That battle was easy compared with the one she must fight while trying to get across her feminist messages. The enormity of the task is reflected in the mounds of clutter in her garage, which also happens to be the Media Watch office. The walls are plastered with memorabilia: photographs of Simonton and her four sisters as prim and proper little girls in Harlan, Ky.; a swatch of handmade black lace belonging to her maternal grandmother, Mary Dudley Pittman, the first woman registrar of Raleigh, N.C.; crayon drawings by her six-year-old nephew, Charlie Simonton-Bernatowicz.
"I live among monied women, who are into their houses, cars, nails and outfits," says Simonton's longtime friend Susan Nash, the wife of rock singer Graham Nash. "But they don't have it all, because they forgot to work on their heart and compassion. Annie's heart is wide and encompassing. Her passion is not self-serving. She's 'out there.' But get real. Who wants to hear her message? I don't think she'll ever be accepted."
Adds older sister Meg Simonton: "Undergoing this radical change in her life was psychological torture. Ann grew up wanting everybody to like her. A lot of people think she's a totally ridiculous spectacle. But she doesn't care anymore if they like her, only that they remember her message."
To bolster her fighting spirit, Simonton has competed in rough-water swims off the Santa Cruz wharf, climbed a 200-foot redwood tree with her live-in companion, Joseph Schultz, and gone rock climbing in the Grand Tetons. To clear her mind and get in touch with her heart, she studies African dance and goes on solitary hikes just outside Death Valley.
"I feel blessed to have found my niche in life," Simonton says. "Very few people have a job that's tailor-made for them. This is a new frontier, with thousands of directions. I'm truly happy and fulfilled."