Wendy C. Ortiz‘s three books to date could each be described as memoirs, but each one follows a very different strand of its author’s life, taking on a very different style and structure to do so. Her latest, Bruja, is described as a “dreamoir,” and chronicles Ortiz’s dreams over the course of many months. In them, people and situations recur, and the mood ranges from the surreal to the chilling. Ortiz and I read together in Newburgh, New York last weekend, and a few days after that, we discussed the making of her latest book via email.
During the Q & A at the Newburgh reading, you mentioned that you’d love to read books of other writers’ dreams. I’m curious as to whether you found any kind of literary precedent for what you were doing with Bruja–I can remember reading William S. Burroughs’s My Education ages ago, and Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet delves somewhat into that territory, but your book strikes me as pretty singular.
I’ll out myself as not having read these particular books, and I haven’t thought of any books as specific literary precedents. If I were to think of a possible genealogy that this book grows out of, I would include Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung and some of the diaries of Anaïs Nin…and of course now I’ll read the books you mention to see if there’s more to the genealogy I might add. I’d love to read a collection of other writers’ dreams–their dreamoir–from a specific period of time in which they were undergoing tremendous growth and the turmoil and confusion that’s often a by-product of that growth. Knowing something about the writer’s “real” life and learning about their dream life through the same period, to me, is potentially exciting and adds dimension to what is “known” and understood about the person writing. It’s the interior’s interior.
At the same reading, you said that you’d stopped having dreams this vivid at some point after the one described in this book. Was that a gradual thing, or did they cease almost immediately?
I think a combination of having less time to reflect (everyday life circumstances changing, the addition of a kid along the way, etc.) have all contributed to me losing much of the dream life I’d had access to. I don’t remember if it was gradual or immediate–just that over time I began noticing I’d have only remnants of dreams upon waking, or a feeling as though nothing had happened overnight, or sometimes a feeling that I’d been “working” all night in another landscape but couldn’t remember any details.
You’ve mentioned that this book takes its inspiration from a project where you were documenting your dreams online. What was the impetus for you to do that?
I’ve always kept dream journals (still have old notebooks of them from my twenties) but I was inspired by something I read in the “Readings” section of Harper’s Magazine, that featured an excerpt of a zine in which dreams were recounted as reportage, with no mention of the word “dream.” I loved this as a constraint (and it was hilarious to reread), so began documenting mine this way, online.
You share a name with the artist who did Bruja‘s cover–how did the two of you end up meeting? (There’s a Toby Carroll living in Vancouver who once bought a bicycle from a friend of mine, which still amuses me years after it happened.)
Ha! I began getting stray emails here and there for another Wendy Ortiz, and soon enough found her Instagram, which is where she often posts her process and the finished art; when it came time to think of cover ideas for Bruja, I thought of her. Wendy’s work always struck me as thematically similar to my own work, in a different medium. I can barely draw stick figures and when I looked at her work, I thought, wow, if I was able to draw and paint like she can, there’s a chance I’d be hitting similar notes in subject matter, and overall tone and feel.
Each of your three books has been very stylistically different from the one before it. Is that a conscious decision on your part when you begin a project, or is it more that that’s just how it’s worked out?
It’s how it’s worked out. Every book feels like it comes from a different internal voice. If someone loved Excavation, I don’t assume they’ll love the other two books, for example, because the styles and voices are so different. This approach is not something I’d compromise for the sake of readership. I have to assume that readers will open themselves to the idea (if they don’t already experience this themselves) that they too contain a multitude of styles, and voices, and why limit one’s art to one or two of them? Unless of course they are compelled to in their own process, which I can also understand. Limitations make me want to press against them, so if I was limited to the style of one book over another, I wouldn’t feel like I was being authentic to my own range.
What was the process of editing Bruja into its current form like? Was there a lot cut, or was it a fairly straightforward process?
I have to say, I did not look forward to this process one bit, because I initially came at it thinking, how will I know if I’m cutting the right dreams? If there’s not a traditional narrative arc to this, what guidelines do I have for cutting? In the end I had different tactics that included cutting some dreams because how many dreams of alligators or tsunamis does one book need?; editing out dreams that felt like too much of my psyche was revealed; editing each dream so that it was its own complete story but connected by a thread to every other included dream.
A number of the same real-life people show up in the dreams described in Bruja. Have any of your dreams ever affected your relationships with them in waking life?
I guess it will remain to be seen? There are people in this book still in my life who’ve seen how many times their pseudonym appears in the index and have enjoyed knowing I dreamt about them as much as I did–but the dreams are complicated, just like our relationships are. My partner loves remarking on the dream of “The One,” and we discovered too late that we hadn’t included “The One” in the index, so she wrote it into the index of my reading copy. There are dreams in there that absolutely affect her, that have made her uncomfortable, and I have to be willing to let the relationship be affected by it. Anytime we make the decision to share a dream we’ve had about someone, some care should be taken, depending on the relationship. I can’t say any one dream has affected any one relationship, but many people can identify with that feeling of, the morning after, maybe seeing someone you’ve just dreamt about, feeling unable to shake the weird feeling you get because something in the dream was so palpable that it affected your interaction.
On a side note: I’m collecting dreams people have had about me since Bruja‘s release date (10/31/16) for a zine I’ll be making hopefully before the end of the year.