TOMS Shoes

I’ve been wearing TOMS for about a year and have had some issues with them.  They fall apart pretty easily–the soles wear out–though I’ll admit that I wear them a lot.    Sometimes on 30 minute walks to campus.  I wore the first pair I’d bought (I’m on the second) around New Mexico mountain trails.  My dog chewed the sides out of my first pair, which had already lost the rim of glue over the heels, but I bought another pair in corduroy and hoped it would be more sturdy.

The shoes, though cheap, are cute and simple and great for Florida weather, great for slipping on during the six or seven trips a day  I took down a flight of stairs to take the afore mentioned shoe-devouring dog out.  And I always thought the One for One model was impressive.

My friend just posted this critique of TOMS that has me thinking  (again!) about generosity.  Also about big businesses, Chinese manufacturing of American products, and the third world in need. Another friend (who is taking the crazy road trip and introduced me to Rachel Held Evans’s blog.  I wrote a post about this a while ago) told me she goes to church with the creator of TOMS and I thought–sure, makes sense that this dude would be a Christian.  Who else starts businesses like these?  Probably a lot of people, but it does seem like a Christiany idea.

After reading the critique, I’m thinking about the One for One model, and whether this critic is right to use the word “imperialism.”  She says the trips to the third world countries are imperialist because plane tickets to leave cost more than what the Americans are leaving behind.   Can that really be helped?  I mean, isn’t that more about the airline’s greediness?  Also, she says TOMS:

supports the belief that these people cannot make it on their own, so rather than helping them to develop a healthy economy, we should give them handouts – an imperialist concept if there ever was one.

Does handing out shoes or handing out anything to people need  always send a message that they can’t make it on their own?  I agree that it’s problematic that TOMS is putting local shoe sellers out of business, but these kids didn’t have shoes to begin with, right?  Isn’t this why we have TOMS in the first place?

I don’t expect any company that makes a ton of money, like TOMS makes a ton of money, to be that ethical.  I’m cynical about corporations and big businesses (thank you, The Corporation documentary).  I doubt TOMS creators really care that their shoes fall apart really easily, that they are selling a five dollar shoe for 50 dollars and making a helluva profit.   Every large company, as far as I know of, is making an enormous profit, but they aren’t using any of it to give “hand outs.”

Also, this Manufactured in China thing is more complicated than we give it credit for.  It’s generally terrible, but just because a person makes less than they need to live on in America doesn’t mean they make less they need to live on in Vietnam, Thailand, or China.  There are 104+ arguments about why corporations suck, but the pay rate is not always the worst one.  The critic throws this information out there, while a few paragraphs away she critiques TOMS for doing nothing about local economies.  I wonder what she would think if TOMS built a factory in one of these communities and hired people to boost the local economy.  Would that be imperialist?  Would that be bad for the environment, the people, especially the local shoemakers?  (I honestly don’t know.)

So, I’m still conflicted.  I’m certain TOMS isn’t a perfect company, but it seems better than most, right?


A good song for a bad day.

Addie Zierman wrote an article I appreciated in Relevant Magazine about rethinking Christian cliches.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t overly familiar with the cliches she referenced in the article, but I know that in every environment, not just Christian communities, we use these verbal shortcuts as part of our common language, for connection.  I’ve attended three churches in six years (lived in different places, that’s why), and one of the most interesting parts of entering a new church community is figuring out the local Christian cliches.  I think they are unavoidable.  But I connected with this article because I’m constantly trying to teach my students about why cliches suck the impact out of whatever they are trying to say, or generally, they do.  Overused language allows the listener/reader to pass by ideas without much thought.

I really like this connection Zierman makes with “fresh language” and Jesus as God’s Word:

But at the heart of the Christian faith is this: we were broken and we couldn’t figure it out and, instead of sending us some tired cliché, God sent Christ. The Word, John called Him. He had hands and feet, dust-covered from all that walking.

Here is what happens when the Word of God brushes against humanity: Stories. Discussion. Fresh metaphor, strung together like so many beads on a string. The Kingdom of God is like this … and like this … and like this other thing over here. It’s a seven-mile walk to a place called Emmaus without a Gospel tract in hand or the Roman’s Road paradigm to quote—just the messy truth of it all, hashed out among new friends.

Stories, fresh metaphor–sounds good to me.

Going back to the theme I’ve been sort of mulling over lately, about how Jesus’ teachings help us to live better in relationship to God but also to our neighbors, I like this idea of choosing language carefully, paying attention to how we’re communicating ideas, and attempting to prevent, through word choice and storytelling, our own indifference to the things we see and know about God’s work in this world.

I’m about to promote some cookies.

We (my boyfriend and I) didn’t go to New Orleans this weekend, but a bunch of our friends went because one of these friends won the Tennessee Williams prize for fiction. Amy Hempel was the judge.  We would have liked to go but a) money and b) I had a paper and a presentation and a short story to write and another short story to revise and 40 papers to grade in two weeks. Plus, I’m writing a novel.  The paper is on The King and I, though, and I’m kind of excited about it.

So we stayed back and took care of people’s dogs.  I wrote stories and novel sections and watched the King and I and reread Orientalism and took notes. We took four dogs to the dog park.  As part of the pet-care-thank you, someone brought us back a box of these:

They are so, so good.  We devoured all six in two days.  Eating one of these cookies is like eating a slice of pecan pie. Really good pecan pie.  Do they sell these in North-Florida?  If so, I need to know where.

Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, wrote an interesting article about “over giving”that has got me rethinking generosity.  You can read it–it’s a fast and easy read–but the main point is that she has caused rifts in her relationships with her generosity.  In paying off her friends’ credit card bills, she neglected their dignity.

She puts it this way:

Sometimes, by interrupting his biographical narrative so jarringly, I denied a friend the opportunity to learn his own vital life lesson at his own pace. In other words, just when I believed I was operating as a dream-facilitator, I was actually turning into a destiny disruptor.

I’m thinking about how when Jesus tells us to be generous, it’s in the context of a relationship with another person.  Somebody asks to borrow your coat, you give them your coat.  Somebody asks you to borrow money, you say, here, no need to pay me back.

I think the key here is that a person is asking for these things.  They are already humbled, in a way, and so you don’t have to worry about their dignity, or interrupting the pace of their own work/goal achieving. Someone asks you for help, then you really help them.

The main point Jesus makes (again and again, and its a point Paul likes to reiterate in his letters) is that we “put others before ourselves.”   That means we treat them the way we want to be treated.  I am not sure it’s Christ-like to make people feel like they owe us something, or to empower ourselves through our giving.  It seems like true generosity takes something much more involved–it takes a relationship with that person, trust.  Someone trusts us so much, trusts our generosity, that they ask us for something, for our help in meeting some need.

I know this is tricky, and I’m still thinking it through.  I’m interested in your thoughts.

This is true.  Netflix is devouring my academic career.  You know the habit’s bad when the thing causing your procrastination is reprimanding your procrastination. That said, it’s hard to believe that another academic has time to make this tumbler site.

The internet: 10

My work: 0

History as Fiction

… there has been a reluctance to consider historical narratives as what they most manifestly are: verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much,invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences.

Hayden White, The Historical Text as Literary Artifact

I’m in this class where we’re learning about theories for literary criticism.  Your Derridas and Foucaults and your Bakthins and your Marxes and your Judith Butlers and your Edward Saids… Hopefully you get the picture.  Like most writers who take the class, I find the stuff really interesting and irrelevant for craft.  But still really interesting. Last week we read New Historicist theory (or was it Cultural Studies? Blech) and I especially liked this guy, Hayden White, for figuring out, or being one of the first to write down the idea that history is not fact but narrative.  (Think: Michael Jackson’s HIStory.)

I’m not sure if other fiction writers out there face stuff like this, but once I told this woman that I was a writer and she said she’d like to read my work.  Then I told her I was a fiction writer and she said, sorrowfully, “I don’t read fiction.”


So then this dude comes along and says that history is put together in the same way one puts together a fictional narrative.  Makes sense.  I’d like to write more about this, connect it to how Jesus was a fiction writer if he really made up the parables, but I’m just going to throw the quote out there for now.