Wendy C. Ortiz and I met when she was an MFA student and I became her graduate mentor. She was working on the first draft of the manuscript that would eventually become Excavation (Future Tense; 2014), and even then, it was clear that this was remarkable work. Ruthless, self-interrogating, resolute in its unwillingness to look away, Ortiz’s book—which involves the sexual relationship she had with a teacher when she was an adolescent—represents an astonishing act of reclamation, an author writing her way back to her own life. Ortiz is not looking to lay blame so much as she is interested
David L. Ulin is the book critic at the Los Angeles Times, as well as the author of the books The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason and Faith and The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, the novella Labyrinth, and the editor of the Library of America’s Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology. He is also a ZYZZYVA contributing editor.
For the 100th issue, Ulin contributed “Green Shirt,” a riveting essay about (ostensibly) a deep-seated fear of flying and how the writer preps himself for boarding a plane. Erudite, roving, and surprising, “Green Shirt” touches upon Death Cab for Cutie and Elvis Costello, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth, Gretel Ehrlich and Twiggy. “What are the rituals,” he writes toward the end, “… that contain us, even (or especially) if we cannot be contained? This is why stories are important; yes, they may be contradictions, but contradictions are what we have.”
The following is an excerpt from “Green Shirt.” The piece can be read in its entirety in the 100th issue, which you can get here.
Twenty-five years or so ago, when I first started coming to Los Angeles on a regular basis, I used to stay with a friend who had a satellite’s eye view poster of the city in his breakfast room. It was then — and remains, I think — a vivid metaphor. Not for the sprawl of Southern California, although you can certainly see it there, but rather for the odd tension of the built environment, which can only push the natural landscape so far. If sprawl is an expression of our attempts to control our surroundings, the satellite photo reveals just […]