Friday, December 04, 2015

Feet and the Writer

Frankie here. Earlier this week I paid my first visit to a podiatrist. I was a bit wary about the appointment because I had been referred after going into my primary care physician's office with my complaint -- my big toe on my left foot, or rather the nail on my big toe felt sore when a shoe pressed against it. I had been ignoring the problem for months. At first it was occasional, then after my vacation in Alaska that had involved more use of my feet than usual (including when I was riding that horse), I began to notice my sore toenail more. But what sent me sprinting to the telephone to call for a doctor's appointment was something I had come across while I was doing research for my new mystery. My protagonist was stressed out and I imagining her leaping to her feet to dance away her tension while her dog watched. But what was the music -- of course, Bob Marley, the Jamaican singer/musician. That sent me to articles about Marley and his music -- more than I needed to know for that scene, but that's how research goes. I learned, reading Marley's bio, that he had died young of cancer -- first discovered under toe nail. Pause .  . . panic .  . . sprint to telephone to make doctor's appointment.

The physician's assistant I saw said that was not the first thing that would have occurred to him about my sore toe nail. The podiatrist said the same thing.

Of course, he said it as he was looking down at my foot and my next concern was that he was going to say something about injecting something under my toe nail. I was already cringing and preparing to leap from the chair, grab my socks and shoes and flee, when he reach into a drawer for clippers. Yes, he agreed when he noted that the nail was loose and could be raised (cringe again), I might have traumatized the toe when I stumped it months ago. He clipped away and then said we would do an X-ray just to make sure no bone spur was pushing up the nail. The X-ray was clear, and he offered me options for dealing with the fungus (yuck! but not uncommon according to the podiatrist) that had found its way under my loosen nail. I chose the one that involved brushing on an oily substance twice a day and coming back in three months.

Okay, enough about my toe saga. But it happened at a time when I've been making my way through an over-sized Smithsonian Museum volume titled Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. Actually, it's a lovely book, but it weighs at least three or four pounds. And it takes forever to get through if one really wants to understand the evolution of fashion. I've glanced through it before, but now have it back on loan from the public library because I'm in the midst of writing my book about dress, appearance, and crime. And, of course, feet play a role in the evolution of clothing and fashion -- bare feet, clad feet, feet in slippers, boots, or pattens ("overshoes with raised wooden soles that kept the feet above the mud and filth"). Thinking about feet and how we accessorize them reminded me of another weighty book devoted only to shoes that I have displayed in my office as a coffee table book. Shoes -- laced, buckled, strapped up the leg, bizarre, outrageous, lethal with steel heels. Shoes that I admire when they are beautiful examples of craftsmanship, high heels that I am told do not hurt ones feet halfway through the evening when well-made. But I am unlikely to ever know because I am still not enough of a fashionista to pay that much for a pair of shoes. I would be afraid to wear them, lacking pattens to protect them from touching the ground.

But clad in expensive shoes, I could certainly "put my best foot forward" when I walk into a meeting. In fact, there are any number of things that idioms about feet tell us  might occur during that meeting -- from "getting off on the wrong foot" (a clumsy stumble in my gorgeous shoes) to "getting a foot in the door" (making a charming recovery from my stumble that convinces those present that I am worthy of further consideration). I might depart that meeting with "happy feet" like those penguins in that movie. And I might slip into the house on soundless "cat's feet" to surprise my spouse or partner with my good news and the bottle of champagne I've brought home. Encountering a burglar or serial killer lurking, I might dash for the door. If this were a "woman in jeopardy" movie, the dangerous felon would grab my ankle to drag me back or I would take a tumble and sprain an ankle. But I might kick my attacker with my good foot. A well-aimed blow in some vital part.

There are, of course, a number of martial arts that involve the use of feet in fighting. The author of a mystery I just finished had a musician protagonist -- a pianist -- who had learned to fight with his feet because he needed to protect his hands. Unfortunately, a bad guy stomped on one of his hands early on. And his feet really came in handy both for running and fighting. I would argue that as writers we should think more about our characters' feet. We can do that with our own "feet up" as we relax. While avoiding the cliched phrases of feet and leg idioms (Google for examples), we can use them as inspiration as we think about what our characters might do or what might happen to them. For example, protagonist breaks bone in foot (how did that happen?). Protagonist has foot in cast (can't run but will have handy cane or crutch when encounters villain). Or, female protagonist with "two left feet" decides to try ballroom dancing. She has always wanted to do it and is going to do it now even if she looks like an idiot. Good for her! Except one of her dancing partners turns out to be a stalker.

"On your toes!" Where are your feet taking you with this?

Next time, heads.


Donis Casey said...

I love this post! And I must get hold of that book on the evolution of fashion. But beforehand, allow me to commiserate with you about your toe. Sore feet are awful, and one doesn't realize how important your feet are until they hurt.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Donis! You'll enjoy the Smithsonian book. And, yes, there is nothing like a sore toe in a high heel shoe to focus ones attention on the importance of feet. But I'm happy to say my toe seems to be on the mend since my visit to the podiatrist.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I have narrow feet and finding shoes is strictly an on-line venture now. But I simply CANNOT rouse the necessary passion for the three inch heels (or more) I see women wearing. I remember all too heels that height with the pointy toes. Talk about pain!

Freddie said...

That fashion book sounds very interesting. Also, I had no clue about Bob Marley and his cancer under his toe. I also would have freaked out and been on the phone to my doctor. I am glad you are getting your feet taken care of. Good luck!