The Bruja Visions of Wendy C. Ortiz
Wendy C. Ortiz’s Bruja is an authentic and organic experience that will have you falling down the rabbit hole where anything can happen….one minute Ortiz is on her way to school in Portland when she saw her professor Michael Moore at a bus stop. The next, she is showing up late for a test and jumping into a non-motorized vehicle and driving off under the cloudy sky until she finds an elementary school set back in the woods where she can detonate a bomb. We talk world building, shared dreams, and Olympia. It was a dreamy experience having a chance to talk to the Dream Queen herself and ask her a few questions.
Rebecca Charlotte: Did your background in psychology and psychotherapy help you in the development of this book? Did you use any psychological methods to retain the details of your dreams?
Wendy C. Ortiz: The dreams occurred between 2002-2006, well before I even contemplated going in the field of psychotherapy. I practiced good old writing everything down as soon as possible, post-dream.
RC: The index where you catalogued all of the thematic elements that appeared in your dreams was ingenious. I have never seen anything like that. Did you know from the beginning that you were going to create an index? Did the index help you to re-remember your dreams at all? If not, did it help with the process of writing this work in any way?
WCO: Thanks! I thought of the average dream dictionary (which I don’t own) and how it has an index, and of course I was interested in having a sense of how many times certain people, places, and things appeared in the book. I didn’t know from the beginning I’d create an index, and once I did, I wasn’t sure we could manage one. The index doesn’t really serve to help me re-remember my dreams. It’s informative and aesthetic and I’m indebted to my partner for creating it! It had to come at the very end of the process, so it did not, really could not, help or influence the text in any way (or threaten upsetting the index in progress as a result).
RC: Bruja is unique in that it’s both fiction and nonfiction. If you had to break it down into percentages, how much of it is fiction and how much of it is nonfiction?
RC: Reading this work, at times it felt like all roads led back to Olympia. What significance does Olympia hold for you?
WCO: I lived there from 1993-2001. It was where I feel like I fully gestated as an adult because I was there from the ages of 20 to 28.
RC: The cover of your book is very sexual, and yet whenever the subject of sex comes up in Bruja it is decidedly unsexual. The character would be sleeping with men in her mother’s house/garage, and rather than focus on the details of the act of sex, the focus was on her consistent worry about whether her mom would come in and see the backside of the guy. Is the cover’s sensuality less about actual sex, and more about the sensuality of letting the reader inside your mind? In a way, the reader entering your dreams is a kind of penetration itself.
WCO: I don’t think of the cover as wholly sexual. I see, and get a hit of, other motifs alongside sexual. There’s so much happening in that image. Do you mean “unsexy” when you said “unsexual’? It is very funny to think, though, of all the unsexiness happening in those dreams. The point was often not the sex but the emotional tenor of what was happening around it.
Is the reader entering my dreams really a kind of penetration? If so I would argue that any time I read a book is a penetration, I am allowed into the space of the author’s world, whether fiction or nonfiction. And then there are the books that I look to to penetrate me…
RC: Some of the dreams in Bruja felt familiar to dreams that I have had in the past. Do you think that everyone shares certain common dream patterns, archetypes, and symbols when we dream?
WCO: When I talk to people it seems as though we’re sharing common dream patterns and archetypes, and/but I imagine if I spoke to much wider ranges of people I’d find other dream patterns and archetypes, symbols that are quite different than mine. Culture and nutrition and socioeconomics and family and pain and individual body chemistry, etc. etc. contribute to how well a person can sleep, so these same things can impact what a person dreams…
While I intentionally hoped the dreams would feel familiar to some readers, I couldn’t count on it.
RC: Bruja reads just like a dream, it has a sense of free-fall and does not follow linear logic. Did you struggle with the creation of this sense of authenticity? What craft techniques did you use to accomplish this dreamlike quality? Did you have to completely do away with the concept of having a “beginning,” “middle,” and “end,” since dreams don’t really have beginnings, middles, or ends?
WCO: I approached the editing of the text as though each dream could be a flash piece. I wanted each dream to stand (strangely, easily, uneasily, etc.) on its own but also be connected to the other dreams in some way (easy enough, since I am the common denominator/character in all the dreams).
Photo of Wendy C. Ortiz by Taji Ameen
RC: So, this book allows the reader a very intimate look inside not just your thoughts, but your subconscious as well. Did the knowledge that this book would be both fiction and non-fiction provide you with a sense of safety that made it easier to open up in such a personal way? Did the experience of writing Bruja lead you to any insights about yourself?
WCO: If I think for too long about what is revealed in Bruja it feels like it’s my most revealing book yet so I don’t dwell on it except to laugh at myself. I can’t say it’s lead me to any insights about myself other than, Oh, look! You still struggle with some of the very same things you struggled with a decade and longer ago! which is also not a very appealing thought but kind of funny nonetheless.
RC: Is Bruja tailored to reach certain readers more than others? Do you think you have to experience something yourself: a culture, a food, a family dynamic etc. in order to organically and authentically write a dreamoir of it, or do you think you would be able to “simulate” dreams that reach people beyond the intersectionalities you inhabit, regardless of whether or not you have experienced what they have experienced?
WCO: I don’t think of myself as tailoring a particular text for certain readers over others, unless I think of the one to two readers I always think of myself secretly writing for.
I think dreams are often a strange equalizer in that we typically all know what an anxiety dream is like, or a strange sex dream—we’ve all had them at one time or another. The fact that they’re dreams makes them transcend ordinary existence.
RC: One thing I noticed in Bruja, was that it was quite the menagerie. So many animals running rampant through it from cats, alligators, and sharks to snakes and whales. I know you mentioned that you don’t own a dream dictionary. Was the use of animals in Bruja a symbolic device (did you feel that certain animals “belonged” in certain dreams) or was it more of a world-building device?
WCO: I don’t think of the animals as a symbolic “device”—that would give my unconscious a lot of power and direction—of course I see your point and, sure, the animals can serve as a symbolic device, but they also just appeared and I transcribed their appearances. In the process of editing I did edit out some repeat appearances of animals, so it’s then that I gave some animals more power than others—a device—and I would say it was more world-building than symbolic (though a few of the animals do appear to me symbolically over time, and I have and will write about them elsewhere—my favorite being the alligator).
Rebecca Charlotte goes to Simmons College where she is getting her Masters in Library and Information Science. By day, she is the librarian’s apprentice; by night she writes magical twisted words and devotes endless hours to Netflix. Her work has appeared in CLASH, BUST, Her Campus, elephant journal, Feminine Collective, and her short story “My Pussy Tastes like Pepsi Gnosis” will be appearing in CLASH’s upcoming anthology Tragedy Queens.
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of three books: the critically acclaimed Excavation: A Memoir (2014); Hollywood Notebook (2015); and the genre-breaking dreamoir Bruja (2016). In 2016 Bustle named her one of “9 Women Writers Who Are Breaking New Nonfiction Territory.” Wendy’s work has been profiled or featured in the Los Angeles Times, Poets & Writers Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, and the National Book Critics Circle Small Press Spotlight blog. Individual pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Hazlitt, StoryQuarterly, Joyland, and a year-long series on medical marijuana pharmacy cultures of Southern California was featured at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Wendy lives in Los Angeles, where she is a parent and a psychotherapist in private practice.