Warning: CA Conrad Trigger Warnings

I read with some amusement poet CA Conrad’s Facebook status complaining about a request that he offer “Trigger Warnings” before he gives a poetry reading. The update:

CA Conrad Trigger

Of course smart ass that I am, I left the comment:

Trigger

Trigger

Trigger is a horse. (——>)

I watched the thread develop all day and stunned by some of the comments, such as:

CA, this is a load of shit. When you are asked to provide trigger warnings, you aren’t being told not to use certain language or talk about certain things. People simply want to be warned so they can make informed decisions and care for themselves. It’s about compassion for others, not about restricting your precious artistic expression.

and

VICTIMS DECIDE. LISTEN TO VICTIMS. AT LEAST CONSIDER WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY, ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU BENEFIT OFF THEIR VICTIMIZATION.

and I’d pull out the Naomi Judd quote:

“The first time you’re a victim. After that you’re a volunteer.” 

And there would be other posts that would lead to links and I would find yet another part of the fringe of academia that I’d not heard about, Trigger Warnings. A New Republic post said:

Last week, student leaders at the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors who present “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” would be required to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes.

And then the one that stunned me. I would hear about a story from a Facebook friend who comes from a political stance I would say is considerably more to my right, yet he’s civil (does not like the use of the word “cracker” as a term for racist white people) and is reasonable. The story is of a Professor at University if California at Santa Barbara, Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, who said an anti-abortion sign Triggered her and (essentially) gave her the right to forcibly take the sign and assault the sign-holder, a 16 year old right-wing Christian from a Pro-Life group called: Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. The police report is telling.

That Dr. Miller-Young is of African-American heritage, is a woman and at the time of her assault was pregnant (and I assume is still pregnant) is important to note, as she’s a member of groups that have historically been discriminated against in our culture and she has a lot on her mind. She should not be judged by how she acts in her worst moment. I get all that. She felt like the protestors were invading her space and making it something less than a safe space for her. In many ways they were doing exactly that. They were coming to create an incident and they were successful and their own documentation of the event will likely lead to more funding for their group and will likely embolden others who share their views to mimic the tactic.

The “victim” in this case said: “the professor’s fingernails left bloody scratches on her arms…”

Here is an excerpt from the police report:

I’m stronger so I was able to take the poster…

I asked Miller-Young if she felt anything wrong had happened this afternoon. Miller-Young said that she did not know enough about the limits of free speech to answer my question. Miller-Young went on to say that she was not sure what an acceptable and legal response to hate speech would be. Miller-Young said that she was willing to pay for the cost of the sign but would “hate it.”

I explained to Miller-Young that the victims in this case felt that a crime had occurred. I told Miller-Young that I appreciated the fact that she felt traumatized by the imagery but that her response constituted a violation of law. Furthermore, I told Miller-Young that I was worried about the example she had set for her undergraduate students.

Miller-Young said that her students “were wanting her to take” the sign away.Miller-Young argued that she set a good example for her students. Miller-Young likened her behavior to that of a “conscientious objector.”

This notion of triggering and the chilling implications on free speech have been on my mind now for three days. How little room there is for wisdom in our culture ESPECIALLY from the places where we have for hundreds of years gone to get it, institutions of higher learning. You can sense the deep spiritual hunger that is at the root of people who side with victims and would block me from their Facebook feed because I had the temerity to add those comments referenced above and one other aimed at the person who felt CA Conrad was full of shit. My comment was BOOOOO! I know, harsh.

If only those “triggered” would stop and think about what was at the source of that triggering, they’d have the medicine they need to move forward in their own lives, see the trigger man (or woman) not as someone evil or misguided who needs to learn about disclaimers, but as a messenger put in their life to provide a window into their own individuation, healing and forgiveness.

That violence could ever be seen as an answer to any act is at the core of the problems we have in the world right now and CA Conrad is right about how our own government perpetrates much worse abuses in the name of democracy every day: war; drones; torture, endless violent occupations, &c &c &c.

That Conrad can take these stances, but also have a poetry that is deep, original and surreal shows the kind of depth at which he is operating. That he is a screen upon which the un-individuated feel they can project their immature psyches onto is a difficult burden to bear, as is so often the case with open people. That Conrad remains open after all he has been through is a testament to the depth of his character. That we live in a country where THIS is the great debate of the day is telling, as it reeks of end-of-empire stank. May that be so and may the trigger-happy sufferers get the help they need, but trigger warnings? Sounds like idiot compassion to the 10th power.

To summarize:

Non-violence. Always. (This does not mean no self-defense.)

Free Speech. (This means the same for those who do not share your views or whose speech you find repulsive. This does not mean Hate Speech is ok.)

Don’t Take the Bait. (What is reasonable?)

It’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out. The wise move would be to swallow hard, apologize and consider the needs of the little one inside her. I’m hoping for the best outcome and preparing for more of this kind of language and behavior. Lots more.

About Splabman

SPLAB and Cascadia Poetry Festival founder Paul E Nelson wrote American Sentences (Apprentice House, 2015), Organic Poetry (VDM Verlag, Germany, 2008), a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, Washington, A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, 2010) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (Lumme, Brazil, 2013). Founder of the Cascadia Poetry Festival, in 26 years of radio he interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, Wanda Coleman, Brenda Hillman, George Bowering, Joanne Kyger, Jerome Rothenberg & others, including many Cascadia poets. He lives in Seattle and writes at least one American Sentence every day. http://www.PaulENelson.com. Co-Editor of Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, he is in year five of a twenty year Cascadia Bioregional Cultural Investigation. www.CascadiaPoetryFestival.org (Oct 12-15, 2017, Tacoma, WA)
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4 Responses to Warning: CA Conrad Trigger Warnings

  1. nikki darlin says:

    I love this. I actually have bona fide PTSD, the kind that is sort of like time-travelling but only to places I really don’t want to go. But I live in the world. I don’t want bumpers on all the roads. This is especially true when it comes to art. Experiencing art authentically means you don’t enter knowing that what’s in there may tear you apart, make you laugh until you cry or even have to throw up. If you don’t want to experience real world scary things stick to children’s books.

    Part of therapy for PTSD is incrementally and intentionally exposing yourself to triggers so they don’t reduce you to a puddle when you confront them in daily life. For me, I would count on a poetry reading being like a minefield fraught with triggers–if the poetry is any good and especially if Conrad was reading. Not that all good poetry has to be dark and frightening but you know look at the tradition of the art form. Scary monsters all the way back to Homer.

  2. kjmiller says:

    thanks, paul, clearly i need to crawl out of this basement more.

  3. RR Seitz says:

    …oh..no… here I go….(The following, yous, yours et al are meant editorially).

    Your triggers are your’s, mine are mine. I’m not responsible for your triggers. You are not responsible for mine. I personally would be/pheel insulted if I was given a “trigger warning”, that a-someone would push me aside judge me thinking they could assume I needed a fore-said warning. Fuck that I’ll decide.

    At a lot of reads a number of poets pheel, we as listeners are to stupid to get their fine-fine work that “they need explain the crap out of it and now no doubt NOW we will have to listen to their assumption around whether or not we may be triggered. Fuck that.

    No I make make little sense. But. Burn your pop-psych books. Find some grateful you’re still on the side of the grass and while you are at it, try to acquire a life.

    Thanks Paul.

    Yours in fellow assholeness,

    -Roy

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