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Archive for August, 2019

images of a woman

The following is the speech I gave (well, with tremendous artistic license… I actually wandered quite a bit!) at the Nathan Littauer HealthLink “Images of a Woman” event on July 31, 2019:

Good afternoon! I am Ann Thane.

I want to Thank Nathan Littauer for allowing me to share on such a juicy topic! Images of a woman… just think about the images that come to your mind when we think about women. 

I especially want to thank my Sista, Tammy Merendo, for this opportunity. Really, she’s the one that inspires me every day (and we talk every day) with her strength, her no-nonsense approach, artistry, humor, and of course, the swearing. We are both very good at swearing (in private, of course). I’m sure we’re the only two in this room guilty of this unfortunate choice!

SO, back to the juice! Women! Like all of us here “of a certain age”, we’ve lived several different lives over our time on earth, each decade, so different from the one before… from our clothes and hair, to jobs and locations, partners, people, food…

who here eats the same way you did as a 20 year old? 

Everything is just so different about every ten years or so. Our mental and emotional challenges change, and so do the heroes, or more to point today, the heroines.

Because as women, we are sisters on a sacred level and we have all experienced this special connection… sometimes in the line at the grocery store, or in the ladies room on the thruway… I have a very nice relationship with the women at the coffee stop I make every morning, yet we know very little about each other.

We share in this immensely complex thing labeled “female” and have common hungers that are expressed in many ways over the years. 

One thing is clear: we are born hungry from the moment we come kicking and screaming into this world. We are born hungry for touch and for attention, and this hunger for human connection is a steady stream that runs through our lives for all of our lives, whether it is satisfied or not. This desire to “be complete” carries us into the most baffling and rewarding searches of our lives. 

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have always had incredible female guides, mentors and friends at each stage of this journey. Over the next few minutes, I’ll walk you through the distinct stages of my life in the hope that you too recognize your similar experiences. For me, these women are proof of the existence of a higher power that is active, not distant, in my life. My belief system includes faith in a God or a Goddess or whatever is out there that will send who and what I need, when I need them.

Because I mentioned the word Goddess, I’m throwing in this shot of my mother’s mother, Marion Tigue, because she was a primary influencer in my life. ❤ I look like her and smell like her, and if I get really outrageously lucky, I’ll be at least half as good as her. She still whispers to me when I need her.

Thankfully, I’ve had very few times when I didn’t have two to three closest friends, usually girlfriends, that get my vibe: they are curious, creative, sensitive, and always funny. I come from people that love to laugh and this trait has carried us through some of our toughest times.

This includes the two wonderful sisters I was born with, Lisa and Marybeth, and my sister-in-law Betsy. They’re all incredibly kind, supportive and the perfect combination of whacky that has worked magic in my life.

SO, without belaboring this, I had a happy childhood. I was the first born to young newly-weds, followed rapidly by four more living children and two miscarriages.

My parents were loving and in love.

This is my dad. I’m about ten here. He was my whole world, really. I love my mother and always will, but my father and I were very alike and he treated me as both a father and an equal. 

This is my mother as a young woman. She was voted May Queen in 1954 at the University of Delaware and she was way prettier than Jackie O. They were a beautiful, white, professional, suburban couple that were the envy of their peers.

In the early sixties, they moved to a sprawling home in an affluent Catholic neighborhood on the outskirts of Wilmington, DE, and this is where I met my childhood soulmate, Patty Delate.

From the moment we met, we grew into each other like vines on a trellis. Patty is the fifth child in a family of thirteen. She was a pretty, athletic blond and one year older than me. I was small, skinny, homely, and shy, and mercilessly bullied by kids at school. She was smart, hysterically funny, mischievous, and spiritual, even as a child. We were both raised in the Catholic faith, but she “got it”, ya know? I alway wondered how she had been born with such an innate knowledge of spirit, and why I never felt that understanding.

Now, after all of these years and watching her through the magic that is FaceBook, I think she is just a very old soul, fine and strong, kind and selfless, doing the work she is meant to perform in this physical realm. She lives on the Alaskan coast and is a Nurse Practitioner and Wholistic Healer. She also travels often to the Democratic Republic of Congo to share her heart with people-in-need. 

I blame her for my love of chocolate (we made many, many excursions to an old-time candy shop up the hill from us), for my inclination to share all my thoughts and worldly goods openly with all friends, and am grateful that she fearlessly taught me to cook and bake.

She’s the one that taught me to explore and worship the beauty of the forest and the creeks. When we were together in the woods, we were transported to another realm of tadpoles, tree tops, raspberry bushes, and crayfish tucked in muddy crevices while we balanced on rocks above the water, crouched and contained.

She was my first true love.

I remember it being odd when we grew apart once we went to different schools and then she moved away to take up her journey through time.

Yet, there were others in the woods when I was a child. My cousins, Joan and Jane, lived just two blocks from me, and I spent wondrous amounts of time running down wooded paths and through back yards to get to them. It was great for us kids, but our parents lived and worked a little too closely together, in the family pharmacy business. The adults were ravenously, though not overtly, competitive. 

This came from their complicated dynamic. Basically, a set of sisters married a set of brothers. My mother was beautiful and favored by her father; my aunt was accomplished and favored by her dad. This was good and bad. The hunger for parental approval drove both my mother and aunt to be successful businesswomen and celebrated public servants. They taught my generation to love our communities, to volunteer, and to not just speak up politically, but to lead. 

All of my generation have inherited or been impacted by a family disease that continues to snake its way through our line.

Quick skip back to my dad, my daddy, my movie star handsome father. He loved being a husband and father.

We came first in everything, until we didn’t. There came a time that he couldn’t control his hunger for the serpent that is alcohol. It eventually took his life and he died by his own hand at the age of 42.

That was horrible. 

I was 17 and just starting my menstrual cycle, so I was also half out of my mind…and my first real boyfriend had just broken up with me… it was really, really terrible,

but suddenly, it was five years later.

I survived. Somewhat damaged and wobbly, but alive. In that time, I had two more serious relationships, and met my husband, Peter, at college. At that time, I was tall, thin and pretty (I thank my parents to the day for my braces) but I didn’t know I was pretty. I look back at photos of this time and don’t recognize that girl. 

Anyway, at that time, I was a bit out of control and a lot lost, but I stuck with Pete through it all. That is not the whole truth. He is my rock. He’s the one that stuck with me through pain and chaos. As did the next group of women that came into my life at a critical juncture.

Tracy (Bjork) Thompson and Jeanne Reeder were my roommates in college. After 40 years they are still my closest friends, though they both live on the West Coast. I see Tracy every few years and it has been about 20 years since I last saw Jeanne. Since the beginning, our connection has been immediate and intense. Back then, we were hungry to be grown up but still cool, to find our nest and our purpose. We were crazy thin and ate poorly. I remember big bottles of cheap german wine and lots of obnoxiously loud music.

Tracy is beautiful and confident and Jeanne is etherial and certain. They came to me at the perfect time, just starting out in life, when you make the friendships that will last a lifetime.

I learned from them that I could be open, intellectual, artistic and accepted. We indulged our new appetites for debate, living independently, and excess. Soon after they graduated, they left excess behind. I had a harder time of it.

These women have loved me through depression, dishonesty, addiction and distance. I deeply love them both to this day.

It was in my twenties that I realized I had a unique artistic voice. This was not quite in keeping with the realistic approach to drawing taught at the University of Delaware and left me insecure about my expressive technique. I look back at my work from the time and see that it is probably some of the best of my life, even though I had no confidence in my work at that time. 

This is the story of my life!

I will forever being seeking the effortless nature of my line then, and I have forgotten how I achieved some of the effects I achieved with paint. These are some images from that time. Obviously, in my 20’s I was obsessed with sexuality. You’ll see in a minute that I’m a kid at heart and my interest in the female form has not diminished, though now my rendered women have personalities and intent.

I met my in-laws in my twenties too. In this regard, I may be the luckiest woman in the world. My husband’s parents were loving and accepting of me from the very first time I met them. And my mother-in-law, Dottie, showed me maternal love that was completely patient, generous and stable. She was a FABULOUS baker. We all know baking is an art. She had “it”!

Bang.

Suddenly another ten years passed and I had moved, first to NJ to pursue my husband and a job, and then to Amsterdam, NY to become a wife and new mother. I think the thirties are the hardest decade to navigate. We grapple with balance between our needs and others, with new bills, uncertainty about the future, and the first failings of our bodies. Our first grey appears, along with the weight. We jealously watch folks that haven’t paired off still dressing up, going out, moving up in the job, and enjoying the unfettered life. 

Of course, this is not the experience of the single on the other end, but that’s another person’s life. Maybe next year’s speaker!

And you should pity me. I had to go through my thirties in the 80’s! The “80’s” is really another way of saying big bad hair, too much makeup, gigantic man-like garments, and music I’ve never made friends with. My apologies that had the time of your life in the 80’s. Rock on. This is just my experience and I lived a good portion of this period in New Jersey. Nuff said.

At the same time, you begin to move fully into adulthood. The hunger to be a great parent never leaves you. It is also an appetite that can never be sated and in time, we must all learn the hard lessons, some small, some catastrophic.  

I was a graphic artist by this time of my life, which sounds creative but is anything but. It is a competitive field that pays little and any really innovative work is eliminated by clients in the first round. We had moved upstate to be closer to the Thanes. They had retired in the Catskills, an hour from our house in Amsterdam. My husband worked in the construction field and I freelanced in Albany while juggling two little children. Thank goodness for the creation of the personal computer! This allowed me to work from home with the kids at my ankles. We didn’t have much, but never went without. 

And we always had wonderful meals, because I love to cook. It is a calling that is very similar to my drawing. Often, when I take a break from drawing or other mediums, I’ll jump to the kitchen. Food is colorful, fragrant, and delicious. 

In my early thirties, I made lavish meals to hide that fact that I was struggling with my drinking. I gained 70 pounds and was so self conscious, I didn’t want to leave my house. I certainly didn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit and there are few photos of me at this time.

I also realized that my compulsion for food was every bit a strong my desire to drink. This would start the sea-sawing up and down of my weight for the next couple of decades, but I could justify my sins because my cooking was spectacular. The disease of addiction is so insidious. Thank goodness, my mother-in-law was there, always with open arms and gentle, thoughtful encouragement, like I was her own blood. 

And just like that, I was pitched into the next phase of my life. God, to be 40 again physically is my dream! I was healthy and confident enough to feel all “growed-up”, but still vibrant enough to feel young, sexy and alive. My recovery work had introduced me to a growing circle of friends that knew everything about me, and loved me to a better life. I lost weight and began to truly enjoy my life by using the gifts God had given me for others.

I landed in the Walter Elwood Museum, first on the board and then as its Director. My children were in elementary school. I was active with the PTA, the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, and the local Democratic Party. 

While at the museum, I had the honor of taking over operations from Mary Margaret Gage, the denizen and keeper of city history and the quirky collection of 20,000 objects, assembled over the last century. She was another angel sent to guide me. 

The museum was her passion and reason for living. In a careful dance, she passed off the position to me with grace and restraint. And this is why: we loved each other. Mary Margaret was known to be difficult and direct, a formidable and fierce protector of her trove. I was scared to death of her. 

So I prayed. I prayed everyday to love her. No matter what she did, I would love her, and try to understand her. She must have been praying at the same time, because we came together and started to build a future for the museum in unison, until circumstance took her to Florida to live out her remaining years with her kids. Mary Margaret instilled in me the same passionate feelings about those collections that she had. She also demonstrated humble, anonymous service to others win her thoughts and actions. The Mary Margaret that I knew gave selflessly to her friends and organizations in our community. She has a special affection for children that may have surprised some. She never backed down from a confrontation, but would hold someone in a hard stare for several minutes until she unnerved them. She totally rocked! 

My second museum angel was MaryAnn Tomlinson. She was president of the board for most of my seven years. She listened to me whine and cry, and would then assure me that we could bring about the rebirth of a new organization to sustain the museum.

And we did it, with many other terrific women that are still giving to the museum and other organizations today: Barb Neznek and Diane Smith were on my board. They still play prominent roles in their communities, and you may know Barb through Healthlink.

The museum taught me so much and I loved that job. Everyday, I discovered a new, charming object with an exotic origin or story. I put all of my creative impulses into developing a new mission and vision, crafting policies, hosting events, marketing, rehabbing faded exhibits and bringing out forgotten surprises from the attic. I never thought there’d be another job that could top that one. 

Never say never. Ha!

Anyway, the famous Amsterdamian south-sider Virginia Whelly brought me onto the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation board in the year 2,000, when I was 43 years old. A walking bridge from the parking facility over the railroad to an empty lot on the Mohawk River was all that existed of the park that we see in this slide. Did anyone attend the concert on Saturday night? Over 2,000 people were present. There’s some nice symmetry in that. 

Outside of the guy I sleep next to every night, a few folks in Amsterdam really stand out for the lessons they taught me. Virginia, of course, with Doug Nadler, Paul Parillo, Paul Gavry, and so importantly, Paul Tonko. They really are the ones that understood what revitalizing the waterfront could do for Amsterdam. Little did I know, this would lead to a twenty-year commitment to this redevelopment and thousands of hours of pushing for one thing or another. 

This heady time taught me that I had personal power to bring about change in my community. That’s a HUGE lesson. All of a sudden, I noticed that there were only a very few number of people doing everything, and that every board featured the same faces. Any of you do volunteer work? Am I right? 

And don’t those little PTA, library and sports team boards get political?! Whoa! I think several years on a committee or board should be a mandated qualification to run for any elected position. Lord knows there’s the need and maybe some of these people could learn how to work toward a common goal before spending our tax dollars.

My forties did not inspire a hunger in me for power as much as a realization that power lies in the hands of a very few. This realization jettisoned me into the next phase of my life with perfect preparation for the nonsense and wonder that is politics.

Bethany Schumann McGhee and I found one another in this arena and fought the good fight for about 15 years. It’s at this time in my life that I began to realize most news anchors, teachers, nurses and some of my friends were quite a bit younger than I.

My kids attended school with children from a family up the hill and we all became very close. I would be remiss to not talk a minute about Mary DeCusatis.

Kind and outwardly social, but intensely private too, we recognized our similarities quickly. We’re even born on the same day. Mary provided a haven for my children when I was trying to kickstart a career. She created a lovely home, with sumptuous meals and late-night board games. She shared her extensive knowledge of the city’s people and made all of us feel safe and protected. I’d end up working side-by-side with her husband (and another best friend, even if he’s not a girl) in city government for eight years.

Because by the time I was in my mid-fifties, I was Mayor of the City of Amsterdam and heavy again! But THIS was the best job I’d ever had in my life. It was endlessly stressful and challenging, but so incredibly rewarding.

I think my advantage as a woman mayor was how unfamiliar it was to my opponents; they just did not know how to communicate, much less collaborate, with a woman. The funny thing is that, I was serene most of the time, until the end of my second term. By that time, they had called out the guns on my council and the nuts called the radio stations everyday to complain about things they didn’t really understand. Politics can get so ridiculous, which is tragic because we must have government to manage our communal needs. 

And this is what that did too me.

Until I decided to take my life back.

As one can expect, it gets a little lonely in that office now and then. Thank goodness I fell into managing with extremely talented employees that were willing to work collaboratively.

We facilitated the biggest capital improvements to Amsterdam in 60 years, many that are still progressing today. I’m very proud of my record, but it only happened because God gave me the best team and volunteers. The following is just a smattering of significant projects and public art I championed during my time in office. You’ve already seen the waterfront park, but there is so much more!.

Nothing shows you who your friends are more than politics. It was at this time that God also sent me a hive of women to show me what it really means to be communal, and they are still my friends now.

They are persistent, kind, expressive and giving. They live lives of joy and small victories, magnificent plans, monumental sacrifice and challenge. They do this while making pottery or wreathes and beating a drum. They build community gardens, work countless fundraisers, and shepherded a group of children from the east end for years.

They will be there for you if you are painting a hydrant or managing the aftermath of a 500-year flood. They grapple with personal tragedies, illness and loss, while handing out candy to children at a Halloween event.

I’m going to flip through photos of these friends; Barb and Diane I’ve already mentioned but there is also Kari, Sherri, and Suzanna. Most importantly, there was Tammy Merendo, and once again in my life, I was a solidly connected to someone as if we were hardwired. 

Tammy Merendo is my Sista; my chosen sister. She has made me hungry again to live fully, unencumbered by my preconceptions or insecurities about myself that bob up to the surface now and then. She’s so amazing and I can barely believe that I would be so lucky to have the support of someone so fierce and sound.

And crazy like me. We all need that small bit of kooky in our bestie, right? We are crazy in the way of picking up the phone and calling at the same time, or being drawn to the same item in an auction. We love jewelry, folk art, great food and indulging all of our senses. She is the girlfriends that understands my mother issues and my most recent healthy diet attempt. She’s the girlfriend that has promised to help me transport and bury a body.

Just kidding.

Not really!

And here I am in my early 60’s, totally freaked out like a teenager in more ways than one. My body is unfamiliar again, I’m a bit unsettled and new challenges keep showing on the menu.

About 5 years ago, I decided to finally shift my eating habits to foods that were mostly unprocessed and as close to raw as I can get off a menu. I’ve stopped eating most meat because I intuitively think there is something wrong with it. It’s just not right that a chicken breast is the size of a turkey breast now. I think the meat is making us all big. 

But what do I know. I just eat a lot of vegetables & greens, nuts, sweet potatoes, and humus, and have discovered that I love to cook diverse dishes from all over the world. I went through a smoothie kick and have kept 50 pounds at bay for five years.

I feel good. I think I look good, but I’m still on the receiving end of the lesson game. My kids are stumbling their way to adulthood. They’re both doing really well. My son is an engineer that does some travel around the country for his job and my daughter is a nurse at Mt. Sinai in NYC. They both are really smart and have their own puzzles to work out. Hopefully, we’ve provided them enough in the way of guidance that their journey will be less painful, but in the end, we all must crawl before we walk into our full being.

My mother is 85. She lives independently, is vibrant and healthy for her age, and is a driving force for neighborhood revitalization in Wilmington, DE. My siblings and I are trying to manage planning from afar, though one brother lives close by and is her touchstone for the family. Again, this is uncharted territory.

I work a very good job for the State, but I hope one day I’ll be able to go full on as an artist. I’m so pleased to be asked today to speak at this particular event because I feel like this is an important time for women and I have come into my voice as an activist and an artist. My images are confrontational in their nudity and I like to play with traditional themes.

I find that expressing myself artistically is not a choice; it is what I have been born to do, just like some people have a talent for car mechanics or baking. Whatever that higher power is out there channels through me via the arts.

My current collaged illustrations express the beauty of the female form, psychology and sexuality. I portray singular subjects that give voice to my own struggles with aging, dignity, grief, vanity and power. We are all flawed and we are all fabulous. I am interested in commonly shared emotions of women, as these reflect the gravity and complexity of the feminine experience. 

I think the female perspective is particularly timely given what has been going on in the political sphere both nationally and globally. We watch decisions being made that will impact the environment, health, social justice, and individual freedoms for generations to come. The world has become so divided. 

I think it is time for women to come forward. Every one of us has scars and deficiencies. We have born and raised children. We have provided for our families and our communities. As incomplete as any one of us may be, when we come together, we are whole. I wish that this were the case in Albany and Washington, but also in every municipal chamber and board room. It’s gonna take more women. Because what we have is that sacred connection as mothers, and healers and leaders, to the power that exists in any room where women share space.

We know what it is to be female. We know how it feels to whisper excitedly about a first kiss or to watch the skin on our arms go slack and spotted. We know what it is to be underpaid, tapped out and under appreciated.

But because we are women, we naturally a drawn to nurture, to problem-solve, and to persist. We are drawn to each other for shoulders to cry on or to stand. 

So, I hope that today as I’ve walked you through some of the stages of my life, you’ve been able to touch on memories of people, places and important events that make such a rich and decadent stew. And I hope that you take care of yourself, that you eat and sleep well, that you take classes and have your vitals checked at HealthLink, and that you whisper your dreams to your sisters, so that those dreams will come true.

It’s been a pleasure to be with you today. Hang in there, Sistas!

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