NEW YORK — She’s funny, brilliant and — in her recent books and plays — absolutely fearless. The charge “to run away” is one she says she has battled with herself since childhood, and if her words seem ironic, it’s a matter of timing rather than irony. When she was young, she writes, “it was hard to race away from the drawing board, for the old art of abandoning it was thought of as the epitome of disobedience.”
But over the years, she says, she has learned what it means to sit, as a writer, in the anguish of being unable to find a poem, a play, a playwright’s notes, that is meant to remain a draft, to not be tucked away but to live on the page. “That has been an epiphany that a certain kind of creativity demands from you,” she says. “You know: ‘Write something.’”
Washburn talks over the phone from her home in Los Angeles, which she shares with her husband and three children. (Her husband is playwright Vijay Iyer.)
And how did that urge to “write something” start?
I would think of my day as the drawing board, but it was really the selection of the picture for the weather forecast. … So really, it comes from those little dreams of picking a picture out of the sheet of drawers that I would make my map of the day. It’s this very intimate thing, thinking of the big picture and then simply recording it in smaller images: What was it like at the traffic light when I saw her? What was it like in the school hallway? And suddenly I would become unstuck. It’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together, or an idea. I never think that I have any idea of how it goes. And I’m not in the room, or the workshop, or the rehearsal hall — and I just decide. Like I decide to do what I would do at the end of the day if I was choosing what to read in the paper.
Was it a good idea to have four children?
You know, my personal guiding principle of parenting is the principle of what’s done, is done. You know, I put as much importance on what was supposed to be done as what was actually done.
So I never thought of children as a catalyst to something going on in my brain or writing something. I’m amused when people say, “Oh, you have kids and you became a writer.” I don’t. I used to be a writer. In fact, I was thinking of doing this interview before I had kids.
And it seems to me that what makes you a writer in retrospect is an effort to escape these ideas you’ve created that may not live on the page.
I’m so glad that I understood something about that long before you did. Because I have an idea of being one thing in the morning, and then starting at some point after 7 p.m. and going on until 2 in the morning. So you know that I’m living it all through thinking about this person and not about myself. That’s what you’re trying to do, right? And if I’m not living it — if I’m not trying to make choices in the first place — then my writing is a meaningless thing. And if it’s a meaningless thing, I don’t really deserve to write it. That sounds obvious, but it’s hard to believe in a minute.
You’ve said you’re essentially concerned with “deconstructing” Trump. So you are digging up buried material from Trump’s past, from things he said — the quotes. How much of what you’re finding is these things that came up in the pre-Trump days?
Oh, well, that’s a tough question. There’s some of that. Oh, I think he was a guy who defended building a wall and that was a sign to go after Mexican immigrants. I think that he was a guy who talked about black church leaders who had gangs of black children. But I have never done this just as a Trump story, to clear his name. It really is about — not only this guy, but people, movements, ideas that I’m interested in. The fact that some of this stuff came out of the past, I think that helps. And the fact that people will find it and use it, to their advantage, I think that’s kind of fun.
See the artist at the exhibit “