Running with Stilettos: Living a Balanced Life in Dangerous Shoes
Third volume in critically acclaimed, award-winning and inspiring essay collections by journalist and criminal prosecutor.
After publishing her earlier two nationally acclaimed essay collections in signature spike heels, (Running with Stilettos and Heck on Heels), journalist, prosecutor and essayist Mary T. Wagner finally admits that high heels just aren't the footwear for every occasion ... especially when power tools are involved.
Wagner's essays on her "Running with Stilettos" website have recently been assigned first place finishes by the National Federation of Press Women for both feature writing and web-content for special interest sites in 2011. Fabulous in Flats continues in the humorous and inspiring vein of adventure and reflection of its predecessors, taking the reader along as the author comes to grips (literally) with cutting bricks with a chop saw stationed on the back of a pickup truck, buys her first prom dress for a fancy dress ball, and reflects on the kindness of strangers in a blizzard following a terrifying accident on the interestate.
ALSO AVAILABLE IN E-BOOK FORMAT.
From the national award-winning essay "Full Circle"...
If living well, as they say, is the best revenge, I was sure having a red-letter day in the payback department.
Starting from the top down, I was standing in front of a buffet table of canapés that were both expensive and absolutely delicious. The holiday gathering was double-billed as a wine tasting event, so while my left hand held a beaded little black evening purse, the right held a long-stemmed glass filled with a German “Eiswein.” I have a predilection for sweet German wines, and so this was right up my alley in the palate department.
I was decked out in iridescent chandelier earrings and a sparkly white see-through sweater, with a Victoria’s Secret satin camisole keeping me both decent and legal. A plum-colored cut velvet skirt and black suede sling-back Brazilian high heels with tiny bows rounded out the ensemble. I’d bought the shoes on impulse the winter before, spending more than I ever do (and paying full price, which I almost NEVER do!) in a defiant act of faith that at some point, I was going to have an event to wear them to. It’s kind of a variant on “Field of Dreams.” I’m a big believer that if you buy the shoes, the occasion will follow.
I was newly divorced and happy about it, and my ex—who would normally be at this yearly affair since by all rights it was his bar association’s Christmas party—was spending the evening home with our younger kids. And as I stood by the buffet table, savoring the good food and the great company, an attorney who originally knew me as just "the spouse" at these gathering for nearly two decades, came up, his wife beside him, and asked “So…what can you tell me about the judges in your county?”
I cheerfully and obligingly held court. I’d been in my job for a good five years, so I gave him a complete, humorous rundown. I eventually wound down the evening swapping courtroom tales of valor with a group of young attorneys who had graduated from law school around the same time I did just a few years earlier. For the first time since I’d be going to these gatherings, I felt like I had my own posse—if just for an evening—and it felt really, really good.
It hadn’t been the most auspicious of evenings to start with. I’d only committed to attending the day before, in part because the organizers were still trying to fill the tables. Guilt over never paying my dues to the local bar association (except for the year I’d graduated from law school so that I could join in the group picture) tended to have me keep a low profile for most of these things. And there was a blizzard in progress as well that evening.
On the other hand, the venue was only a couple of miles from my house. I was still driving the Subaru, which was like a four-wheel-drive tank. And post-divorce, it seemed symbolically important to show up at some of the same things I’d attended as part of a couple for years, just to fly the flag and show that I was still standing. I didn’t know if doing so would cut down on local gossip or throw fuel on the fire, but that wasn’t the point. I just needed to show my face. And smile.
As I said, it was a great evening. It wasn’t until the next day that the irony struck me full force. Because I had been in the exact same knot of conversation seventeen years earlier with the exact same people. The same attorney, and his wife, and myself. The only person missing from the tableau was my ex-husband. And the contrast couldn’t have been deeper, or more moving, or more amazing in terms of a journey.
Seventeen years earlier, I was seven months pregnant with my third child. This was our first big local bar outing, a semi-annual gathering of most of the local lawyers, their spouses, and usually a guest speaker or some type of entertainment. My husband had recently taken a job with a local firm. I was as big as a house, and clad in a cheap, tent-sized floral maternity dress from J.C. Penney. We were all dressed up for dinner, and the entire thing—and all the people in it—was brand new to me. I really, really hoped that I’d make a good impression.
And in that venue, I was entirely peripheral. Nearly invisible. The stay-home wife and mother. I gravitated naturally to the other wives, and we swapped tales of motherhood and girl scouting and cake baking and car-pooling. I might have mentioned that I was a free-lance writer, but I don’t remember. The scene would be repeated for many years. Most of the attorneys (at least in the beginning) were men, and they gathered in groups like pin-striped gladiators, swapping tales of courtroom adventures and victories won and appeals mounted and opponents thwarted and justice demanded. The whole arena had a heavy testosterone base under the wall-to-wall carpeting of the country club dining room.
As the years rolled by, there were channel markers and growth rings and metaphorical roots to trip over along the way. The riding accident that put me in the body cast. Law school. The discovery that my brain not only still worked, it worked better than it had when I went to college for the first time. My youngest child starting kindergarten, and my oldest leaving for college. A few memorable meltdowns, a couple of them in the exquisite Gothic church where I got married. Arguing a case, and then another, and then another before the state supreme court. And finally, a long time in coming, the divorce. One step up, two steps back, a couple forward again, a sidestep here and there.
And so the contrast between those two face-to-face encounters with the local attorney, seventeen long and arduous years apart, stood out in my mind as a token of validation, with the brightness of a diamond in a platinum setting on a sunny day. Just look how far I’d come!! The irony made me feel warm and tingly all over. Like a snapshot of victoriously reaching that peak you attempted to climb in utter defiance of your better judgment and common sense and aching muscles when you were on vacation.
That was then. One thing you can always count on in life is that if you’re actually living it instead of just watching, there will always be more channel markers and more stumbling blocks and more growth rings along the way. Since that delightful evening when I stood sipping German wine while decked out in velvet and Victoria's Secret, I’ve gone through a lot more. The “year of turbo-dating.” The loss of both my father and godmother after terrible health complications. The serious illnesses of two of my children. Hundreds of miles on the back of a Harley, and my youngest child leaving for college. And two more command performances before the state supreme court. Just like that vacation snapshot of conquering the summit, the picture fades in importance as the life being lived just gets bigger. Gloriously, messily, sometimes tragically, oftentimes joyfully…bigger. And so inevitably, I revisit the snapshot less and less often. There will always be more hills ahead.
But it doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten the climb. And I've still got the Brazilian spike heels to prove it.
In Fabulous in Flats: Putting my best foot forward! author Mary Wagner has provided the reader with twenty-eight marvelous essays which turn out to be life lessons at their very best. Ms. Wagner talks about her struggles and triumphs with power tools and about becoming the mother tiger when her children are ill and defenseless. Those of us who believe technology and culture are leaving us behind will howl at "Thrilling" and "Un-Gardening" and "Tool Time." We will relate to having to read instructions as a last resort and we will understand that "Home is Where the Chocolate Is."
"Bluebirds of Happiness" and "H. D. Thoreau" will remind the reader of the truly important things in this world, while "Two Hens and a Harley" will leave the reader writhing with a sense of joy and, perhaps, natural justice. There are stories of everyday life which will transform the reader's dismal day to one in which he/she can relate to the common triumphs and tragedies of life.
Ms. Wagner states that one of the things which defines us as the people we have become is the manner in which we react to the unknown, be it success or failure. Using this as a standard, her own life would have to be declared a resounding success. She approaches life for what it might offer rather than waiting anxiously for the day of her death. Granted, chocolate bars gave her a "fix" in times of stress, but her gutsy approach to adversity was the key to who she has become: a woman defined by self-comfort and joy of what the world has to offer. This book is highly recommended to any woman or man who has even an inkling of wanting to dwell in a state of self-doubt or "poor me." You will laugh your way through your own misery and be compelled to try again!
Wisconsin Author Review
Mary's right, there's nothing like the sound of heels clicking down a polished floor; not even flip-flops across campus , but I honestly fell in love with Mary's take on life...I wanted to be Mary, or at least go to the Renaissance faire with her and join the sisterhood of selective memory after reading this book. But probably not use power tools with her, though.
Fabulous in Flats, I believe, is Mary's third collection of essays that began as web site posts. May's been through a lot of living that includes myriads of work experiences from journalism to waitress to wife and mom to a legal practice to divorce and re-entry to the relationship game and writing.
The essays in Fabulous in Flats flutter around the clean-up after divorce and are liberally themed on cleaning out her garage. "(This was) a good time to sit in the shade, sip a glass of lemonade over ice, and watch the goldfinches alight at the thistle feeders. Instead, I was dismantling pieces of my past on a beastly hot day in an effort to make more sense and order of my present. In other words, I was cleaning out the garage."
Memories surface as she rediscovers pieces of her life and reinvents herself as an accomplished saw artist, tiger mother, pet owner, gardener, and dessert maker after my own heart. Going through Mary's garage with her was like ripping off bandages that had lost the ability to hurt. Reading this book was a delightful evening relaxing in somebody else's angst for a change. I knew she was a sister at heart when I got to "I've quit trying to plan anything out in life anymore, opting for the `carpe diem' school of thought on a day-to-day basis."
After I'd long passed the point of being able to review, I continued to read this entire collection and highly recommend Fabulous in Flats to every empty-nest mom. All women of a certain age will get a kick out of the YouTube dancing queen who poignantly observes that, "at this age, maybe we don't have to do everything the hard way."
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