BOOK REVIEWS

Bruja

30364751-_uy2048_ss2048_

Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz

(Civil Coping Mechanisms, Los Angeles, 2016)

REVIEWED BY AMANDA HILDEBRAND

Following Excavation: A Memoir and Hollywood Notebook, Wendy C. Ortiz’s third experiment in memoir, Bruja, is a similar manifestation of Ortiz’s self-evaluative journeys through the magic and mystery of inner consciousness. When presented with this dumping-ground of a one-time blog project, in which she recorded detailed accounts of her own dreams over months, composed of “threads” of themes and narratives instead of a followable structure, Ortiz and publisher Michael J. Seidlinger termed the book’s genre as “dreamoir.” In Bruja, Ortiz reminds us of the peculiar ways dreams present themselves: as symbols, as images, as reflections, as reminders themselves, each wrapped in an unconscious narrative that makes all dreams seem not only familiar, but connected. Ortiz lets her dreams speak their own surreal, uncertain truths, revealing inner worlds of memory and witchcraft that bound beyond their dream-forms.

Bruja implies autonomy of body and spirit. Through the excavation of what her deepest imagination is capable of, Ortiz is connecting with the bruja within herself, the witch who can read signs, interpret symbols, feel what those before her have felt. She’s calling to something deep: the collective woman, the universe’s sleeping magic — in order to discover something within herself, or perhaps discover a new self altogether.

For all the right reasons, Bruja is impossible to put down. It’s the spell of stepping into dreamland; and even though this is Wendy’s dreamland, we’ve been here before. Ortiz captures that “knowing” feeling required to enter and navigate dreams without exposition or confusion by also throwing us right in. She only presents simple images, and how they made her dream-self feel. Not quite poetry, prose, magic realism, memoir or dream journal — and definitely not fiction — Ortiz relies on our collective dream experiences to ground her formatless collection of images. Despite the chaos, it flows, because of Ortiz’s incomplex but chimeric language, and economic choices in details. The only plot points are the names of months every few pages, without dates or years, furthering the feeling of uncertainty of our place in time and space. Uncertainty is rampant in Ortiz’s dreamland, and her dateless, title-less dream entries are her first lesson in the trickster natures of our subconscious.

Our dreams can’t trick us until the “rules” of dreamland are established. Ortiz often uses “I knew” or “I understood” in her dream descriptions, calling to “that feeling” of “knowing” what’s happening in a dream the moment you’re submerged, no matter how strange or surreal. Before we even read Bruja we are aware of that feeling, but framed by Ortiz’s (a stranger’s) dreams, its role in creating collective dream narratives and meaning from those narratives becomes even more important – “that feeling” bridges our dream experience together. Another rule of dreamland: realism is impossible, but imagery stolen from real-life is essential to help establish “that feeling:” favorite faces, places we’ve been – maybe just a little bit different, but still familiar. Ortiz dreams of her old town of “Olympia-that-is-not-Olympia;” her mother – but not, because she is faceless; and somehow familiar strangers, introduced to once but now dragged back to the front of her mind. Things are off, but by the next day, the memory is forever altered in the subconscious by this new lens. Dreams create a reality within themselves, show us what-ifs, sourced from own our minds and memories that seemed so concrete before.

Because Ortiz presents dreams the way they present themselves, we’re left alone to make out their meanings. Often in Bruja, Ortiz’s dreams appear as bare-bone images with no hint at plot or story, focusing on the sensory experience of dreaming.

“My hair was being braided. The stranger doing it pulled my hair back from my scalp with a brush.
As they braided I could feel their hands moving in the motion of braiding.” (157)

Ortiz doesn’t have to explain to us how she can “feel” this dream-stranger’s dream-hands in her dream-hair, because most of us have experienced this exact sensation of “feeling” — touching, tasting, smelling — while dreaming. Even while suspended in unconsciousness, our imaginations project physical sensations through our bodies; dreams have evolved past messages from beyond, and into conjurings. Dreams are charms, cursing us with feelings that rack our bodies without a conscious mind to register them. It’s a very mystical thought, evoking an image of bodies tortured by passions of religious fervor while their minds fight for sense; but the spell has already taken over, and we’re lost in senseless dreamland.

Ortiz’s personal connection to magic, mysticism, and brujería is emphasized throughout her body of work, and directly pointed to by the title of this collection; but explicit magic, wands and charms and leaky cauldrons, is missing from Bruja’s pages. We do find, repeatedly, imagery of blood, pregnancy, wombs, and water, amongst other symbolic evocations of magic, specifically brujería.

“I was caught in a flood.
I delivered the baby by C-section and carried the infant in my arms. I walked up to a gas station. There were bloodstains on the concrete garage floor…
I’ve just had a baby and I’m not afraid of anything, I thought.” (202)

Bruja implies autonomy of body and spirit. Through the excavation of what her deepest imagination is capable of, Ortiz is connecting with the bruja within herself, the witch who can read signs, interpret symbols, feel what those before her have felt. She’s calling to something deep: the collective woman, the universe’s sleeping magic — in order to discover something within herself, or perhaps discover a new self altogether.

Ortiz’s dreams, like a lot of dreams, conjure disaster: floods, puberty, abortion, violence, abandonment. Our fears and anxieties are mirrored in surrealist dreamland, at times unrecognizable, at others copied almost beat-for-beat from “real life.” Dreams can recreate embarrassing mistakes that already happened, or terrifying possibilities for the future; they can poison us against doing things we’ve never even tried, or spoil our opinions of loved ones; because nothing is off-limits. Our dreams are parts of our narratives we are removed from, leaving more opportunity for spiraling out of control.

When a dream reaches into our cubbies of subconsciousness and yanks out a memory of a long-lost face or a home we’ll never return to, it re-stirs that memory within us and re-minds us, mind body and spirit, of a something that’s no longer here, but forever present in “that feeling.” Dreamoirist Wendy C. Ortiz’s Bruja shows us that a dream is a re-awakening of all of our selves, our experiences, our sensations; a magical revisitation from the past, and all its ghosts with unfinished business.

Bruja is available through Civil Coping Mechanisms

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s