There’s No Trigger Warning for This Post


College students have begun writing letters requesting that their literature come with trigger warnings as if Beowulf was a blog post detailing someone’s horrible life experience. Presumably to keep said students from having to unexpectedly relive their traumatic event. I feel for these avid letter writers but, literature is not the place for trigger warnings.

I do not disagree with the general practice of trigger warnings. Blogs that deal with racism, feminism, LGBTQ, etc. issues tend to feature them as their readers more than likely have experienced some traumatic event in the past. I take no umbrage with that as their goal is to create a safe and inclusive environment. I think the world needs those places. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your overall take on things) the world is not a safe place. The world is dark and full of terrors.

Increasingly as a society we are becoming more and more demanding that the world bends to accommodate everyone. That all things become sterilized and served in such a way to give the consumer a choice in how they want to experience things. But that’s not what life is like and it’s certainly not what literature is designed to do.

Literature is supposed to startle, to move. It is a place where the horrors of a different time can be displayed alongside the joys and the mediocre trappings of everyday life. It is supposed to make you stop and question, to incite conversation. That reaction is important. Those books are important.

The trigger warning, to me, diminishes that effect. A trigger warning gives the reader a choice. It says, “Hey buddy, there’s some stuff here that you may not be able to handle. You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to. Be safe friend.” Which allows for the creation of that bubble of emotional safety.

You cannot expect the world to support your bubble of safety. If we put warnings on literature or we making a “safer” environment or are we giving young readers a reason to further not engage with the work? If your reaction is such that you need a warning will you read that text or pass it up in favor of the bubble?

The secondary effect it has, unintentionally, is to reduce a work to its trauma. When confronted with a blog that has a trigger warning that says, violence or rape then the mind automatically thinks that this is a story about violence and rape and it may legitimately be. It could also be about redemption or self-discovery. The trigger warning doesn’t push those themes though, it just tells you to watch out for the negative plot points. Which ultimately doesn’t do the work itself any justice.

If we assume that these letter writers are earnest and honest with their pleas, that they do indeed have some trauma in their lives which has been or can be set off by the books they are assigned in class then I hope they are seeking help and that they are able to find healing. However, that being said, I think the onus is on them to protect themselves. Which is also, incidentally, part of growing up.

College isn’t high school. No one is going to be there to hold anyone’s hand. It can be assumed when studying literature at that level that work presented to you isn’t going to be Harry Potter. That terrible things are going to happen to people or people are going to do terrible things to other people. It is up to the reader to look into the text and decide if they can handle it.

Trigger warnings have no place in the classroom. They have no place in the real world.



The Struggle is Real

Do Andriods Dream

The alarm is screaming.

Its tiny beep, the most hated feature on the otherwise beloved smartphone is a playing the song of its hated people. To add to the chorus, my phone catches up, opens Pandora and starts streaming alternative rock music to prompt me from my bed.

He turns off his alarm, the hated beeping, the screaming in the near darkness of the early morning, finally stops. He isn’t even awake, not through the screaming, not through the music. He just settles back into bed throwing one heavy arm over my side as if it’s Sunday morning.

It’s not.

It’s some weekday, it doesn’t matter which, I have to get up and go to work. I try to force my stinging and heavy lidded eyes open and manage to create slits just enough to reach for the phone and turn down the music.

Leave it play and the loud sounds give me a headache but turn it off and I’ll drift back off in the warm comfort of my bed.

Still, I have not reached a point where I can move. My brain, more functional than the rest of me is yelling orders that my limbs refuse to answer. We continue this silent battle, my brain that knows that we have somewhere to be vs my body that just wants “five more minutes” but has no concept of time.

Finally, he wakes turning and sleepy, he picks up his phone that he had silenced so casually. Sometimes 15 minutes after it sounds. Sometimes 40. But never anywhere close to when he stopped it.

“Baby,” he mumbles, “Do you know what time it is?”

“Yes,” I reply, grumpy and more awake than he, “Get up, we’re late.”

I always know what time it is. I’ve been half keeping time by music, half by the quickly rising sun. He pulls himself out of bed and throws on clothes sourced from a pile on the floor. He doesn’t have much to do but drop people off and some chores.

I follow, my body heavy and tired as I struggle to place my feet one in front of the other, to make it around the bed and down the hall, half blind. Under my feet cats twist and children fly past me on their way to waste time in their bedroom.

I don’t care. I just want to pee.

On the toilet my eyesight begins to clear, shapes matching with their names in my mind. Cat. Bath. Kid. Book.

Toothpaste to brush. Brush teeth. Rinse. Spit.

I dry my hands on my husband’s towel as I return to my bedroom. He’s yelling at me from the kitchen. His voice echoes, beating at the back of my brain. My brain that is painfully aware that we need to hurry but the early morning adrenaline has worn off and I’m so sleepy.

It doesn’t matter what morning it is, I’m always sleepy.

“Babe!” he yells as I round the bed.

“Babe!” he yells again, “Are you up?”

“Yes! I’m getting dressed,” I holler back. He never hears me.

“What?” his voice echoes from downstairs.

“She said she’s getting dressed,” one of my children relays as I quickly decide if their outfit is appropriate to wear outside of the house.

The child leaves and there is a moment of silence before he calls again. “Babe! What do you want for lunch?”

I grit my teeth at my dresser and decide to ignore him. He can’t hear me and I have to hurry. I pull out clothes to the sound of his yelling.

“Mike wants to know what you want for lunch,” the other child asks.

I inspect her outfit and give her a pass before answering, “I don’t know, I’m not in the kitchen. Tell him to stop calling me!”

She nods and skips out of the kitchen. I know she’ll only give him half of the message. It’s fine. The clock is already rounding into the red. I’ve been keeping time by the music. I know that it’s already too late.

I pull on my clothes and hustle down the stairs. He’s already in the car, a recent change in routine. It took me years to instill in him the practice of going out to the car to wait instead of on the couch, watching TV with his shoes off.

My husband doesn’t hurry over anything. It takes him five minutes to put his shoes on. Another five to find his keys in the same place he leaves them every night. Once in the car it takes him four minutes to start it, find his sunglasses, put on his seat belt and pull out of the spot. I’ve timed him.

So this is better.

Today I am lucky and notice that he’s left my breakfast for me on the bookcase by the door. I pick it up in my hurry. Some mornings I rush out and then have to convince him to just start the car, secretly fuming that I’ll be hungry until lunch.

He’s still not very good at taking it to the car with him.

Finally in the car we pull out into the road and drive the three miles to my job. It’s funny that when you’re in a hurry traffic moves at a crawl. He yells at drivers that can’t hear him until I point out that he’s just giving me a headache.

I jump out the car as we pull up in front of my building, kissing my husband who yells, “Try to have a good day!” out of the rolled down window to my departing back. I make some noncommittal noise that could be ok or I love you.

I scurry down the path and into my building, flashing my badge at a disinterested guard. I wait for the elevator, hoping that the employee I don’t like is either already at her desk or later than me. Anything but the same time. Anything but the small talk. It’s too early.

Some days I get lucky. Some days I don’t.

Finally the elevator stops at my floor and I step off, passing through the security doors into my office. I pass by my coworkers who cheerfully say good morning even though I never say it back. I’m not being rude. I just don’t register they’ve spoken or what my reaction should be until I’ve already passed them.

So maybe I am rude.

I pass my employees and finally settle into my desk, quickly turning on my computer, setting up my station.

Stop. Breathe. Ok.

I open my email and there, marked urgent from my boss, sent 8 minutes after my start time, “Come see me as soon as you arrive.”

Fuck. Game over.

This post inspired by “The Five Essential Story Ingredients” from Writer’s Digest. To be honest, I just sort of skimmed the article but my reaction was, “Fuck you getting up in the morning isn’t a story. The struggle is REAL!”