Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (2014), Hollywood Notebook (2015), and Bruja (forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms in late 2016). Entropy Magazine put Hollywood Notebook not only on its Best Nonfiction Books of 2015 list but also on its list of Most Notable Books in the same year; Excavation was named among Large-Hearted Boy‘s best nonfiction books of 2014 and featured in Bustle‘s “11 Groundbreaking Books about Women Making History with Their Thinking, Activism, and Courage.” Ortiz’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Palabra, The Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among other venues. For the entirety of 2014, she wrote a monthly column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, “On the Trail of Mary Jane,” about Southern California’s medical-marijuana dispensary culture. Ortiz cofounded and, from 2001 until 2015, curated the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in Los Angeles, where she was born and raised and currently resides.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
Am I on LSD? Well, okay, two nuns and a penguin. I write about growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles; gestating into adulthood in the Pacific Northwest, and living in Los Angeles since 2001. More specifically? Adolescent sexual agency, sexuality, spirituality in its broadest sense, power dynamics in relationships, “relationships” and many of the things that fall under that umbrella, and what it’s like to live in this body at this time.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
I’ve been investigating and experimenting with drugs and alcohol since adolescence and often tried to approach it like an anthropologist. I wrote intentionally while on LSD the first time, I researched MDMA in my high school health textbook the day I tried it, I wrote a college research paper on MDMA that used my own and peer experiences as examples. I’ve always looked to documenting the experience as much as possible.
What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?
Drugs and alcohol have been a part of my life since being born to two alchoholics. Drugs and alcohol have played significant roles in many of my early adolescent relationships and my relationships with both have changed as I’ve aged. They’re so woven into my life, how could I not write about them?
How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?
I’ve mostly used journals when trying to get back to some of the internal places I’ve been under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and because they played a part in so many of my decisions growing up, they become a thematic concern whether I want them to or not. At times I’ve also attempted to create narratives that mirror the feeling of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol because the sensual nature of it still feels charged and electric to me. I can’t say if there are things I wouldn’t be able to explore successfully if drugs weren’t a part of my experience. My experiences of both drugs and alcohol are so much a part of me that I tend to think of them as dormant relationships I at any time may have access to once again.
What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?
I’m not sure I find anything particularly interesting about how drugs work in my writing. They’re just there, present, under the surface of things. I do find interesting, though, the way my relationship to drugs and alcohol have changed since having a child, and how the desire to experience altered states have led me both toward and away from certain drugs in the years since. I’m also thinking about the future project of possibly becoming someone who doesn’t drink or use drugs, and what that would look like and mean for me.
BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that Excavation, Hollywood Notebook, or another piece of your writing gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?
Excavation. “What Is and What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin, which was the working title of the book before it became Excavation.