I had the opportunity to sit down with my dear friend and artist extraordinaire, Meryl Ranzer. She is a pleasure maven, relationship expert, top flight fashion designer and instructor, visual and performance artist and super-fitness junkie. In this interview we discuss her professional life, her legendary love affair with her husband and how she is using her art to spearhead a world changing movement for women’s empowerment.
EE: Meryl, where are you from?
MR: I was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island. My parents got divorced when I was nine. I lived with my mother and sister. It was our version of, “One Day at a Time”. I have a brother from my dad’s second marriage.
EE: What were some of your childhood interests?
MR: I was born an artist! I loved to design and illustrate clothing. I would draw families of women so I could dress them all. The idyllic part of my childhood was the fun neighborhood we lived in. There were 36 houses with tons of kids playing outside all day. My friends and I formed a rock trio called, The Rockin’ Robbins. And of course, I loved my Barbies!
EE: Who influenced you?
MR: I always loved Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda and my teenage crush was David Cassidy. “Free to Be You and Me” a TV special, album and book created by Marlo Thomas in 1972 had a huge impact on me. It was my first glimpse of feminism. And I Ioved Gloria Vanderbilt during the designer jeans fashion rage.
EE: Tell me about your education.
MR: I went to public school high school on Long Island which had an outstanding art program that offered photography, art and fashion design. It was amazing. I adored history, humanities and English. I was sort of a geeky art student and co-founder of the Art Club. I always knew I belonged in New York City and chose the School of Visual Arts, one of the premier art schools in the country to continue my education. I received my BFA, graduating with honors. The first year was a creative deep dive. I had six-hour painting, drawing and sculpture courses. After that, I studied graphic design, advertising and fine arts. I lived in a women’s hotel on Gramercy Park called the Parkside Evangeline during my freshman year. That was a unique and interesting experience! I got married at 19. But that’s a story for another time.
EE: After SVA, what was your first job?
MR: I got my first job while I was a senior in a graphic design firm in Soho in lower Manhattan. I wanted to be an art director for a creative advertising company. My big dream agency was Doyle, Dane, Bernbach. They were the award winning Volkswagen guys! The industry was in transition with lots of mergers so the timing was not right for me to have a career in advertising. Through contacts, I landed a job in fashion as a receptionist. After four years of art school, this was a blow to my 21-year-old ego. Answering phones and ironing samples was not in the plan.
However, a senior designer there and I clicked and after some time, I became her assistant. She was a creative force, my mentor and a second mother to me. I grew into the role of designer and then came back to the company after a two-year unpleasant stint with another fashion house. This time I had a senior role designing one of the collections and received a big jump in salary.
After 15 years in the fashion world, I decided to spread my wings again and worked for some other companies and then consulted. It was at this time, I took the Landmark Forum and then met Regena Thomashauer who founded Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts.
EE: How did all these courses impact your life?
MR: Things shifted for me while taking the Forum. I started to take responsibility for my own life and saw where I had played the victim. Many of the courses taught by Regena required us to really look at the beauty of our own bodies from the point of view of what’s right and what’s beautiful as opposed to what’s wrong. As much as I always loved the human body as an artist, I still had issues, as so many women do. I began a practice which involved holding a hand mirror up to my vulva. It was confronting and unnerving. I look back all these years later and can’t believe that it was so difficult to do. A vulva is a body part, but women have been conditioned to see it as taboo, ugly and shameful. I never saw how beautiful it was before that moment: full of richness, color and life. I was, and still am, thrilled by this. I immediately grabbed my paints, brushes and paper and did my first vulva self-portrait. There was no plan, as it was all instinct and feeling. It changed my life and opened up a new path.
EE: How did this manifest in your work as an artist?
MR: I had spent years doing self-portraits, painting my every mood and my very muscular body in bold colors. Once I starting painting my vulva over and over, I knew there was something there for other women too. I started doing what I called “Pussy Portraits” as a way for women to see their beauty through the eyes of an artist. I created beautiful and sensual experiences to make women feel comfortable and safe. I created a space in my home with food, candles, champagne and flowers, all to create a mood or a seduction from fear to self-love. I also did breast portraits since many women had issues with their breasts. All the women I painted have said say that it was a life changing experience.
EE: That is amazing Meryl! You also did some work in the brownstone’s foyer of the School of Womanly Arts? (Wink, wink…)
MR: I gave Regena one of my large pussy paintings early on. She always loved my work. She had a desire to have a vulva at the point of entry or “womb” that people walk through as they entered her home, also known as the “Pussy Palace”. I was commissioned to paint the infamous, “Vulva in the Vestibule”. It was breathtaking, and multi-layered just as any woman is. When it was complete we had a party which included a Clit-Lighting ceremony, and had someone play the violin inside the vulva. It was a fabulous event.
EE: What transpired after this?
I still had lot of issues I needed to work out. I played the “starving artist” role for a long time. I thought there was something sexy or meaningful about that – like I could only create art through the suffering as many artists feel they need to do. I also went through a lot of roller coaster relationships. Eventually, I got back into fashion because it paid the bills. Then I met a guy, just when I thought I did not want to meet any more guys!
EE: And what did you do with this guy?
MR: I did what I never did with another guy before: I remain unattached. Paul was a bartender at the Plaza Hotel at that time. A girlfriend dragged me there since I just ended a disastrous relationship. I was in a very good place in my life. There is nothing more attractive to a guy than a girl who is sparkly, happy and glowing. He was behind the bar and wanted to talk with me. He was sweet, so I invited him to an art show that I was having the following week. To my surprise he actually showed up! I was not used to that. We started to date and I liked him a lot. But after about six weeks he was pulling back. The day before my birthday he called and said he was not ready for a relationship. I handled it differently than I had with other men: I let him go. I was no longer going to subject myself to playing games with men, as I had in the past. I was being true to my heart. I thought he was crazy, as there was something very special between us. I continued having fun and dated other guys. I was a wild woman having a hell of a good time in those days and continued on that path.
EE: What was it about you that caused you to be unattached and act differently this time?
MR: I’d say two things. One, I was just tired of trying to please the guy. Trying hard is just not fun! The second thing was that I finally knew my value. I had ended my crazy long-term relationship with the previous boyfriend without even needing that “official” closure. It was as if I woke up from a nightmare and was really done. After a bad first marriage and this roller-coaster relationship, I would not allow myself to ever be treated like that again. I had done a lot of work on myself to get to this place. In addition to the Forum and the School of Womanly Arts, I spent a few years studying Kabbalah, dreaming and guided imagery with the powerful healer, Dr. Catherine Shainberg, founder of The School of Images. When Paul needed his distance, I did not want to make him the bad guy and create this big drama. I actually appreciated the way he spoke and I got into agreement with it.
EE: Did anything ever happen with you and Paul?
MR: As if you didn’t know! Eight months later he found me again. It was really sweet and romantic. He wrote me a letter and left it in the office of the college I was teaching at. I waited a while to get back to him but I eventually visited him at work at the Plaza. When I got out of a taxi in front of hotel, a pigeon shit on my head!
EE: That’s a good luck sign!
MR: A lovely Russian limo driver cleaned my head with vodka. A real New York story! I went in and Paul and I connected again. It was the beginning of what has turned into an epic love affair!
EE: Tell me more about you and Paul.
MR: The reason he found me again was because he kept thinking that his life would be so much more fun if he shared it with me. The most transformative thing I learned from my work with Regena and the School of Womanly Arts, is to look at life through the lens of pleasure. That is very attractive to a man. I learned to ask for what I wanted and not expect my partner to be my mind reader. That was a relief for Paul. We started dating again and within the year, I got pregnant. I was 42 at the time and this surprised the hell out of both of us. We got married six months after our son was born. We are now living this amazing and adventurous life as a family.
EE: How has pleasure and passion played a part in your career?
MR: It’s interesting and almost cyclical. You have to keep working at it. I have to constantly reinvent and re-evaluate what I truly desire. When I was pregnant, I started teaching fashion design at a school called Laboratory Institute of Merchandising. By the time our son was born, I also had two successful consulting gigs. But it was too much; I was overwhelmed as a new mom at age 43. Upon reflection, I know my life lacked balance. I cried often and put myself through a lot of torment. My art and personal needs fell by the wayside. I had assumed that pregnancy and motherhood would be a source of never-ending and free flowing creativity. But frankly, I was depleted and had nothing left for my art. So I stopped the energy draining consulting jobs but kept teaching at Parsons and FIT.
But then six years ago I started consulting for an equestrian sportswear start-up called 2kGrey. I was working for two women who had a bold vision, but they lacked fashion experience and didn’t have the expertise to bring their concept to market. I became a partner in the company and it developed into a massive and exciting challenge. Paul and I were buying an apartment in Harlem at that time. My partners were wonderful and talented women but were not able to give as much time to the businesses as I was. I had never started a fashion brand from the ground up and I was not well versed in the equestrian world. Paul watched me in action. He said if there was a boulder in front of me, I would either climb over it, run around it or break through it. Whatever I had to do, I figured it out. I was relentless. There was so much I didn’t know about running a fashion company, even though I’d been in the business for 25 years. It was a wonderful learning experience, but emotionally draining. I totally forgot about pleasure… again.
EE: You ended up working for 2kGrey for five years. What happened next?
MR: One of my partners left the company and we were at a tipping point. We were getting recognition, as riders were loving the brand. Then my other partner wanted to leave as well which left me running the company alone. I was generously compensated by one of the partners to be the sole owner of 2kGrey. I kept working my ass off but I finally decided to sell the company. Two outside companies were interested in buying 2kGrey. After all my hard work, selling was a victory. I sold 2KGrey in January 2015 to an incredible company called, Intrepid International and stayed on as creative consultant.
At the same time, another opportunity came my way which revolved around a lifelong passion. I was a bodybuilder and fitness has been a huge part of my life for the last twenty-plus years. I joined a global health and wellness company as a marketing and sales representative. It was fun to try something completely different but eventually I knew it was not my true path.
EE: Where did this lead to?
MR: It led me was back to my roots into the feminine and the Goddess community which had grown by the thousands during the years I was gone. I started seeing women living lives of pleasure and observing how they were feeling right about their all feelings: the good, the bad and the bitchy. I started to understand how wonderful my life was. I allowed it to sink in and it was freaking awesome. I went to a Mama Gena Goddess event in Miami in 2014 and signed up for her Mastery course the following year. I had been frustrated because I hadn’t been motivated to paint but I was finally feeling creative again.
EE: How has your creativity manifested now?
MR: I started working on a series of drawings about the divine masculine and feminine. People who saw them suggested I create a graphic novel. It wasn’t coming together with ease but I kept drawing and painting. I got a “message” that I needed to create a tarot deck. The crazy thing is that I knew nothing about tarot. I think I had my cards read once about twenty years ago in New Orleans and that was the extent of my experience. I’ve learned to trust my intuition, so I went for it. I told my super-smart and creative husband. He handed me the comic book, “Promethea” by the uber genius Alan Moore. My eyes widened when I saw the possibilities that I had channeled. All of a sudden, I was delving into a new world, reading and studying the Tarot. I began drawing the deck which consisted of transformative images which just surged through me. I bought a few more books and the classic Rider Waite deck. Learning something new at age 52 is so good for your brain and so stimulating! Once I completed the art, I began writing the guide book. What a thrilling challenge it was to write a divinatory manual. I am so proud of all of it. The Laughing Pussies Tarot deck launched in August of this year. I am blown away by the responses. I’ve been getting wonderful feedback from the women who have purchased the deck. My work is touching their lives and that means everything to me.
EE: I think the common theme with a lot of female entrepreneurs I have interviewed is that they were all led to something. You obviously put in the work and you are reaping the rewards of karmic payback. You hear the voice and know what you are supposed to do. I am thinking the title of the book I am working on should be “Fuck Getting an MBA and Going to Business School”. As you know, I grew up in this very proper world of getting the “right”education. But now we are in a new age of entrepreneurialism and combined with the work we have done in Mastery where we learn that having a pleasurable life is the number one priority, our career choices are radically changing.
How does having a child help your career?
MR: Having a kid and watching him learn changed my view of the world. He was born right and continues to find himself right and love himself. For him, life is play and fun. He doesn’t worry about opinions, deadlines or looking good. Having this energy in my orbit reminds me of how much fun I can have in my life.
However, it’s hard to put the oxygen mask on yourself first when you have a kid. We’re so trained to have goals, to meet our goals, and move on to the next goal. We are supposed to make our mark in this world in a very specific way. I can attempt to juggle it all, but it’s futile to do that and then you are out of creative flow. So now, no matter what I have on my to-do list, I am no longer attached to it.
EE: That is a book right there! That is so significant because I live by my to-do lists and if things aren’t checked off, I am a wreck.
MR: Let’s face it, when you have a kid, you don’t get everything done in the way that you imagine you will. Actually, that happens even if you don’t have kids. We live in New York City and for instance, subways get delayed. What are you going to do? Torture yourself or choose a pleasurable option? I handle the important things like making sure my son’s needs are met, food is on the table and I clear as much clutter away as possible. If the dishes aren’t done, I’ll live. Self-care is a necessity and a life-line. I meditate every morning, even if it is just for ten minutes, and then I just let things flow.
EE: You’ve been married now for ten years. How do you keep your marriage hot?
MR: It’s amazing to me that every day our marriage gets better and better. I’ve never had a more intimate relationship with another human being. The most important thing is to be vigilant about communication. Sometimes my ego says, “Run! Don’t tell him that, pretend it’s all OK and avoid confrontation at all costs!” I may play that game for a few minutes, but I quickly cop to it and tell Paul. Then, we talk and talk some more. We never yell at each other or do anything to intentionally hurt the other person. Life happens, people get busy, so we make sure we touch each other as much as possible. I’m not only referring to sex. I’m talking about a kiss, hug, a gentle touch of an arm or a slap on the butt. One pet peeve I have with my husband and son is that they are collectors. Me? I could throw everything out and have less stuff! But I’m not going to let little things get in the way of having a heavenly life with such a fantastic guy who loves all of me. Paul and I also support of each other’s goals and visions and we give each other the time and space to do our creative work as much as possible.
EE: Where do you get your creative inspiration?
MR: The human body was always the subject that I loved to draw and paint.
EE: What is next for you?
MR: I’ll be doing tarot readings with the deck and having events around that. I’m working on several projects now including a book about living a pleasured life from a feminist perspective and a multi-media show that will tell women’s stories using my paintings. A number of my paintings are being used in a short feminist film and I’m writing for a women’s sustainable fashion collective about how fashion has impacted my life. Paul and I are playing with the idea of a relationship podcast. I’ll also be doing some public speaking and of course, I’ll keep making art. My website, www.laughingpussies.com features the tarot deck, t-shirts and posters. My other site, www.merylranzer.com showcases more of my art. Laughing Pussies is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
EE: Whew! That is a lot Meryl! This is so inspiring! What turns you on?
MR: This. Conversation. Goddam it, I love to talk! What woman doesn’t? Truly, next to hanging with Paul and my son, my favorite thing in the world is deep and meaningful conversation. I love connection and human exchange that is full of depth, laughter and tears. As I grow older, I find pushing my edges and talking about uncomfortable subjects such as sexism, racism, religion, politics and money to be deeply meaningful. Thoughtful holistic design tickles the shit out of me. Being an artist, creating and moving people with my work gives me the most joy and turn on.
EE: What are your desires?
MR: Travel for sure, and to renovate our kitchen! I would love to live in two different places. I’d like to keep our fabulous home in New York City and have another place…preferably somewhere with turquoise water and white sand. I desire, I ache, to keep growing and learning. The tarot deck and the other things I am working on are my true mission. As a fashion designer, I was always working to bring someone else’s dream to fruition. Now I am working on my dream.
EE: Give me a brag!
MR: I brag that when I hear all the things I just told you, I’m pretty turned on by my own life! I also brag the tarot deck and how fast it is selling without me personally selling it. I put it out there and people desire to have it. This whole creation process and putting it together has been so meaningful to me. I wanted it to be beautiful and special and it is.
EE: How many decks have you sold so far?
MR: I won’t say yet darling! I will say that my blood, sweat and tears went into producing these decks, literally, and that’s magic.
EE: Thank you Meryl for taking the time to share your creative and powerful world with us today!