(January 2001,issue 74)
Speaking of Jane Roberts: Remembering the Author of the Seth Materialby Susan M. Watkins
Susan Watkins was one of Jane Roberts's closest friends. Early on, Seth told the two women that they were
She was one of the most important psychics of the twentieth century. Over 7.5 million copies of her books have been sold throughout the world. Now, Speaking of Jane Roberts reveals the story of a woman as fascinating as the material she produced.
Susan Watkins was one of Jane Roberts's closest friends. Early on, Seth told the two women that they were counterparts, connected in this particular lifetime to work out some shared personal issues. Speaking of Jane Roberts is a compassionate and sometimes painfully honest look at Roberts's life---her difficult childhood, her constant questioning of her psychic powers, her resistance to Seth's advice, her dramatic struggles with her health---and also a beautiful illustration of the counterpart relationship. The connection that Watkins and Roberts share reveals something important about the power and mystery of the connections we all share with those people closest to us.
Watkins also offers original insights into the process of channeling and addresses the question: Where is Seth now that Jane is no longer living?ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sue Watkins is the author of books in several genres, including Conversations with Seth: The Story of Jane Roberts's ESP Class, Dreaming Myself, Dreaming a Town and Garden Madness: The Unpruned Truth About a Blooming Passion. She lives in upstate New York.
(January 2001,issue 74)
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Speaking of Jane Roberts
Remembering the Author of the Seth Material
By Susan M. Watkins
Moment Point PressCopyright © 2001 Susan M. Watkins
All rights reserved.
Nobody Ever Asks Me This
It's a gorgeous fall day in October, 1994. I'm sitting with my friend Debbie Harris at a sidewalk café in the village of Watkins Glen, New York, drinking cappuccino. The air is bright and crisp, a chilly breeze coming off Seneca Lake a few blocks away. Groups of late-season tourists are walking around the downtown streets. Ironically, as it turns out, the idea of putting together a memoir of Jane Roberts, using the collected memories and dreams of others, has just come to me that morning. In fact I'm so full of the idea I feel as though I'm about to explode. Already I've talked Debbie into contributing her journal notes from the weeks she visited Jane in the hospital. This will be a snap, I think to myself. Easy as pie.
At that exact moment, as if on cue, a woman steps out of a passing trio and comes over to our table. She's maybe in her late thirties, pretty, slender, dark blonde hair, and she's staring directly at me with a wide-eyed, eager expression.
Somewhere in my head, an alarm bell switches to "on."
She asks me if I'm Sue Watkins. If she mentions her own name, I don't remember it. As soon as I reluctantly admit to being the personage in question, she leans over and whispers, "Do you know Abraham?"
I think ... Abraham? Abraham ...
—the Old Testament guy?
—her dog's name and it's missing?
—a town bigwig?
—a rock-and-roll tune?
None of this makes any sense. So I take the bait and ask, who's Abraham? And now her voice turns heavy with significance.
"Abraham is the name of a group of entities who speak through some people over near Ithaca," she tells me. "And what we'd all really like to know is, where has Seth gone now that Jane is dead?"
Silently, I think ... Oh, crap. Memoir, schmemoir. For-get it.
Looking back on this incident, I realize that the woman's question was innocent enough ... I suppose. But sitting at the café table that afternoon, my three dollar cappuccino not to mention my new book idea going cold, I wasn't so generous with my response.
I say to her—somewhat nastily, I'm afraid—"You know, nobody ever asks me where the hell Jane's gone now that Jane is dead." And the woman just stares at me, so I add, with sudden sarcastic inspiration, "Where did Picasso's paintings go after he died? Ever think of that?"
She steps back a pace, glances toward her friends, who are windowshopping up the street. I lean across the table, half rising from my chair. "I'm serious," I say, almost snarling. "That question was serious. Where do you think Picasso's paintings went when he died? Huh? Where?"
With that, something in the woman's demeanor closes down; her face turns to slate, and immediately, I'm a bit ashamed of myself ... just a bit. "I wasn't aware that he had any unfinished ones," she says. Her voice is as cool as the Seneca Lake shore breeze.
"What I'm getting at is that Seth was a masterwork of art—Jane's art," I say. "She made the artwork possible."
"But Seth has to be somewhere!" the woman insists. "He should be speaking through someone else by now!"
"Oh, come on," I snort, disgusted anew. "Jane wasn't just a piece of meat that Seth animated for his own nefarious purposes! If that were the case, why not just use a piece of meat—less irksome! No arguing! Doesn't require sleep!"
"Well, these entities will tell us where Seth is," she informs me in a snide tone, one plenty equal to my own snide tone. With obvious disappointment—Sue Watkins has turned out to be a close-minded shithead—she turns away and joins her friends and all walk on up the block without looking back.
"That was quite a scene," Debbie says, also not looking at me.
"Was I too nasty?"
Debbie hesitates, decides to tell a fib. "No, I don't think so," she says. "No, you weren't bad at all. Not really. Nah."
Later, thinking about it, I did feel guilty for my tone (though not for my words). The woman was only looking to find her own way, as everyone must. And really, how odd, that during the entire disaster of a conversation, an image kept coming to me of Jane's physical position as it often was in ESP class: sitting in a chair, holding a glass of wine and (more often) a cigarette, being pressed by earnest people filled with the possibility of Seth's appearance and whatever wondrous secrets he might unveil. I ought to know. I'd done the same, often enough.
Part of me was infuriated by the whole café scene. Part of me had enjoyed it. Despite our mutual rancor over the results, on some level that woman and I had sought out the encounter for our own reasons. At least we were ... well, trying ... to exchange something original, and ultimately inexplicable, about the nature of the universe. Maybe. Besides, she hadn't come out of nowhere, with no connection to the moment. We'd responded on some level to one another before either of us said a word, and in a way, we'd each voiced the other's worst expectations about the so-called "psychic" arena. A smooth and crafty response from the universe—from the mirror of our selves.
Jane often said, "I speak for the Seth in all of you." She was right.
* * *
I FIRST ENCOUNTERED JANE ROBERTS in December of 1963, though I didn't know it at the time. I was nineteen, a freshman at Syracuse University, already bored with my courses and unsure of an increasingly tenuous world; instead of studying for finals I picked up a Rod Serling science fiction anthology and quickly found myself absorbed in the tale of The Chestnut Beads. It was a story I never forgot, and a story that its author—Jane Roberts—and I would later discover contained the prescient seeds of a future connection between us. The first time we actually met was in 1967, at a raucous New Year's Eve party she and Rob threw in their small second-floor apartment in my home town of Elmira, New York. I was there with my gay friend Dan Stimmerman, who'd been pressing me for weeks to come over to Jane's place with him and meet this woman who spoke, as he put it, for the spirit of a dead person. (Initially I'd refused, thinking, "Yeah, right. Yuk.") By then, Jane had been speaking for Seth for almost exactly four years and had published How to Develop Your ESP Power, which I didn't even know existed.
Jane and I said nothing of import that evening, though I remember her clearly—she yelled jokes, told hilarious stories, smoked like a factory, drank large quantities of cheap red wine, and kept a clear bead on everybody's remarks, including her own, a feat I found especially impressive. Small and dark-haired, dressed in black turtleneck and jeans, she reveled in doing and saying exactly what she goddamned felt like in front of this unruly crowd, much to the apparent delight of her dapper-looking artist husband. She tried pulling me into the various conversations, to no avail, which wasn't her fault. I was twenty-two, fat, single, secretly pregnant, miserable. At midnight, Dan kissed me chastely on the lips and made a funny announcement about us being sisters. The next day, I crammed my possessions in my car and left my parents' home for Martha's Vineyard—alone, to a place I'd never been, with no plans, no idea what I was going to do when I got there, knowing only that I had to leave, audaciously banking on my writing skills and my journalism education to somehow see me through.
I wasn't gone all that long. I returned to Elmira in the fall of 1968, my secret intact—not even my parents knew that I'd had a baby and given him up for adoption. To this day I have never fully understood why I left the Vineyard, a magical place where a life had opened for me on the Gazette, working for world-renowned editor Henry Beetle Hough. I only knew that I felt a huge, undeniable urgency to get back home, as if there were something of immense importance that I had to do, and this was my last chance to do it.
I took a teaching assistant job at Cornell that I quickly learned to hate, and at Dan's insistence I asked Jane if I could join the ESP class she had been holding for a couple of years. There, and in the Friday night get-togethers at Jane and Rob's apartment, where ideas about the nature of reality would roar like the wind, where Seth would come through and enter the conversations as easily as the ghost of a wise old uncle might step through the kitchen door—there, Jane and I made our uneasy friendship and Rob suggested that I write a book about her ESP class and the fabric of the universe ripped open with a loud and boisterous racket and Jane and Rob and all the others who passed through their living room began debating the idea that each of us, literally, from birth to death and beyond, creates, on purpose, the reality that we know.
The last time I saw Jane Roberts was September 2, 1984, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Elmira. I had only visited her a few times in the last year and a half of her life that she spent there. Everyone around me, it seemed—parents, relatives, friends—was vanishing through the doorways of hospitals in those years. Rob came out of the room when I knocked. Jane had stopped eating, Rob told me, and no intravenous feeding was being given. "You'd better prepare yourself," he said, and I suppose I must have. Jane lay naked and uncovered on her bed, curled up on her side in a fetal position, luminescent skin on bones. She looked as weightless and translucent as an abandoned insect shell caught on tree bark.
I went over and rubbed her head and said hello. "Oh, you don't have to bother touchin' me," Jane said, but I thought that she enjoyed it. She was so thin—all bones and dark eyes. I hadn't known that it was possible to be that thin, and still be alive.
That last day, as the first, we said nothing of great import; our visit was brief. When I got up to leave, I rubbed her head again and said, "Goodbye, Jane." I hadn't meant to say it like that, but the fact of her pending death was right there, simply and plainly before us, hanging unavoidably in the warm hospital air. In a strange way, it was like the first time we'd met, all those years ago, but in reverse: each time, one of us had held another, secret life deep inside us, about to be born.
Still, she roused up into her old feisty self. "Well, hell, Sue, you don't have to say good-bye like that," she sputtered.
I didn't dare look at her, then, or Rob either. Half-turned away, the edge of my vision illuminated by the soft glow of her pearly skin, luminous as the light of dreams, I said, "Oh, I just mean I'll see you again, don't worry." And I thought, what am I saying? But I knew what I was saying, and so did Jane. And so there was nothing more to say, and I left. She died three days later, on September 5, taking that journey we all must take, alone, no plans, no idea what we'll find when we get there, banking on whatever beliefs or hope about such things as we may amass in our lifetimes to somehow see us through.
A Life of the Mind
Dorothy Jane Roberts was born on May 8, 1929, in Saratoga Springs, New York, the only child of Delmar and Marie Burdo Roberts, into circumstances reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel. Her parents divorced when she was an infant and soon afterwards her mother became bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis, the same condition to which Jane would eventually succumb. ("I'd never seen her walk," Jane later remembered.) Raised in the Catholic Church, Jane was sent to an orphanage run by nuns while her mother was hospitalized with the disease. Jane lived there for nearly two years. The nuns enforced strict rules of behavior, including a ban on showering nude: the girls were required to soap up and rinse over a cotton "shower slip," forbidden to touch their own bodies even to wash. "Of course," Jane would add in telling this tale, "all of us would sneak a peek down our shirtfronts whenever we could."
Then she was sent home to care for her embittered, invalid mother. They were supported by welfare and assisted by a succession of housekeepers, but the main burden of Marie's care fell on young Jane's shoulders. Thus her early life was one of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, getting up in the night to put more coal on the stove, bringing her mother the bedpan, and enduring a never-ending stream of appalling psychological abuse. "She blamed her physical situation on the breakup of her marriage," Jane later wrote, "and, I guess, on my birth." In a 1973 interview in the Elmira Star Gazette, she states:
My mother was a strong, domineering woman, probably scared to death of the position she found herself in. She was psychotic, attempting suicide several times and scaring the devil out of me as a kid with threats ... One day [she] would say that she loved me, and the next day she'd scream that she was sorry I'd ever been born—that I'd ruined her life ... [She] would often stuff her mouth with cotton and hold her breath, pretending that she was dead, to scare me when I was small. Sometimes she'd tell me she really could walk and during the night she was going to get up, turn on the gas jets, and kill us both. I would be absolutely terrified ...
And yet ... she encouraged my writing and would tell me that I was a good kid and she didn't know why she acted that way ... but then she'd do it again.
"Early on," Rob has said about her upbringing, "Jane began a pattern of repressing her impulses by refusing to retaliate against her abusive mother." Nonetheless, in the midst of everything, and from an early age, Jane wrote poetry—"at home, in school, anywhere, everywhere, and at any time," Jane once said. "It was when I was sitting on the back porch writing poetry ... [that] I used to feel incredibly safe ... and I also felt that [the neighborhood] was filled with the magic voice of nature. When I wrote poetry, the universe seemed to talk to me. Sometimes I talked back, and on rare occasions we spoke at once." (Her poetry had been considered heretical by the orphanage nuns, who confiscated and burned it.) Even at the age of five, she knew she was going to be a writer. Or, as she'd loftily tell people, "I am one already."
And while her childhood was difficult, her neighborhood was filled with vitality and unique characters. "I had no models for the socially accepted conventional female role, which was certainly a blessing," Jane recalls in The God of Jane. "There were women galore and few men in my early background ... The women I knew did things." Moreover, Saratoga was a center of the creative arts, and Jane managed to get inside the circle. "When I was really young," Jane later told an interviewer, "I'd take my poetry to Yaddo, and knock at the back door and ask if there was a poet there who would read my stuff because it was really good. They'd take it but I'd never hear from them ... One time a staff member gave me a piece of cake and told me to go away." When she was a teenager, a well-known writer of the day, Caroline Slade, took Jane to parties at Yaddo where such notables as Louis Untermeyer and Adrienne Rich were in attendance. "I asked Untermeyer to read some of my poetry—which I had with me, naturally—and he said he was too busy." But Jane was undeterred. From an early age, her work was her central focus. "People would tell me that I would forget all this stuff about poetry and writing when I grew up and got married and had kids," she said. "But I'd tell them they were wrong. Even then, I knew that I didn't want to have children, that I wanted to devote my life to my work—and that for me was the most important thing in the world."
In her senior year in high school, Jane won honorable mention in a poetry contest sponsored by Scholastic Magazine, and as a result was awarded a scholarship to Skidmore College in Saratoga. Expelled at the end of her junior year for attending an all-night party at a professor's house ("All I did was sit up drinking wine and reading poetry—at least that's all I did"), Jane placed her mother in a nursing home and took off on a motorcycle with her friend Walter Zeh, to visit her father in California. She and Walt returned to Saratoga several months later, married ("We didn't dare show our faces in town otherwise") and Jane took a variety of jobs, including one as Society Editor for the Saratoga newspaper and another as a supervisor in a radio factory.
Then in 1953, while "cutting up, dancing and raisin' hell at a party," she met Robert F. Butts, an artist who was working on the Mike Hammer comic strip with someone Jane knew and had shown up at the party as a lark. Jane was twenty-four and married; Rob was a thirty-four-year-old bachelor.
"I took one look at him and that was it," Jane told me years later. "Not long after that—I mean, we hadn't even kissed or touched or anything—I told him, 'I'm leaving town and I'm leaving either with you or without you, so make up your mind.' And Robbie felt the same, and he did the honorable thing, you know, and talked with Walt, and told him that we were leaving, and you know, Walt was relieved ... he never said a thing." Jane's first marriage had been entirely platonic—she was a virgin when she met Rob, she would admit much later in an ESP class "secrets" session. She and Rob drove to Marathon, Florida, to file for Jane's divorce, and were married on December 27, 1954.
Excerpted from Speaking of Jane Roberts by Susan M. Watkins. Copyright © 2001 Susan M. Watkins. Excerpted by permission of Moment Point Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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