It was easy enough to get my toe in the door. Ironically, in the true and original sense of irony, it was getting my toe out of the door that broke it.
I’d never broken a bone before. Firstly, I appreciated how lucky I had been, and secondly, I developed a true appreciation for my feet, which I had never underestimated, but relied on perhaps a little too much. I thought slowing down would be a nice little exercise in patience, and soon realised there is no such thing as a pleasant enforced learning curve.
“Footsteps on the dance floor, remind me, baby of you”
(Womack & Womack, ‘Teardrops’, 1988)
I could at this point wax lyrical about ‘injury being the profoundest teacher’, how I adapted my yoga practice to include more inversions that relied on arm balances instead of standing, how I got into a core strength routine to keep the existential angst at bay, fluctuated between berating myself for my own stupidity, and telling myself that it could have happened to anybody…..However, that is undoubtedly of no particular interest to anyone, and certainly best left as a ‘Dear Diary’ entry.
What I believe is of general interest here, is the metaphors of the body and its actions that imbue our everyday psycho-linguistic structuring and organising of our thoughts, movements and conversations, and, more importantly, subconsciously guide our thought patterns until we either listen to their subtle whisperings, or are suddenly ‘woken up’ by their screaming demands.
I borrow heavily here from the theories of, and highly recommend reading: Yalom, I. D. (1989). Love’s executioner, and other tales of psychotherapy. New York, N.Y: Harper Perennial. Yalom, a practitioner of the biblical adage “physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23), in turn leans heavily on the philosophy of Nietzsche, who finds meaning in life through wallowing, sorry, revelling in the liminality between the horror and absurdity of the human condition. Nihilism, I feel, is under-rated, although perhaps the movement suffers from under-playing itself.
Having lived and travelled abroad, I am lucky that my mother tongue (the phrase itself is an interesting idiom), English, has really been the only lingua franca I have needed and, as an ESL teacher, a type of cultural capital that I have exploited. Through living in and among other cultures and battling through some rather painful dictionary and online translation moments in everyday conversations, I understand that the metaphors of the body shape our experience as we use a dominant language to label and explain external events during the mental process of sensing, interpreting and internalising.
Attributed to a variety of folks, from The Buddha to Margaret Thatcher, the oft-quoted phrase “As we think, so we become” could be referenced here. Also, it is difficult to resist a nod to Aronofsky’s 2010 psycho-thriller blockbuster film “Black Swan” which takes this theme to extremes and depicts a visceral (very over-used phrase, but completely appropriate here) experience of the physical effects of psychosis.
Koreans, for example, don’t have ‘pins and needles’ when they experience that tingling sensation in a limb or extremity as the circulation starts to get cut off, they get ‘mouse feet (or legs)’. So next time you get pins and needles, imagine a mouse crawling inside or outside your foot, and see how that brings about a different concept of that sensation.
When working with more advanced students, a lot of time in the ESL classroom is spent unpacking idioms. I am careful here not to use the term ‘explaining’, since a lot of idioms have roots in an antiquated way of life, reveal a rudimentary knowledge of science, have unsavory or downright cruel histories, and cannot really be ‘explained’ or visualized by modern students who have never known life without a smart phone. Terms like ‘lily livered’ ‘lost his head’, or ‘rule of thumb’ spring to mind as examples of these respectively. As you repeat these phrases to young people, you wonder why they persist in our language, they are at best nonsensical, and, at worst, a source of slight embarrassment that they are still in current everyday use.
To bring myself back to the broken toe which, like many things, has escalated in importance due to being benignly ignored for several months. The good news is, on the physical level, I have had another X-ray and the correct steps are now being taken (haha, do you see what I did there?). However, it’s continued resistance to settling down and going back to normal, has forced me to keep going back to my whining baby toe, and asking it what is wrong on a metaphysical level.
Just like an actual baby, the toe cannot speak, so I have to search back into the events around the injury to look for clues. In English, ‘getting a toe (or a foot) in the door’ is usually seen as a good thing; getting a start in something, moving from ‘knocking on doors’ to ‘getting over the threshold’.
European society places a lot of emphasis on the feet as cultural indicator. We once idolized ballet and ballet dancers due to their exquisite ability to place their feet infallibly in five distinct unnatural positions, we are obsessed with shoes, some of us, and many people are grossed out and unaccustomed to seeing bare feet. We judge people by their footwear, so someone who is ‘down at heel’ has very worn shoes and is looked upon as impoverished. ‘Footfalls’ are counted as a marker of popularity. Contrarily, ‘Dragging your heels’ is a slovenly, lazy way of walking and generally conducting life at an undesirably slow pace. ‘Tip-toeing’ or ‘pussy-footing’ is acting too shyly, not assertively enough for the situation, and if you are in Scotland, you can receive symbolic good fortune from a ‘first footer’ (preferably tall and handsome), the first man to walk into your home on January 1st.
‘Put your feet up, love’
Very tellingly, we coined the phrase ‘put a foot wrong’, as in ‘she was a good worker, she never put a foot wrong’. She followed the rules, she did what was expected, she ‘toed the line’. However, in my case, I toed the wrong line and got my toe in the wrong door. A door that was not designed to have my little toe crushed under it. Such a wrong step in fact, that I caused myself damage getting out of a tight spot, was so busy that I kept on going, and didn’t even notice until I got home later that day when it was already too late to see a doctor or seek treatment. It wasn’t too bad, it was bearable, it wasn’t killing me, it was just a toe for God’s sake, I have others……all of these ‘excuses’. Excuses not to address a real physical problem appropriately and realistically, to let it just get brushed aside in the hope that it will go away without me having to do anything different.
But you can’t just keep blundering along in the wrong direction, even if you are going very slowly. I’ve been ‘one foot out the door’ since June, and since a new year has begun, I will be attempting to ‘put my best foot forward’ from now on.
Beautiful, traditional Korean silk-covered shoes, courtesy of In Hanbok Traditional Korean Wedding Service, Jeju City, Jeju Island, South Korea.