Chameleon Season, (my coming of age memoir in progress) focuses on a five-year period in Israel and France where I lived as a young woman in the turbulent sixties. Although I left home at barely eighteen, through many childhood moves, I had learned to adapt, like a chameleon wherever I landed. A year in a London boarding school at age fourteen had opened my eyes to the world of my English mother. Now I dreamed of exploring my father’s Jewish roots – perhaps as a way to his elusive heart – as well as a home and identity of my own. But when I set out on this journey with the all the idealism, naiveté and bravado of youth, I had no idea it would determine the course of my life.
Pursuing my love of language, I found an intensive work/study program in Israel where I could learn Hebrew while living on a collective farm called a kibbutz. Although my twin sister came with me on the trip, our paths soon diverged as we struggled to establish our own identities. By year’s end, we had each fallen in love with the men we would marry, and I would travel to France while my sister stayed behind.
Living in France and mastering another new language, I missed my sister deeply, yet also felt an odd sense of elation. Without my mirror twin, for the first time in my life, I was seen as an individual rather than a clone. Yet instead of “finding myself,” I noticed myself developing several distinct “selves.” Like nesting dolls, in addition to my American and English personae, Israeli and French girls were also growing inside me – each with her own language, clothes, experiences and behavior.
When I took my first memoir class, I only knew I wanted to tell my story, but since then the process has taken me on a new journey. As I learn the art and craft of memoir – how to use action, reflection, dialog and narrative to express my emotional truth – I also benefit enormously from the supportive guidance of the NAMW community. The self-knowledge and healing that come through writing our deepest truths becomes a great reward!
Paula Wagner, MA, RPC was born in London, grew up in the US and now lives in Albany, CA with her night owl husband who cheerfully puts up with her writing into the wee hours. When she’s not writing her memoir, she offers career counseling and resume writing through LifeWork Careers. Travel, swimming, river rafting, yoga and singing bring her great joy as well as her family of four children and eight grandchildren. She would love her two tortoise shell cats more if only they weren’t holy terrors.