About Jane: Author

Jane, a Finalist for a CAPS Grant in Poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts, is the author of the bestselling Poems of the Laughing Buddha. You can see and hear her read four of its poems on YouTube, where she also reads from her book, CAFÉ MIMOSA IN TOPANGA (winner of the 2018 South California Book Publicists Poetry Award). Just out, her most recent book of poems, is DOGS IN TOPANGA 2000-2018. Her poems have been published in many places, including The Cultural Weekly and the Scarlet Leaf Review.

Commissioned by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to write and perform the one-woman play Reminiscences of Mozart by His Sister, Jane also performed it at Lincoln Center in New York. Her one-woman play in verse, Miriam's Dance, about Moses' sister, was produced in New York and Los Angeles, as was her two-character play, A RADICAL FRIENDSHIP, about Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Abraham Heschel (starring Ed Asner).

Jane’s best-selling self-help book, Acting Techniques for Everyday Life: Look and Feel Self-Confident in Difficult Real-Life Situations, and its accompanying deck of illustrated flash cards, won the Gold Axiom Business Book Award. She gives workshops on the techniques at universities and corporations, and coaches privately.

In New York, she starred in her own three-character play, Jane Avril, which, after its Off-Broadway run, was translated into Danish and produced in Copenhagen. She is waiting for its translation into French, so it can be seen in Paris. Also in New York, Jane starred in the Obie-nominated one-woman play, Dear Nobody, which she co-authored with Terry Belanger. It 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, and her one-act, Cornucopia, won the University of St. Thomas One Act Play Competition.

Scroll down to read her two poems on the coronavirus. “(They are both) upbeat and healing,” writes actor/director Jack Heller.

Click here to order Jane’s books from Amazon


COVID-19

i

The sun doesn’t know
there’s a coronavirus.
He shows up daily –
not burning, but smiling,
warming.

If you listen, he tells you
he’ll be here tomorrow
and next week
and a thousand years from now.

ii

The mustard flowers on the side of the road
don’t know about it.
It’s only early March and still, a few showers
and they’ve rushed out like an army.
They only wash their hands
of all the panic
and wait for rain.

iii

My neighbors’ bougainvillea flowers
only know the fuchsia, shining,
of their sun-lit faces, mirrors
of our own amazing, healing light.

By Jane Marla Robbins


THE CORONA VIRUS HAD KEPT HER HOME

Coakley. She’s six. My neighbors’ little girl.
Today she visited, found my colored pencils,
did a drawing of the two of us:

there’s a sun in the upper left corner
and a rainbow--three times taller
than me and Coakley –

who’s never heard of Noah’s flood,
of God giving him a rainbow as promise
that he would never again
destroy the earth.

She also drew a tree with green leaves,
green grass under it and us and the rainbow-
blue and red and yellow and pink.

This is her world.
And is ours.

By Jane Marla Robbins


L.A. Times - Opinion: I paid my fee at the DMV with $24
and a book of my poetry. Miracles do happen

Click here for article on LATimes .com

By Jane Marla Robbins Oct. 21, 2019 3 AM

It’s 2019. I’m at the DMV in Culver City. To renew my driver’s license. Waiting. Lines around the block. I’ve reserved ahead so it’s only an hour wait. I’m tired, so the photo they take of me has one tired eye and I don’t get a second chance.

I finally get a number. I march to its window. The woman shuffles my papers. And did I want an ID card so I can board domestic flights without a passport?

“Is it hard to do?” I ask, sensing exhaustion everywhere. “Yes,” she says. But I ask for one. Only later do I ask, “Hard for you or hard for me?” and she answers, “Hard for me.” And then I feel sorry not only that I asked, but also that it’s hard for her.

She runs here and there. To one window. To another. I stand. I wait. She has conversations, drinks water, more conversations. She returns, finishes her paperwork and says, “That will be $28.”

“Great,” I say, and whip out my credit card.

“We don’t take credit cards,” she parries. “Only debit cards, cash and personal checks.” I only have the card.

“Wait,” I gamble, “maybe I have something in my car? Can I go see?” She nods yes, an angel of benevolence.

I sprint through the people waiting in chairs, past the wait lines outside, through the parking lot and find my car. I empty out my glove compartment, jacket pockets, the purses hidden under the seat.

I come up with $24 in cash. Not $28. Twenty-four. What to do?

Without thinking, I grab two books of my poetry that happen to be in the car. As if bartering were still in fashion. I fleetingly think: Am I insane? But I decide to try to use a book as currency in 21st century Los Angeles.

I run back to her window. I risk it, dare. “Will you take $24 and a book of my poetry?” I say.

She nods. “Yes.” She chooses “Dogs in Topanga,” a small volume with a pale green cover.

“Thank you,” I say, in shock, in awe, possibly experiencing a spiritual epiphany. She takes my cash, and the book, then removes $4 from her purse and places the bills in what I can only assume is an official envelope devoted to funds paid through bartering at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Like that is a thing.

I ask if I should inscribe the book to her. She looks nervous, shakes her head no. She’s now a heroine to me. Surely she’s not ashamed of her empathetic breaking of protocol. Does she want no one to know?

She hands me my temporary license. I thank her. I am more than sincere. And then I walk away from the counter.

I am astounded, ecstatic. I just traded a book of poetry for a driver’s license — in a society where poetry isn’t exactly valued. Where school budgets for the arts have been mercilessly cut. And I did it at a place that is known more for its rules and bureaucracy than its compassion and imagination.

In the end, it doesn’t matter why she took the book. I want only to celebrate that people still exist who think out of the box, who choose to be kind to strangers — that even in a big city, something that feels like a miracle can happen. The next time someone tells me L.A. is impossible to navigate, an overpopulated city without a soul, I will be ready. I will tell them about the time a book of poetry connected me to the unwieldy place I call home.

Jane Marla Robbins’ most recent book of poetry is
Dogs in Topanga, 2000-2018.

 


 

Click here for Jane on 'We The Tender Hearted'

 


 

Click here for 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.

"Jane Marla Robbins is witty and wonderful!"

Edith Oliver, The New Yorker