Heck on Heels (Wagner)

Discussion Questions
1. Mary has often been described as “living in the moment,” letting serendipity guide her choices and experiences.  Do you enjoy that as well in your own life…or does that “make it up as you go” quality drive you bonkers? Why or why not? Would you trust Mary to pack your suitcase before a trip abroad?

2. In “Makeshift Christmas,” Mary contrasts the holiday—overshadowed by distant but pressing family emergencies and short on shopping and decorating—with the year before, when she had modeled herself on Martha Stewart, apparently compensating for her recent divorce. What family holiday traditions would you throw overboard if you were thrown into a crisis mode? Which would you try to keep and why? Are there any you would absolutely insist on?

3. In this collection of essays, Mary includes several dozen of her nature photos. Do these add to your connection with her or not? Which photo is your favorite, and why? And which essay is your favorite, and why?

4. Discuss the book’s structure and Mary’s use of language and writing style. Does it draw you in and keep you engaged? Is she someone you would feel comfortable sharing a cup of coffee with?

5. The book’s subtitle is “Still Balancing on Shoes, Love and Chocolate!”  What are the “must-haves” in your life that keep you going through the rough stretches? What does each of them bring to you that makes you strong? Is there value just in the thing itself, or is there some history that you draw from as well?

6. Discuss Mary’s relationship with her children. How has motherhood defined her? Can you identify with her perspective in “Love in the Time of Cupcakes”? Is there one thing in your own experience that is a time-honored symbol of love?

7. In the essay “The Volcano Diaries,” Mary confesses to abandoning her quest to reach the summit of a mountain because of her fear of heights…but eventually realizes that she has still gone farther than she thought she could. Is there a time you have “fallen short” in your own life’s journey that still feels like a success of sorts? Is it true that people learn more from failure than success?

8. Do you think that Mary’s introduction to gardening has made her grow as a person? Why? What does her flower garden symbolize for her? Do you have a similar experience to share of taking a wasteland and bringing it to life? How did it make you feel? Were there any surprises along the way?

9. Stepping off the beaten path back into the forest is clearly one of Mary’s “recharging” zones. What have you done, or what would you like to do, to step out of your “pressure cooker” life? Is nature a replenishing place for you, or do you prefer the surroundings of a mall…or a spa? Why?

10. In “Disconnected,” Mary severs nearly all ties with the “wired” world for a few days on a road trip to Michigan, and feels absolutely transported. Do you ever disconnect entirely from your cell phone and email access? Is it easy to do or does it leave you anxious? Discuss how our reliance on technology at our fingertips makes life and parenting different from when you were growing up.

11. Mary is also a criminal prosecutor, and describes her emotional reaction at a sentencing hearing for a young man convicted of rape, fearing that she will never be “tough enough” to do all that her job requires. What combination of factors in her life do you think converged at that moment to bring her to tears? Do you think that was a sign of weakness, or do you think that emotions and experience have a valid place in that position? Would you view her emotional response and perspective that day differently if Mary was male?

12. In “Pelican Lessons,” Mary writes of ignoring her first instincts while standing in the marsh, watching a trio of enormous white birds descend, and the eventual discovery that “logic” had proved wrong and her gut feelings about what she saw were right the first time. Can you think back to something similar in your own life? Is there a single experience that has tipped the balance for you in terms of trusting your instincts in the future? Or do you rely more on logic and caution in making decisions?

13. Riding on the back of a Harley during her “post-divorce” dating spree was clearly a “first” for Mary in her life and relationship history. What do you think that going out with the guy with the bike symbolized for her? Was the act of getting on the back seat just colored by a fear of falling off, or were there deeper fears at work? Do you agree with her “take me away” characterization is a good one? Do you think there’s a wee bit of lingering “rescue fantasy” in her mindset, despite all the competence she’s gained with her power tools?

14. In “Rabbit Season,” Mary describes buying a pet rabbit after going to the county fair, but finds that this was a pet that just did not fit well with the family. Have you ever found yourself in the situation of having to give an animal away after buying or adopting it? Was it an easy or hard decision? Was there an element of guilt that you had to wrestle with? What was your final tipping point in taking that step?”

15. Mary clearly tries to “go the extra mile” for her children, to provide them with at least some of the stability growing up that she lacked. Is this just a one-way street, or does she draw as much or more from her children than she gives? Discuss the complicated ways that parenthood changes the parent as much as the child.
(Questions provided courtesy of the author.)

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