A few weeks ago, my friend, Heidi, our school librarian, the one who keeps our us from crossing that thin red line into barbarism, invited me to listen to Neil Gaiman at the Eccles Center. She had two seats in the second row in the center.
After partnering with The Park City Institute and The Park City Education Foundation, Heidi and I designed curriculum and activities around Gaiman’s novel, The Graveyard. Together, we accompanied several students backstage to meet Neil Gaiman. He lit up around our students. He made them feel important. He asked questions. He listened.
Then, Heidi ran home to see her daughter off to the Senior Prom. In the lobby, I purchased a signed copy of Trigger Warning. In my center seat in the second row, I read the first pages.
There are things that upset us. That’s not quite what we’re talking about here, though. I’m thinking about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. Our hearts skip a ratatat drumbeat in our chests, and we fight for breath. Blood retreats from our faces and our fingers, leaving us pale and gasping and shocked.
And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead. There are things that wait for us, patiently, in the dark corridors of our lives. We think we have moved on, put them out of mind, left them to desiccate and shrivel and blow away; but we are wrong. They have been waiting there in the darkness, working out, practicing their most vicious blows, their sharp hard thoughtless punches into the gut, killing time until we came back that way.
The monsters in our cupboards and our minds are always there in the darkness, like mould beneath the floorboards and behind the wallpaper, and there is so much darkness, an inexhaustible supply of darkness. The universe is amply supplied with night.
What do we need to be warned about? We each have our little triggers.
I first encountered the phrase “trigger warning” on the Internet, where it existed primarily to warn people of links to images or ideas that could upset them and trigger flashbacks or anxiety or terror, in order that the images or ideas could be filtered out of a feed, or that the person reading could be mentally prepared before encountering them.
He’s right. We each have our little triggers.
As Gaiman recounted his childhood, reading, and getting his Hebrew teacher off task by asking him to tell stories, he referred to The Joys of Yiddish.
There it was. A trigger.
One of my most prized possessions is a well-used beaten copy of The Joys of Yiddish. It was just one of many wedding gifts from the Kozlows. Inside, with his flowing script, Richard wrote: Enjoy! Love, R.
Since we had a Jewish ceremony, under a chuppa, with challah bread, the Kozlows figured I needed to step up my Yiddish.