“The artist passed away in 1986,” the museum guide said, backing away from me slowly. The famous photo of O’Keeffe hung just to her right, and she gave it a glance as she worked her way around me. “You know, it’s not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed by her art. It can be quite emotional.” She’d reached her desk now, and put it between us. “Can I get you a glass of water?” Or a Xanax, perhaps?
I smiled, trying to appear if not sane, at least non-violent. “I’m fine,” I said. Even though Georgia O’Keeffe is staring at me. Why am I dithering about in this museum? She wants to know.
Didn’t I come to New Mexico to write?
Apparently, no one could hear Georgia but me. “I’m fine,” I said again, a little more forcefully, and headed for the exit.
Georgia — rather well-known in her lifetime for her persistence and her curiosity — followed me to my car.
Soon the craggy, sandstone bluffs of Santa Fe were sweeping by us. It was my first trip to the Land of Enchantment, and I was finding it coldly and dangerously beautiful. I’d been day hiking more than a week when I decided to take a break and visit the city’s famous museums.
“I think I’ll drive out to your ranch,” I offered. In my experience, there’s nothing more annoying than a ghost who stares but won’t talk.
“I’ve seen it,” Georgia shrugged. “Painted it as well, a time or two.”
Okay, there’s nothing more annoying than a sarcastic ghost.
I took hold of my temper. “May I ask you a question, Ms. O’Keeffe?”
She considered this. “Do you know any good questions?” She smoothed her hair back.
“Do I know any good questions?” I repeated dumbly. “I’m a writer.“
“Are you now? she fired back. “Are you a writer? I don’t see you writing.”
“I’m driving the damn car!”
She sniffed. “Hmm. You weren’t driving yesterday. You were hiking yesterday. Also drinking a great deal of Jack Daniel’s, though I suppose that’s neither here nor there –“
“Yes, I was hiking yesterday!” I fairly screamed. “I write about hiking! And backpacking! And traveling solo!”
“Watch the traffic,” she said calmly, in time for me to see a green SUV coming at me head on. Drivers in New Mexico have perfected “passing” and “chicken” to Olympic levels. I couldn’t compete, so I slowed down my Prius to give him room.
When we were clear of potential disaster, she resumed. “You weren’t writing last week, either. You were working your regular job, you –“
Needled past the point of courtesy now, I struck back. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Did you spend every moment of your life painting? Were you painting while you were training your horses? Or writing porno letters to your husband? Or glitzing around New York?”
Georgia leaned back in her seat and looked out the window for the first time. “I was always painting,” she said.
I drove on in silence.
I arrived at Ghost Ranch an hour later, without my passenger. A guide pointed out a 3-hour trail loop on my map, and eyed my low-budget camera. “Are you a photographer?” he asked skeptically.
“No,” I said firmly. “I’m a writer.”
He squinted in the sun, still unimpressed. “Oh, are you writing something now?” he asked.
“I’m always writing,” I whispered.
Well now. Are you then?
Yes I am, you crusty old bat. Yes I am.