Myriam’s One-I’d Arts and Literature Column: LGB(iennial)TQIAETC PART 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In last week’s review of LA-area biennials, I proposed the hashtag notallstraightpeople.

Let’s resurrect it.

Don’t get all #notallstraightpeople on me when my review of the Hammer’s 2014 biennial, MADE IN LA, begins and ends not in the main galleries, but with its AIDsy show-within-a-show: AMID VOLUPTUOUS CALM. This petite mise-en-abîme, which feels segregated since its tucked into the diverticulitis of gallery 5, contains ghosts.

Walls painted a dark, necrotizing fasciitis green warn you that you’re entering haunted territory. The late Tony Greene’s baroque pin-ups intermittently materialize along the hue. Meanwhile, a fabulous Cousin ITT hunkers down in the corner. 

Meet Millie Wilson’s DAYTONA DEATH ANGEL. Confession: Hair art mesmerizes me, especially when I know that the hair belongs to someone dead. Wilson’s piece makes us want to give it offerings, bottles of high-end hair conditioner, promises of Brazilian blowouts. We put our ears to it to see if we can hear the ticking of a bomb because it looks so much like the wig Debbie Harry’s HAIRSPRAY character, Velma Von Tussle, uses to smuggle explosives into the pageant. I want the similarity to be intentional.

This gargantuan hairpiece honors every drag queen ever stomped by jackboots, every drag queen who’s had to steal her makeup, every drag queen with thick shoulders and thicker stubble, every drag queen who’s been murdered and a murderer. Ever hear of Dorian Corey? His is a real A ROSE FOR EMILY kind of story but picture it with queer people of color, sequins, and set in the closets of New York.

Next to the blonde hangs Monica Majoli’s UNTITLED (Bathtub OrGY).

Sticky shadows are at play here, and the recipient of so many fluids basks in such ecstasy that he might be dead. His face wears that died-of-ecstasy look, the feeling, not the drug, and UNTITLED’s lone penis makes eye contact with me. Only its tip is visible. The figure whose johnson locks eyes with mine wears a black mask, which begs the question: am I seeing his real face? Which face is which? Who’s really doing the talking here?

Okay, despite Tony Greene’s sumptuousness and Majoli’s Rembrandtian tones and Wilson’s follicular decadence, its a flippin’ fish that slays me.

This fish gives me theoretical flashbacks, and I know why: Jack Halberstam’s THE QUEER ART OF FAILURE. This scaly loser is kin to the QUEER ART OF FAILURE’S coverbird.

The fish and bird belong to a series of paintings of seemingly dead or lonely objects that achieve nothing. YOU SHOULDN’T DO THAT, YOUR FACE WILL STATY THAT WAY posits a raw oyster against a serengeti of dumb space. WELL IT DIDN’T JUST GET UP AND WALK AWAY depicts a rogue ben wah ball against scarlet. The dead bird painting has an awesome name that reminds me of childhood: I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT.

About Bamber, Halberstam writes: “[Her] horizons remind us that possibility and disappointment often live side by side.” That’s so the case with this would-be fish stick. It leapt to its dry death in reverse of a Kate Chopin novel.

Shots of Ron Athey’s performances, Bob Flanagan stuff, and copies of INFECTED FAGGOT PERSPECTIVES, a zine, haunt the space, too, but the thing I pause in front of for a super long while, having a quasi-religious experience with, is SLEEPING BEAUTY #1.

Resin paper-weight bolo ties holding globs of HIV-positive blood sleep in a log terrarium atop sand and wood. While I’ve admitted to my interest in hair art, blood art tends to seem a bit gauche to me. However, I see nothing gauche about HIV-positive blood art. SLEEPING BEAUTY #1 taps into a Victorian scientific vein, it evokes that era when white people went wild with taxonomies, shoving bones and bodies in museums. Nowadays, we deride such aesthetics as “steam punk.” Anyhow, this log, where a perverse squirrel hoards oddities, forces me to think about my cousin, the first homosexual I knew. The pretty red in that resin did him in, not a cold.

Jennifer Moon, Harry Dodge, the Frimkesses, Kim Fisher, and AL. Steiner’s work don’t haunt AMID VOLUPTUOUS CALM but they are must-sees if you’re into geoligical feminism, bastardized ceramics, occult sausagery, parties in eggs, and inanity. The show is up till September 7th.

Reasons To Stay At Home on Your Couch: RADAR’s June Reading Series Is Now On Youtube!

Or maybe you live somewhere not in the bay and weren’t able to attend, either way, you can stay home in your PJ’s (or maybe slack off at work if you’re sort of productive) and watch some radicle people share their art with RADAR and others.

Achy Obejas‘s video may include feelings, be warned.

 

Martin Sorrondeguy‘s video is so funny you may actually start to feel stomach muscles doing things.

 

Julian Talamantez Brolaski gives a short list of banned poetry words such as aperture. Warning: you may start to consider your own usage of such words.

Have fun spending the next hour on your couch and remember, stretching is also good.

Myriam’s One-I’d Arts and Literature Column: LGB(iennial)TQIAETC PART I

If it wasn’t for queers, this planet would be a total hole. And before anybody gets all #notallstraightpeople on me, save it. Queers are responsible for nuance, elegance, and prophetic ingenuity. We are the Thomas Alva Edidaughters of creativity’s ecosystem. That said, let’s look at what kind of spaghetti squash queers are bringing to the sur la tables of LA’s two current biennials. (Get it? Two biennials? I twotally went to two on porpoise)

Okay, so the first biennial I checked out was not the bigger of LA’s two, the one down in Westwood, at the Hammer Museum. I began, instead, by heading to a place where you can get shot in the eye for giving birth to your own sister: CHINATOWN.

BTW: Roman Polanski, you’re still gross. 

Chinatown’s Coagula Curatorial, an exhibitchion space which has hosted solo shows by the likes of Karen Finley and Gronk, is putting on what will hopefully become a local and transnational tradition: QUEER BIENNIAL. Conceptual pop artist Rubén Esparza curated QUEER BIENNIAL I and it’ll be running till July 26 at 974 Chung King Road, 90012, not 90210.

If you’re not full of contradictions, you’re full of shit.”
– Rubén Esparza

Before really interacting with the art body composing QUEER BIENNIAL I, I ran to Coagula’s bathroom to excrete. As I baptized, a pink light bulb turned the restroom vulvular. I took the omnipresent warm color as a private omen. QUEER BIENNIAL I would celebrate our private parts.

Backtracking into the exhibit, I shared a private moment with Mel Odom’s AL PARKER JESUS.

This work comes as a triptych. Middle Al Parker Jesus evokes the Shroud of Turin while Al Parker Jesuses split in halves flank their central divinity, hanging like butterfly wings plucked off a bug by some fay bully. Odom used Al Parker as his muse for Ecce Homo and if you’re unfamiliar with gay porn, Parker worked as a performer in the genre and eventually got eaten by AIDS. Since Parker lived to forty, he outlived the Ultimate Hebrew Homo by about seven years.

TJ, my similarly sexed life partner, got kind of caught up in the racial and sexual drama of Rick Castro’s WHITE CHOLO, while I got caught up in the ambiguous eros of Castro’s BODY ART.

Yeah, BODY ART depicts a hot naked guy come hithering while exposing his junk but he’s got those fun stripes. Are they meant to make him seem imprisoned or zebraesque, just a member of the herd? Is there a racial metaphor wedged into one of those cracks? I don’t know, but whatever the stripes are meant to do, they overtly and sexily otherize him. Also, there’s something Keith Haringish about BODY ART. I kept thinking yeah, basically this is a Keith Haring painting turned into an organic wet dream in the reverse of what happens in a-ha’s TAKE ON ME video.

ALSO, fun fact about Rick Castro: Joel Peter-Witkin bought him his first automatic camera.

Usually, I shy away from crochet, but Ben Cuevas’ knit work slurped me closer.

CUNT ENVY belongs to Cuevas’ series #Tweetables which will be (they’re still being made) composed of text-panels of 140 characters or less created by a knitting machine (that doesn’t even sound real. It sounds like when you’re like SHE’S A MACHINE! A CLEANING MACHINE! Or THAT KID, HE’S AN EATING MACHINE! Or, OH, WHO, MY DYKE GRANDPA? ZE’S A QUEER KNITTING MACHINE!) The series merges the infinite field of internet memeology with the soft arts, and if there was ever any phrase that needed to be rendered in white yarn contrasted against fuchsia, its this one. Go ahead, envy the clam. If a clam could tweet, it would tweet with a knitted feel. CUNT ENVY tempts with its softness, you want to feel it, finger it, I want to curl up under CUNT ENVY, use it as my afghan while I’m on my couch watching romance films, Charlize Theron’s MONSTER. I can’t. Also, I don’t even have cunt envy. I already have one. So there. But I totally appreciate the sentiment.

Against the wall perpendicular to BODY ART, some of Esparza’s conceptual pop art pieces were hanging out. One, a mock political sign with, I guess, my sexual orientation on it, bore a footprint, which pretty much sums up that orientation when you’re in high school in the 90s.

Also, the footprint appeared to have been made by someone wearing comfortable shoes, so, perhaps, the footprint came from my own kind, making this poster a meta-reflective piece on self-esteem. Jk. I don’t think that was the point but I take private joy in imagining Esparza crafting a piece with an epidemic of lesbian low self-esteem in mind.

The work of Mexican-born Alonso Tapia-Benitez drew me in with its pink.

Pinks do that to me, maybe because of my…CUNT APPRECIATION? Tapia-Benitez’s multimedia stitched collage, UNTITLED, of two faceless beauties (how can you make somebody faceless a beauty? Through genius) made me ask were these boys, were these girls, who cares? They were beautiful and peculiar, which is usually all that matters. Also, their laps grew gardens. Sustainable laps for a greener tomorrow.

In the corner, by the DYKE sign, an installation piece, STICKS AND STONES, by Lili Lakich, frankensteined. Standing in front of this pseudorobot, this pseudodroid, THIS NUMBER 5 IS ALIVE! covered in rainbow slurs, the viewer sees herself reflected through a green screen. While I dig Lakich’s gassier pieces (she’s known for her works in neon), I appreciated the opportunity to interact with this superficially evil hater.

One word the entity seemed to be missing, though, in its mini-pantheon of no no words, was tranny. I wondered if someone had convinced the robot that this was the current n word of rainbow slurs, and I whispered to the robot, “Just say it.” I saw my head in the green screen that is the creature’s head, I was it, and I could see my lips mouthing, Just say it, but the robot wouldn’t speak the T word.

I moved past SLURI (that’s what I’d name the robot) and onto the next wall where there was MORE LILI LAKICH! YAY! (She has a total of three pieces in the show).

Of course, the neon thing is Lakich’s. Its eponymously named for its slogan and the piece’s A blinks in out and of existence, leaving traces of its semiotic self as the light temporarily dies. Angela Gleason’s Fruit of Thy Womb hangs near the sign, ready to be grabbed by an CatHOlic slut on her way to sue Hobby Lobby. Its not a necklace, its a rosary, and I really like art that combines beauty and pharmaceuticals, and had my parents ever found certain things I kept in my jewelry box, I could’ve argued BUT ITS ART! if I’d been able to reference Gleason’s oeuvre. Of course, I only kept aspirin in my jewelry box and aspirin would make a beautiful rosary. “And then God NSAID ‘Let there be light! LET THERE BE LILI LAKICH!” Gleason has actually crafted an entire collection of rosaries made out of fascinating {s}crap–blood, earplugs, political pins, erasers, and the erasers are the most delicate, little prayers that could truly come in handy during the SAT. Lastly, as far as what I’m gonna choose to yap about, is Scooter LaForge’s SUNSET, an oil painting which depicts a young ginger spending time with himself on the shores of some body of fresh water. SUNSET has haunted me because there is something really innocent about it in spite of everything that prudes would probably say you shouldn’t find it innocent for.

I can’t talk about everything at QUEER BIENNIAL I cause that’d just be stupid. Go see it. Bi Bi!

And please tune in next week to get HAMMERed.

Tom Cho Talks Wild Transformation & Tom of Finland

Tuesday we made an internet date with Tom Cho, author of Look Who’s Morphing, and discussed everything from RADAR’s Wandering Moon event this Saturday to his love of Tom of Finland.

 

Photo by Owen Leong

Radar: What will you be reading at Wandering Moon?

Tom: I’ll be reading a selection of pieces from my collection of fictions Look Who’s Morphing. The book was originally published in my home country of Australia and it’s recently been released in North America by Arsenal Pulp Press. In the course of the book, the protagonist, along with some other characters, goes through some surprising transformations, morphing into figures from film, TV, music, comics, porn flicks and more.

Transformation seems an apt theme for a full moon reading, right?

Radar: Have you ever read outdoors as part of a full moon reading before? If yes, when? If no, does the idea utterly thrill you?

Tom: No.

And yes!

Radar: What are 1 or 2 themes that feature prominently in your work?

Tom: One theme is: wild transformation.

(There’s a second theme too, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

Radar: What is your relationship to metaphors?

Tom: To make a metaphor, you must discover a similarity between two dissimilar things. This is what Sallie McFague talks about in her book Metaphorical Theology.

In my work, I love to draw surprising connections between seemingly remote and disparate concerns (which is the second theme in my work), so I feel like there’s a strong metaphorical impulse that runs through all of my writing.

Radar: If you could describe your writing style in 10 words or less how would you describe it?

Tom: My Australian publisher once said: “Tom is more thorough in the pursuit of implication than any writer I know”. In saying that, he used 14 words to describe my work, but I think he got it right, so we’ll pardon him for being so verbose.

Radar: What’s your favorite place to get dinner or drinks where you live?

Tom: I’ve been travelling for the last year and half so I don’t have a fixed address. However, I very recently arrived in LA so I need to ask your blog readers: What’s your favourite place to get dinner or drinks in LA?

Radar: Describe the room you’re in right now.

Tom: I’m staying at the Tom of Finland Foundation and my bedroom here (which is where I am now) is actually Tom’s bedroom. So I’m surrounded by Tom of Finland artwork, and his clothing and ephemera. In short, I’m in fanboy heaven.

Photo by Owen Leong

Tom Cho’s collection of fictions, Look Who’s Morphing, was published to acclaim in Australia and was shortlisted for various literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Studied in Australia, USA, Switzerland, UK, Canada and elsewhere, Look Who’s Morphing was recently released for North America and Europe by Arsenal Pulp Press. Tom also has 70 publications of fiction pieces in literary journals and anthologies, and has received various arts grants and artist residencies. He is currently writing a novel about the meaning of life. Visit his website at tomcho.com

Myriam’s One-i’d Arts and Literature Column: Wendy C. Ortiz’s C Is for Cronut

At my white dining room table, in my bedroom with the Women Wimmin Womin Womyn poster above my headboard, and, also, in a high femme trailer on the outskirts of Yucca Valley, I tore through the electronic galleys of Wendy C. Ortiz’s EXCAVATION. I kept wanting to call the police to report what I was reading. EXCAVATION is a memoir so the stuff that happens in it really happened. Its events are heartbreaking, criminal, disgusting, not chronologically told, and, most of all, beautifully told. Just flippin’ gorgeous. Supermodel level.

Ortiz writes Cindy Crawford prose.

Here’s the longish gist of why I kept wanting to call the cops. As a public school teacher, I’m mandated to report child abuse or neglect. If I even suspect shady shit, if I get even a whiff, I’m supposed to pick up the phone and tell. And I have told before. Through EXCAVATION, Ortiz geo-meticulously tells the type of story that creates the epic need for mandatory reporting laws.

She tells about being a semi-normal eighth grader in North Hollywood. (I say semi-normal because Ortiz is way smarter than almost everybody. She’s also the only Chicana child in a bookish but falling-apart alcoholic family. Her intense IQ and only brown childness are a little unusual.) Partway through her first month of eighth grade, Ortiz’s advanced English class gets a new teacher, Jeff Ivers. Ivers quickly and unfairly seduces Ortiz and involves her in a five-year relationship that brands her. Ivers gets off on her lack of agency. He encourages her to keep secrets that wind up hurting her in big ass ways for a long ass time. He’s gross. He’s crass. He’s the kind of man who chews tobacco and wears sweats in public. The worst. A total cochino. But he tells Ortiz she’s ageless, mentally stimulating, and talented. And that’s so mean because while those things are true, Ivers uses them to emotionally chain her up. Because of her age, it’s impossible for her to understand her manipulation and its consequences. How evil. How rude. How the opposite of a teacher.

As I stared at my MacBook screen, my skin tingling at the tragedia unfolding before me, I reminded myself that while it was too late for me to tell, at least Ortiz is telling now. EXCAVATION tells and untells and trumps untelling by telling in a way that can’t be undone. No takebacks.

A CONFESSIONAL, ARCHAEOLOGICAL VERBOCOLLAGE USING THE LANGUAGE OF WENDY C. ORTIZ’S EXCAVATION

 ‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

 ‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

 ‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

 ‘You can’t tell a soul. I don’t care who you trust. I’m totally fucking-A serious.’

 ‘You’re not telling a soul, you’re not writing a word of this down anywhere, right?’

My lover was a twenty-nine-year-old man. 

He had a knee injury. 

He had shoulder aches and caught colds often. 

He was a sports fan, not a player, and his body was beginning to show it. 

He got winded during sex and sometimes couldn’t reach orgasm.

Ortiz exposes her story through strata. Her story isn’t an onion. It’s a cronut.

EXCAVATION’s strata mostly take the form of the most elegant journal entries ever written, and Ortiz titles these entries by month and/or season and year. The entries microdetail her unfair seduction. They reveal tastes, textures, conversations, drugs ingested, how frayed were the cutoff shorts she was wearing, who came, who didn’t, and how dirty the walls were. The entries communicate the weird rainbow of emotions that a young person experiencing a type of sexual abuse (but doesn’t get it) goes through. If you’ve gone through such a thing, you’ll find the colors inside you matching the colors evoked by these passages. Mine matched but were not identical.

These strata from Then seismically shift as Ortiz’s post-teen, but not always necessarily adult, life crashes through. Twenty-six pages in, the first in the series of post-teen segments, all titled, “Notes on an Excavation” appears. These notes contrast Ortiz’s Thenness to both her Laterness and Nowness. The notes’ continued appearance creates a spiral that gives the reader a more whole understanding of Ortiz’s cyclical evolution. Her prose creates this effect for myriad roles: mother/daughter, child/adult, the person in pain/the person causing pain… This spiraling follows Maureen Murdock’s response to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth: the heroine’s journey. In this pattern of storytelling, the heroine makes and destroys herself and her home endlessly. This pattern is uncannily double-helixish: life-giving. Jill Soloway has written that if the hero’s journey is an arc, then the heroine’s journey is a circle. Well, Ortiz’s story demonstrates that the queer shero’s journey is a cronut.

Through her notes, Ortiz literalizes EXCAVATION’s archeological motif in lite and fluffy and deep and whoa ways. She appropriates Curious George’s adventures with shovels and pick axes and then she goes on to rattle the feminine bones brought up from Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits. Claiming her queerness is key to her journey, and Ortiz fuses her identity with that of LA County’s queer Eve, the La Brea Woman. Through the LBW, Ortiz grabs her queerness by its ankles and yanks it from the sludge, wipes it off, nurtures it. The La Brea Woman is the only homo sapiens to have been dredged from the pits, and Ortiz explains that the LBW, this archetypal mystery, is, “10,000 years old. [She] is thought to have been between the ages of 17-25 when she died. Someone unearthed her, freed her body from the bitumen.” Aside from that, who knows what kind of bitch she was. The tar pits are perhaps the real and metaphorical hole(s) in EXCAVATION’s cronuticity, the void(s) into which everything falls and everything emerges, rather like the ultimate black hole that rests between Woman with a capital W’s legs. Everyone’s legs. We are all women.

AN EIGHT QUESTION INTERVIEW WITH WENDY C. ORTIZ SINCE SHE WAS AN EIGHTH GRADER AT THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK

MYRIAM GURBA: While reading EXCAVATION, I gleaned a sense of meticulousness, that the writing of your memoir was done with a meticulousness not many archeologists of the personal are capable of. Hence, I got a feeling that EXCAVATION had gone through many, many transmogrifications. Describe some of the earlier forms the book took and how it morphed into its “ultimate form.”

WENDY C. ORTIZ: The earliest form of the book was a straight chronological narrative of events. That version included nearly everything from the handwritten journals I kept during the span of time the book covers. I edited it further and further and in the last few years decided to add the dimension of the contemporary, where I/the narrator is now. Both Kevin Sampsell and Tina Morgan (my editors at Future Tense) had a large hand in winnowing down the content and helped with chapter placement.

MG: When I’m admonished not to do something, especially not to tell something, that’s exactly what I want to do. As Ivers gives you commandments not to tell, you break them verbally and scripturally. You speak and write and write and write and write about what is happening between the two of you. Why did you not heed his command? How has it felt to divulge what he intended to remain unspoken and how does it continue to feel to divulge a story rooted in secret? Did his command heat your desire to tell?

WCO: Part of not heeding his command was my own power play. I knew he couldn’t keep me from writing; the idea itself was absurd. Writing was also mine; I claimed it early and there was no way he was going to keep me from it.

The people I hold dearest in my life have known this part of my story for years, so this book, while it describes the relationship in detail, doesn’t feel like I am newly divulging. That may also be a coping mechanism I’m using to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the fact that I have a memoir out in the world, about a particular time and place when I was young and often felt powerless.

In much of my work I feel I’m divulging stories rooted in secret. There’s a chapter in the book about my Jungian analyst and how she posits that living with secrets is “my inheritance.” If secrets are my inheritance, I can use them to offer stories I haven’t read already, that at least try to go deeper into my own experience as a way to connect with others.

I can’t say his command heated my desire to tell. I’ve left “clues” in plenty of my essays, fiction and poetry over the years as I worked this book out in my head and on paper, so the desire to tell my version of the story was always present. In fact, I can say with certainty that he, the teacher, has no bearing on my telling this story now.

MG: As a teacher and a sex trauma survivor, this book was wrenching for me to read. When I was getting my teaching credential, one of my credentialing teachers introduced me to the legal concept of in loco parentis. In loco parentis kind of means that in the absence of a kid’s parents, grown ups, like teachers, who’ve been entrusted with a kid’s care serve as the kid’s stand-in parents. I remember thinking about the gravity of this responsibility and how I had better make flippin’ good choices when I became responsible for creating my own classroom universe. If we apply the concept of in loco parentis to Ivers, it reframes what he did as incest. What are your thoughts on this interpretation?

WCO: This premise makes me conscious that this particular story doesn’t tell readers about all the teachers I had whom I admired greatly, who did serve well in loco parentis. I was a kid who needed that. The word incest designates a violation related to biology as well as a violation of trust, and family. Teachers have parent-like responsibilities of protecting and guiding our children, so, while the interpretation may sound startling, I think it’s apt. And certainly if it were viewed this way by society, we might be doing more to confront these violations.

MG: In EXCAVATION you critique the Los Angeles Unified School District by writing, “It is as simple as typing ‘teacher guilty’ into a news outlet’s search field. A stream of articles featuring teachers suspected or convicted of preying on their students appears. Often, they rise to the top, becoming interesting news, even as these stories become more common.” This critique alludes to the criminal justice system’s handling of such cases but I wonder what your thoughts are on alternative forms of justice. Clearly, students’ souls get so injured by the abuse and/or failure to report sexual abuse and I’m curious about how you think restorative justice could be applied to cases where kids have been put through shit by an educator.

WCO: The concept of restorative justice is intriguing to me. If one motive of restorative justice is to help victims feel more safe, secure and find healing in the process, I have either fashioned or fallen into my own mode of restorative justice. In the book I describe tools such as therapy, feminist self-defense classes, aligning myself with communities of queer people, and even interpersonal relationships which I discovered later had their own value in helping me achieve safety, security, healing. There’s a certain amount of privilege in claiming these modes of restorative justice, though. What kind of restorative justice could we imagine for, let’s say, the kids of Miramonte Elementary in Los Angeles? This is something I’ll continue to think about.

MG: Your writing style dazzles with efficient elegance. How did this style develop? Is your style the result of a lot of conscious decision-making or did your style more organically pair itself with your content?

WCO: Thank you! The style developed over time. The contemporary chapters have a slightly different voice, but one that doesn’t split too far off from the underlying voice of the more chronological telling of events. I have a lot of different voices in my different writings so it seemed important to not pair the two most divergent! There was consciousness in maintaining a certain tone, which translates into a style, so, weirdly, it feels like a combination of both decision-making and organic pairing of style plus content.

MG: EXCAVATION debuts this summer, and I think one of the most exciting things for many writers when their work “comes out” is to learn about the effects their work has on others. How do you hope EXCAVATION will affect readers? Is there anyone that you hope does not read the book? Also, do you have an “ideal reader” in mind? If so, describe this ideal!

WCO: I hope readers will come away from the book with a more dimensional understanding of how a complex situation like this one might play itself out. My hope is that there will be some discussion around adolescent girls’ access to power, agency. If a reader considered female adolescent sexuality anew after reading this, I would feel like I’ve affected someone. I’ve already had the experience of receiving emails and facebook messages from women who have been in similar circumstances, describing how eager they are to read a book that might offer the girl’s version of events.

My ideal reader is anyone who is curious, open, and interested in learning about experiences outside of their own.

MG: One of my favorite questions to ask artists and writers and stuff is the influence question but in order to twist that line of inquiry, I’m gonna ask a variation. What influences have you abandoned? What influences on your work do you see emerging?

WCO: I like your twist and it’s made me see that it’s difficult for me to abandon influences. There are plenty of writers and other artists who’ve influenced me at different points in my life who I don’t feel so directly influenced by now. And yet the evidence of their influence is in my older work, and might even be spotted in an unconscious word choice or sentence structure I use now. If pressed, though, I would say that I’m in the process of abandoning all influences that would keep my writing in “safe” territory. I’m much more interested in writing what are my harder, darker truths, which often involves an element of risk, an influence I’ve been working with more consciously since the beginning of the year when I read a peer’s work, my heart leaped into my throat and I knew I needed to go the route I’d been afraid to go with this next stage of writing.

MG: There are many ways to be a feminist. One way is to serve as a literary feminist. How does your lived experience with feminism impact and/or intersect with your work as a literary human being? How do you balance being a good writer with being a good human being?

WCO: One of my mentors, Eloise Klein Healy, has influenced how I feel I serve as a literary feminist. I’ve known her for 14 years now and have observed how she operates in the world among her colleagues, friends, and students. She’s modeled, for me, a way of being in the literary world, starting from a place of openness, inclusivity, curiosity, warmth, generosity. Eloise is rooted in feminism.

When I was living in Olympia and becoming rooted in third wave feminism, I looked for ways to underline the intersections between my feminist identity and my literary identity, whether it was in small writing groups with other women, participating in feminist conventions like Foxfire, reading at the first Ladyfest. When I took the reins of a small handbound literary journal passed on to me by another writer, I considered myself a feminist editor, from procuring the work that would go into the journal, to sitting in my living room hand-binding all 100 copies of each issue. It was a natural progression to start organizing readings with a friend once I was back in Los Angeles. I too feel rooted in feminism so it feels present in any project I’m involved in.

If we agree that being a good writer and a good human being in part involve some measures of openness, inclusivity, curiosity, warmth, and generosity, both in writing and in relationships with others, I assume I’m maintaining some sort of balance. I don’t know “how” I balance the two, but I do know that trying to do it seems to require consciousness, self-care, and a respect for my own work. I hope I’m succeeding.

To order a signed copy of EXCAVATION go to Powell’s. Also, you can catch Ortiz read during her upcoming tour.

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