Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces in the age of Donald Trump 

It’s really hard being a rape victim when Donald Trump opens his mouth and says what he says about women.

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As I’m writing this, it’s 12:39 AM. And I’m having a panic attack–it’s not the first one I’ve had in the past few months, but it’s certainly been the worst.

It started because of a video I saw on the news, but it didn’t start right away (they almost never do). They develop over time, like a romantic crush: all of a sudden it hits you, and you’re like, “Oh, no.”

It started because of a video about Donald Trump. You know the one. The one he dubs “locker-room talk,” a “chat between guys.” But, in reality, it was more like the opening sequence of a sexual assault scene.

Which, unfortunately, is almost exactly like how my rape played out.

Picture this: a guy grabs an unsuspecting girl from behind while she’s washing her hands and punishes her for daring to reject him.

Don’t want to picture it? Yeah, neither did I.

But I had no real warning, no way to prepare myself. One minute, I was watching coverage on Hurricane Matthew, and the next I’m listening to Donald Trump make a lewd, rapey comment. The only warning was “Next tonight, we have an audio tape of a conversation Donald Trump had about a woman,” which I guess in hindsight should have been enough.

It’s now 1 AM, and I’m still fighting the waning panic that came from the unexpected audio clip.

Two hours ago, the hour-long panic was a lot worse than it is now. Now it’s a dull ache, then it was a roaring freight train. It was feeling heavy and light all at the same time–like two wings trying to carry a boulder weighing a ton. And I know that doesn’t really make sense, but imagine how you feel when you have a fever, simultaneously feeling hot and cold at the same time. It was like that, but it was like my person was trying to fly, but my body was weighing it down. My mind was in the past but my body was in the present, and the disconnect between the two created a whole body tingling sensation underneath my skin of cement.

And I was anxious and achy and dizzy and teary, and a million other things at once that I don’t have words for, but I wish I did.

I wish I could convey to you how it feels to have a panic attack, especially if you don’t understand, especially if you constantly bemoan the “sensitive millennials and their need for safe spaces and trigger warnings.”

To those of you like that: I pray to God that someone you love never goes through something so traumatic it changes the way they interact with society.

I wish I could adequately explain to you how it feels to have a panic attack because they’re exhausting, and they make sleep impossible and coming back to reality is an ordeal in itself.

And, oh my gosh, how I wanted to self-harm so badly last night. Because the sensation of a razor would have provided more physical pressure than tracing “I’m ok” over and over again with my finger. But trace away I did–130 times.

And when that didn’t work, I wrapped myself up tightly in my blanket, arms wrapped across my chest, knees bent, rocking back and forth, humming to myself, like a stereotypical old-timey insane asylum resident.

But I’m not crazy. I need something to ground me in the now. To remind my time-traveling mind that it’s safe with my body in the present.

Oftentimes the added pressure does the trick, which is why I like hugs. But if the pressure fails, I look in the mirror as the last resort because nothing draws my mind back to the present like a staring contest with yourself.

It’s 1:38 AM. Three and a half hours later, the panic is gone. Three and a half hours that I’ll never get back, where I could’ve been sleeping.

It could’ve maybe been prevented. Maybe not completely, but I could’ve been warned, could’ve prepared myself.

“The media’s not going to warn you if they’re going to discuss something like this.” They warn people when they’re going to show graphic videos or images where there’s blood or gunfire.

Why is this different?

Safe spaces and trigger warnings aren’t to stop us from talking about tough things, being challenged, being uncomfortable, and engaging in society. They exist to save us from ourselves.

You can’t be challenged if you don’t feel safe.

I want to be challenged. But I’m scared to be challenged if people are quick to dismiss the racial and gender issues in the country just because they aren’t part of them.

“There’s no race issue.” Says the white man.

“There’s no rape culture.” Says the man.

Donald Trump is rape culture personified. He can say whatever he wants and do whatever he wants when it concerns women because he’s a wealthy man.

Rape Culture is thinking women owe you something for being nice to them or being a man or being beautiful.

Rape Culture is grading women on their waist and bust size.

Rape Culture is calling women you don’t like “pigs and slobs.”

Rape Culture is ascribing worth to a woman based on how attractive they are.

Rape Culture is being jailed for six months after committing a sexual assault because “he has a bright future ahead of him.”

(I used to think I had a bright future ahead of me. Now I wonder if my past will ever stop blocking the sun.)

Rape Victim is 1 in 4.

Rape Victim is someone you know.

Rape Victim is afraid to go out in public because “not all guys” but enough do.

Rape Victim is scrolling through Twitter realizing how many people there are just like her.

Rape Victim knows that there’s more to being safe than having access to guns. And right now, we don’t feel safe because our past continues to slap us in the face whenever Trump speaks.

And all we want to do is move healthily into the future without being reminded of our past.

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Entropy, Empathy, Engineering, and English*

*alternately titled, “Why I’m an English Engineer”

When I tell people I’m an English major, the first question out of their mouth is more often than not, “So, you want to be a teacher?” I don’t know how to tell them that, no, I don’t want to be a teacher; I want to be a writer, an Engineer of words if you will. That was my plan originally, anyway. I went through all of High School planning on being an Engineer: I loaded up on Science, Math, and Tech classes. I took Physics, Calculus, Electricity and Electronics, trying to achieve a strong base of knowledge for college. It wasn’t until I applied, and was accepted into, the 3-2 engineering program that I realized I did not want to be an Engineer. It seemed Engineering and I would not play well together as we got closer: we’d be like the couple who get married after knowing each other for six months; who, as they find out more about each other, decide they are no longer compatible; and who get a divorce shortly after being married, but still remain friends.

Divorces are costly (so I’m told); college is costly, too. I didn’t want to graduate college in debt, with a degree I don’t like even though jobs are available. Now I’m graduating college in debt, with a degree I love even though fewer jobs are waiting (or so those who don’t know better tell me).

And that’s ok. Science and I may have broken up, but we’re still friends. In fact, in a lot of my writing, I use scientific terms and concepts to help explain what I’m trying to say. One of my favorite ideas to use is entropy.

Three-quarters of the way through my Senior Year of High School, when I told my parents I no longer wanted to be an Engineer, they were surprised. In their minds, I had spent my whole life preparing to be one: I was constantly taking things apart and putting them back together—pens, cameras, computers, pens, pens, pens, anything I could get my hands on; I was always coming up with ideas on ways to improve products consumers buy, especially washers and dryers; for my 6th grade science fair project, I built a radio out of a Quaker Oatmeal can and some wires. My parents saw an Engineer; I did not.

Some people have famous last words:

John Adams, when dying, muttered: “Thomas Jefferson…still survives.” Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

Louisa May Alcott said, “Is it not meningitis?” …. It wasn’t.

Jane Austen, when asked by her sister if she wanted anything, replied: “I want nothing but death.”

Marie Antoinette, after stepping on the foot of her executioner, muttered: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès. “(Pardon me, Sir. I did not do it on purpose.)

I don’t know what my last words will be, but I know what my (rumored) first words were. My parents tell me I looked underneath my car seat while playing on the floor, and they swear they heard me say, “How’s it work?” I’ve spent all 20 years of my life answering that question. All of the jobs I’ve wanted to have for as long as I can remember have had something to do with answering that question. Engineers take things apart, figure out the processes of the inner mechanics, and put them back together. Before an engineer, I wanted to be a doctor. Doctors do the same thing, except they use the human body. And now I want to be a writer, an editor, a publisher. It’s taken me a while to find the connection to the Great Question of my life: “How’s it work?” Hint: It has to do with stories.

I wrote my first story when I was in 1st grade. It was a short horror story that got passed around to all the teachers in my elementary school. They all told me I would be a famous writer someday. I didn’t believe them; I still don’t. That first story, which gave me the confidence to write, has been misplaced, and is sitting, waiting to be rediscovered, somewhere among all the notebooks and loose papers in my room. I started my first novel when I was 8. It was going to be the diary of an 8 year old orphan girl who lost her parents to the influenza epidemic. I never finished, nor did I get past the 4th diary entry. Since then, I’ve written numerous poems, journal entries, blog posts, sentences and paragraphs I hope one day to use somewhere. I guess we’ll have to see where life takes me.

What I’m getting at, I think, is how does my life question of “How’s it work?” connect to stories? I write to figure things out, to deal with my struggles in a healthy way. As someone who has been living with depression for as long as I can remember, every day is a battle. I’ve never been very good at communicating my feelings out loud, but on paper, it all seems to click; my life makes sense: the chaos in my mind becomes ordered. At its base, entropy is a theory of chaos and disorder. The only way to produce order out of chaos is by increasing entropy: order becomes chaos by expanding and producing energy. My chaotic mind becomes ordered when I put in the effort and energy to sort it all out.

Our minds are microcosms of the universe; each person’s mind contains a universe, and we’re all struggling to make sense of this chaotic world. A mind, at its core, is just the universe trying to understand itself, and I don’t think we’re doing a good job of understanding, connecting, and feeling. That’s why I read and write: to try to understand what I don’t know. I only have this one life and only get to experience what I live. By reading, though, I can imagine what it’s like to be a child soldier, and maybe, then, I can try to understand what they feel, how their experiences shape the way they view the world. I don’t know what it’s like to be Anne Frank or Maya Angelou, but I can read their words, put myself in their shoes, empathize with and understand their plight. The experiences we face shape our worldview. In order to understand what others feel, we must walk a mile in their shoes.

That’s all life is: entropy and empathy.

Being a reader has helped me understand the world better. I can see the big picture, but I don’t lose sight of each individual pixel. I’m less quick to judge. I understand what I believe, and I know what my neighbor believes, and we don’t always understand each other, nor do we always agree, but arguing won’t get us anywhere. We won’t accomplish change by making our opinions louder (or in this social media age, more visible) than other people’s. Change will happen when we actively listen, and try to understand, what our opponent is saying. We listen with our ears, but we hear with our hearts.

We all want to be heard. That’s why I’m a writer. I want to give a voice to those who do not have one, or don’t know how to use it. We all have a story. Every culture since the dawn of time has told stories. Stories are the best way I can think of to connect to other people. So tell me your story, because hardly any issue in this world is black or white, and I know where I stand and why I stand there, and if you don’t stand with me, I want to know why. This world is chaos and I want to empathize.

I’m 20 years old, and I don’t know much, comparatively in the grand scheme of things. But I do know we don’t have all the answers, none of us do. We’re all people doing our best to make order out of chaos. So, “How does it work?” I have no idea, but as an English major, I know how to dissect a text, find the main idea, put it back together in my own words, and learn something from what I’ve read. I know how to take what I’m feeling and put it into words so others can understand what I’m feeling, too. I want to understand where you come from also. Because this world is entropy and empathy, and I don’t know how it works.

I only get one life, and I’m trying not to screw it up. I want to leave the world more beautiful than it was when I arrived. And I’m doing my best, one story at a time, but it’s a big world, and compared to the universe, we’re all rather small. But we all contain universes inside of us. We all can make order out of chaos and empathize.

“How’s it work?”

I imagine it works best together.

Be the Change You Wish to See

Friday, December 14, 2012, 27 people were killed in a shooting at an Elementary School. 20 of the people killed were children. It breaks my heart to hear about any loss of life, especially when the loss of life is the life of a child. These children had futures as bright as the stars, and now are not given the chance to grow up; they are not given the chance to change the world. These children had all of life to live, all of life to experience, and in an instant, it was all gone.

It is not just about the children that died either; it is also about the children who survived. Those poor kids, who are still babies, should have had years of innocence left before they realized that life can be cruel. These are children who still believed in Santa Claus, magic, and wishing on a star, whose biggest hurts could be fixed with a Band-Aid and a hug. These babies are too young to be experiencing this kind of grief, pain, and heartache.

It is not just about the children either; it is also about the parents. Parents should not have to bury a child because of life lost at the hands of another. Parents should not have to remember Christmas as a time of grief and mourning. Parents should not have to bury a part of their soul. Parents should not have to have these conversations with their children when they ask why their sibling is not coming home.

It is not just about what happened; it is also about how we move on. It is about how we change. This is not the first time this has happened, and it probably will not be the last. Violence has always been a reoccurring theme throughout history, not just in our society but also around the world. Wars and Genocide, Shootings, Murders and Violent Revolts have rocked the world while trying to solve problems.

I do not know enough about society to start making policy. But I do know about right and wrong. I do know about pain and suffering. I do know that the past can influence the future, and I know that the best way to learn is to look at our mistakes and ask ourselves “what can we do better next time?”

As children we are taught that violence is not the answer, but as soon as we reach adulthood it seems to become the answer. We say to other countries, “don’t mess with us because our weapons are better than yours.” We go to war to prevent future violence. The reoccurring theme is that violence leads to violence.

How many more innocent lives are we going to let be lost before we actually do something? Change starts with us. It starts with you and me deciding that enough is enough. Violence is not the answer; it is the problem.

It starts with you and me putting down our hate, weapons, and fists, and picking up our forgiveness, pen, and microphone. It starts with you and me deciding that our words are powerful enough to change the world. Words combined with actions are more powerful than wars will ever be.

Learn a lesson from this.

Learn a lesson from the first thing my parents ever taught me: “Use your words, Kaleigh. People will understand you much better.”