This Is Fine. is a weekly newsletter from VICE about the highly personal tactics people use to make the world feel less harrowing. In this edition, novelist Lauren Mechling (whose new book, How Could She, comes out tomorrow) writes about how her phobia of friend groups became less harrowing when she...made an Instagram account devoted to clogs? Sign up here to receive a new essay about a dealing-with-life strategy via This Is Fine. each Sunday evening.
Anyone who says asking lots of personal questions is the best way to get to know someone is lying to you. I'd been interrogating new acquaintances to wildly mixed results for decades until I finally stumbled upon the real conversational secret to instantaneous platonic intimacy. The magic word is clogs.
Bring up clogs, and watch what happens to the person you’ve been struggling to make chit-chat with. Her shoulders will ease, she’ll laugh, and she’ll tell you about the hideous shoes that her great aunt Rose used to stomp around in—or she’ll show you a picture of the exorbitantly priced Rachel Comey pair that she's close to buying. She’ll tell you that her husband hates clogs, but she doesn’t care, or that she refuses to become one of those depressing clog-and–sack dress ladies. Love them or hate them, everybody has feelings about clogs.
Before I found clogs, my friendships with other women were hard-earned and closely guarded. Group dynamics scared me. Even book clubs eluded me, with their groupthink and baked brie. I preferred my friendships as one-on-ones, which gave me the ability to jump around from one intense connection to the next. (This friction is the animating force of my novel, How Could She, which is about a triangle of women whose private relationships tell vastly different stories than the larger group dynamic.)
My preferences changed a year and a half ago when I unwittingly founded a proper women’s group—an Instagram clog club with 5,000-plus members who DM me cloggy selfies, articles on clog-wearing dads, paparazzi photos of celebrities in clogs, and clogged-up kitchen sinks. The account was intended as a personal thing—an inspiration board to amuse myself after I lost my job and was suddenly left with little to do but unpack my cardboard boxes and reinvent myself. I stored my professional clothes in the back of my closet and invested in a cornerstone of the freelance uniform: a pair of shearling-lined clogs—the closest thing to a medal of honor I could think of for a new and involuntary member of the non-commuting class. I created the account to commemorate this plot twist, and since @thecloglife’s inception, not a day has gone by that I've failed to post a picture on it.
At first, I had more of a curatorial role, assembling images of anything that I deemed “clog.” A part-sincere, part-tongue-in-cheek sensibility was born: In addition to your basic clogspo, @thecloglife tracked clog sightings on the pages of tabloids and novels (and in kitchens and bathrooms). As more clog lovers found their way to the account, I spent less time scouring the internet for pictures—they supplied the majority of the content, a mix of clog conundrums (“What’s a good clog for low arches?”) along with selfies and celebrity clogerati pix (Sarah Jessica Parker and Gayle King are huge clogheads, turns out).
My clog sisters (and we're nearly all women, along with one self-described “clog fetishist” named John) hail from across the globe, New Jersey and North Carolina, Maine and Manhattan, Toronto and Tokyo. We are writers and booksellers; artists and academics; stay-at-home moms, social workers, and indie film directors. I am on a DM basis with a Russian Vogue editor, a food critic, and a Gossip Girl star. An author of hard-hitting nonfiction sends me pictures of her toddler dancing in her mother’s Svens. An iconoclastic yoga teacher who was the subject of a recent New York Times profile cracks jokes in my captions.In the time since I sat down to write this, I’ve received a notification about an article about men in summer clogs, a bird's-eye view photo of a pair of clogs that color-coordinate with a puffy blanket on a moving van's floor, and the latest in a series of portraits of a woman who has only just joined the community. She is becoming frustrated with me for not posting a photo of her in her open-toed sandals. Earlier this morning, she sent some options for inclusion. Now, she’s back with the same picture, taken from another angle. Truth be told, the images look a little staged for my tastes. But! There’s nothing more “clog” than sisterhood, so I post one of the pictures in my stories and hope she'll be happy.
It never fails to amaze me that it wasn’t one of my “deeper” interests, like English literature or turn-of-the century New York, that led me into the arms of a community of like-minded individuals. It was a humble, completely frivolous item that birthed my club of weirdos. The wooden-soled shoe around which our connection is based is even kind of beside the point. Our commonality is so much deeper than that. This is the account where you’ll find us poking fun at ourselves—it’s a different dynamic than that of “real” Instagram, where we waste our time promoting our work or commemorating our children’s birthdays. We don’t require the lunch plans (and inevitable reschedulings) that IRL friends do. On Planet Clog, it’s safe to be silly and vulnerable. It's a Sim City where tension and competition are gloriously absent.
My husband thinks I have a problem. “Get off the phone,” he tells me. It’s true—I’m distracted—but not with every party that I wasn’t invited to and every vacation that I’m neither rich nor organized enough to go on. I don’t buy knitwear based on ads that pop up in my feed. I’m hardly even on my feed. I’m on the clog’s feed, and my clog friends have become my real friends. They cheered me on as I finished my novel, How Could She. Now that it’s days away from being published, they're shoring up my nerves. One of them is moderating a reading I’m doing to commemorate the book’s publication. It will be hosted at the store of another clog sister, and another @thecloglife-r offered to prepare crudités.
The account works the other way around, too, converting people I know IRL to clog friends. It wasn’t until the moms at my daughter’s preschool joined the clog party that we had things other than field trip forms or birthday party carpools to talk about after drop-off. Sometimes, we don’t need to talk—we’ll just point at each other’s lumpen shoes, and our shoulders relax,and we laugh.
For the first time in my life, I can claim more than a random constellation of friendships. I belong to a circle—a cluster of women who have come together, bound as we are by an odd sense of humor and a love of unfortunate footwear, and of one another.
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