Wendy C. Ortiz has had quite the illustrious career in and around her native Los Angeles. Ortiz, writer, editor, and educator is also a practicing psychotherapist and counselor. She has founded and participated in numerous reading series in Southern California, and she’s hard to miss on social media.
Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Wendy reading from her “dreamoir,” Bruja. Her work is transparent, experimental, fearlessly honest, and her connection with her audience is palpable. In addition to Bruja, she is the author of Excavation: A Memoir and Hollywood Notebook. She has appeared in The New York Times, Joyland, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Most recently her “Urban Liminal” series of texts appear alongside signature graphic representations of the projects of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects in the book Amplified Urbanism.
Tonya Kelley: What does a normal day look like for you? Do you wake up to an alarm? When does the day end? How committed are you to a set schedule?
Wendy C. Ortiz: On a normal day I tend to naturally wake up between 6am-6:30am (no alarm). In between I'll write, co-parent, see psychotherapy clients, household stuff, etc. The day ends as late as 11:30pm. I like a set schedule because my jobs allow me to create my own hours. As someone who works from home half-time, I've found that without a structure, things can get veerrrrry messy.
TK: What is your creative process? Do you find you come up with ideas for collections (such as Bruja) first, or does the work inspire the collections?
WCO: My creative process is typically me thinking of something I want to write for weeks, if not months, sometimes years...and in that time I'm working it out, questioning all the angles, imagining how to go about it...and if I'm lucky I will write it down/type it out at some point. The work often inspires the collections.
TK: What do you consider the purpose of memoir? What do you hope your readers will take away from your more personal stories and experiences?
WCO: The purpose of memoir is the purpose of any story, poem, song. There is no one purpose.
My hope is that readers will either begin to see or advance more conversation about what lives in the gray area, what is not simply black and white, or binary.
TK: I recently went to one of your readings where you read from Bruja - your “dreamoir.” Even though we knew we were listening to dreams, there were a few moments where the audience audibly gasped. One that comes to mind is a reference to a dream in which you stabbed your mother. Is there anything off limits? How do you trust your reader that they can distinguish between “dream” and “waking desire” so to speak? How does mom feel about this?
WCO: There's plenty that is off limits! I, in fact, pride myself on this. I would never want to give everything away. With regard to dream vs. waking desire: well, if a reader cannot distinguish between the two, perhaps they are not my ideal reader, nor I their ideal writer. If they see a relationship between the two--well, there is room for us to grow into understanding one another, perhaps.
The question "how does mom feel about this?" is a funny and telling one to me--I often use this question, as it's posed by a number of audience members I've talked with over time, as an anecdote to ask readers: Why assume I have the sort of relationship with my mother that would allow me to talk about my books? Or, why assume any relationship at all? It's actually a projection audiences make on the author.
TK: When you feel like you just can’t possibly write another word, what do you do to entertain yourself? Inspire yourself?
WCO: Read more books. Watch episodic television. Hike. Go to the beach. Read even more books.
TK: Tell us a bit about your academic life. How do you think your background in psychology and therapy has helped (or hindered) your literary life?
WCO: I earned my MFA in Creative Writing in 2002 and my MA in Clinical Psychology in 2010. When I embarked on the road to the MA I already knew that studying psychology would only help my literary life--on the page and how I deal with people (peers, writing community, readers, etc.)
TK: Any hobbies of note? How do you unwind?
WCO: Not sure these are of note, but reading and hiking in Griffith Park. I like to reserve one day per week when I don't leave the house and can talk as little as possible.
TK: Any embarrassing literary moments? “Mistakes” you made as a young writer?
WCO: A few! None I'd share here. But I have for years been building on the essay in my head of "what not to do."
TK: I would read it!
TK: Is there anything you’ve done that you absolutely loved, but couldn’t get published?
WCO: Currently (as of now--one can hope that by the time this is in print this will be untrue)--I have a poetry book that has seen numerous rejections. It's sitting with four publishers now. If it strikes out with them, I'll hold it aside for a while and come back to it later.
TK: What do you read for pleasure?
WCO: Everything. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry. I consider nearly all reading pleasure.
TK: If you had to live anywhere but LA, where would you end up?
WCO: Oooh, tough question...I never imagine this...but if I had to end up somewhere else it would have to be somewhere with a beach and temperate weather. I wouldn't end up anywhere else.
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir, Hollywood Notebook, and the dreamoir Bruja. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, The Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the National Book Critics Circle Small Press Spotlight blog. Her writing has appeared in such venues as The New York Times, Joyland, and a year-long series appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Most recently her “Urban Liminal” series of texts appear alongside signature graphic representations of the projects of Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects in the book Amplified Urbanism. Wendy is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles.
About the interviewer: Tonya Kelley is an MFA candidate at Mount Saint Mary's University where she is an editor of the literary magazine, The Rush. She is a Pushcart Prize nominated writer, and a past recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship award for poetry. She resides in Los Angeles.