Five Reasons to Read: Hollywood Notebook,
Wendy C. Ortiz
Review by Sarah Maria Medina
Wendy C. Ortiz, author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books), who enamored readers last year with her stark retelling of a relationship with her junior high school teacher, now debuts her second book, Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press). Ortiz tells the story of an as-yet-unknown writer returning to her hometown, Los Angeles, her Pluto in Midheaven. With her new collection, Ortiz expands memoir form with the use of vignettes, short poetic prose, diary-like-notes, and lists.
Ortiz tells much of her narrative driven story through poetic prose that uses sparseness to construct a carefully sculpted scene.
“Stretching. Nipples hard. Gray cotton shirt riding over the belly. Wrists curled in writer’s pose. The pose, too, of fighters for sometimes we are both.”
In that same vein of short prose filled with confession, Ortiz tells us in Chapter Sixteen that some sit with their pain, that others need compasses back to it, and that still others drink to ease it. At the end of the page, she calls out to the reader, revealing her own secrets.
“And if you prefer to drink too many beers in Elysian Park then take two hits off a joint and beg your party date to keep talking as he drives you home so you have something to concentrate on, then barely make it upstairs where you’ll puke three times then maybe just maybe be able to come despite all the booze and drugs loaded up in your blood, well,
I call you sister, twin.”
Ortiz examines her love of language, and as she writes an almost ode-like-sentence to one word, the narrative reveals the author in her sensuality, in her interplay of craft and her love of the word.
“Kept is such a pleasing word to me, even in its one syllable, it presents such soft tongue and quiet meeting of lips.”
Often as memoir writers we choose second names for our beloveds and our enemies. Here, instead, Ortiz employs an initial, lending a particular intimacy with the true first initial of a name. Her use of initials instead of names brings us closer into her world.
“I ask for an ashtray and S./Boy Howdy (hereafter referred to as BH) locates one from a desk filled with audio equipment. It is the same gold glass ashtray my mother has, has had since I was a tiny kid.”
From her perch, a Naugahyde loveseat, which overlooks Kingsley, Ortiz details her writing process. She recalls her ritual of writing from a small attic, inviting us to embody her prose.
“I go through periods where my writing feels like a deep place I want to go to again and again, like a new lover whose first name I know, never asking about the last. I remember writing in the attic, hours on end, swooning with the need, and when the room became too cold to continue, the mourning: I will have to leave you until tomorrow. I can’t wait to see you again. It is not a ritual for me. It is not a wet place. It’s like walking around the lip of a volcano, my body humming with the danger, and its beauty makes me just want to step inside….”
Ortiz turns lists into a method of telling, takes us through a day, through time, and through her own desire to confront herself.
“I don’t know what I want or what I’m doing.
I do know what I want but not sure what I’m doing.
I don’t have my ideas lined up straight / I’m overwhelmed / Mars in Pisces holds me back / the fighter fish underwater, hiding behind a rock.
Pissed. Grumpy. Fat. Bitchy.
Yeah, well, fuck you.
What are our own truths? How many ways do we tell our stories? We list them, turn them into poetics, tell half-lies and then reveal them over and over as we meet our various selves on the page. Reading Ortiz’s new memoir is an invitation to the writer– to make lists that sing truths and half-truths, to call them out as false, until we finally find our sister-twin.