every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


When I’m 64

test-pattern baltimoreI’ve been on the fritz.

For four months.

I tried whacking myself upside the head. I’ve shaken myself.  Jiggled the handle.  Twisted the antenna.  Rebooted.  Let it rest.  Poked it.

I was stuck.  Frozen.  That gray buzzing swirled around me.  My test pattern burned before my eyes.  [If you’re under 50, google “test pattern.”]

But today, as I lay in bed with the perpetual mist and gloom that winter and spring became this year, I was jump-started, as good as if someone stood over me with de-fib paddles.  It’s my birthday.  I’m 64, today, and this isn’t what I was expecting.

In my fondest childhood dreams, I was sure that I’d be an actor or a writer.  Not quite, although I am, in my heart, a darn fine actor, if someone needs a 64-year old actress, which no one does.  I could still be a writer, if I were more disciplined.  Ahhh.  Discipline.  Something I never quite learned.

In my defense, I’ve been writing these past four months, but I haven’t finished anything.  20 beginnings and no endings.  As usual, I have plenty to say (Karma, bad weather, grief, politics, my neck), it alternated between angry and maudlin.  Blog-writing is self-indulgent (no editorial oversight), and we should all be grateful that I self-censored the drama that plays out in my head.

Instead, I ate.  I went back to potatoes, pasta, pastry, and real Coke.  In the depressing doldrums of this gloomy winter past, I gained five pounds in three weeks.  No Zumba.  No planking.  Did you know that you easily can gain five pounds in three weeks, but you can’t lose them as easily in 10?  A month ago, I went back to planking, 3 minutes a day, so my “core” is stronger, but it doesn’t get rid of the flab that covers my hard work.  sigh

When I awoke this morning, I allowed myself 10 minutes of maudlin thinking.  I started that when The Veterinarian went over the Rainbow Bridge.  I allowed myself 20 minutes to grieve (only in the morning) and then forced myself to get up and get moving.

This morning’s weather was gray and damp and whispered,

“It’s our birthday.  We’re gloomy and shouldn’t have to do anything we don’t want to do today, because it’s our birthday.  Our 64th birthday.  Let’s just wallow in bed in our foggy misery.”

Fortunately, My BFF jumped on the bed demanding to go out and to be fed, as she does every morning, which has saved me, really, these many months.  You can’t be too self-indulgent, when you’re responsible for others.

Birthday 1962

June 4, 1962, at 10 years old, always a flower from a different field.

And then it also hit me.  I’m not dead yet.  This is the rest of my life.  I’m not going to just sit and look out the window all day.  My life isn’t over.  For better or worse, I see many more years ahead.  My Mother will be 89 in October.  Her sister was just 90 in January.  One of her cousins is 93.  Like me, they’re all short women, all “ornery,” as a man I know describes me.  All with the same high blood pressure and cholesterol that I have.  I see my future, 30 more years, probably.  So, how shall I spend it?

In the arts, of course.  I started studying a new version of an old dream. I’ve plunged into ballroom dance with my bad knees and attitude, bringing my smart mouth and lots of ballet and modern dance technique and skills that frequently hinder me.  Of course, years of being immune to making a fool of myself onstage comes in handy.  After all, I once played a salmon swimming upstream to spawn in “The Life Cycle of a Salmon.”  Wearing an elegant gown covered in Swarovski crystals has that beat by an ocean of elegance.

Inspired by a friend who found satisfaction in ballroom dance during a tumultuous struggle of her own, I found some lovely people who, later in life, discovered the world of glitz and glamor in which I’ve been living since I first danced in a petticoat and My Mother’s costume jewelry for My Dad’s movie camera, 60 years ago.  When I’m dancing, I’m a vision of grace in the movie that plays in my head.  Well, I’m content until I hear, “Close your thighs, Suzanne.”  “Girls up, Suzanne.”  “Don’t turn out, Suzanne.”  When I hear that, I’m transported to a ballet studio in a drafty hall and hear, “Straighten your knees, Suzanne.” “Elbows up, Suzanne.”  “Turn out, Suzanne.”  Nothing is ever going to be perfect.  And that’s ok.

I’m back in a place where I’m happy not being perfect. Well, kind of.  I still have high expectations of myself, but it’s a place that feels comfortable and familiar; a place where “Standards” are kept (no swearing, no jeans) and irony revered; a place where the lights are low on Saturday practice evenings, so we all look our best.  It’s a place where I’ve been described as “A Flower from a Different Field,” a description so lovely and so apt that I’ve taken it on as my personal motto, although My Mother reminds me that it could mean a weed.  Oh, well.  Someone’s weed is someone else’s flower.

Plus, I’ve found something new to write about!

Date Update

Well, no dates. I turned off the matchdot com account in February after I received an email from a man whose screen name was Brett of Fresh Aire[1] and whose profile photo showed a man frowning.  After studying the photo and profile for a few minutes, I realized he wasn’t being ironic, intentionally.  That’s when I realized that I wasn’t going to find a flower in the field of online dating.

I met a nice couple in dance class who met online, but “nice” is the key word.  I’m “A Flower from a Different Field.”  And that’s ok. Independent. Bossy.   Cranky.  Ornery. Whatever.  I meet lots of men at dance class, all of whom are happily married or outside of my age group.  That’s not why I dance.

I also got an email from a guy at a “consumer protection” website a few weeks ago and another follow-up last week.  He claimed to have read my dating posts and wanted to know if I wanted to do something with a consumer protection column about online dating.  I say “something” because it’s not clear to me what he wanted.  It didn’t seem that they were going to pay me to either submit my posts or link to my blog, so I wasn’t interested.  I pointed out that my experience is entirely negative, which does not make for a helpful, unbiased review.  Now, if they want to cough up some money, which would help pay for my ungodly expensive new hobby, I would reconsider.

Birthday 1982

June 4, 1982, 30 years:  We shared a birthday, separated by 17 hours.

Today, I’m 64.  To borrow from Paul McCartney (also a Gemini), I could use a handy someone to “mend a fuse when [my] lights have gone” or [do] the garden, [dig] for weeds, but where I’m moving, there aren’t any fuses and someone else will tend the lawn and remove the snow.  Still, a handy someone showing up with “birthday greetings” and a bottle of Champagne would be welcome at my door.

But don’t come tonight or ever, without an invitation.  Tonight, I’m happy to enjoy a Margarita at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my family and, later, a little dancing with friends in that different field, so, who am I to complain?  Life is still good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

P.S.  Happy Birthday, Angelina Jolie!  See:   Twins

[1] I made that up.  Any resemblance to persons known or unknown is strictly coincidental, but, if the shoe fits…


Mortals and Angels and Karma

Note:  Tonight, some of my dearest friends are singing at Carnegie Hall in the world premiere of a new work, “Mortals & Angels:  A Bluegrass Te Deum.”  I should be there.  This is why I am not.  Love and all good wishes, my friends, for a wonderful performance!

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Karma slumped onto her cloud, exhausted.  It had been a busy day.  She closed her eyes against the glare of an exploding nova and drifted into a reverie of mayhem until awakened by an icy blast in her ear.

“What the f—?”  She swatted at her head.

“Need to chill, baby?”  Old Man Winter whispered, sending brilliant crystals of snow shimmering over her face.

“You need to do something about that breath,” Karma held up her hands and created a wall of sunshine between them.

“Aw, baby, you’re hurting my feelings.  Tell Old Man Winter all about it.”

“I’ve spent all week hounding this woman who keeps dodging me,” she pouted.  “You know her.  The Heroine of Hope?”

“You mean ‘Suzie Sunshine’?    I like watching her bob-and-weave.  She’s spunky, puts up a good fight. You’ve been after her for six decades.  Maybe you should ease up on her already.”

“Like you should talk,” Karma spat fire at Old Man Winter.  “Remember what you did to her last winter?”

“Has it been a year already?”  He plucked at the sleet in his beard.  “Time flies.  Last winter, I turned her lane into a sheet of ice for 10 days.  She had to park her car up by the road and hike in and out, day and night.  I heard that mice got in and destroyed the wiring.  $6,500 worth.  Took five weeks to get a part from Japan.”

“The shipping fiasco was my doing,” Karma smirked.

“Well, I really can’t take credit for what rodents will or won’t do.  And her damned insurance company picked up the cost of the damage, like a good neighbor.”

“By the gods eternal, I hate that woman,” Karma hissed.

“What’s the problem now?”

“It’s the vacation thing, again,” she sighed, as he blew through her fiery wall and sent an icy shiver down her spine.  “I tried to keep her from getting away.  First, I covered Miami International Airport in fog, but The Sun came off its throne and burned it off after two hours.”


“My fault, entirely,” Karma admitted.  “I didn’t realize that all the flights would be delayed, so her connection was delayed, too.”

“What did you do?”

“When her plane landed, I kept all the other planes at their gates, so there was no room for her at the inn, so to speak.  She had to squirm in her seat — in an exit row, by the way, I don’t know how she got that lucky — while the plane waited on the taxiway for almost an hour until a plane at another concourse got tired of waiting and left.”

“Still, she couldn’t have had time to make the connection, could she?”

“You wouldn’t have thought so.  With 10 minutes to departure, she had to take the monorail from one end of Concourse D to the other, then run through that ridiculously long hallway to Concourse E.  THEY HELD THE FLIGHT!!!  Can you believe it?  Who does this woman know that holds flights for her?”  She collapsed on his lap, cooling off her super-charged ego.

“There, there, baby, you can’t win them all.”

“Don’t patronize me!”  She sat up.  “That’s not the end of it.  I whispered a little Spanish into a certain friend’s ear, and the Cuban air force took to the skies to practice air maneuvers, which halted every plane scheduled to fly over his airspace.”

“Impressive friends you have!” Old Man Winter inched away from her.

“He doesn’t want to aggravate his New-Found Friends in Washington, so she only sat at Miami for another hour, waiting to take off.”

“And then, what did you do?”


All I need is a swim suit.

“I made sure her luggage didn’t get on her flight, but the woman had her bathing suit and toiletries in her carry-on, so she didn’t care.  She FREAKING DIDN’T CARE.”

“So much work for so little,” his pale eyes locked tenderly on hers.

“The last straw was when I screwed with her laptop so it wouldn’t connect to the internet, and, instead, she just wrote her precious blog posts on her iPhone,” a shimmering tear rolled down her face.

“Maybe we could work together,” he caressed her hair with a gentle breeze.

“How so?”  Karma massaged the frozen tears on her face.

“They’re having a warmer-than-usual winter on the East Coast,” he began, “so I was thinking they needed a little wake-up call.”

“But don’t you usually do that in February?”

“’Keep the meteorologists off guard,’ I always say,” he chuckled.  “Suppose we scoop up all this warm, tropical air and send it north?”

“Yeah, but isn’t that a repeat of her vacation in 2010?  And 1995, 1996, 1993, and 1978?  Just to name a few.”

“When is Suzie headed home?”

“Well, she’s cutting her vacation short this year to sing at Carnegie Hall.  She’s flying to Philadelphia on Friday, via Charlotte, spending the night in Philly, and taking the train to New York on Saturday morning.”

Old Man Winter nodded as she spoke.  “We’ll see about that.  If I send freezing rain to Charlotte on Friday, even if she could get to Philly, that gives me time to dump a load of snow on them, so she can’t get to New York on Saturday.”

“Pure Genius!”  Karma ignored the prickling of icicles as she held her cheek close to his.

“Baby, with age comes wisdom,” his icy fingers encircled her heart as they lay back on her cloud.

On Thursday, the airline cancelled Suzie’s flights and rescheduled them for the following Tuesday.  She was sad to miss being a part of a world premiere performance of a work entitled “Mortals and Angels” at Carnegie Hall.  While greatly consoled by spending four extra days in the sunshine, Suzie worried about her BFF, her family and friends, and especially about the power lines and that long, long lane to her house.

On Friday, Old Man Winter conjured up enough hot air to create freezing rain at the airport in Charlotte. He howled and blew snow from the Carolinas to New York.  With Karma by his side, the snow fell faster and thicker, until, by midnight on Saturday, Maryland was covered with more snow than had ever been recorded in a two-day period, a whopping 30” in some places, obliterating the presence of roads, and, while all the airports closed for four days, the power held.

In Grand Cayman, on Monday, her laptop miraculously connected to the internet all by itself, and Suzie held her breath — in the warm sun — waiting for Tuesday …

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What I did for Love

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The Paula Deen look.

Happy 70th, Mark!

Hey, there!  Remember me?  The insane little woman with the smart mouth and great shoes?  The Champagne Slut who can’t get a date?  I thought I’d check in and let you know how busy I’ve been, just when The Holidays get underway and render me fully frazzled.

I’ve been doing really crazy stuff, like wearing yoga pants in public, platinum blonde wigs, and really awesome dance shoes.  And a black velvet, rhinestone studded halter dress (thanks to my excellent plastic surgeon) that no dignified 63-year old woman with a pudgy tummy should be caught dead in (maybe I should call that plastic surgeon).

When we last chatted in September, you may recall that I had agreed to participate in the major fundraising event for our local center for the arts, as a “Dancing with the Stars”-type amateur.  I got free dance lessons from a renowned professional ballroom trainer.  I got to buy a pair of $185 pink satin shoes that I will never wear again but are almost as comfortable as my Uggs.  I got to browbeat my family and friends to buy tickets and cough up money for my cause, because I had agreed to raise a minimum of $5,000.  It turned out to be the easiest part of the challenge.

So, you may ask, what was I, clearly not a dance novice, doing in the group?  I had been rejected in previous years because of my dance training.  Finally, I was old and feeble enough to level the playing field.  I haven’t had a speck of cartilage in either of my knees in over 20 years.  And, of course, there was that time when I fractured my patella in two places.  And I have degenerative lower disc disease (aka “sciatica” or, as I like to say, “I gots the lumbago”).  Plus, they told me that I wouldn’t be judged.  I had nothing to lose and everything to gain for a cause that I dearly love.  I was really excited to get started.  I hadn’t danced in 20 years (a production of A Chorus Line, a show about what some of us do for love).

“You’re the oldest dancer this year,” the instructor, 12 years my junior, explained at our first private rehearsal.

I shrugged.  I had met my fellow “celebrity” dancers, a roster of lovely people dedicated to fostering the arts in our community. There was the distinguished retired general, the bubbly business owner, the charming couple who met on Match.com (seriously, I don’t want to hear about it), the young woman who had danced in one of my productions of The Nutcracker 30 years ago (I am so freakin’ old), and the adorable teenagers who could be my grandchildren.

“Yeah, I could tell.  As long as my knees hold up, I’ll be fine.”

“Besides dancing,” he continued, “I’m going to teach you to have stage presence and connect with the audience.”

“Not going to be an issue,” I replied.

“I’m going to try to shake you up, so that if something happens while we’re performing, you won’t be flustered.”

“Not going to happen,” I smirked.  “I’m pretty cool.  Look, I’m 63 years old and have been performing since I was 4.  Nothing throws me.  Not wardrobe malfunctions.  Not actors forgetting their lines.  Not an audience member vomiting in the front row.  Nothing.”

I was once doing “theater-in-the-round” when, despite instructions from the ushers, an annoying patron wouldn’t keep his feet out of the aisle.  During an entrance in the dark, I leaned over to him and said, “Get your feet back under the table.”  When the lights came up, I was standing onstage, in character, looking him dead in the eye.  Those feet never appeared again.

The instructor looked skeptical.  “You’ll be doing the foxtrot.”

My Mother taught me the foxtrot when I was a kid dancing to Frank, Bing, and Doris on her 78s.  I didn’t want to be the nice girl.  I’m always the nice girl.  I really wanted to do the Cha Cha or Rhumba or something really — dare I say — sexy.  The Shrew in My Head grunted in disgust at my self-delusion.

“Hmm, sounds slow and boring.”

“Not the way we’re going to do it.  Think Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire gliding across the floor.”  Images of a short woman (me, not Ginger), overwhelmed by feathers, sprang to mind.  “I want to challenge you because you don’t seem to normally move in that flowing, elegant way.”  He must have seen me in “Waltz of the Flowers” in 1981.

He demonstrated a few simple steps, as if he was teaching “Jazz 101.”  I repeated them flawlessly.

“Well, you have good lines!” he said.

“I told you I was a dancer,” The Shrew in My Head rolled my eyes.

After six weeks, he was hauling me around the dance floor doing “twinkles” and “passes” to a song by Metallica that had been re-recorded to sound like a vintage 40s tune.  Every week, he added something new and a little harder.  One week, it was turns.  I am not a turner.  Never have been.  I made the mistake of telling him.

“Good,” he smiled.  “We’ll have more turns.”

“For God’s sake,” I complained, “don’t let me fall down.”

“You aren’t used to having people tell you what to do, are you?” he laughed.

Once, during a rehearsal break, he asked me, “Who are we going to be?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, are we the 30s or 40s?  Or, maybe, Singing in the Rain?  Like a black and white movie musical.”

“What are we wearing?”

“That’s what I’m wondering.  The other ladies are wearing traditional ballroom gowns.  I thought you could be different.  A little flashier.”

“No feathers.  I’m too short for feathers,” the image of a waddling duck swam around my head, “and I’d like my upper arms to be covered.”  Duck lips are the only acceptable poultry flesh on aging women.  I thought about Bedazzled capri pants and a turtleneck to hide the wattle that is my neck.

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” he answered.  “Instead of a full skirt, maybe something straighter with a slit.  How are your legs?  I don’t think I’ve seen them.”  I looked down at the yoga pants that I wore every week to rehearsal.  I’m more Jane Powell than Cyd Charisse.

Paula Deen back

$14 and a few rhinestones

I drove right over to the Goodwill store and bought the beaded black velvet halter dress for $14.  It met with his approval, but he thought it should have more rhinestones.  I bought Swarovski rhinestones and glued them on (half of which fell off).  I bought the platinum wig for $40 and will wear it again when I’m in the old-age home, I’m sure.  I agonized over spray-tanning.  I bought a vintage pair of clip-on earrings (they are to-die-for, btw).  “Give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle.”

Then, it all went to hell in a hand basket.  One week, one of the 8 million trees on my property fell across my lane, and I had to cancel my rehearsal at the last minute.  Two weeks later, I came down with bronchitis.  I went to rehearsal after six days, thinking that the virus had stopped shedding.  It hadn’t.  I gave it to the instructor and didn’t see him for two weeks.  My dance didn’t have an ending.  Not until last Tuesday.  Two days before the technical run-through.

“All right,” I marched in.  “Let’s get this done.”

He started to teach the new choreography.  More turns.  Rather, pivot turns, which ended in another turn and a run around and another turn and me on the floor for the finish.  Or something like that.  I never could remember.  It seemed like something from Dirty Dancing.

“Wait a minute — my leg goes — where? Between your legs? And your knee is going to be where?”  Because I am so damn short, I ended up straddling his knee.

[Let’s pause for a minute, so you can visualize that.]

It just didn’t work.  I went home, dejected, and tried to practice, but there were no knees at home with which to practice.  I returned on Wednesday to rehearse, wearing the blonde wig, safety-pinned to my hair, and the clip-on earrings.  I needed to know that they wouldn’t fly off my head during the turns.

“Um, this pivot thing,” I stammered, “I just don’t get it.”

“Oh, you’ll never get it.  You’ll only get it when you’ve been doing ballroom dance all your life.”

And that’s when my hackles went up.  The Shrew and I were both indignant.

“So, why am I doing this?”  I demanded.  I said much more, but I won’t repeat it here, because it was mostly profane, and I, after all, am a lady.

“Let’s go,” he held out his hand.  We went over and over it for 40 minutes. Instead of crying about it, I started preparing myself for the disaster to come.  At Thursday’s tech rehearsal, the dancers saw each other’s pieces for the first time.  I would have killed to be doing the waltz or the cute little Cha Cha or the zippy Mambo.  My ending was a disaster.  Twice.  After rehearsal, the instructor asked if anyone wanted to run through their dances again.

“I’d just like to learn the end of mine,” I immediately spoke up.  He worked with some of the other dancers.  I waited and waited.  Then, he turned off the lights.  Disgusted, I tore off my dance shoes and pulled on my Uggs.

“Oh!  Did you want to go over your ending?”

“No, if I’m never going to get it, I’d rather call it a train wreck and prepare myself,” the Shrew and I were really worked up.

“No, come here, and let’s do it.”  I stomped across the shiny wooden floor in my Uggs.  We started to walk through the final moves, but the soles of my boots stuck to the floor.  I kicked them to the side and stood in my bare feet.

“Plaster the inside of your right leg to mine,” he went through the motions slowly.  I followed him without thinking, trying not to cry.  In the last move of the dance, I easily turned under his arm and stretched out as he slowly lowered me to within an inch of the floor.

“That was it, wasn’t it?”  I was amazed.

“That was it,” he agreed, looking exhausted.  I took pity on him and called it a night.

Dancing for the Arts Finale

Virtually finished. Photo Robin Sommer, Images of Sommer.


The next morning, I emailed him an apology.  I’m a Type-A personality.  I expect a lot of myself.  Mea culpa. Blah, blah, blah — but sincere blah.

We all practiced before Friday’s preview show.  My ending was better but felt out of control.  On Saturday, there was another preview in the afternoon, and the pivot turns seemed to be coming together.  Between shows, before the black-tie Gala in the evening, I watched my beloved Spartans beat the Buckeyes and felt all the energy leave my body.  I just simply didn’t care any more.

The instructor and the emcee wanted my permission to tell the crowd that I was an e-Harmony reject, erroneously thinking that I might be embarrassed about that.  Can’t you just see me rotflmao over that one?

“Of course, you can!  Thousands all over the world have read about it on my blog (Why I’m a Proud e-Harmony Reject).  A few more in Harford County can’t make any difference.”

After my dance (which was finally good enough for my limited standards), I was interviewed by the emcee, a local reporter, who asked if it was true that e-Harmony hadn’t been able to find a date for me.

“Actually,” I corrected her, “after I took their personality test, they told me that they wouldn’t be able to find a date for me and never tried.”

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At 63, still an e-Harmony reject. Photo by Robin Sommer. Images of Sommer.

To my shock, she called over the evening’s auctioneer to take bids for a date with me. I glanced over to where The Daughter and her beau were sitting.  The Daughter’s eyes were like saucers.  [My entire family puts up with a lot of crazy stuff from me.]

“Well, ok,” I thought, “I’ve been on so many crappy Match.com dates, I can have coffee with anyone.  And at least this one will be for a good cause.”  I got into the spirit by allowing myself to be paraded around the dance floor, blowing kisses, and posing with my leg sliding out of the slit in my dance dress.

700 bucks, people.  I brought in 700 bucks.

And now, the rest of the story.

It was a stunt to raise a few more dollars.  There was no date.  They just forgot to tell me, I guess.  Oh, foolish me!  I can’t even get a fake date!

Long story short, I AM a good sport.  I have incredible stage presence.  I never break character.  I have more experience living gracefully under pressure than any one person should have in a lifetime.  As one of my friends said to me this morning, “I believed it because I know you’re such a good actress.”

I am a great comedienne, because I understand that comedy isn’t pretty.  Think about it.  Anyone who appears onstage looking like a Paula Deen impersonator and doesn’t die of embarrassment is either a comedienne or has no shame.  And probably deserves whatever she gets.  However, I prefer to be the butt of my own jokes.

You know, I was planning to be cremated, but I’d love to be laid out in that wig and dress.  The mourners would probably think it was all a joke and expect me to jump up at any moment into a sappy rendition of “What I Did for Love.”

I’ve appeared onstage in lingerie and revealing dance costumes.  I’ve sung solos that went horribly wrong.  I once even prematurely revealed the name of the murderer in an Agatha Christie play because my brain had wandered off to what I was going to eat after the show.  Fortunately, the scene was so boring the audience didn’t notice, but the horrified looks of my fellow actors are permanently etched on the inside of my eyelids.

Life seemed so much more boring this morning, my trot a little less foxy.  I raised $6,500.  My fellow dancers, combined, raised over $102,000.  When you throw in the silent and live auctions and the raffles and other donations, we brought our community a little closer to building a center for the arts.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Event photography of the Center for the Arts gala fundraising event, Dancing for the Arts on November 21,1 2015 at the Maryland Golf and Country Club, Bel Air, Maryland. Photography by Robin Sommer, Images of Sommer.

Geez, I’m short! Event photography of the Center for the Arts gala fundraising event, Dancing for the Arts on November 21,1 2015 at the Maryland Golf and Country Club, Bel Air, Maryland. Photography by Robin Sommer, Images of Sommer.

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Fool for the Arts

Dancing with Cartilage

Dancing with Cartilage c. 1985

I have been a ham for as long as I can recall.  I love to make people smile, primarily because smiling people are forgiving people.  I learned early on that I could get away with a lot if people were laughing with me.  I was small and skinny, couldn’t run fast, hated sports, and didn’t much care for the great outdoors.

When I was four, I was on Detroit’s version of Romper Room for two weeks (and have the home movies and a “graduation” ring to prove it).  I was the kid chosen to narrate plays and stories.  I danced around my living room in self-crafted tutus for the family movie camera.  I turned vocabulary assignments into poems.  I wrote stories about turkeys who couldn’t gobble and girl detectives.  I made puppets out of wooden spoons.  I organized neighborhood plays and talent shows.  I sang in Easter bonnets made out of paper plates and purple netting.  I played a Munchkin in the “Wizard of Oz” and painted sets and made costumes.

Lend Me a Tenor, clothed

Lend Me a Tenor, clothed, c. 1995

I was in a student film playing a cog in a machine.  In one graduate level theater course, for an assignment on the cycle of life, I even wrote a scene in which I, with my fellow actors, played salmon struggling upstream to spawn.  In two different productions of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” I spent the entire first act wearing nothing but a slip.  In a production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” I spent another 15 minutes wearing nothing but a teddy, playing a nymphomaniacal soprano.  In fact, I have done everything legal or moral on a stage, acting, singing, dancing, playing the violin, from garages in my hometown to Carnegie Hall.

Make no mistake about it, I have a keen sense of propriety, unless I’m near a stage.  When I began singing with the Deer Creek Chorale, My Mother commented on a performance by her 60-year old daughter, “After all these years, you’re still the one in the front row hamming it up.”

Yep, that’s me.  All the world’s a stage.  The arts tell us who we are as people, as human beings.  They provide glimpses into parts of our world that we might never encounter.  They comment on human nature, good and bad.  As my conservative father once said about a controversial play in which I was appearing, “These [characters] may not be the people we know, but they certainly exist, and it would be foolish not to try to understand them.”

After several starts and stops in the 30-some years that I have lived in Harford County, Maryland, we have a good chance of building an actual center for the arts.  No more rehearsing in drafty basements or performing in crowded churches.  A generous bequest of land started this current effort, and the county and the state of Maryland have agreed to support it financially, but first, the citizens have to raise several million dollars.

The Veterinarian and I already became charter members of the Center for the Arts, and, now, I have agreed to dance in their

Singing with Deer Creek Chorale

Singing with Deer Creek Chorale, 2015

annual fundraiser, Dancing for the Arts.  Sounds like a no-brainer for a woman who studied ballet, modern, and jazz into her early 40s, doesn’t it?  A no-brainer for a ham, right?  Well, consider that I have no cartilage left in either of my knees and have subluxated my hips once too often.  That evens the playing field right there, don’t you think?  With the help of the Deer Creek Chorale, I have committed to raising a minimum of $5,000 to support my fellow performing and visual artists.

Please visit my Dancing for the Arts page and put a smile on my face as I dance, yet again, in support of the arts.  As I say,

“Our community is full of well-trained professionals and capable amateurs in music, dance, theater, literature, and the visual arts with limited opportunities to express themselves.  Our community is full of children with limited exposure to the thoughts and ideas of the greater world around them.  Our community is full of residents who long to make connections with one another.  Let’s make those connections a reality through the arts!” 

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Those Hills are Still Alive

Gaga flips skirtDid you catch Lady Gaga honoring the 50th Anniversary of the film version of The Sound of Music on the Academy Awards
last week?  Were you shocked?  I was apprehensive when she started to sing, because  I didn’t want to see a travesty made of a film whose score was embedded in my 13-year old brain.  As I listened to her well-rehearsed singing, I saw her nervousness in the amateurish way she flipped her gown.  Stefani Germanotta, the girl behind the outrageous Mother Monster disguise, could have been performing in her living room for the neighbors.  I saw how important this was for her, and I started rooting for her.  For the first time ever, I identified with her as a performer.

Of course, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” for the neighbors in your living room is in no way akin to having your foibles aired to hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.  Still, your reputation as an in-your-face know-it-all is at stake, especially when you take on some of the most beloved music ever put on film.

When I was growing up in the not-yet psychedelic 60s, it was a treat to dress up in your Sunday best (i.e., pretty dress, coat, probably patent leather shoes, and gloves) and go into downtown Detroit to see a movie at one of the grand old movie houses.  The Sound of Music premiered in March, 1962 at the now-demolished Madison Theater, which was built in 1917.  I saw it on the huge, curved screen and wept for the brave family, as they escaped the Nazis. It was a triumphant, happily-ever-after kind of story with pretty scenery, pretty people, and pretty music.  Who did not want to be Maria?

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and taught by nuns who had no sense of humor beyond corporal punishment (so it seemed).  It never occurred to me that nuns smiled or sang or had fulfilling lives locked away in a convent.  I could well imagine that they would give “a problem like Maria” the heave-ho from their cloistered world.  I had not imagined that the heave-ho would send the problem into a beautiful home with a handsome father and adorable children, with evil Nazis threatening their idyll in the Alps.

In the days before VHS tapes, DVDs, and video on demand, the soundtrack album of a movie or stage show allowed you to experience it over and over again.  In 1965, The Sound of Music became my favorite, surpassing Mary Poppins.  I wanted to waltz with the sorely misguided Rolf in my family’s conservatory.  I wanted to ride through the streets of Salzburg singing about “bright copper kettles” (which I had never seen) and “warm woolen mittens” (which I owned).  I wanted to sing “Edelweiss” on a darkened stage with tears streaming down my face.  I wanted to laugh in the face of the Baroness.  And, yes, I imagined myself bravely walking down the aisle to marry the handsome Captain while nuns sang “How do solve a problem like Maria?”  With marriage, evidently.  Ah, Captain von Trapp…

I saw Christopher Plummer again onstage as Iago with James Earl Jones as the titular “Othello.”  What a performer!  Forget how good he was pretending onscreen that he didn’t hate playing Captain von Trapp in what he has described as potential “mawkishness.”  Here he was on a Sunday afternoon at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore in 1981, providing me with a lesson in stagecraft. At his entrance, the audience applauded enthusiastically.

However, the production capitalized on Mr. Jones’ notoriety as the voice of Darth Vader.  In my feeble memory, the stage direction had him boldly make his first entrance at upstage center.  Othello was wearing all black, including a black cape.   His first lines were delivered from beneath a helmet.  The audience went wild.

I turned to The Veterinarian and said, “Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy.  This production’s going south in a hurry.”  I was confused.  Were we to think that Othello and Darth are the same?  Or was it just a cheap ploy to entertain the audience?  Or, worst of all, were they going to upstage Mr. Plummer with their theatrics?

Othello 2 (2)There was more about the staging (especially the lighting, as I recall) that I didn’t like.  I recently noticed that Kelsey Grammer, pre-Cheers, played “Cassio” in that production, which, I am sorry to say, didn’t make an impression on me, either.  [I don’t recall who played Desdemona, and a google search was no help.] As the play progressed, though, its esteemed leads lived up to their reputations.  They told the story without gimmicks, although there were more theatrics, some unintended.

During a duel, one of the actors’ swords flew from his hand, off the stage, and into the lap of an elderly lady in the front row.  The theater went silent.  Ushers hesitantly moved forward.  Without breaking character, Mr. Plummer leapt from the stage and knelt on one knee in front of the startled lady.  He removed the sword and spoke quietly to her, then kissed her hand and ran up the stairs, back on the stage, and, still in character, haughtily tossed the sword to its actor.  The house went wild.  I swooned in my seat.   Mr. Plummer went on to Broadway and won a Tony award for his Iago.  I would have given it to him just for what I saw in that production.  Ah, Captain von Trapp…

Theatrics, used appropriately, can add excitement to a production.  Some, like the falling chandelier in Phantom of the Opera, are costly, yet “cheap tricks.”  Others make ordinary lives more interesting.  Apparently, the play and movie version of The Sound of Music were dramatized to make the story of the von Trapps more thrilling, as if defying the Nazis wasn’t compelling enough.  There was no dramatic escape across the Alps, just a train ride to Italy and a boat to London, then on to the U.S.  The Captain actually was quite genial, and Maria said in her autobiography Maria that she married the Captain for the sake of the children and learned to love him later, a different kind of romance.

I sang The Sound of Music around my house for three years, until I became captivated by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, a much edgier story line for an adolescent girl who was “sixteen going on seventeen” in the more cynical, psychedelic late 60s.  I saw myself on that tugboat in New York Harbor singing my lungs out, chasing down my star-crossed lover, a bittersweet story, a different kind of romance.  Both movies were based on real people, but fleeting happiness is not as compelling in the long run, so I went back to Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s more hopeful story.

At the end of her Sound of Music medley, Stefani looked humbled at the appearance of the fabulous Julie Andrews onstage with her.  All the time she was singing the iconic songs (my only complaint is that she mimicked Ms. Andrews’ English accent, as I mimicked Ms. Streisand’s Brooklyn accent), she knew that the icon, herself, was standing in the wings.  How much braver is it to be yourself than to hide behind outlandish costumes and snarl at your audience, “cheap tricks,” all of them?  Brava, Ms. Germanotta, brava!

While I sing in choral groups (and once sang in a chorus on the stage at Carnegie Hall under the direction of the great John Rutter), I will never sing a solo in front of anyone except the BFF, not even in the shower, never again in someone’s living room or basement or garage.  And no one is asking me to, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


It’s a boring week.  I’ve discovered that I can test my prospective dates by making them read this blog first.  I say, “Read my blog, and let me know if you’re still interested.”  The blog is a deal-breaker, which makes it the perfect test.  My profile photos are catchy, my text clever, but the “real me” is just too much, apparently.  “Real Suzanne” is not coming over to your house on a first date for a drink and does not want to have sex with you within the first several months that I know you, if ever.  “Real Suzanne” can tell if you’re a phony.  “Real Suzanne” is probably a lot smarter than you are, which is a real turn-off, for her.

I got lots of scammers this week.  Anthropologists have missed the best marker of all to attract a mate, good grammar.  One had a well-written profile in which he said he flies his own airplane, so, after he emailed me in broken English, I responded by asking what kind of airplane he flies?  Naturally, he did not respond.  They never do when they know you’re going to catch them in a lie.

I did not respond to an email from a guy with no profile photo that said, “I lie if I not tell you your sexy!! [sic]”

From a guy whose photo looks like a young Paul Newman, ” i hope the weather is getting better over there for you too. [sic]” He lives in NY and shows a photo of himself with a recently deceased celebrity whom he identifies as his father.

I reported another one who stole a woman’s photo and profile and claimed that she was his intermediary.

I had two emails from different men who claim to have post-graduate degrees with this explanation, “I have tried to upload more pictures but I really do not know how it works been my first time on a dating site. [sic]”

From the geographically-challenged, a guy named “Pedro” who lives about 40 miles south of me, “do you have a lot of snow back there? [sic]”

And this:

Scammer 2 (2)

Yep, go away Forever!



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Sugar Plum Fairy Tales

This morning, Kelly Ripa described a burlesque, “sexy,” nude version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.  I’ve seen countless versions of this Christmas classic; traditional, contemporary, jazz, tap, swing, macabre, and even on ice.  I am completely bored with it, so nudity might make it more interesting. This all reminds me of a story that, unlike some of my stories, doesn’t involve my own nudity but probably should.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had a curl right in the middle of her forehead.  She was captivated by everything theatrical.  She grew up in a middle class family, in a middle class community that didn’t quite understand how to develop a career in the arts.  The family visited museums of all kinds, had dozens of books and records, followed movies old and new, attended the theater, and excelled at decorating and dressing up for all occasions.  It turns out, those are the very skills needed for a career in the arts; a passion for the new, the exciting, the different; the telling of the story of our common life.

The family had a movie camera, purchased to record the parents’ wedding in 1951, as well as every event that occurred thereafter, until it finally died in 1967.  The little girl relished any opportunity to dress up and prance in front of the camera, especially in crinoline petticoats with a plastic tiara and “magic wand”, like the ballerinas she saw on television and in the movies.  Or she clumsily would toss around a baton or attempt a soft shoe, like Judy Garland.  In reality, she wasn’t trained to do any of those things, but, in her mind, she could be just about anything she wanted.

When she was four, she cajoled her mother into sending her photo into Detroit’s version of “Romper Room” and spent two weeks on the show, rehearsing songs, playing games, showing off her naked baby doll (nudity!), and munching on Awrey cookies, while drinking Twin Pines milk from thick white mugs.  She watched what the hostess did, how the cameramen moved, how the lights were set.

At church, she learned that Sunday School is the place where frustrated adults are desperate to get children to sing or recite onstage boldly and with aplomb, wearing all manner of ridiculous headgear made of paper plates and construction paper.  With loads of experience hamming it up for the camera, she could be counted on to belt out her lines with feeling, and singing “Away in a Manager” under a spotlight on a darkened church stage with the attention of family and friends added fuel to her theatrical fire.

Throughout elementary school and high school, while other children studied ballet and tap and baton and singing, the girl read and watched everything she could.  She could be counted on to paint sets, make puppets and costumes, be the unseen narrator, produce plays in garages and basements, and write countless short stories and plays.  She attended every professional and amateur production she could.  By day, she studied drama, speech, creative writing, and journalism in high school and, by night, lived a fantasy life of acting, song, and dance in her basement.

Eventually, she was found by her life’s ambition.  An English Major in college, she added acting and theater electives.  She ushered at a community theater and, at age 20, took her first dance and piano classes.

At age 27, she took her first ballet class at a community college in her adopted hometown, where an enormously talented ballet dancer had started a dance company.  The teacher invited the fledgling dancer to join the company.  One of the group’s first presentations was Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker Suite.  With her talents for organization, the young woman assisted with costumes and

Community dancers

Community dancers

staging, and, having no fear or shame, performed “Waltz of the Flowers” dozens of times for all audiences, at libraries, nursing homes, and elementary schools, wearing a tiara made of silver pipe cleaners.  Later, choreography for more experienced dancers was added, and after four short years, the artistic director decided to leave to form a separate ballet company.  She spoke to the young woman.

“I think you should be the next artistic director,” she said.  The young woman laughed.

“I don’t know anything about dance.”

“You know enough to know what is right and what is wrong.  You know how to produce a show and tell a story,” the artistic director replied.  “You’ll hire choreographers to carry out your vision of The Nutcracker.”

With the encouragement of faculty, parents, and dancers and a promise from the college to pay her $1.00 for every ticket sold, she reluctantly agreed to take on the job.  At the last performance before she took over, the young woman stood in the wings, crying and trembling in fear, feeling totally unqualified and terrified of failure.  It was one of the times that she clearly heard God say, “This is the job that I am giving you.  Just do it.”  Well, it was a little more involved than that, but, as she always said, when God tells you to do something, you don’t ask questions.

Under her first year of direction, she persuaded her husband to engineer the giant “Mother Ginger” dress, from under which about a dozen children spring to dance.  He constructed it from PVC pipe, and she used parachute material for the skirt.

“Who’s going to wear this thing?” her husband asked cautiously, trying out the painter’s stilts that were required to lift the dress high enough off the floor for the children to stand up.

Always a good sport

Always a good sport

“Well…”  She lifted her eyebrows at him.  He looked smashing in the wig, bonnet, and falsies.

In the second year of her reign, they added the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” scene, which completed all the choreography except the Sugar Plum grand pas de deux.  Unfortunately, there was no capable young male dancer in the company capable of partnering a dancer.

In the spirit of a community dance company, everyone pitched

One of the best dancers in the Spanish variation.

One of the best dancers in the Spanish variation.

in, sharing their individual talents.  The dancers ranged in age from talented youngsters to willing adults, some of whom had never taken a formal dance class in their lives.  All of them had a place in the corps, even an 80-year old grandmother who played—what else?—the grandmother.  Some of them had only studied tap or jazz, acting or gymnastics, and one enormously talented young man, who did a wicked imitation of the singer Prince and could jump like he had springs for legs, became an audience favorite as the Nutcracker, himself.

All ages, all abilities

All ages, all abilities

Behind the scenes, local parents and high school students learned to run light boards and follow-spots, call shows, make costumes, sell concessions, and fundraise.  After the third year, about 100 people participated in each year’s show. The director enlisted her mother as costumer and house manager and her sister as stage manager.

One year, one of the college-aged dancers brought her good-looking boyfriend, a music student, to watch a rehearsal.  The director seized her opportunity.

“Do you dance, too?” she asked.

“Um, no,” he shyly answered.

“Oh,” she paused to consider his level of gullibility.  “You know we could really use a Prince in this show.  You wouldn’t have to dance or anything.  Just kind of stand there and support the Sugar Plum Fairy while she turns. Yeah, it’s not really dancing.”  Surprisingly, he agreed.  A dancer was born.

What happened to all those people who participated? Many of the students have gone on to obtain degrees in theatre and dance.  The jumping Nutcracker has become a fixture as a popular choreographer and performer in the Baltimore area, and the Prince is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance at Seton Hill University.  Others are dance teachers, children’s authors, communications directors, children’s theater directors, and advertising executives.  The youngest are now in their 40s, and some even have grandchildren.  They stay in touch through that miracle of memories, Facebook.

That’s my story.  Really, that’s my story.  That’s how I parlayed a love of story-telling and performing into my life’s work.  I no longer dance because I’ve lost all cartilage in my knees, and my hips don’t bend like they used to.  There aren’t many roles for older women, and I gave up playing the ingénue at the age of 47, when I was paired with a 25-year old actor.  It may sound exciting, but I found it creepy.  I’m holding up well for my age, but I’m no cougar. Although, I’m thinking that a trip to NYC for a burlesque Nutcracker may be in order.  Anyone care to join me?

DATE UPDATE:  My Our Time account finally expired, and my last date was yesterday.  A man who said he was “currently separated” had been pestering me for four weeks to have lunch with him.  Supposedly, we had common interests in sailing and travel, but I had my doubts and kept putting him off.  Finally, in a moment of boredom, I agreed when he asked, “What have you got to lose?”

Apparently, 90 minutes (including travel time) and 16 ounces.

He asked if I would join him at Panera or Olive Garden for lunch.  I chose Panera, because I have given up pasta.  From our email exchange, we clearly agreed on the location of the Panera (ubiquitous everywhere but near my home) and the time, 11:30.  I thought it was a good location to complete my Christmas shopping, so I arrived at the mall early enough to shop and to be at the Panera by 11:28.

Since it was pouring rain, I stepped inside the restaurant and looked around.  It wasn’t very crowded, and I saw no one matching the profile photo of my date.  I stood just inside the front door and waited.  And waited.  And then waited some more.  I kept checking my email.  Nothing.

Finally, at 11:45, I stepped up to the counter and ordered a cup of Autumn Squash soup and half of a smoked turkey sandwich on country white (hold the mayo, tomatoes, and lettuce, please).  When my order was called, I sat in a corner of the restaurant where I could see everyone who came in.  Oh—and it was next to the rear door, so I could make a hasty escape, if needed.  Some middle-aged couples came in and lots of young shop and office workers.  No single 65-year old men.  Not by a long shot.

At 11:54, I finished my soup, wrapped up my sandwich, gave one last look around the restaurant and at my email, and headed back out into the pouring rain.  Periodically during the day, I checked my email, but by 11 pm, when I fell asleep, I had not heard from my erstwhile date.

At 1:30 am, my lunch decided to part company with my body, hence the lost 16 ounces.  I was too nauseous to look at my email until this morning, when, lo and behold, there it was.  He wrote:

“I should get the Bozo Award and won’t be surprised if I am deleted.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but I went to [insert other location].  Wish you would have called me.”

WISH I WOULD HAVE CALLED YOU?  You don’t contact me for 12 hours?  No “sorry” for screwing up our date?  I sent the D*bag (as I now think of him) straight to the “Trash” folder for eternity, because I think he’s not quite as “currently separated” as he claims, unless it’s his common sense from his brain.

I won’t let this bother me because other people have greater problems than meeting nitwits online to provide funny fodder for blogs.  There may still be hope that I will find Mr. Right soon because I still belong to match.com for the next two months, although my profile now starts with “Not for the faint of heart.”  And it’s almost Christmas.  You know?  Peace on earth, goodwill to men, whatever their dating status?  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!