#81 Kenny Fries, Author / Educator

"Shoes", Kevin Wolff, 40" x 50", acrylic on canvas, 1995

"Shoes", Kevin Wolff, 40" x 50", acrylic on canvas, 1995

Kenny's words for this feature are an excerpt from his book, The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory, winner of the 2007 Myers Outstanding Book Award. Buy the Book here! 

Kenny Fries,
Author / Educator

How did I get here? 

Worn dark leather molded to the contours of my feet. The sole of my right shoe slopes down gently, not quite forty-five degrees, from outer to inner edge; there is a three-inch lift attached to my right sole. The left shoe's half-inch-thick sole flat to the ground. My gait has frayed the sides of the plastic tap, strategically fastened, two to a shoe, to protect the edges of the sole. 

In 1960, I was born a month premature with bones missing in both of my legs. For most of my life, when I looked at my shoes, I saw only the different way I walk. 

But now when I look at my shoes I see much more than my own particular difference. I see the places they have allowed me to explore: Beehive Mountain overlooking Frenchman's Bay; Balinese jungles; the temples of Bangkok and Chiang Mai; the Colorado River rapids running through the Grand Canyon; and, especially here, the Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin found much to animate his theory of evolution, and where I witness a new meaning of "survival of the fittest," the phrase—often misused and misattributed to Darwin—which has haunted me since I first heard it when I was eight. 

Looking at my shoes, I see Darwin's journey toward evolution, and the quest of the often forgotten Alfred Russel Wallace, cofounder of evolutionary theory, and I am deluged with images of the marine iguana and giant tortoise, the orangutan and Kind Bird of Paradise, the species which led these two Victorian men to change the way we think about the world and the way we live in it. 

Now, finally arriving where Darwin stood, his questions have become my questions and my shoes conjure entire unseen worlds, a reimagined history informed not only by all I have seen but by all I have come to understand about chance and change, fear and transformation, variation and cultural context, ideas about the body that question the definition and existence of difference in all of our lives. 

But what does any of this have to do with a pair of shoes?