The Tribe of the White Sneaker

These past four years between blogs (FOUR YEARS!), I’ve been writing for other people, mostly for the International Horn Society – editing other people’s work, writing introductions, translating in and out of English and cleaning up translations, bringing the beautiful creativity of members of the global horn community to a wider audience. It’s volunteer work that gives me joy, especially when articles we feature make a difference in people’s lives. I was recently speaking with a horn player who has been struggling with focal dystonia. Even thinking about the possibility of developing this condition gives musicians a serious case of the willies. A while back, we ran an article by Marie-Luise Neunecker on the topic. She gave some excellent advice on slowly returning to the instrument after a necessary break to let the body and mind heal from the trauma. This particular horn player, married to another horn player who reads the newsletter, found courage from what she read and was able to start up again with her reeducation. It is a privilege to be able to facilitate this sharing of stories and insights, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do it.

From time to time, the longing to write original content, to excavate something from the quagmire of my mind and heart, has surfaced…only to sink under the feeling of obligation that I should be “working on” something else. There’s always a “something else.” You know what it is for you. Many of you are parents, and your kids always need something or other. That’s just how it is. Most of us have jobs that demand our attention and commitment. How do we balance these life necessities with the need to express ourselves creatively? How much responsibility do we have to conform to what is expected of us, and how much breaking free has to happen in order to live a fulfilled life? And what does any of this have to do with white sneakers?

I’ve been working in France a lot recently, and if there’s one thing you know about French women, it’s that they tend to have en pointe fashion sense. They have an instinct for pairing casual, effortless-looking pieces with just enough (tasteful, timeless) bling. I admire the way French women look so put-together while looking like it took them no time at all. My own closet is a pastiche of whim – I don’t shop very often, but when I do, I’ll come home with something that caught my fancy and often has nothing to go with it. Their handbags are structured and classic, never with a practice mute poking out the top. Tight jeans (got that one nailed, at least!), button-down blouses, the slightly oversized blazer, signature watch, scarves. They must have scarf-tying classes in elementary school. Short (but not tight, never tight) skirts with black tights. If I could nail that look, it would make getting dressed in the mornings and packing for trips SO easy. With all the YouTube videos and websites devoted to “How to Dress Like a French Girl,” it would be easy enough.

And then I noticed the shoes.

On one pair of feet after another, I witnessed the same phenomenon: white leather sneakers with the same green lip on the heel: Stan Smith Adidas. An endless stream of them. You know how it is when something is all around you, but the awareness of it creeps up on you? It was exactly like that. Wait a minute, haven’t I seen those shoes recently? On EVERYBODY? Either paired with tight jeans, rolled up to expose the ankle, or with dresses and black tights. But always those shoes. Clearly, they are considered fashionable (and going along with the French aesthetic, they’ve been around since the 70’s). Something about seeing them everywhere turned my stomach. It took me awhile to identify what bothered me so much – after all, they’re just shoes, and if they make people happy, then what’s wrong with that?

We are tribal creatures, consciously or unconsciously in search of our tribe. We want to belong to something, to someone. The pressure to conform to the way people behave, talk, dress, all around us, even for self-proclaimed individualists, is a part of our human consciousness. Succumbing to this pressure or rebelling against it shapes our destiny and our personality.

What bothered me so much about those white sneakers was the way they made me wonder briefly if I wanted them too. That thought lasted only a moment (I don’t want the sneakers!) but it tapped into a struggle beneath the surface, the desire to conform and have a “normal” life vs. the nomadic artist life I have chosen, or which has chosen me. My closet doesn’t always make sense, and neither does my daily reality. Some decisions and choices bring security, others liberation, but rarely both at the same time. Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly swimming upstream. My comfort zone is more the people who are close to my heart, and the hours I spend with my music, either alone or with others. Community is enormously important to me, but so is maintaining enough distance from mass-produced values to continue to feel my heart beating to its own rhythm. Devoting our lives to the muse and seeking divine inspiration takes time, takes dedication, takes sacrifice. I don’t always balance it well and sometimes find myself wishing for simplicity (maybe not more routine – that’s not me either) while craving the spontaneity and adventure that comes with this crazy creative journey. Then I feel the beautiful burden of everyone who needs me to “work on” something for them, and I experience the connection…and the pull to be what they want and need me to be. And I want to be that person for them.

There’s no moral to this story. But I’m not getting those sneakers.


  1. Oy! I left a comment before, but it didn’t save because I was on the subway. I have a friend who bought those sneakers for the purpose in which they were intended. They’re considered pretty good shoes for tennis! Nice piece Kristina!

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