Henry Reed's Dream Journal: The Shoes of a Dreamer

I'm going through the tedious, but fascinating process of transferring all my dream Journals onto computer disks so that I can more conveniently study my dream symbology. In doing so, I was struck by the number of times my dreams contain reference to shoes. Here's one of the dreams that caught my attention by its simplicity:

I'm polishing my shoes.

This dream occurred on the eve of a new semester of teaching. It clearly reflects a preparation process, getting ready, getting my act cleaned up, trying to look good. I rarely polish my shoes except for special occasions. The start of a semester was a special occasion. There are many special occasions for which I do not polish my shoes—rubbing them against the back of my pants as I head out the door is often sufficient. For me, polished shoes are a minor detail—say, compared to having my shirt ironed—but one I have learned that may subliminally affect other people's perceptions of me. If the occasion calls for impeccability, then perhaps the shoes should be shined—a perfectionistic ritual.

I can think of another occasion that called for perfectionism—ROTC inspection! For that I would have to also polish my brass buttons and brass belt buckle, not to mention my shoes shined with spit. ROTC is a long distant memory. It makes me realize, however, that on many occasions since that time, I'll shine any jewelry that I may wear, especially silver or copper, because of its corrosibility, but I still won't shine my shoes, just dust them off a bit. What does it mean then to shine my SHOES?

What are shoes? They provide comfort and support for my feet. What are my feet? They are what I walk with, what I use to contact the ground. Depending upon the type of ground I am going to walk on and the way in which I want to walk on that ground, I choose an appropriate pair of shoes. I have many to choose from: sneakers, moccasins, sandals, slip-ons, lace-ups and boots; and they may be casual, formal or just plain comfy. Shoes seem to be an interface between feet and ground that can take into account my intentions and desires and the conditions I'll encounter.

I can pick a pair of shoes that will match the occasion, and that feels good. I've also known the pleasure, like David Letterman, of being dressed up except for my sneakers—it does provide a bit of rebellious pleasure as well as compensatory relief from the constrictions of a closed collar and tie. On the other hand, In my dreams I've found myself in a situation with inadequate shoes, like walking in snow while wearing sandals, a trying experience!

Having the right pair of shoes on makes you feel just right, and having the wrong pair on can ruin your pleasure and make you feel "off". So what are shoes?

Somehow, metaphors and figures of speech involving shoes may provide a clue to the meaning of shoes. "If the shoe fits, wear it". Why not say, "If the shirt fits, wear it"? We say that a person who is financially well off Is "well heeled", meaning the person can absorb a lot of scrapes and scuffing without the wear showing. "Walk a mile in the other person's moccasins". "If you were in my shoes..." "Nothing fits like an old pair of shoes". Do you know of others?

I'd like to suggest an experiment. I would like to invite readers to submit their dreams that contain images of shoes, different types of shoes, being without shoes when that is an issue in the dream. I would also like you to submit as many figures of speech that involve footwear as you can think of or find other cultural expressions involving shoes. Write me a few lines about what you think shoes mean.

I'll collate the material you send in, add all my own shoe dreams, and see what I can come up with. With Bob's help, perhaps we can do some content analysis the dreams with shoe imagery and see if they differ from dreams with imagery of other types of apparel. What other kinds of analyses might you suggest? If you respond soon enough, I can publish the results in the issue after next. If this collaborative process seems to work, then after shoes, we can go on to shirts and skirts, and then to automobiles. I suspect that tires may relate to shoes.