Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Barefoot" Shoes - A Rant

So, one of the big deals floating around the barefoot community at large right now is the use of the terms "barefoot shoes" and "minimalist shoes". People like barefoot shoes apparently (although I've only seen this claim espoused by those who make money by selling such footwear, so I'm somewhat skeptical).

But I have indeed seen more and more use of the term "barefoot shoes", so I think that they may be right that the "masses have spoken". Here's the problem I have though. The masses, i.e. people, are also stupid creatures sometimes, so let's just throw out what people like for a second and consider this rationally.

"Barefoot shoes" is as inane a statement as is "naked pants", or "topless shirt". There might be something quaint about attaching those types of contradictions together, and that's fine within a particular context (for example, it's particularly effective as a marketing catch phrase because it's attention grabbing). But when we transition those phrases from being quaint to being serious by replacing the word minimalist with barefoot and saying that from now on, those funny shoes will be called "barefoot shoes", all it does is sow confusion. So now, apparently when I tell people I go barefoot, the question will be "Do you mean you wear those funny toe shoes"? Fuck no I don't.

Pardon my French, but this whole thing really pisses me off. It's not even the specific idea that pisses me off as much as it is the principle involved. Language has meaning, and it does this so that we as a species can communicate concepts and ideas to one another, without confusion. Language does evolve, but we should fight against such evolution when it means reversing the meaning of core ideas.

Imagine if you will a movement in North Korea to call their system of government democracy. Their "worship" of the Great Leader (and now Jr.) might have some things in common with democracy, but it is distinctly not a democracy.

Or imagine that enough compulsive liars get together and convince everyone that what they do is actually tell the truth. What becomes of the truth?

Is "barefoot" as a word, as a concept, worth protecting? You're damn right it is! It's not critically important, the way that truth or democracy are, but it's been enshrined in the language to mean one thing: being without shoes.  I will continue to fight the trend towards softening its meaning, because in all honesty - if "being barefoot" someday means that I am actually still wearing shoes...then what the hell am I?

Monday, December 19, 2011

New and Improved!

Hey all, and welcome to the format change for my blog. I've got no time to really break in the new format just yet, but I'm changing this blog over to be my personal "unaffiliated" space to rant and rave. I guess I finally realized that I'd like to be able to talk about more than just barefooting (though there will still be plenty of that material, don't worry). But expect to see more topics like religion and atheism, science, pop culture like films and video games, and anything else that gets me fired up enough to write a paragraph or twelve. ;-)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The willPower Method - A 1/2 Review

So I attended my first willPower exercise class yesterday. I wanted to give it a thorough review, since I've been reading about it on the internet for some time now, but unfortunately my body had other ideas. Here's what happened, and a short review of what I experienced in the class.

First a little background: willPower is an exercise modality created by Stacy Lei Krauss, who is a fitness educator and also the Lead Fitness Advisor for Vibram Five Fingers. The willPower method stresses that they are a barefoot workout, and blends elements of dance, aerobics, yoga and pilates to create something unique and dynamic. Needless to say I was excited to try it for myself (even though I was worried about how I would manage the dance portions - Matthew don't dance).

I arrived right on time (I had to turn in a free pass to the club, and had to jump through about 5 hoops to check Owen into their childcare), and so I didn't get a chance to talk to the instructor Alyson before class, and we got right into it. She first had us do some foot stretching and flexibility exercises. This was the part I was most interested in, because I of course was very curious to see how the foot fitness thing felt as an experienced barefooter. I consider myself to have strong feet because of how much of my life I spend barefoot, but I must admit I was rather surprised by how wrong I was. Or rather, how many strengths I have been overlooking, because some of the stretches and foot poses (in particular trying to get my big toes and your pinky toes on the ground at the same time, without bring the other three toes down) were a significant challenge for me. But it was still a great deal of fun, and I was challenged to improve - I have a lot to practice to get my feet more robust and flexible.

Then we started on the floor routines which felt more like a typical group fitness class, and given that I haven't really exercised much at all since the end of the summer (when I was biking like a madman), I felt I was keeping up pretty well. I could definitely recognize the yoga and pilates portions of the regimen - and I really enjoyed the challenge of some of the twists, squats and bends. I got in about 30 minutes of solid exercise...

And then my back muscles locked up. I couldn't bend. I couldn't squat. I hobbled to the back of the class and tried to get it to unclench...but every time I used those muscles at all, I felt them tighten in anger. After resting and catching my breath for around 5-10 minutes, I managed to stretch them out enough to move again, and gingerly made my way over to the side of the fitness area to lie down and bring my knees into my chest. Finally, after lying down, the muscles in my low back gave in and relaxed, and I spent the rest of class doing floor stretches on my own.

I realize that this was my own fault. I didn't have time to properly warm up my muscles, and I also haven't done any exercise in months. Combine the two and you get what happened to me yesterday. Just another reminder that I'm heading straight on towards 40, and can't simply jump into exercise anymore. :-)

After the class I sheepishly introduced myself to the instructor (I was mildly embarrassed by my inability to keep up with the 10 or so women in the class). We had been emailing prior to this so she knew to expect me, and we talked about the class and the method, and I told her how glad I was to see a class like this making headway into a typical gym, where shoes are otherwise required. I'm hoping to establish some ties to the people in this fitness movement, as I think that the more allies we gain as barefoot advocates, the more we can all achieve together.

So I would love to go back and try the class again, but maybe after I've done some more work to get my body ready for that level of activity first. When I do, I'll write up my full review. For now, if you're interested, head over to and check out the information and links on their website. I encourage everyone, barefooters and non-barefooters, to check it out and maybe even find a class or instructor near you, and experience it yourself.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rights is Rights

Yesterday, I'm sure some of you saw the link I sent around about the stirring speech given by our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the United Nations, calling for international cooperation and support for LGBT rights. I was moved by her passionate words, which you can check out here if you haven't already:

I am posting this again, here on my blog, because I want to spread these powerful words in every corner of my "world", but also to extend on what Mrs. Clinton said. It's imperative to me that we change the way we view the LGBT community, but in an even larger way, how we view ALL groups that do not belong to the "majority".

I do this because I know what it's like to be marginalized, or to feel embarrassed, ashamed and/or inferior. I know this because I'm a member of the LGBT community. Although I've never faced physical threats or feared for my life because of my sexual orientation (I'm a B in that acronym, in case you didn't know), I've certainly felt the pressure to hide my identity, particularly from those I am closest to. So I understand some of the pain that comes from having to hide who you are, and I steadfastly support our administration leading us towards full acceptance and enforcement of human rights for ALL citizens. I have been fortunate enough that the positive experiences and the number of supportive friends and family who know about this facet of my life has greatly outweighed the negatives. But despite all the good fortune I've had, I have also felt the despair which comes from knowing that some people will not or cannot accept who I really am...who I was born to be.

I am also an atheist, and this too has led me to hide my true feelings, particularly among my closest family, who are all mostly Catholic or spiritual or religious in some fashion. Atheists sometimes complain about being marginalized, and there's an element of truth to that (we're certainly under-represented in government, and believers definitely find it difficult to trust us) but by and large my own shame at my questioning faith has been what has crippled me from being more open about my lack of belief for so long, not pressure from outside. There are, of course, those who would love nothing better than to see atheists all leave the country, but it's been my personal experience that, at least in this country, those people are the minority. Most of my friends and family who are believers would not wish to force their beliefs on nonbelievers...nor do I believe that they would ostracize me for being more open with them about my viewpoints. I think they are simply uncomfortable with the thought of someone who doesn't need a god in their life to give them meaning.

However, I have faced the same kind of marginalization as a barefooter that I have felt as a bisexual man. The ostracism, the feeling of being unwelcome, the hateful looks. In a way, being a barefooter I have been more exposed to the negative side of other people's attitudes precisely because being a barefooter is visible. Being bisexual is not, and while I've not made a great secret out of the fact, I am also not broadcasting it as it really isn't most people's business. In fact there may be some people who read this blog and think "I didn't know that!". The same is true for my religious beliefs, although I have been much more vocal about those in the past few years.

But my being barefoot is an obvious and outward symbol of a facet of myself that I no longer choose to hide. If people miss the fact that I am shoeless, it's not for lack of me trying. :-) As a result, I have had many more confrontations with others surrounding my condition as a barefooter than I ever have about being either bisexual or an atheist. I'm not comparing the experiences, in terms of me asking for a campaign to end oppression against barefooters (there isn't even a hint of this).

I clearly know there's a vast difference between the experiences, in terms of level of acceptance and acts of violence against the LGBT community, which are shameful facts of life even in this country. However, I think the larger point, which is fair to make comparisons about, is that we have to pursue and explore our acceptance and tolerance for others: who they are and how they live. Basically, what Hillary Clinton said so simply: "Gay rights are human rights. Human rights are gay rights."

I guess I would simplify it even further to say: "Human rights are human rights". Who you love, what you believe, what you wear or don't wear - none of it matters, and none of it should be used to allow any of us to marginalize, discriminate against or abuse each other. Human rights are human rights. And let no one ever take them away.

EDIT: I didn't include this initially because I didn't feel it was relevant to the discussion of the topic, but based on some upset I have seemingly caused, I must include this postscript. I am happily married to a wonderful woman, and have been for twelve years. I realize it's tough for some people to understand, but it is possible to be bisexual AND have a rewarding relationship with one person. How we handle that relationship, and how my sexual orientation impacts that relationship, is between us, and no one else. However, I apologize for my oversight in not including this information in the original post, and I hope that this clarifies the situation and that it helps ease any hurt I have caused with my words.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Daddy, why are you going barefoot?"

I finally heard this question from my son as we crossed through the parking lot to go into Trader Joe's. I have to admit it somewhat surprised me. He's attended many of my barefoot meetups, and he's seen me shop barefoot in stores before. So I suppose I took for granted that my son simply knew that I preferred to be barefoot whenever and wherever possible. But it seems that, although he's had experience of my preference for a while now, the question of "why" might not have occurred to him until then.

I tried my best to explain to him that first of all, I just don't like wearing shoes, and that I'm more comfortable without them. But I also tried to impress upon him that I've discovered that my being barefoot is a central part of who I am as an individual, and that different people have different ways of living, and of being, and that those differences are something special.

This brings up something that I don't think we as barefooters do a good enough job of addressing - and that is that going barefoot isn't a matter of choice for us. It IS a choice, in the strictest sense - but it's a false choice. Could I live my life wearing shoes again? Sure, I COULD. But I could also live my life wearing handcuffs, or a mask, or a scuba tank on my back. Those are all choices, but they're not choices any sane, rational person would suggest, because choosing that negatively impacts you day to day. Those of us who have discovered that we are more fulfilled human beings when we don't have to put on shoes - we are making a choice to be barefoot, yes. But for us, there *is* no other choice. Shoes to us, are like scuba tanks for everyone else. I wish that we as a community did more to communicate this thought to others.

Back to my original thought - I don't know how much of this I am able to articulate to a 7 year old - because as soon as I gave him the straightforward answer that I don't like shoes, he was off and running on another tangent, and I'm not sure he heard the rest of my explanation. :-)

But that brings up an interesting question about teaching tolerance and diversity to children, and the challenges that we face as parents to accomplish that goal. I think that, like many things, it feels frustrating to try and communicate complex ideas and virtues to a child (and also to some adults), especially a young child who is looking for a simple answer to the question that they've asked. I think that we simply have to keep talking about it with our kids and hope that the deeper meanings are being absorbed, somewhere in their consciousness. Or that they at least know that we have more to say on the subject, and that we will keep the dialogue open, with the hope that someday they will be ready to seek more in-depth answers to life's larger questions.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Barefoot Advocacy

One question I get asked sometimes is "Why are you always going on about barefooting?" 

There's a really simple answer. It's about raising awareness, and promoting the cause of acceptance of bare feet as the non-issue that it should be. Does that sound contrary enough for you? :-P 

Seriously, it really is somewhat counter-intuitive. We are fighting to be unseen. I go on about barefooting not because I want to, but because I have to. The eventual goal of barefoot advocacy is to become invisible. We want *everyone* to stop caring about what we wear on our feet. But we're not there yet - barefooters still face discriminatory action, and negative attitudes by others. And until we get to a point where this is not the case, I will continue to be vocal in my support for barefooters and to spotlight the positive benefits of living a barefoot lifestyle.

Is going barefoot really that big of a deal? Of course not, but it can easily be made into one by intolerant people who see it as their role and responsibility to ensure that their ideas of the "norm" are what we all must live by, or by authoritative types who wish to enforce myths about safety and liability or who just gain enjoyment from telling others what to do. Sometimes we are even set upon by good-natured people who believe they are looking out for us. Non-barefooters can't understand until they've tried to enter a business barefoot and been refused entry, or been asked to leave a business for the same reason, or been given strange or even dirty looks by others simply for being who we are.

I choose to share my experiences, and to advocate for barefooters so that when I run into people at work, on the street, on the trail, or inside a store, I have the chance, however small it is, that those people have "read about" us barefooters and will either A.) think of us in a more positive way or B.) not think about us at all. 

So to answer the posed question in a single sentence: I am always going on about barefooting so that it becomes an ordinary part of the fabric of our culture, and in so doing, it will diminish the importance people place on what individuals have, or don't have, on their feet.