Monday, March 1, 2010

The Writer in the Window

Several weeks back, an artist named Georgelle Hirliman died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the place where I grew up.

Her nickname was "The Writer in the Window." I didn't know her personally, but wonder if she might have remembered a gaggle of preteens dating back to 1984. Georgelle was part writer, part performance artist; an iconic figure on the fringes. One day she appeared on my daily after school, downtown trajectory, sitting in a shopfront window with her typewriter. On the window, she'd hung a sign up that said "Help me Cure My Writer's Block." Santa Fe was, and is, a very New Age place, and she used her Writer in the Window experiment as a means to crack open her creativity by communing with her passersby on the big questions, what she's called "the sky is blue questions." It worked, and it was simple. You'd scrawl your Big Question onto a piece of paper, and eventually she'd tape her answer to the window.

Reading her obituaries, I have a different appreciation for the kind of active political and artistic life she led. Looking at her online journal, I see she was a prescient poet ("preparing for return to the Great Field"). My friends who stayed in Santa Fe and got to know her as adults were lucky, because left, right, and center, her close mourners speak of what a cherished and loyal friend she was.

When I learned of Georgelle's death by an old friend on Facebook, the one thing I kept coming back to was her very good nature. Her impact on the community wasn't only on those who understood her work and took her art seriously. To my nine-year-old brother and my twelve-year-old self, she quickly became someone to pass and stick our tongues out to. Was she cranky toward us? No. She'd laugh and smile back. She became a firm fixture in my developing mind (along the lines of The Rubber Lady, but that's for another day); a Dick and Jane of sorts for the Santa Fe childhood set. Here is a writer, here is a window. See writer sit, see writer write. See writer see kids wave and stick their tongues out. See writer wave and stick her tongue out at the kids. See window fill up with different pieces of paper, in Courier type. See children wave. See children want to write. See writer wave goodbye.

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