Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Motherhood: Censorship

I know it's one of the more oft-repeated adages about parenthood, but I feel it must... well, be repeated - at least for me. A lot of the time I need to be smacked upside the face with a log (sometimes repeatedly) before advice sticks to me. And then another couple of times for good measure so I'll actually take the advice. But this is an important one, and luckily, this time, it didn't completely backfire.

I worked/enjoyed the Southern Festival of Books last weekend, and as a board member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance I had the great privilege of co-moderating a panel with two masters of Southern Gothic: Ron Rash and William Gay. They both read and answered questions, and I was impressed with the number of people in the audience: standing room only downstairs, and people in the overflow balcony of the Tennessee House of Representatives chambers, where the panel was held.

William, however, didn't look so good: he seemed to have diminished since I saw him in June. He literally looked smaller, his color was off, and he just didn't seem... stable. He worked his way through his reading and was thrilled when we bestowed upon him the TWA Writer of the Year award.

"I feel like I've won an Oscar," he said, holding the gorgeous crystal award aloft.

The next day there was a screening of the movie adapted from his short story "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down." ( After the movie a panel was scheduled, with William and the director/screenplay writer Scott Teems. Scott announced at the beginning that William had fallen ill and returned home.

On Sunday I had the great pleasure of having some one-on-one time with another TWA board member, Dr. Randy Mackin, a professor at MTSU and newspaper editor, like myself. Among other topics of discussion, Randy said that William had collapsed and was taken home. Apparently William had a heart attack recently (last year?), and to my dismay Randy said that if it happened again William wouldn't go to a hospital because he didn't want any doctors poking around in there.

I explained all this to my mother in the car later, with Draper in the backseat. My son asked what was wrong with William Gay (he was familiar with the name: I talked about the writer a lot before and after our writers conference, WordFest, in June, when William held a reading of an excerpt from his upcoming novel, and I was lucky enough to talk with him, Randy, my friend and TWA board member Wes Hutcheson and J. Wes Yoder for hours during the reception at Sherlock's Books in Lebanon). I told Draper that William recently had a heart attack and was sick now, and that I'm worried about him.

Draper's on fall break from preschool this week, and tonight as we waited for my father to come pick him up to spend the night there, Draper asked me why he had to stay with my little sister tomorrow, and where would I be?

"I have to go to work," I answered, "and then go talk to some classes tomorrow."

"My class?"

"No. These are college classes."

"But I want you to talk to my class sometime," he pouted.

I smiled. "I can do that, maybe, sometime. But what would I talk about?"

He shrugged. "Maybe William Gay's heart attack?"

"I hardly think that's appropriate, but I'm impressed that you remembered it."

He nodded, his eyes far off. "How's he doing?"

"William? I don't know, honey."

He walked over and laid his head in my lap, running his hands down my legs. "I hope he's okay. I hope he's okay for you, I wouldn't want you to lose him."

I'm not sure I'll ever get used to my son's insight. I have no frame of reference - I don't know much about kids, much less little boys, so all I have to gauge them by is my own son, but this floored me. Not only did he remember that my friend is sick, but he cares about how it will affect me.

He's a little person. I keep forgetting that. And I'm not sure if I want to censor what I say in front of him so much as to shield him, or if I want him to really know what's going on in my life enough to partake in it, no matter what it is.

Where, and how, does a parent draw that line?

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