I’m pleased to introduce Paula Wagner for the June Virtual Book Club at NAMW! It’s especially a pleasure because Paula work on her memoir in my Writing as Healing class over several years. I watched her life and her writing evolve, always moved by her authenticity and the poetry of her writing. Paula shared with us many times her struggle with the inner critic, and the importance of capturing her story with love.
This is what I said in her blurb on the back cover:
Newcomers in an Ancient Land is one of the most beautifully written memoirs I’ve come across in a long time. Paula Wagner draws upon her poetic language and storytelling magic to transport us to a place and time that no longer exists: Israel in the early ‘60s.
In this coming-of-age memoir, we follow her on an inner journey to define herself, and through her eyes we discover the treasures of a place etched by time and the people and eras that have left their mark. I was dazzled by descriptions of sunrises and sea journeys, ruins and castles, and the inner workings of a kibbutz. You too will journey in ways that might surprise you as you read this enchanting memoir.
SUMMARY, PROCESS, THEMES & METAPHORS
I began writing Newcomers in an Ancient Land to explore the year I spent in Israel at age eighteen searching for my Jewish roots – a year that would change my life forever with its enduring influence on my choices, relationships and family. I also hope to clarify my complicated feelings about Israel then and now as best I could.
At first I simply wrote random stories, instead of using an outline. While this freed up my creativity, it also produced a fragmented collage. Organizing them into chapters was like piecing together a patchwork quilt without a pattern or through threads. But slowly, my lifelong passion for language emerged as a foundational theme. Ships and ocean crossings became vessels for both the story and its theme of transformation. Likewise, I used metaphors to describe my youthful naïveté and bravado as I fell in love with the land, the language and a man. But much as I employ metaphor, I’ve learned that too many of them can overwhelm the reader. So I try to live by Williams Faulkner’s harsh but helpful motto to “kill your darlings.”
If my creative process is essentially intuitive, my brain has the key task of controlling my Overzealous Inner Editor, Critic and Judge. Having also prayed to the Muse, I hop in my imaginary time machine and let my fingers fly across the keyboard to the land of memory. When my words ring true in my heart as well as my head, I know I’ve found my authentic ear and eye. Images, events, sounds, taste and touch then spring to life. (For more on these techniques, see “The Mythic Journey of Memoir,” my chapter in The Magic of Memoir anthology, ed. Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner, 2016.) But of course, every writer must find her own bag of tricks.
Some people say a book is not a baby, but the process of writing one feels very much like a pregnancy replete with birth pangs! But now that it’s going out into the world, it’s taking me on a new trip. It has healed old wounds, deepened my awareness of who I am today, and opened a new era of mutual support with my twin. I hope it will also foster greater understanding of the complexities of twinhood and multi-cultural identities.
Members will learn:
- The “time machine” technique for zooming into memories and creating authentic scenes
- Tips for taking charge of Miss Perfectionism and her henchman, the Endless Editor
- How to unravel your own story from that of other characters/family members
- What to include and what to leave out of the truth you want to tell
- Insights into coming of age as a twin and the complexities of a multi-cultural identity
The author of Newcomers in an Ancient Land, Paula Wagner and her identical twin were born in London but grew up in the US before venturing to Israel in their late teens to study Hebrew on a kibbutz ulpan (a work/study program). Later Paula attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, earned a BA in Women’s Studies (SFSU), an MA in Career Development (JFK University), and coached diverse clients in non-profits and her private practice, LifeWork Careers. She is currently writing a second memoir about living in France. She and her husband share an extended family worldwide from their home base in Albany, CA.