Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series.
In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.
Episode IX: "What a feminist mouthful"
In this installment, I set up Megan Mayhew Begman (above) with Wendy C. Ortiz (below). They discuss forehead births, middle names, magical names, astrology, happy lamps, the geography of living, gator nightmares, pysch courses without boundaries & more.
Andrew: Welcome to the ninth installment of PIXELATED. I’m here with Wendy C. Ortiz (author of EXCAVATION, Future Tense Books, 2014, and soon-to-be-released HOLLYWOOD NOTEBOOK, Writ Large Press, 2015) and Megan Mayhew Bergman (author of ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN, Scribner, 2015).
Both women’s most recent books reject boiled down narratives and give us stories as they actually are (in Wendy’s case) or as they can be most wildly imagined (in Megan’s). In EXCAVATION, Wendy dives fearlessly into her past and brings to the surface a dangerous sexual relationship with an encouraging teacher. This isn’t a story about a “victim” just as it isn’t one about a “pedophile”—it’s a story about coming to terms with every consequence the past creates.
Megan dismisses another sort of storytelling, the pithy disposal of the tangentially- and marginally-famous. In ALMOST FAMOUS WOMEN, she takes historical characters who (up to this point) could just as well be defined in a phrase—Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, or Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister—and breaths life into them. One result is the certain surreal internalization that historical ‘figures’ were actually people, people who seduce, revolt, lead reckless lives, struggle and strive.
Before we get started, first things first: would you each a) kindly describe where you are and what you see, and b) confirm whether you’ve met?
Wendy: I'm sitting in front of an Easter basket and a mug of peppermint tea at the dining room table that's overloaded with clean laundry and preschool papers. All I see is MESS.
Wendy: I have never met Megan. Happy to meet you here!
Wendy: I'm taking this time to discover Megan's tumblr, which looks pretty great. Following now.
Megan: Wendy and I have never met. Right now, I'm writing to you from my kitchen, where four dogs are sitting at my feet, waiting for me to drop something. I'm parenting with the television, and boiling maple sap. I live in an 1834 farmhouse in southern Vermont, next to an old graveyard.
Megan: Thank you, Wendy. As you can see I'm very technologically savvy.
Wendy: Parenting with the television is my daily life.
Andrew: You are both parents correct?
Wendy: Oh, Megan, I had the same problem. I wonder if I belong in the land of 0s and 1s.
Andrew: And you both use your middle name or an initial. If this isn't destiny...
Wendy: Yes, I'm a parent of a strong-willed, intense 4 year old girl.
Megan: I have bred, twice.
Andrew: "Bred" makes the whole process sound so instantaneous
Megan: I also have a strong-willed intense 4 year old, and an almost 6-year old one as well. Girls, man. They are awesome and hard. Not entry-level.
Megan: They sprang from my forehead.
Wendy: My middle initial is important to me and I will pretend not to be annoyed when people forget to use it.
Andrew: Is that true re: forehead?
Andrew: What does the C stand for?
Megan: Wendy - I feel you. People are always looking at me like "what a feminist mouthful" when they read my name - and I'm like, that's fine, judge, but you still have to use it.
Megan: Miss Jackson if you're nasty, etc.
Megan: Andrew - yes. It hurts much less.
Andrew: "What a feminist mouthful" is the frontrunner for this episodes title
Wendy: A name I am not fond of. Carol. Was supposed to be Caroline (grandmother's choice) and my parents must have overrode that.
Megan: There is a lot of vetoing when it comes to naming.
Wendy: Mainly I'm trying to differentiate myself because a name like "Ortiz" is so common AND there's a wonderful artist named Wendy Ortiz who is probably sick of me.
Megan: My husband had a relative named "Sheshbazzar," and I was saving my veto card incase it came up.
Andrew: Is it too personal if I ask for the names of kin?
Wendy: Not too personal. Names of which kin? The most interesting?
Andrew: Your children
Wendy: (May we all strive to be a feminist mouthful)
Megan: I will keep mine a secret, but I will tell you that a) my father said it sounded like Jerry Garcia named my children and b) one is named after a tree and the other a calm west wind
Wendy: My child's name is Octavia Leopoldine. And we laugh every time we say it.
Megan: That is gorgeous! and full of magical syllables.
Wendy: I can't wait to tell her why her middle name is Leopoldine.
Andrew: You both are ambitious namers, you both have 4 year old girls, you both use your middle name—this is becoming spooky
Andrew: Why is it?
Wendy: Thank you! I love it, too.
Megan: We are probably spirited and sound-oriented.
Wendy: We have a wonderful song with her full name that came about in the first 12 hours of her life. Talk about mouthful.
Megan: I like a girl with a name to grow into and a song - the stuff of myth.
Andrew: Wendy you're in LA right? The three of us couldn't be further apart in this country.
Wendy: It would be even spookier if our four-year-olds had birthdays close to one another. But that might be too much information. I will say that mine is a Scorpio.
Wendy: Yes, in Los Angeles. Where we are due for one raindrop this evening.
Andrew: Why don't you each give us your four year old's SSN as well? Just for fun
Megan: I have a Taurus and a Gemini.
Andrew: Do either of you subscribe to astrology?
Wendy: I'm a Taurus and I'm a daughter of a Gemini.
Andrew: I'm a Taurus
Megan: I am such a textbook Capricorn that I have to.
Andrew: How's that?
Wendy: I do. At one point I thought I would apprentice with an astrologer.
Wendy: Ahhhhh, this is a good mix.
Megan: I had a woman give me a hug in the grocery store when she found out I was having a Taurus girl - she was like - WATCH OUT. Wendy, does that ring true?
Wendy: HA. Well, stubborn. Strong will. All that. But lots of lazing about and then fierce will to work and follow-through on projects.
Wendy: We kind of planned for a Libra and got a Scorpio, which is my opposite sign, and I do love Scorpios.
Megan: As for Capricorn status - first - GOATS. I have two in my pasture.
Wendy: Pasture! Sounds lovely!
Megan: We also have chickens. And five dogs.
Megan: It is...messy.
Andrew: I'm imagining a family of matching overalls. Yes?
Wendy: We have two cats. It's as messy as I can handle.
Megan: We all have carhartts.
Megan: That's a prerequisite for living in VT though.
Andrew: Wendy, what clothing item are prerequisites for living in LA?
Wendy: I'm not sure there is one. You can wear as few clothes as you want. Prerequisite item for living in LA is sunblock.
Wendy: I'm curious about your tumblr, Megan. The title. How did you decide on it?
Megan: Eventually, when you live in VT you get a shag haircut and only wear fleece and artisan-crafted earrings.
Wendy: Oh, now I see the little subtitle. "Seeds in, drinks up, books open."
Megan: Beast (my husband is a veterinarian and we have many) Seed (I'm an avid gardener and seed saver) and Word (the writing)
Andrew: Do you make your own maple syrup?
Megan: The drinking I can't really defend.
Megan: We do!
Andrew: I thought I was pretty handy by making my own coldbrew, but that's obviously child's play to making syrup
Megan: It's not so hard. You tap trees, collect the sap, and boil it down.
Andrew: That last part sounds doable
Wendy: This might be crazy, but do you know Brad Kessler?
Megan: Brad Kessler takes his dogs to my husband!
Andrew: This just got too real
Megan: We like those guys a lot.
Wendy: When I think of Vermont and goats I think of Brad.
Andrew: Is Brad Kessler on twitter? I'll be sure to tag him when I post this.
Wendy: I don't think so...but I know he's on instagram. I enjoy photos of his dogs and goats.
Megan: I follow him on Instagram too. And his wife, who is a great photographer.
Wendy: His dogs playing in snow...gorgeous.
Wendy: SNOW. Now that's a foreign concept to me.
Megan: Wendy - I want you to tell me abou the sun. I haven't seen it in five months.
Megan: I grew up in NC, so I'm still coming around to snow. Where did you grow up?
Andrew: For those reading: https://instagram.com/be_rad_kessler
Wendy: Ohhhhh...the sun is heaven. I do hope you see it soon. It's giving me a wonderful glow these days. And I even use sunblock.
Megan: I have glow envy.
Wendy: I lived in Olympia, WA for 8 years and couldn't take it anymore, had to return to L.A. and SUN.
Megan: I miss warmth. I went to Savannah the other week and I cried - I'm not exagerrating - when I got off the plane.
Andrew: Savannah is too beautiful
Megan: (I'm struggling without spellcheck)
Megan: Savannah was just as haunted as I wanted it to be.
Wendy: Yes. I can understand this. In Olympia I had my first tanning bed experience because I just wanted to feel heat and dryness.
Megan: I could see myself yearning in such a way.
Megan: I have a "happy lamp" that doesn't cut it.
Wendy: I've wondered about those. How long must one use it in a sitting for the benefit? (It's as foreign to me as snow.)
Megan: I burnt my eyes, I swear, the first week I had it - I abused my happy lamp.
Megan: I usually just turn it on in the kitchen for the day and cut it off around 3.
Wendy: I always imagined one at a desk and someone having to sit in its pool of light for 8 hours.
Andrew: Excuse me for being a rube, but is it fundamentally different from a regular lamp?
Megan: Andrew - yes! But don't ask me how. It helps with Vitamin D, and if it doesn't, don't tell me.
Megan: I think there was one in Are You There God, It's Me Margaret.
Megan: Vague memory.
Wendy: It's so crazy that people in L.A. have Vitamin D deficiencies. (People = me at one time)
Megan: I'm a vegetarian and became wildly anemic while pregnant. My husband looked at my blood work and compared me to a dying cat with kidney failure.
Wendy: I remember the book, but must have completely glossed over the lamp because it wouldn't have made sense to me.
Megan: It's dark and people don't hug here. But it is enchanted in other ways - very green, very wild.
Wendy: Oh no.
Wendy: I'm sure it's enchanted. It sounds that way. Maybe a weird question, but: what kinds of crimes happen there?
Megan: Stealing tractors.
Megan: Actually, we made the NYT for a heroin epidemic twice. So.
Megan: It's economically depressed in many areas.
Andrew: Not everyone uses happy lamps, I guess
Megan: But I love living here - it's very casual and real. Very little artifice.
Wendy: Olympia had the best crime blotter in the daily paper I'd ever read and I wish I'd kept them.
Wendy: Where have you lived, Megan?
Megan: 30 years in NC, one year in DC, and 6 in Vermont. And I'm only 35 so the math doesn't work.
Wendy: I'm smiling throughout, just so you know.
Megan: Did you live anywhere other than WA and CA?
Wendy: Nope. I will call this a Taurus trait. If it's good and I like it, I'm sticking with it. Now I can't imagine living anywhere else (though I entertained the desert for a bit).
Wendy: Andrew, where have you lived?
Megan: I'm obsessed with the Block Shop Textiles Tumblr and their scene in the desert.
Wendy: Looking now...
Andrew: Grew up in NJ, college outside of Philly, NYC, Florida
Andrew: NYC for 3 years, Florida for almost 2
Megan: Andrew, I'm going to live in Florida in January. I have no idea how, but I can't do a VT winter again.
Megan: Do you want to open up a banana stand or something?
Wendy: I might be the only writer in the universe who has no desire to live in New York (??????????).
Andrew: Banana stand sounds nice, not that messy, though I'm worried about the shelf-life of the product
Andrew: There's some incredible produce down here—the bananas don't stay yellow for long though
Wendy: I want to visit Naples, FL.
Andrew: What about NYC is unappealing to you Wendy?
Megan: Wendy - I am slowly making peace with NY. I used to get very overwhelmed - I've only lived in small towns (except for that one experimental year in DC)
Andrew: My gf grew up there & we stay at her house a couple times a year
Andrew: It's a pretty separated, sparse place
Wendy: Granted, my experience of NY is very limited. I think I'm making my 4th trip there next week. It's super fast-paced and I feel like all the stereotypes about L.A. being so laid back, are, unfortunately, true.
Andrew: Sometimes I just want someone to be mean to me down here for no good reason
Andrew: And it just doesn't happen
Wendy: Hahaha. Yes, and there's that, too. Which I haven't experienced firsthand, but I expect it because of everything I've read and heard.
Megan: Andrew - you should just listen after you turn your back and walk away. Just kidding! But I feel like southerners are better at gossip. Bless your heart.
Megan: In NY they just, you know, tell you.
Andrew: For some reason I don't think that sort of thing made it down to Florida
Megan: You must be right.
Andrew: Sarcasm and gossip
Andrew: Not really in the texture of Floridian language
Megan: That's fascinating.
Megan: Do you see manatees?
Andrew: I have on friend who's Florida bred & raised, and he's lived in New York, and I think of him more as a NY'er. But he's a bit sarcastic, and everyone always describes him as the most sarcastic guy in the world.
Andrew: I don't. I see gators. There's water buffalo just south of us
Wendy: I want to go for the manatees! And for Capt. Pete's Bait & Tackle.
Andrew: Probably 10,000 geckos on my property right now.
Wendy: Gators are my nightmare animals. I love them, still.
Andrew: My gf swam with some manatees during lunch break at a doctors office she was shadowing
Megan: No geckos here. They would be frozen.
Megan: Wendy - I'm with you!
Megan: I've had multiple nightmares about gators and used to have a silver one on a keychain.
Wendy: Gators were totally an ongoing nightmare animal for me for several years.
Andrew: I capsized kayaking in a lake with gatos a couple months ago. I didn't know I could my cool THAT much
Andrew: lose my cool*
Megan: I almost did the same in a canoe in Florida when I was in high school and it still makes me feel weird
Wendy: I did a paper for a Jungian workshop about the nightmares of gators.
Wendy: That is terrifying.
Andrew: Well Wendy—what's the story?
Megan: i know
Megan: TELL US
Andrew: What did they *mean*
Wendy: I went down a (Walt Disney) Peter Pan hole and ended up with unresolved worries about TIME.
Andrew: The ending of time? The finiteness of time? Forgotton time? Irreperable time?
Andrew: We need MORE
Wendy: I had to be quite constrained in the paper, so I did not talk about the gators chasing me around swimming pools, or the ones where they were in the middle of puddles I had to run around.
Wendy: The ticking of time.
Andrew: The only thing it really does
Wendy: The ticking of anxiety.
Megan: I had a dream once about being in a swimming pool with Saddam Hussein and I will be thinking about it for the rest of my life.
Andrew: Did you play dibble?
Megan: I don't know what that is. They must only do that in Florida.
Wendy: I had a dream once about marrying Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also tried pulling that one apart for a paper.
Megan: I'm afraid to click on that.
Andrew: Were you a psych major Wendy?
Megan: But my search history is already pretty messed up.
Andrew: What did y'all major in?
Wendy: I have never played dibble.
Wendy: I was a liberal arts major at Evergreen. Heavy on political economy.
Megan: I can really dork out about primates and the Yanomami
Wendy: Then got an MFA, then got an MA in Clinical Psych.
Megan: I like that combination.
Andrew: Ah, there itis
Wendy: Did you travel as part of your coursework, Megan?
Megan: I didn't. But my husband, who was also an anthro major, traveled to Nepal and Honduras.
Wendy: Ahhh. I had a wonderful anthro prof at Evergreen who was part of the political economy teaching team.
Megan: I accused him of being in the anthro clique. Where they wear amulets.
Megan: (I secretly wanted to wear amulets)
Megan: What was the best Psych course?
Wendy: I was just going to say, where do I sign up
Wendy: My favorite psych course were these weird ones that had no boundaries taught by someone who was practically a mystic.
Megan: I like it when people take walls down in class.
Wendy: I think I took two like that. Though in one I got completely scapegoated and traumatized. IT HAPPENS.
Andrew: Time has ticked & we're nearly out of it, but we have to hear that story
Wendy: Now I can laugh about it. And know I will never run a group therapy session like that in my life.
Wendy: Oh, I'm sure I'll write about it. ;)
Andrew: Any closing remarks?
Wendy: Thank you for this lovely strange conversation! Will either of you be at awp?
Megan: This was fun. It was sort of like that recipe for falling in love, with all the questions.
Megan: I will not be at AWP, but definitely next year.
Wendy: See you in Los Angeles, Megan!
Andrew: Y'all were wonderful.
Wendy: Thanks, Andrew!
Megan: Thanks for hooking us up, Andrew.