- Tale of Two Love Stories
Wendy C. Ortiz
Writ Large Press
190 Pages; Print, $15.00
In Wendy C. Ortiz’s latest memoir, Hollywood Notebook, everything has a narrative arc. Every choice in young Wendy Ortiz’s life is one that either favors writing or pushes it away. “The time spent with friends threatens the time I spend with books,” she writes. It’s a world where “milestones double as landmines”. Even the helicopters, whose orbits in the sky Ortiz follows from her curtain-less kitchen window, cause her to wonder “what story they are following.” Wendy C. Ortiz is obsessed with writing and trying to understand how one lives a life when everything is about producing a book.
In her first memoir, Excavation (2014), Wendy C. Ortiz recounts the child/teacher relationship that began when she was just fourteen years old—with a male teacher twice her age. It was Wendy’s desire to be a writer that “Mr. Ivers,” the fictional name given to the teacher in Excavation, first used to get close to the fourteen year old Wendy C. Ortiz. Hollywood Notebook, largely proceeds via the same logic—that writing and the writing life is fraught with danger.
In Excavation, Wendy’s age at the time of the seduction by her teacher and the complexities of a sexual relationship with a person who had power and authority over her made it a challenge to narrate. In an interview with The Rumpus, Ortiz explains how she knew it was “a story that most people see as a black and white case of abuse,” but that she “wanted to explore the grays.” To Ms. Ortiz, this meant telling the story without interpreting it from the perspective of adulthood:
I was just going to be truthful about what I observed. Particularly with his character in the book, I realized that people would immediately want to call this person a monster. I feel like just telling the story the way it happened naturally shows restraint.
Hollywood Notebook continues the writer’s struggle to record, to be truthful, to show the gray area. In this sense, it is a very admirable book. Its short chapters, like bursts of thought in a journal, seem unedited and raw, contain lists of observations without comment:
Cast of characters: me, hair in pigtails, fresh from sleep, pink short sleeved shirt, orange shorts and the all-important sports bra; the bespectacled man walking two Great Danes; the scruffy man coming out from a car smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee, walking a terrier; the man lying on blankets and has his camp around him in the park where camping is not permitted; Carlos, who recently began walking with a woman but who still smiles big when he sees me; the man who used to walk with a woman who once cried out to me Beautiful!; John, who upon seeing anyone in his path, lifts his arm to high-five, which you must do more than once —John, who tells me nearly every time I see him in his heavily accented English, You so strong!
To understand Ortiz, the reader is asked to live as she does, where every walk down the street involves perusing the narrative potential of the “characters” she encounters. The reader is asked to view what Ortiz observes and wonders about with the sensibility of a writer, in order to find the story below. At times, this can be a great experience for the reader, teaching us about the way narratives surround us, the way we build our own stories in order to understand the world and ourselves from the overwhelming array of details that assault the heightened observations of a writer. The details ring true, and at times are beautifully rendered, and yet these details often read as they do in this passage, placing the author at the center of the world, where people exist as little more than characters in the narrative of Ortiz’s writing life. Her wonderfully observant eye cannot capture real people in this context, only their existence relative to her own narrativity.
Hollywood Notebook is relentless in its desire...