How does one capture even a speck of the essence of Ivy Bottini with words, with shared memories? More to remember than the brain can grasp. More to communicate than the heart can hold.
Ivy was a complex woman — unique, determined, and seemingly fearless. While willing to be a public figure and give voice to issues she believed needed to be addressed, Ivy was a very private person and often was a bit uncomfortable with the adoration, honors and recognition heaped upon her, at the same time quietly appreciating them.
Ivy was my love. She was a mentor, an inspiration, a motivator, a role model, a cheerleader to me, as she was to so many. I am undoubtedly not alone in recognizing that Ivy could be aggravating, persuasive, charming, and always willing to give her all to causes in which she believed.
I knew Ivy for almost 46 years exactly the last time we spoke. That evening, she was soft spoken, not the usual mental picture of Ivy. She was caring, loving, genuine. I did not know it would be the last time we would speak, but after we hung up, and I realized she was fading, I knew it could be. What a sweet way to remember a bombastic, tornado of a woman bigger than life! It was three weeks to the day prior to her taking her last breath. I knew Ivy five weeks short of 46 years. Only family members and very few friends hold that distinction. We traveled many roads, wore many different labels, and both had to embrace forgiveness, grace, learning from the past while focusing on moving forward — sometimes together, sometimes far apart, and sometimes independently — always caring deeply for each other. Ivy was my love.
Many reading this may have heard Ivy say that she had an art teacher at Pratt Institute of Design in Brooklyn who said something that made a huge impact on her: “Put your pencil to paper, know where you want to go, and go there,” or words to that effect. It became a guiding principle, an undergirding, for both her art and her life.
The make-a-difference approach Ivy took with almost everything she undertook was contagious. How could you NOT want to make a difference — perhaps in a different arena than Ivy chose, but in whatever area of life that mattered to you?
I was not out yet when I met Ivy. I was “open,” but not yet there. As an ardent supporter of being out, she nonetheless was respectful of my process. It happened quickly, but I never felt pushed. I felt drawn, compelled to be authentic to both myself, and to the process. It was painless. When I wanted to shout from rooftops, she urged me to be patient with the process. “Ivy” and “Be patient” — not words one would necessarily associate with each other, but great words of wisdom.
There are many ways to be rich. While I have been financially comfortable for much of my life, I have not yet been financially rich. My knowing Ivy has made me “rich” in countless other ways. She was a perpetual, unintended, unplanned, often unknowing mentor, and I was one of her many beneficiaries.
Ivy came from a working class background, and was not always comfortable mingling among those she perceived as more elite, proper, “polished,” financially comfortable, successful folks that her journey would take her through. Nonetheless, when she needed to go there to accomplish her mission, comfort be damned! She went anyway!
When she performed her stand-up comedy about what it was like growing up female — about nitty-gritty, real life, often taboo topics — she was not always comfortable, performing in nothing but a black leotard and tights. BUT, there was a point to her decision. The feminist movement was still young. She was tired of being stereotyped as a female who didn’t fit many societal expectations hoisted upon women. Ivy knew she was not alone. Women — and many men — would approach her after one of her performances, either disclosing that she helped them feel more confident about being in their body, or how much better some guys now understood their mother, or their sister, or their wife, sometimes in tears. Her message was getting through! Comfort be damned!!! She did it anyway!
It wasn’t always easy, bucking “the establishment” LGBT community, as she often referred to the “moneyed crowd.” But, if she needed to be there to accomplish her mission, comfort be damned! Ivy did what she felt needed to be done. She never set out to win a popularity contest. Rather, she set out to accomplish whatever mission was next in front of her. Early in our relationship, as she moved her energy from the feminist movement to the then gay-lesbian movement (others now included were not yet acknowledged) she would watch gay guys as they maneuvered and negotiated their way toward their end goal. She observed that often men seem to be able to put differences aside and work together in spite of those differences, whether small and petty, or large. She saw what can be accomplished when one can do that. She learned and grew from those observations. She was simultaneously a teacher-mentor to many, and a willing student of those from whom she was able to learn.
So many lives have been touched by Ivy in some way, to varying degrees, and we are perhaps all the richer for having had that experience. I believe one of her dreams-come-true would be for each person who encountered her to pick up a small piece of an important mission, and do what needs to be done — comfort be damned! To live out, “Know where you want to go, then go there.”