A One Woman Riot

1 Corinthians 14:34

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

For more than the first half of my life, that passage of scripture cast a shadow over me, seeping into my physiology, accompanied by the style of parenting that sets it into the neural pathways, often choking, inhibiting, paralyzing. I’m past 50. I’m still ousting the darkness of its influence though I have long renounced its claim. The women of this epoch are making it easier and easier to oust. But the work is still mine.

When the song “Quiet” morphed into the anthem of the Women’s March, I was drowning in a silent scream of grief and life events way beyond my capacity to actually weather. I was holding my breath. So, I missed the originator of it, MILCK, though I heard groups of women standing, holding hands and singing “I can’t keep quiet.” It pricked my ears.

My sister shoved the video in my face, finally. And so, I can’t sing this song without sobs. So, I sing it a lot. And then some more. I have yet to get through the song without stopping to let things roll out of me. I’ll get there. MILCK found the words I haven’t. Imagine that. I have so many words and I never could keep quiet for long. It’s my biggest, baddest sin, that and boat-rocking, cage-rattling insistence on truthseek. And while it’s not like I have a big secret to tell, it is definitely that I and many other women are still unlearning the silence. Minute by goddamn minute.

Folks, girls are still raised under the strain of the lie of misogyny. Right now, and in the name of Jesus. I imagine he’s pretty pissed about it. It’s cloaked in all kinds of alleged holy. And it’s even dressed up in versions of pretend liberation, the kind that works as long as you speak up only within the prescribed, allowed lines. Dare not announce you will no longer tolerate certain things. Dare not boldly be. Dare not call people on their shit when you’ve had enough. Dare not be anything but a new version of quiet. Fuck that shit. All of it.

A Harvest Calls

When the winter stole my song, all the lovely bits of me blew away
and the night chained the dirt of my soul to the earth,
a forest of dead leaves and berries cloaked my blood.
So I wailed into the mire, a sort of siren sob for ice and snow, but no.
The season remained anchored to an epoch, bored by all my ire
and, instead of relenting, carved notches in my throat,
binding my voice to memories of long ago, whispering secrets stored in lifetimes past.
And so I listened.
And the notches cut deep, freeing waters dank and tired.
They ran in rivulets down my neck and into the valley hardened by hope’s abortions,
flooded all the flotsam jamming up my flow and washed old corpses out to sea.
And I listened more
as the ice and snow melted down into my core, warmed by embers unseen.
Then a new song gripped the heart of every screenplay refusing tRuth,
wringing out the lies, peeling back the armor ancient,
fucking the mindlessness out of every habitual, knee-jerk bullshit
reactionary presentation.
Stripped, disintegrating but the truest hum emanating.
Out past the dirt and mire, through the cracks in my grave…
a harvest calls,
a song is freed,
and these feet remember the dance.

j. ruth kelly, 2017, all rights reserved

Profoundly Human Endeavors

“Even once the true cause of my disease is discovered, if we don’t change our institutions and our culture, we will do this again to another disease. Living with this illness has taught me that science and medicine are profoundly human endeavors. Doctors, scientists and policymakers are not immune to the same biases that affect all of us. We need to think in more nuanced ways about women’s health. Our immune systems are just as much a battleground for equality as the rest of our bodies. We need to listen to patients’ stories and we need to be wiling to say ‘I don’t know.’ ‘I don’t know’ is a beautiful thing. ‘I don’t know’ is where discovery starts. And if we can do that, if we can approach the great vastness of all that we do not know, and then rather than fear uncertainty, maybe we can greet it with a sense of wonder.” Jennifer Brea on CFS/ME and the ways the medical model can improve for all of us.

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved
j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis aka Alienation

I so often wrestle with whether or not to express what CFS/ME does to my life, how it shapes the landscape of my mind, my will. More often, I choose to sparingly articulate how it impacts me, simply in the interest of sanity. But I find, as more and more people wake up to the truth of this disease, that it is becoming more empowering, less overwhelming to go ahead and speak up. The ignorance is melting away as people realize it’s not a psychological issue but a real assault on the body.

As Jennifer Brea experienced initially, so did I. Fever over 106. Pneumonia for the first time in my life. Early 20s. Never. The. Same. After my primary care physician sent me in many different directions seeking a diagnosis, we landed on the diagnosis of CFS. And the alienation began right there in my doc’s office, with her set of prejudices awaiting me like a box, a prison cell.

Brea’s TED talk speaks to so many of the issues confronted by those who walk this path. Her words, in their affirmation of the validity and impossibility of the struggle, bring balm to those who have suffered this illness for a long long time.

A Gentle Sun

shining down on,
welling up from,
spilling over,
flowing…
all these breezes,
all these meanderings,
all these lightbeams
telling love,
sculpting a new story
one you feel at the outer limits of
all you thought you’d be and
all that life has wrought of
your holdings and releasings…
beyond the gates of rightness
a river’s journey shapes the story
and we can make it all about the loss
or we can shape the meaning and vision
by love, for love, of love…
as all these leaves and lines settle ‘midst a gentle sun’s sight
revealing the creator within and beyond our worst night.

photo by j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved
photo by j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved