So for a while I was in graduate school. I’m not anymore, and thank gods for that. If I’d stayed in any longer, I might have become an Artist. We’re talking about a school where you can show up to your writing workshop with a bunch of yarn glued to a sheet of printer paper and have a 2-hour discussion about what it says about gender politics. Which is why I was so shocked by the email I received towards the end of my first month at the school:
A few security reports have come to my attention here in the Student Affairs office regarding to fact that you often walk in and around the 116 S Michigan Building without shoes. This email is to request that you come meet with me and [Cruella De Ville], Associate Director Environmental Health and Safety, to discuss this.
I see that this Wednesday you have class in the afternoons so are you available to meet with us in the morning before class? We are free to meet at 10:00 am or 11:00 am but can certainly arrange it if you need to meet earlier.
Looking forward to hearing from you shortly.
[Baroness von No-Fun]
Yeah, I don’t wear shoes except in winter. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned it on this stupid website. Yell at me all you want in the comments, I’m used to it. But the POINT is, what the hell were the administrative staff at this ART SCHOOL doing confronting me about my shoelessness? Didn’t they have some misused animal carcass to dispose of, or some student to reprimand for drinking a pitcher of his own urine during his critique? (True story.) I wasn’t going to let these people shoe me with their rules. I had to act, and act decisively.
This was somewhat complicated by the fact that I was under a vow of silence at the time, thanks to the professor of my Lucid Dreaming class. (ART. SCHOOL.) So I essentially had three options.
OPTION ONE: Ignore the email completely and go about my barefoot business.
OPTION TWO: Take the meeting, but postpone it to next week, when I would no longer be under the vow of silence.
OPTION THREE: Fuck it, let’s do Wednesday.
GUESS WHICH ONE I PICKED
So now I had two days to figure out a way to communicate in the meeting without using my voice. Luckily, I could still use my words. I sat down in the graduate computer lab, and composed a letter.
Two days later, I showed up at the office of Student Affairs, barefoot, grinning, and completely speechless. I sat down between the head of Student Affairs and the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety, shook their hands, and then produced a letter from my satchel. The head of Student Affairs made a photocopy, and the two women read together in silence.
This is what the letter said:
To Whom it May Concern,
I am grateful that the school cares enough about my well-being to arrange this meeting. The reports are true, as you can see – I do not wear shoes. In consideration of your concern, I feel I owe you an explanation as to why. I do not wear shoes because wearing shoes is against my religion.
I belong to an esoteric Buddhist sect known as Paryayana Buddhism. My religion forbids the eating of meat, the wearing of shoes, and being the first owner of any thing. I am the last living practitioner of this religion, my teacher having passed away four years ago. While I appreciate that the school has certain policies, to begin wearing shoes now would be a disgrace to my teacher’s memory.
Paryayana teaches us that we must adhere to our beliefs, but be reasonable in their application. Thus, I do not intend to remain barefoot when the temperature drops below thirty degrees. I have been walking barefoot for many years, and am prepared to provide a signed note from a podiatrist attesting to its health benefits. I am also more than willing to sign any form of legal release that you require. Only allow me to continue practicing my faith.
Go in peace,
The two administrators read the letter, then read it again. They looked at each other, then looked at me.
“We’re going to need to take some time to have our legal team look at this,” they said. “But we’re not telling you you have to wear shoes. Just to be clear, that’s not what we’re doing. Just … can we meet again next week?”
Exactly one week later, I was once again sitting in their office, fully able to speak, signing the liability release their legal team had drafted for them. The release granted me permission to be barefoot anywhere on campus, except in the wood and metal shops and in the general vicinity of the laser cutter, all of which seemed, you know, pretty reasonable. After that, I had to show the form to one or two security guards, but most of them knew me already. I got away with so much shit thanks to those security guards.
You see, the school’s administration had fallen victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slight less well-known is this: Never match wits with a writing major, when pride is on the line.