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Wendy C. Ortiz

Wendy C. Ortiz is a Los Angeles native. She is the author of Excavation: A Memoir, Hollywood Notebook, and the forthcoming Bruja.

Blurbs

"[R]ead this book because, like all great literature, and especially the best memoirs, it will make you feel more alive."

– Emily Rapp

"Wendy C. Ortiz's writing will rearrange your DNA. Permanently, beautifully. . . "

– Lidia Yuknavitch

Wendy C. Ortiz is that kind of writer, and Excavation is a book that's devastating, funny, tough, broken, and achingly clear all at the same time."

– Paul Lisicky

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Excavation: A Memoir

Out of the Depths

07/06/15

When I first read Wendy C. Ortiz’s Excavation: A Memoir, I was living in a house at the top of a hill overlooking the harbor. I sat on a couch in the lounge, reading in the sun while my friends watched My Girl. I had only just returned to New Zealand from a trip to the United States, where had seen old friends from the Internet and made some new ones. And then, the same week I sat down to read Ortiz’s memoir, someone back in the States whom I care for quite a bit had stepped forward and named a mutual online friend in a string of revealed sexual offenders in our community.

So I sat and I read and I kept reading, but it was hard and slow going. I felt carved up, learning about these men back in the States, most of whom I had trusted and thought I had known, and the personal stories of women coming forward, some far younger than the men they had trusted and thought they had known. And Excavation bled into this, My Girl bled into this, every crush on an older man, a high school teacher, a friend’s older brother, an older cousin’s friend bled into this and what could have been, this and what was.

Wendy C. Ortiz writes about herself and for herself, for her former self and her present self and everything she lost and gained from knowing Mr Ivers. Her style is easy and accessible, and without all of my emotional baggage I saw myself flying through the book. If only I wasn’t feeling so shitty about everything, I thought, I’d have this read by now. I was doing her a disservice, I thought. I felt guilty for liking Excavation, guilty for being swept up by Wendy and Jeff and Nicholas and Veronica, guilty for not being able to give them my undivided attention. In the end, it took me about three weeks to read Excavation cover to cover; it took eight months to process it enough to get past saving an empty word document.

Ortiz writes devastatingly well. Excavation is crafted to be effortless, eyes racing over the page, caught up in prose easily attributed to the language of one specific, articulate teenager, prose that reads like poetry in its fluidity. This is writing that sounds great when read aloud, which is alarming, given the measure of its content and the weight of its impact. This is writing that carries the feeling of summer, a carefree sensibility the reader surely cannot, should not, be feeling but that teenaged Wendy so desperately craves. This placement bears an emotional toll on the reader – lassitude chained to gravity, and an inability to separate the two.

Wendy the teenager is an everygirl pushed to the extremes. She is myself at fifteen, heavy black eyeliner and dark clothing, a penchant for danger and poetry and darkly soothing music. She is someone else’s self in her tie-dye and her wild mother, someone else’s self in her recklessness, someone else’s self in her choice of friends. She is all of us in the details, staying up late talking to her crush on the phone and then writing about it in her diary, sneaking around, feeling alive and ecstatic and above, removed from, parental understanding.

Except, with Wendy the crush on the phone is in his late 20s and Wendy is 13, she is 14, she is creeping toward 15. The crush is her teacher and he is a manipulator, he is playing a game so well he’s forgotten how to stop. Wendy is so smart and she knows it and she wants to learn everything, and he is a bad man (but they all are, aren’t they?), such a bad man he can make himself look good.

This is how Ortiz makes it work so well – writing compellingly, consumingly, about this thing. Because it would be consuming, it would be darkly compelling, it would feel sexy and dangerous in the good way at 13, at 14, at 15, and terrifying only later, terrible only in contemplation, as all sorts of risky behaviors are; Ortiz knows this because she lived it, and that makes it all the worse on the reader. It is Ortiz’s ability to reflect, to slip back into this headspace and write from the depths of Wendy at 13, 14, 15, that allows the reader this insight, this extent of connection, and this power of knowing.

And that is why I sat, mourning Wendy the child, as Wendy the woman ‘looks back at that fossilized time’, mourning for the Wendy pushing her daughter’s stroller around the tar pits, for the piece of her that ‘feels trapped in time’, for the women on the Internet and for all of us, for Ortiz the author who carries it all with her, the Wendy who finally feels a ‘sense of belonging’ in her current life, the Ortiz who was ready to pull it up from the tar pit and excavate it all.

These days, I am living in a house on the other side of the city at the top of a valley. From here, I can see my old house, the window I looked out of while I was reading Excavation. I can see a tiny version of the harbor I gazed down upon. I can almost see a tiny version of myself and my friends watching My Girl that October afternoon so long ago.

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