anyway she can these days, even if it means a late night walk down Nostalga Lane. I am living a life where I know to avoid more facebook comments, make more phone calls, pray a whole lot harder, and get over the little things that just don’t matter. And focus on the things that do.

As I don’t know if I am living my best life (according to facebook), I don’t know if this is my best essay. But in both, they are real, they are driven by love, and always, always in search for that perfect pair of shoes in whatever place/way of life I currently call my real home.

Published by Marissa Smith

Marissa Smith is a mother of one full time four year old daughter, an in hiatus English teacher, yoga practitioner, writer and faith journeyer. She lives on coffee, hope, and love, and hopes one day that the words on the page will accurately reflect all the ideas in her head.

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