I have a story. This is a true story, something that happened to me while I was at the Quills Conference.
During lunch and dinner every day, the organizers arranged that at every table were seated a few of the presenters. This way all of us would have the opportunity to chat with agents, publishers, and authors. Though I am not so bold as to actively pitch my work at meals, I did learn quite a bit about how the business side of writing works.
The last evening, I happened to sit next to Anne Hillerman.
She was giving that evening’s keynote address. With her journalism degree from the University of New Mexico, Ms. Hillerman worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist before becoming a full-time author.
All of us at the table had a delightful meal. We talked about, surprise, writing–how we found time to write, where we write, what we write. As the evening progressed, Ms. Hillerman told us she was more nervous about presenting that night than she ever was about writing, which surprised me somehow, even though I know many people are anxious about public speaking. In spite of her anxiety, Ms. Hillerman was thoughtful, kind, and so very genuine.
Finally, it came time for her to present. She told briefly about how she came to start writing. Her father, Tony Hillerman, wrote quite a few (I believe 18) mysteries set in the Southwest. His main characters, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are Navajo tribal policemen. (If you like mysteries, you’ll want to read these.) But some time after her father passed away, his, well I can’t remember whether it was his agent, editor, publisher, but whoever it was came to her and asked her to consider writing to continue the series. At first she declined, but after some time, she began. While her books continue in her father’s genre and general locations, her main character is Bernadette Manuelito, a tribal policewoman.
Anne Hillerman spoke only a very little about her books that night. Then she took us on a photo tour through the locations where some of her mysteries occur and shared the beauty and drama of the New Mexico landscape.
As she spoke, I thought about how I was introduced to the Hillermans and their books. My mom always had loved to read books set in tribal cultures. When she discovered Tony Hillerman, she read each novel, and then she passed them on to me. She called the day she heard that he had passed away. She was sincerely saddened. And we were both so pleased that, though through a different protagonist, the story continued when Ms. Hillerman took up her pen.
When Anne Hillerman returned to the table, I told her about my mom introducing me to her father’s and to her work and that my mother had died two years ago. I said, “I wish I could call her tonight and tell her that I met you.”
With gracious assurance and sincerity, she reached out to me and said, “she knows.”
What is graciousness? By definition it is being kind, courteous, polite, well-mannered, tactful, benevolent, diplomatic, considerate, thoughtful, and friendly. One word to encapsulate all of the finest social–and emotional characteristics.
Anne Hillerman is an award-winning author (for Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn, created with husband/photographer Don Strel. This book was honored as the best photo book of the year by the Mountains and Plains Booksellers). Additionaly, she probably felt boneless in her relief at being finished with a presentation that had made her so nervous. She didn’t need to listen so carefully to me. She might have just nodded and smiled, but she thought about what I was saying, and her response was insightful and generous. It was gracious.
I was touched by her words. And comforted.
And I was inspired to try to be more gracious. To listen when people talk to me, to think about what they say. I am trying to understand where their words and their emotions come from, and I am trying to take the time to respond carefully, thoughtfully, and in a way that might affirm and lift. I’m trying to learn Graciousness.
When is the last time you’ve experienced graciousness?