It’s a nippy January morning and Elizabeth Gaylynn Baker, Jack of many trades, is standing by the Plaza obelisk giving away free hugs.
She’s accompanied by a man wielding a sign advertising the offer and another recording the events on an iPhone. “Free hugs, just for being alive!” the first one hollers at passersby.
Baker’s wearing a red parka with cowboy boots to match. Her spirit and joy of life radiate from her petite frame.
Intrigued, one teenager approaches her and asks, “Are you famous?” To which Baker replies: “I’m famous for living a wonderful life.”
Following the embrace, Baker offers the girl a free, signed copy of her book, Gifts of Gratitude: The Joyful Adventures Of A Life Well Lived, which is hot off the press.
The scene repeats itself 40 times over.
“I just got my first advanced copies, and I am so excited,” Baker tells SFR. “Look, it says ‘Burman Books’; they’re out of Toronto. I’m not self-published!” she says, pointing at the tome’s spine.
Still on a professional high, she figured giving it away was in keeping with the book’s message of recognizing “the spirit of our planet” and learning from past mistakes.
“If you keep an alignment with that power of the universe, then you can learn how to use it and how to let it use you,” the mother of two and grandmother of three says.
For Baker, the road to becoming a self-help prophet has been a long one.
She started as an off-Broadway performer back in her single days. She was later a single mother for 12 years, served as press secretary under former New Mexico Lt. Gov.Walter Bradley and produced two award-winning documentaries.
“If work is not rewarding and joyful, I don’t do it,” she says of her journey. “That’s how simple it is.”
Baker staged the Plaza mise en scène to spread her “attitude of gratitude” message further, inspired by a certain American pioneer.
“Johnny Appleseed gave out apple seeds and planted [them] all across the country,” she explains. “That’s what I want to do with the book.”
A willingness to hang onto that attitude even when things take a dip, Baker thinks, is the key to a life well lived.
“If you stay in that place where you know that all is spirit,” she says, “and spirit is everything, and that every single person that you meet you’re connected to, then nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong.”
Baker’s sign-wielding carnival barker, it turns out, is her web developer Michael Kanner, who like a modern-day disciple decided to join her in spreading Gratitude’s lessons.
“You have to read this book…it is the most inspiring piece of literature I’ve read in the past year,” Kanner says. “It makes me want to smile all the time.”
Baker’s secret for a good hug? “You know, I think it’s all in the heart,” she says. “Because if you really mean it, it’s a good hug.”
The Santa Fe-based author hopes to gain enough momentum to embark on a nationwide hug tour to promote her book.
“This is for my grandchildren; this is breadcrumbs in the woods,” she says. “Even if no one reads this book, this is a guide for them about what their yuppa did. They call me ‘yuppa.’”
The hug-a-palooza, Baker assures, was spontaneous.
“I’m not sure my family even knows that I’m here in the Plaza giving away free hugs. But I can tell you one thing—they are so proud of me.”
Many scurried away from her offering. Judging by the alarmed expression on their faces, some probably thought she was mad as a hatter.
“They’re probably right!” Baker says with a hearty laugh, two hours into it. “On the coldest morning of the year, they’re probably right…but who cares?”