White Shoes Blues

by Abbye Meyer | 11/13/01 6:00am

About a week and a half ago I bought a new pair of running shoes (not that I go running, mind you, but I am lazy and think they're the comfiest). It was time. I've had the same pair of sneakers for almost two years, even bringing them back into rotation after buying a different pair a year ago; they are the best shoes I've ever owned, and I did my best to save them, maintain them and keep them wearable. But eventually holes ripped and soles started to peel. And there's nothing else I can do.

Well, I guess I did do a pretty great job at finding a pair that almost looks exactly like my old one. But now I have entered into a new dilemma. These new shoes are very, very white. In order to make them look and feel lived in and worn, I have to wear them. But I can't wear them until they look and feel lived in and worn.

I spent a week debating the pros and cons of wearing extremely white shoes. I chose carefully to wear them on a disgusting, rainy day, hoping the mud and leaves and water would begin to discolor them a bit. But among all of that gray in the day, my shoes stood out even more ridiculously.

I was walking home from class, actually beginning to decide that it wasn't as bad as I thought -- assuming that the shininess was in my head, that others were not really blinded by my shuffling feet -- when my friend finally turned to me and simply said, "Your shoes."

I took them off and put the nasty, ripped ones back on. But those stupid white shoes have remained in the back of my head. It's become an impossible project, a call for a miracle. I think about the shoes all of the time, kick them when I walk in the door and plead with my brain to focus on something else.

An added layer of stress on top of everything else, the white shoes have been haunting me. The words "white shoes" have been playing over and over in my head as I walk around campus (recently to the tune of "Black Socks," one of those never-ending sing-songy songs that you can do in rounds).

Sometimes -- usually during periods of great stress like finals week -- I get the feeling that music is always playing. But it's not just happy background, elevator music. It's the music that's playing on the radio when you're trying to figure out your schedule or write a term paper or compose a difficult email. It's grating and loud and carries no beautiful melody. All you want to do is turn it off.

As I walk down the street, to class or from class or to a meeting or from one, all I want to do is turn off this layer of music, this ongoing refrain of "White Shoes" layered on top of "What I Need to Do Today" and "How to Start that Paper."

When my father visited awhile ago, a live band began playing in the background. What should have been a fun visit escalated into my struggling not to physically cover my ears and scream. Too much music playing, too many things to do, too few hours in the day.

I think the underlying cause of this chaos, the unrelenting DJ who won't leave the airwaves free, started to make itself known to me when I listened to a friend describe his classes. "I have midterms for seven weeks," he screamed, detailing the progression of the term. "And the term is only 10 weeks." For him, it's never not midterms. For me, it's never not finals week.

But that's how it's set up to be. Indeed, with only 10 weeks in the term, we're destined to move from introductions to midterms to finals too quickly to breathe. There's no time to review or digest or do extra reading on something interesting or even take a day off.

With such tiny quarters barely over two months long, we're always either behind or one day away from falling behind. I used to love the quarter system, rationalizing that there's never a boring spell, never time to sit around wondering when classes will end, never enough time to fall too far behind, because there's always a midterm requiring we catch up. I loved not having homework over spring break. And I loved the flexibility in scheduling foreign study programs and off-terms.

And I still love these things, but lately I don't know if it's worth it, worth the stress, worth the busy schedules -- which seem to lead us into that work hard/play hard (or perhaps more accurately, work hard/freak out hard) mentality -- or worth the layer of stress that infects our brains and never lets us stop.

For me, at least, by the time I get that music turned down and get the white shoes dirty, and by the time I finish papers and get the extra-curriculars under control, it's time to go home. It's time to say goodbye to the friends I almost made (and maybe would have made if there had been time), and time to unplug and unwind for awhile, to take advantage of the silence before the music starts again.