When the Shoe Fits (Wagner)

Discussion Questions
1. In the essay "Of Shoes and Strategy," Mary describes her "turning point" in footwear, going from sneakers and sensible shoes to spike heels for the first time when midway through her forties. What do you think that first pair of stiletto heels really symbolized in her life?

2. Mary describes wrenching transitions in her life when she was a teenager in "Cookie Therapy." How do you think her past family relationships affect her relationships with her children? Do chocolate chip cookies really make everything better?

3. In the essay "Turbo Dating—A Year in Review," Mary describes jumping into the dating world with both feet after 25 years of marriage. What did you think of her kamikaze approach? In retrospect, do you think she should have waited longer before making that transition? Was she brave, dumb, headstrong, or some other combination?

4. In "Ripple Effect," Mary shares the story of how her life and career path was changed by someone else’s encouragement, and reminds her children that "kindness is never wasted." Has there been a time in your life when someone’s belief in you has pushed you farther than you thought you could go?

5. In "Love in Wood and Wax," Mary talks about how her definitions and understanding of "romance" and "romantic gestures" have changed over time. Have yours? Is that a good thing or not? If they have, do you still miss the old patterns?

6. After her divorce, Mary’s transition in tools went by necessity from cupcake pans and a hand-mixer to the chain saw and a tool kit. Can you see yourself in her shoes? Are you in them already? What was the last tool you used and what for?

7. In "Return to the Fatherland," Mary writes of taking her elderly father and her teenaged sons to Germany for a reunion with their relatives, only to find en route that his mind was far more fragile than she had known. The roles of parent and child immediately and sadly changed. Did the trip have the result that she had wanted? What good things came from the journey despite her father’s increasing frailty? Do you think that her sons learned more from it than they expected to as well?

8. In "The Island," Mary describes renting a cabin in a vacation spot she had only experienced before this with her husband and children, long before the divorce. Her stated intention was to spend the week writing in peace and quiet. Was that the most important thing she took away from it? Could it have gone badly instead? How would YOU step out of your"pressure cooker" life for a week?

9. 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 her to pack your suitcase before a trip abroad?

10. In "The Volcano Diaries," Mary abandons 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? Do you think that people learn more from success or failure?

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

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?

13. In "Tool Time," Mary pivots between celebrating her growing independence in handling household problems after her divorce, and mourning the fact that independence can sometimes feel a lot like loneliness. What would you have told her as she sat at the kitchen table and wept that day? Have you ever had to balance a wish or a need to change as a person with caution as to how it would affect the relationship that you are or were in? What did you ultimately do?

14. In "Angels in the Snow," Mary describes the accident that landed her and her daughter in the home of total strangers in the middle of a blizzard. She describes the married couple that took them in as "angels." Have you felt the presence of angels in your life? When and how?

15. Is there a lesson to be taken away from this author’s life? What do you think it is, and why do you think it’s important?
(Questions courtesy of the author.)

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