Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
— from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”
Back in 2018 on National Coming Out Day, I wrote the article “Praying for Grayson Allen: My Coming Out Story.” If you missed it, you can read it here, and maybe this part of the story will make more sense.
That essay flowed out of my heart and brain quickly, almost effortlessly all at once as I stood at my kitchen counter and typed on my laptop. “Effortlessly” is not a word I would ever use to describe my writing process. I mull over things. I ponder. I second guess. I write drafts and hit “delete” A LOT. When I was in grad school, I often had to vacuum my whole house and think about an upcoming essay assignment before I could write the first word. However, as “woo woo” as this sounds, the “coming out” story practically wrote itself.
So much has happened since that 2018 blog post, so I thought a followup post would be appropriate.
The most important thing is that readers seemed to love that story. Something about it resonated with folks in my Wilson, North Carolina community and, in fact, in many other places all across America…I even had some readers in Canada, England, and Australia. Over 17,000 people read that story! (Admittedly, compared to Tik Tok folks who have 500,000 views, 17,000 is not much, but before that, the most readers/viewers of my posts had been 300).
Another event the blog post manifested is that Dr. Fulks, a Barton College professor, invited Emma Jane and me to speak to his students about how LGBTQ+ students should handle the whole “coming out” process. To be honest, I did not want to do a presentation in front of a large crowd of students, even though I was an adjunct English professor at Barton; I am an introvert! Emma Jane pretty much made me do the presentation with her. I was nervous enough about speaking to a large crowd, and when I saw someone from our local newspaper there to cover the story, I wanted to tell Emma Jane she would do a much better job without me. (She was the soccer superstar and the reason so many people showed up for our talk!) When the story was on the front page of the paper, I remember thinking, “Oh, shit! What will people think?”
It turns out, most people thought it was pretty cool. So many people reached out to Emma Jane and me and thanked us for being brave enough (lol) to tell our story. Little by little after that, we met more people of the LGBTQ community and have discovered that little ol’ Wilson, North Carolina is actually more accepting and more affirming than we assumed. Even today, years later, people still read and share that story. Apparently, it was a message needed at the time.
Since that story, many big events have happened in my life, but I have published very few blog posts about them. I have had breast cancer (twice); both of my kids have graduated from college; Kelly and I have both retired; Dawson has been working for over two years, and Emma Jane is about to finish grad school. Emma and Savannah got married twice — one private ceremony at the courthouse and one very big ceremony at our home. And, another event that occurred that sort of relates to my praying for Grayson Allen back when he and EJ were at Duke, is Emma was in Morgan and Grayson’s wedding this past summer! Savannah, Savannah’s mom, and I enjoyed our whirlwind trip to that beautiful wedding in California, and believe me, I thought more than once about how much had changed since 2014 when Morgan and Emma Jane became college roommates and teammates.
So, a lot has happened since I wrote that story — a lot of potential stories and blog posts have been percolating in my ol’ brain, and yet none came to fruition. I have a draft about how hard it was for me to stop being a helicopter mom once my son was a college graduate starting his REAL JOB. (“What if people are mean to him?” I wrote...but never published.) I bet other parents would have liked knowing someone else was struggling with the tough transition to having grown kids and how it is both wonderful and weird. I wrote a draft about the reality of professional women’s soccer, the SCARY CANCER diagnosis…Again, never published them.
The 17,000 number seemed to cast a long, threatening shadow over my ability to finish a story. How could I top that one? I wrote and wrote and wrote drafts – but published maybe one or two. T.S. Eliot says, “Between the idea / And the reality…/ Falls the Shadow.” I had lots of ideas, but nothing seemed to “matter” as much as that coming-out story because…”What if 17,000 people don’t read it?” Lord. I am my own worst enemy most of the time, for sure.
“The Shadow” of 17,000 readers in one day kept my ideas from becoming reality. The thoughts in my head stayed in my head…or in my journal…or as unpublished drafts on my computer, as I told myself none of my ideas could possibly be as good, as meaningful, as impactful as that one story.
2023…the beginning of a new year. I have been thinking about what I will do with this new year. I always like to choose a word for the year instead of a resolution. This year I chose “write.” I always write something each day, but this year I want to be a WRITER, and to me, that means sharing what I write and not allowing the “SHADOW” of not being good enough or impactful enough to stop me from actually doing the writing. It is okay if 17,000 people don’t read the story. If I don’t write it, no one will read it!
In the process of pondering the number of readers I might or might not have for an essay I have not even written, I have witnessed my friend AJ publish not one – but TWO – entire books and start his own podcast. My own daughter who did not major in English and did not teach kids HOW TO WRITE as I did for thirty-six years has been publishing weekly articles in our local newspaper.
“And what have you been doing, Kathy?” people might ask. “Well,” I would mumble, “I have thought a lot.”
Shadows can haunt us; they scare us. They paralyze us and keep us from achieving what we long to do.
I wonder what “Shadow” haunts others. What keeps us from doing instead of just pondering? What occurs in that space between the idea and the reality? What insecurities emerge? What “shadows” from the past keep us from moving forward?
Maybe it is the shadow of the “A” you didn’t make on that test despite so much studying, so now you hate school. Maybe it is the shadow of a really bad relationship that left you questioning your own judgment and afraid of getting hurt again. Maybe it is the shadow of a parent’s critical eye when you walked into the room with jeans that were a little too tight, making you self-conscious about your body even twenty or thirty years later. Maybe it is the shadow of a teacher who didn’t think you were smart enough for her class (Mrs. Abernathy!), so you avoided anything science-related in college. Maybe it is the shadow of poverty when you were younger that makes you feel you shouldn’t ask for a raise; you already have so much more than your mom ever did. Maybe it is the shadow of discrimination that made you somehow believe you were different and therefore not good enough. Maybe it is the shadow of your middle school friends making fun of how much you ate at lunchtime, and now you won’t allow yourself to fill up a plate – or God forbid, go back for seconds. Maybe it is the shadow of your dad’s verbal and physical abuse, making you as a grown man think you were not smart enough to lead a whole company, so why try for that promotion? Maybe it is the shadow of those negative comments on social media, making you afraid to post any pictures at all now.
I imagine we all have shadows of some kind. (Even Oprah had the shadow of being criticized for being “too emotional” to be successful as a television journalist.)
Yes, shadows can haunt us and keep us from reaching our potential, but what we should probably do is turn around and face them. I once read an article about running and how chasing your shadow can actually help with running form. The writer/runner mentioned how checking your form by looking at your shadow (sort of like looking in the mirror during yoga class) can help you make small changes and improvements. I think the same could be true for our dark shadows that are always lurking and trying to make us think we shouldn’t – or that we can’t – do something.
I know I can get in my own head way too much, and sometimes I just need to face my scary shadow of doubt or insecurity — “What if 17,000 people don’t read this?” — and just make the idea in my head a reality in print. Encountering that shadow, standing up straight and looking it in its menacing face, could make it not so scary. In fact, chasing that shadow might just make it run away.