Trigger Warning: This Post is About Trigger Warnings

Credit: Lishmay

Credit: Lishmay

TRIGGER WARNING: Wolverines

All right, kids. Let’s talk about those awful trigger warnings the dirty, dirty liberals are out there throwing around in order to censor everything that isn’t rainbows and puppies and pansexuals.

I’ve read a lot of opinion pieces, mostly from people who don’t have emotional triggers because they haven’t been through any sort of major trauma. Well, I’m traumatized just enough to have triggers, but I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t shy away from difficult material. So, now you get to hear from me.

What’s a Trigger?

A trigger is not “something I don’t like”. I hate canned chicken. I hate it with a fiery passion. I want to shoot every can of chicken straight into the sun. But that doesn’t make canned chicken a trigger for me, because I was never traumatized by canned chicken. Canned chicken never broke into my home and attacked me.

A trigger is really associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What happens, is a person with PTSD can come across something that reminds them of their trauma, and it brings on an uncontrollable physical reaction. I don’t mean they get a little upset and misty eyed. I mean that no matter how much they tell themselves they’re OK, their body believes they are in imminent danger and their fight or flight instinct kicks in. I don’t know about you, but I find it’s pretty dang hard to concentrate in a literature class when my body is itching to drop kick a bitch.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my office, taking a quick break from some reports I’d been working on all day. I hopped online to check the news and read a breaking story about a teenage girl who’d just been kidnapped by her father’s friend after he killed her mother and brother in a house fire. Now, that hit a little close to home for me and my uncooperative body shot off into a heart-racing panic attack. I had a hard time concentrating and didn’t get much done for the rest of the day. If I’d known what the story was about before clicking on the link, I’d still have read it, but I’d have waited until I got home so it didn’t disrupt my whole day.

How Do Trigger Warnings Work?

In reality, almost anything could be a trigger. Maybe your attacker was wearing a red ribbon, so now red ribbons trigger that panic response. We can’t blanket the world in trigger warnings for every little thing. What we can do, though, is catch some of the more obvious triggers.

Literature that includes abuse and sexual assault can easily trigger a person who’s been through either. I mean, if your father was ripped apart by wolverines, and then you sat down in class and had to read a short story about a father who was ripped apart by wolverines, don’t you think that’d upset you to the point where you had a hard time participating in the class discussion about it?

But what if the syllabus warned you ahead of time? TRIGGER WARNING: Includes a father being killed by wolverines.

You’d have weeks to prepare yourself. Maybe you’d read the story ahead of time, on your own, so you didn’t have to worry about having a panic attack in the middle of class with all your peers watching. You would have time to process your emotions on your own before tackling the discussion in class. It would mean you could participate more effectively in class.

Now, I think a wolverine trigger warning’s stupid. There aren’t many people out there who’ve had a wolverine rip apart a family member. But, there are so many people out there who’ve been raped and abused. A trigger warning on material that includes those topics would catch a huge number of people.

In a college setting, a trigger warning wouldn’t mean those people get to skip that material. That’s not how this works. All it means is they’re warned ahead of time that it’s going to be difficult for them. Because if you know something difficult is coming up, you can come up with a plan for how to handle it.

My Personal Expectations

A lot of opinion pieces paint people like me as whiners who want to be victims so they don’t have to do any actual work and don’t ever have to challenge themselves to learn about things they might not like.

Well, sure, there are people like that out there, but it’s not the rape survivors. It’s not the veterans sitting in class with PTSD. These people just want to learn without being startled by a panic attack in the middle of class. They just want the same shot at learning that everyone else in the class has got.

Personally, I don’t expect to see any trigger warnings for my issues. Delusional hippie religious stalkers aren’t exactly a plague on our society, so trigger warnings about that would just waste ink.

What I do expect to see are rape and abuse trigger warnings. Because, guess what. Those are a plague on our society and until that changes, we’ve got a lot of legitimately traumatized people out there.

Drive It On Home

Trigger warnings aren’t for things we don’t like.

Even if there’s a trigger warning, we still have to study the material if it’s on the syllabus.

Trigger warnings help people prepare for handling material that could harm them (because, face it, panic attacks aren’t cool).

Trigger warnings don’t hurt anyone. If a subject doesn’t cause you severe emotional distress, then ignore the warning.

See how easy that is?

And one more quick comment for any Christians out there. If you have the opportunity to reach out and help “the least of these” by typing a few extra words, shouldn’t you?

Mic drop.

We Tell Stories

Dad walks in and strides straight to the Commodore 128. He never changes out of his work clothes before dinner.

I’ve finally learned not to attack him the second he walks in the door, so I walk into my bedroom and shift the piles of papers under my nightstand for a couple of minutes, an eternity for a 9-year-old.

I pick up the piece of notebook paper that’s sitting on top of the stack. I pinch it at both top corners and hold it at arm’s length as I walk back toward the dining room. I don’t want to wrinkle it.

Ground beef sizzles in the kitchen.

I stand beside the heavy computer desk Dad built out of solid doors. He isn’t typing right now.

“I made you a book cover,” I say and hold out the paper.

It’s a rough drawing of an old, bearded man and a boy. The man sits on a log and has his mouth open while the boy sits on the ground, looking attentive. In balloon letters, I’ve written “The Grand Master of Lore” at the top.

He takes the picture.

“Do you want to use it?”

“It’s good. It really goes with the story. I might change the title, though.”

“I can erase that part and write it over again.”

He keeps the picture on his desk.

We are not a literary family.

There’s nothing special about us. Dad works in production and Mom stays home. We’re like every other family in this dusty, country town. We’re just as unwealthy and uncultured as anyone else around here. A little better off than some, a little worse off than others.

We are not a literary family.

Except, we are.

The room that should be our dining room is full of books. We call it the library. There’s no Tolstoy or Woolf here, but it’s still a potential avalanche of words.

We are not a literary family.

Yet, my mother writes poetry and my father writes fantasy. My bedtime stories are The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Iliad.

We have no pedigrees, no connections, no education.

We do have words, though.

We write down the things we’d never dare to say out loud. We transform ugly moments into lyrics that float. We can escape the mesquite trees and cracked mud to go anywhere we want. To any time we want. Nothing is too fantastical.

I don’t quite do that yet. I write about talking hippos and magical giraffes that escape from the zoo. I write poems about fat cats and apples.

I may be too little to ride these rapids, but I see how powerful they are. How powerful the people who learn how to navigate them are. I want to be part of that, even if it’s just drawing a book cover.

I want to be one of those people.

 

“Mommy, does your main character have any pets?”

I turn away from the monitor to answer my 9-year-old daughter. “I haven’t given her any.”

“I think she should have an alien dog as a pet.”

She knows just enough about the novel I’m working on to know my main character isn’t quite human. Though, an alien dog wouldn’t exactly work.

“Maybe,” I reply.

She leaves for a while and I try to re-focus after the interruption. I shouldn’t have tried to write while the kids were home.

She comes back a few minutes later, holding a sheet of copier paper in front of her. She presents it to me.

“I drew a dog for your character. See? It has bat wings. Do you like it?”

I laugh and she scowls at me. She thinks I’m making fun of her. I’m not.

“It’s good. It really goes with the story.”

J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes

Tolkien header

J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorite authors. (Like Tolkien, I think of myself as a very tall hobbit.) Since today is his birthday, I’ve pulled some of my favorite Tolkien quotes out of my quote collection.

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“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humor (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.”

Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.

Bilbo, The Lord of the Rings

 

‘Shall I always be chosen ?’ she said bitterly. ‘Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?’

‘A time may come soon,’ said he, ‘when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.’

And she answered: ‘All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.’

‘What do you fear, lady?’ he asked.

‘A cage,’ she said. ‘To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’ – Éowyn and Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings

We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.

“‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.'” – The Lord of the Rings

My name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.

Treebeard, The Lord of the Rings

 

“A sword rang as it was drawn. ‘Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.’

‘Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!’

Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. ‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.’” – Éowyn and the Witch-king of Angmar The Lord of the Rings

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?