About Jane: Author
Jane's most recent book of poems, Poems of the Laughing Buddha, can be purchased on Amazon.
In l995, Jane was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in Washington,
D.C. to write and perform the one-woman play Reminiscences of
Mozart by His Sister which she also performed at Lincoln Center
in New York. In 1999 her one-woman play Miriam's Dance,
about Moses' sister, was produced in New York and Los Angeles.
In 1982, in New York, she wrote and starred in the three-character
play, Jane Avril. After its Off-Broadway run, the play
was translated into Danish and produced in Copenhagen. In 1974,
she co-authored and starred in the one-woman play, Dear Nobody, which was nominated for an Obie, and ran for a year in New York, was produced on CBS for Camera
Three and toured to London and all over the United States.
Jane’s play Bats in the Belfry was directed by Roscoe
Lee Browne at the Spoleto Festival, in Italy, and her one-act Cornucopia
was winner of the University of St. Thomas One Act Play Competition,
Jane’s published work includes essays (The Los Angeles Times),
poems (she was a finalist for a CAPS grant in poetry from the National
Endowment of the Arts), the self-help book Acting Techniques
for Everyday Life: Look and Feel Self-Confident in Difficult Real-Life
Situations (in its sixth printing), and a deck of illustrated flash cards called, Perform at Your Best: Acting Techniques for Business, Social & Personal Success.
Jane's first book of poems, Dogs in Topanga, was published by Shining Tree Press in 2008, and can be purchased through Amazon.W.S. Merwin has called Jane's poetry "vivid, lively...remarkable."
See one of the poems from the book below.
Click here to order the book from Amazon.
HONORING LYNN REDGRAVE
WHEN YOUR HOUSE BURNS DOWN
By Jane Marla Robbins,
As printed in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, 2001
A year ago, the house I'd been renting for six years burned to the ground. I had been asleep downstairs, and never heard the initial flames on the roof. My neighbors and a smoke alarm woke me up. The house burned, but I survived, which is and was a lot for which to be grateful.
An amazing number of people, on hearing that my house had burned, seemed inordinately eager to say, "You'll have a new life, how wonderful! You'll see, you'll rise out of the ashes like a phoenix!"
I wanted to say, "No, goddam it, I'm not like some weird bird that probably never even existed. You see any feathers? Do I have any wings? What might have been nice, though, would have been for you and me just to have had a simple, human moment together, maybe a little hug and I shed a few tears. Except now I have to be all Lazarus for you because you're obviously terrified of thinking your own house could burn down." But of course I was silent.
When the fire was finally put out, only ashes remained. I lost everything -- from rugs and couches to my grandmother's jewelry; from manuscripts to the costumes, props and acting versions of the three one-woman plays I had acted, danced and toured in, on and off for thirty years.
Before the fire, had I known what to say to someone whose house had burned? I had had friends to whom it had happened. Like the eighty-year-old movie director who had lost scripts, posters, and a lifetime of papers. I hadn't known what to say. He hadn't wanted to speak of it. Of course, he and his wife had survived the fire together. Possibly he spoke to her. I don't know, he's English,
Me, I'd meet a total stranger and feel a need to blurt it out. "My house burned down last week." I sounded cheerful, but I was relentless. "My house burned down last month." Like anybody cared.
Occasionally, I talked about starting a new life, said I had wanted to stop touring, anyway, of course I would be a phoenix. But the truth was I was mainly numb. As for having wings, I barely had legs, as I virtually sleep walked from one place to another.
During the first month after the fire, I stayed with five different friends in five different houses in Topanga, California, which is where I live. Their offering their homes to me felt like an unbelievably beautiful gift. I felt cradled by them as if they were midwives to the new self which presumably was being born.
Still, two weeks after the fire, left alone at one of my friends' houses, I mistook the sound of a gentle rain on the roof for flames, and it took me a half hour to stop sobbing with fear and shaking in what felt like the marrow of my bones. Another day, when I mistook a microwave going off for a smoke alarm, it took me fifteen minutes to stop hyperventilating.
Nevertheless, a month after the fire, I rented my own apartment and moved in. It was the downstairs off a larger house owned by a fire fighter, which, though sounding unbelievable and corny, nevertheless made me feel somewhat safe. The apartment had a bed, a table, and a chair.
I guess we sometimes forget what we need until we don't have it. I had bought a pot, a cup, and a lemon for my morning hot water, but I was surprised, my first morning in the apartment, to discover I had no knife for the lemon. Silverware! I had forgotten to buy silverware.
I thought "Two. I'll buy two spoons, two forks, two knives."
I told this to my mother in New York. "You'll buy five," she said. If you think I took direction well as an actress, you should see me in shock after a fire.
"Five? Fine. Five."
So I go to Macy's which is having a flatware sale and I finally see matching forks and spoons and knives that I like, and best of all there's a sign over them that says "five." I don't notice it says "set of five," so I buy it, and of course I come home and see that all I'd gotten was one big fork and a little one, one big spoon and a little one, and a knife.
I realize I'm not thinking or hearing all that clearly. I also admit to myself that what I buy seems to make very little difference to me. A big part of my psyche doesn't want to buy anything. Somewhere inside, I'm afraid that anything I buy will only burn again, anyway.
Still, I notice I experience some things as if for the first time. Like my big, fancy, stainless steel spoon which, unlike practically everything else, is apparently "mine." I marvel at the smoothness of its shiny surface in my mouth, at the subtle curve of the steel, at its weight. It's even a mirror in which I can vaguely see myself. Not that I know who I am now.
One evening, I take myself out to dinner, and start to talk to a couple I don't know at the next table. "My house burned down." (Later I learn that traumas are apparently healed by describing and redescribing them. Is that why I have to keep saying it?) "My house burned down."
The man at the next table, a writer and probably close to seventy, is probably a little hard of hearing. "Your husband died?" he asks. Though I correct him, I later realize he understood more than I did. He's right, there had been a death, the death of a way of life, of the dance between me and the things I had lost. I'd been in denial. And I would have to go through the stages people suffer after a death: shock, denial, anger, grief. I was still in Phase One. But at least I had some silverware.
"My house burned down" turns out to be a litmus test for other peoples' preoccupations. One of my least favorite responses, but a nevertheless common one, seems to be "You're so lucky! I've been trying to get rid of all my old stuff for years." I hold my tongue, thinking that sudden disaster, which feels like rape, may not be the best way to clean house. In my more balanced moments, I know these people may unconsciously be hoping it would be just that easy for them if a fire burned their life away.
Still, I feel stupid admitting I was attached to my stuff. I'm supposed to feel "liberated." Surely, materialism is beneath me. As if our physical life were not to be honored and cherished, as if spirit didn't live in the objects around us.
Sometimes people say, "Oh how awful for you! I can't imagine anything more terrible! You must be devastated!" which invariably makes me feel worse than I was feeling before they said anything. Later I wish I had answered, "It was my tragedy, why don't you let me tell you what it's like."
Very few people really know what to say. Very few people understand I have mixed feelings: relief, depression, freedom, grief. An alarming number people actually think it's amusing to joke, "So, hey, don't go and start any more fires." Ha ha.
Of course, there are perks. If I really don't want to see someone, for whatever reason, I can say, "I'm so sorry, but my house just burned down," and they actually leave me alone. And people who normally complain a lot manage to control themselves, with a "Gee, I guess you have it worse than I do."
Plus it is certainly cheering to know that if I ever decide to leave my new apartment, at least I won't have a lot of stuff to move.
For now the tiny apartment is perfect, perhaps because the neighbor across the street owns a huge black dog that seems to have adopted me. He weighs a hundred and sixty-five pounds, and is as black as the few charred and remaining beams of the house where I used to live.
Somehow I feel rescued by him, as if he might absorb the blackness of the fire, as if he were some kind of reverse Cerberus sent to escort me out of its destruction and death, and back into the light of day.
I learn that the ancient Greeks believed that their god of healing, Escalepius, visited earth in the shape of a dog. I find I can cry with the dog. He also makes me laugh.
He likes being in my apartment, even though I put him out at night. Otherwise his tail, which is as big as my arm, thuds on the floor in the middle of the night and wakes me. So he sleeps outside my door, guarding my sleep.
I know my medicine is to dance with him, to dance the animal dance of grief and renewal against his strong, tough body. So I dance.
And without knowing how, slowly, I begin to emerge from the fire, though on wobbly legs, and with shaky wings. But eventually, to fly.