I am very fond of Jennie Webb because she is an infinitely positive realist. Whether it’s overseeing the puzzle pieces as The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum’s Playwrights’ Development Director, or corralling playwrights and theater companies for the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, collaborating with and supporting her fellow members at Rogue Machine and The Playwrights Union, or generally championing the work of all theater artists, Jennie is one of the warmest, most enthusiastic individuals I’ve ever worked with, but she also—always—gives it to you straight. I love it.
But equally important, especially as we gear up to peek in on her workspace—Jennie is an honest and vibrant playwright. If you’re not already familiar with her work, read on, and I’m pretty confident you’ll see why…
Me: When you took these photos for me, you labeled most of the shots “Messy Desk.” I feel that gives us a clue as to the answer here, but on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you prepare/clean up your space before taking these photos?
Jennie: Yeah, well, that would be a 2 probably. Maybe a 1. I think I cleared a few stacks of papers?
Me: Despite the fact that you call it messy, it strikes me that there’s an order here. That the bookshelves, and filing cabinets, and printer stands, and crates, and drawers each are home to specific aspects of your work and writing life. Can you walk us through this in a bit more detail?
Jennie: Huh. I am—or I think I am—actually very organized in a very disordered way. Organized chaos? Haphazard order? Which is actually how I’ve heard my plays described.
Me: Honestly, that doesn’t surprise me at all. Something I’m learning more and more with this series is that the “personality” of a writer’s physical space is very inter-related with the personality of their writing—and with them as an individual! And there’s my pop-psych for the day.
Jennie: I’ll buy it. I definitely need a bit of messiness around in a lot of ways. I’m not sure if “specific aspects,” the components of the space, are really part of the walk-through tour though because pretty much everything is connected on some level? Although there are filing cabinet drawers—parts of drawers?—that are for creative stuff, and others that are, well, reserved for beloved things like bills and bank statements and property taxes. It just struck me that nothing’s alphabetized or anything. I just know—and have to remind my husband every time—that the medical stuff is in the lower left hand drawer of my desk in the middle-ish behind our non-investment records. I also have a lot of bins in my office—mostly on the floor, in stacks, but also on bookcases and tables—and lots of expanding file folders? An illusion of separateness?
Me: I see.
Jennie: But as I’m looking down on the floor to my right I see that the papers on top of one of my corporate writing bins are falling into my new play research bin, which may or may not contain some info or correspondence or records about submissions…or rejections…
Me: Somehow you make it work, though! And amidst this “organized chaos”—really, really impressive orchids! How do you keep them so healthy? And why do you choose to keep them on your desk?
Jennie: I’ve got good light! Truly. We’re so lucky to have found our house—the windows in the back are north facing, or slightly northeast, so the light is fantastic. I’m a big fan of plants—inside and outside—although I’m too lazy to put much work into them. And I got hooked on orchids a while ago when a good friend—okay, a shrink—told me, “Just treat them like cut flowers! They’ll last a long time, and then throw ’em away when the blooms are gone.”
Me: Wow. A therapist using orchid metaphors. I could be down with that.
Jennie: Definitely. So I get an orchid from Trader Joe’s—or now Fresh and Easy—for 15 dollars every two or sometimes three months to put in the living room or wherever, and when it’s done I stick it on my desk. And every now and again they re-bloom. I love ‘em. Imagine what they’d do if I actually fed or watered them. P.S., this is also why I’m not allowed to have children.
Me: I was just going to say that there was some metaphor extension to the notion of them re-blooming on your desk, where you write, but then you threw in the child element, and I don’t know how to integrate that in!
Jennie: Me neither. Obviously.
Me: So moving on! I see a Spanish-English dictionary on your desk. Does that relate to a project you’re working on?
Jennie: That relates to my self-delusion. I pretend I can speak Spanish because I made a vow to myself that I’d be bi-lingual by the time I was 35. I took class after class at various community colleges—and even passed them, or most of them—and I’m still absolutely ridiculously mono-lingual.
Me: Well, from me you get huge credit for trying. And what is the red book to the left of that dictionary?
Jennie: That is a Wonder Woman address book. A friend gave it to me. It has pictures of Wonder Woman throughout. It also has some names and addresses in it. My old address book—the one I never finished transferring—is underneath the dictionary. I’ve probably had the “new” address book for over 10 years. I think there are a lot of dead people in it.
Me: Oh god, that’s a terrible thought! How am I supposed to ask about your “action figures” after that!
Jennie: That’s so funny. I never considered them “action figures.” Doesn’t that imply that I play with them or something? Actually the Wonder Woman is a toy. So it is an action figure because you can push a button and her golden lasso reels in this supposed invisible man guy. I can’t remember who gave that to me. But it’s there with my figure of Joan of Arc.
Me: Ah, that’s who the other one is! I wasn’t sure.
Jennie: A friend who’s known me for a million years brought that back from France for me. People give me things. Wonder Woman and Joan of Arc. Go figure. But handy to have on one’s desk, don’t you think?
Me: Absolutely! And it doesn’t surprise me at all that people are inspired to “give you things.” You are definitely the kind of person who inspires that! One last question for you, that starts with an observation. We touched on it with the orchids, but I love the view from your desk.
Jennie: I love it too! Did I mention to you how grateful we are that we’ve got a fantastic house?
Me: Los Angeles real estate success absolutely bears repeating.
Jennie: We’re in Eagle Rock in the hills above Oxy—got it before the market went bonkers, after we got priced out of Silverlake… Yay for views.
Me: You took several photos for me from that view—everything from “hazy” to “parrots” to “double rainbow”—ridiculous! How do you use this view to your advantage—and maybe even disadvantage—when you’re writing?
Jennie: Always having something to look at and get distracted by and catch your eye and take it and me different places… Maybe that’s part of the chaos I need? I am so not a “put on the blinders” girl which, yes, often works against me. But now that I’ve said that I don’t think it really does because, well, my mind’s kind of flitty, I guess. Or jumpy. Scattered? Scattering? Then pulling back in? Where’s that golden lasso when you need it. Damn!
Sara Israel is a writer and director living in Los Angeles.