I was first introduced to Wendy C. Ortiz’s work through her memoir, Excavation, a dizzying experience of a five-year long relationship during her teenage years with a teacher who was fifteen years her senior, and then through her poetry. I had no idea what to expect from a dreamoir— I’d never heard of or read one— until Bruja. Once I cracked open that first page I became obsessed. Throughout the book I found myself wanting to index the people, recurring themes, events, and places. I wanted to recreate the structure of those dreams, as if my mind was somehow trying to create its own narrative out of each dream I read. The book reveals as much about the reader’s psyche, about the self and the readers’ reaction to reading it, as it does about the author— this deeply personal thing, a dream, so full of symbols we imbue with our own shared and cultural meanings. Bruja is a series of dreams written between 2002 and 2006, only separated by the months in which they occur and the space on the page between each dream. It felt interactive. And the more I read, the more I paid attention to my own dreams. I wanted to log each one of them, create my own alternative narrative through them. I was curious to know about the other side of the world— what had occurred between each dream, what brought up the experience of each person, each symbol, each black cloud in these dreams? I had the pleasure to interview Ortiz and ask her a few questions about her own dream world, how these worlds might interact with others, and how Bruja was pulled from the ether into reality. Below is an excerpt from Bruja, followed by that interview.
The creature, part possum, part squirrel, stood on a picnic table smiling as my mother fed it with her hands.
In the house on the vast yellow plain I knew there was something to be scared of.
We stood outside with no cover as thick black storm clouds formed in the sky, moving at an impossible rate. We froze. Once they were positioned overhead, I knew this was something supernatural and, in fact, evil.
The downpour soaked us through. The clouds passed.
The scene repeated: black clouds. Downpour. An engulfing silence when they passed.
In the distance I saw an enormous train headed toward us. It came so fast that I could not tell which way to run—left, or right—and it was so huge there wasn’t even enough time to run.
I ducked down on the ground and felt the thin move over me. I had somehow placed myself right into the best, safest parts of the tracks. The train passed into the distance and left us in the open mouth of silence once again.
The scene repeated. The second time I felt the metal on my back.
On the plain with not a single tree to ground us, we stood together crying and wringing our hands. I recited the 23rd Psalm, as my grandmother had taught me as a child. I recited over and over and over, tripping over some of the words, until she began to recite with me. We shouted it.
Another puncture wound of black clouds formed and began heading toward us.
Summer, when the daylight stuck around until late. I had a road trip to make, Arizona to California. I would be driving across the desert alone all through the night.
I was nervous about this, but shared my fear with no one.
J. and I were on the yellow bedspread in the poorly lit motel room, having sex in as many positions as possible.
It had been awhile since I had to deal with condoms. The taste of one in my mouth reminded me.
Each sex act felt like a particular type of calisthenics, devoid of passion or affection. J. wanted to try a new position called “the afghan wig.” It was actually something I’d never done—at least, it had never worked before.
Now it did.
Michael and I lived in a very nice one-bedroom apartment in a very old city.
Down the hall was another unit that my mother was cleaning, believing we might want to live in it.
I went to take a look. It was nice, but the windows were smaller and fewer. The covers on the bed were burgundy. I touched a sheet of plastic that encased them.
Michael would not like the colors (primarily burgundy), and I wanted the place with all the windows.
After my mother left, I wandered into the other rooms. In one was a piano with a candelabra on top, lit. Random pieces of lingerie spilled over the piano.
Instantly I knew the apartment had been vacated by Claire.
At the film festival in Olympia I sat on the cement outside the theater while lots of people milled around. With bright red paint I painted my leggings under my dress. The paint dripped from the thick paintbrush onto the hem. I painted over my thick socks and my shoes.
The cover of my little red book fell off.
My mother’s house was haunted.
A tall woman with long braids repeatedly attempted to enter my father’s old bedroom. A born cat ran into the bedroom and the door closed behind it.
How did Bruja get started? Did you intentionally set out to write a dreamoir, or had you already been collecting and writing your dreams before that for some time? What was the overall writing process like?
The text was derived from the dreams I kept online between 2002-2006. It was a particularly fertile period of time for my dream life. I'd kept dream journals previously, sporadically--I still have a couple of old dedicated notebooks, but mostly scraps of paper and other random notes of dreams over the years. So the writing of it happened then, the editing of it happened recently.
Was there any reason that it was a particularly fertile time for your dream life?
If someone has read Hollywood Notebook, it's obvious why this was a fertile time for my dream life. In particular I had just moved back to Los Angeles after being away for eight years; I had left a long-term relationship; I was newly single, in my Saturn return, and freaking the fuck out.
What are ways that the dream world and the not-dream world interact to you, do you feel like the dreamworlds of others can interact with your own, and how?
In all ways? I would venture to say that it's possible these worlds interact all the time but I'm too unconscious or dumb or scared to see it. When I do, when I imagine I do, it's simple: symbols, faces, a word that was important in the dream but appears "in real life." I assume the dreamworlds of others also interact with my own, and they're all sort of interacting with each other all the time...since the release of Bruja I've been compiling readers' dreams about me (which they generously shared with me)--it's one obvious way of our dreams interacting one another. At a recent performance I was a part of, One House Twice, a collaboration between Enter>Text and HomeLA, I had strangers read excerpts of Bruja to me and one another and they had such a range of interesting responses, some of which involved their own dream lives and how they saw one of their prior dreams interacting with what was happening now, in relation to my own dream which dislodged the dream from their own memory.
I love hearing about readers sharing their dreams with you! While I read it, I definitely felt more conscientious in trying to remember my own dreams and think about what they meant to me— a couple were about the baby growing inside me, since I’d heard from several people that sometimes you dream the sex of the child or what have you. I haven’t yet, though in one of them the baby had the face of a really old ugly man, which was both disturbing and comical. I haven’t had any dreams since. I dog-eared one dream from Bruja, and can’t remember if it was before or after I find out about my own:
“I was over 12 weeks pregnant.
I had become pregnant via saliva or some other liquid. However it happened, it seemed to simple.
I was unprepared for this kind of change, this kind of pain.”
There are a couple of dreams about pregnancy in Bruja. I’m so curious if you did have more vivid dreams during your own pregnancy, or if any new symbols came up for you?
I remember very little about what was going on in my brain during my own pregnancy, and I haven't looked at any of my journals from that time yet. Nothing is memorable in terms of dream life.
Oh wait, there was one dream really early in the pregnancy that I do keep meaning to write about! I'll say this: it involves the face of a fairy in a particular book that I used to have, and had once considered having this fairy or another from the book tattooed on me, a long, long time ago. The emotional undercurrent of the dream, though, is memorable as well. To be written...
I was going to ask you about the One House Twice Collaboration. Even the house itself sounds like a dreamscape. You co-founded and ran the Rhapsodomancy Reading series for so long, and have also read your work in cities all over the country. What was most refreshing about this type of performance for you?
I loved being sequestered in a space loaned to me. I loved using my body as part of the performance. The way I had to invite people in to this room and let them get comfortable before they perhaps got a little uncomfortable. Not in a captive audience way, but a quick intimate, what just happened? way. I loved wandering out of my room and coming across dancers in the living room and the kitchen and a people moving slow and strange with VR goggles on. The house itself, too, wow. In Rhapsodomancy's final year I had changed up the format to allow for conversation between the two writers as well as the audience. My participation in the One House Twice collaboration reminded me strongly that I want to move away from straight readings as much as possible, when possible.
In a previous interview with the poet Catch Business, you discussed the ways in which the weight of the memories of your first memoir, Excavation, had diminished over the period of time in which you were writing the first draft. How do you feel that memories are similar to dreams— do the weight of your recurring dreams or symbols in your dreams ever diminish the more that you experience them? Why do you think we forget dreams so easily as opposed to memories from our past?
The recurring symbols of my dreams--in Bruja they were cats, rabbits, alligators, tsunamis or tidal waves, earthquakes, explosions--have lost a lot of their power over me versus when I was having them nightly. I don't have dreams like this anymore. Or I haven't in a while that I can remember. Editing Bruja also made some of the dreams a bit murkier because of stylistic choices that change the flavor of how I remember the dream in my head, if I even remember it. This happens to memory as well. The way I wrote memories in Excavation is like a translation of the notes I took in my journal at the time it was happening. In that way, working and working over a project that describes an experience, like in Excavation, with the intentions I had, the weight did shift, if not diminish. There are probably a ton of reasons why we forget dreams so easily as opposed to memories. A bunch have to do with the body and the brain. Some probably have to do with the culture's value of dreams. Others probably have to do with an individual's lived experience mixed with body chemistry, housing, number of hours of sleep...etc.
I had a writing teacher once who suggested I never write dreams into my work, at least into my fiction. For them it was like this blatant mistake— any time I’d presented a story in which a dream occurred they suggested I delete the whole dream out of it. One reason I love Bruja so much is that it blew that writing rule right out of the water for me in terms of what I thought was possible to do with writing. What are some writing rules that you find yourself challenging and breaking often? Did you struggle at all when writing and editing Bruja?
Oh god, I hate writing teachers with blanket advice. I'm sorry they told you that. Jesus.
Writing rules I find myself challenging & breaking often: different voice for every book-length project (more a commercial rule than a "writing rule"). I don't know that I'm consciously trying to break any rules.
I struggled with the editing of Bruja, for sure, because it's hard to take all the characters, random plots, scenes, and moods of all these dreams, edit out the ones that don't "fit", clean each one to make it possible for it to stand alone but also connect, and also, the ending. I was very nervous about how to end the book, which dream would end it, why, but then I had a dream when I was struggling with this that felt like the obvious ending of the book.
Do you feel that Bruja is like a companion piece to Hollywood Notebook or Excavation in any way?
It's a companion to Hollywood Notebook, in that it was written during the same period of time in my life (2002-2006), and HN was the aboveground lived world, while Bruja was the otherworld where I went when I slept. The pseudonyms given to characters in both books (and in my other book, and in essays) correspond to one another, so "S." in HN is "S." in Bruja, for example.
What are some of your favorite things about dreaming in general?
The absurdity, the weird sex, how I see people I rarely see in daily life there, the animals, the ocean.
As of this interview, the sun has moved into Taurus season. How do you see the role that astrology plays in your life, and is that related at all to dreams or dreamwork? As a Taurus yourself, what is your favorite part about Taurus season?
Astrology is like another language I've had access to and have tried to teach myself and learn from others for the last 20 years or so. I pay attention to my own chart and take notes on others' signs. I tend to think dreams are related to everything (ha!) and everything can be related to dreams, so, sure, astrology is related, but of course it's also related because dreams are a language that feel related to the language of astrology, so heavy with common archetypes, symbols.
My favorite part of Taurus season is all the flowers heaving and blooming and feeling the days get incrementally longer.
What kind of meaning do cats and alligators, earthquakes and tsunamis, have as archetypes to you? Do you interpret these symbols based on intuition, or is there a kind of guidebook or field of study you use to interpret them, in the way that astrology is learned?
I don't use dream dictionaries. I tend to collect a little knowledge here and there from reading, my former Jungian analyst, witches, others. In my dream life, alligators have a lot in common with other large animals in that they represented fear and anxiety. I was constantly chased by alligators or witnessed them close up. In my everyday life, alligators are super fascinating to me because HELLO THEY STILL LOOK LIKE DINOSAURS. Oh I love them. Natural disasters (and explosions) in my dream also were a lot about fear and anxiety as well.
In terms of the aforementioned symbols losing their power (as all things fade and change), what sort of recurring symbols are popping up in your life today?
I can't say anything is recurring at this time--too murky!