Gather ‘Round, Padawans: Safe Spaces

Reading Time: 4 minutes
c. Marvel Comics
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Takeshi Myazawa and Ian Herring

Kamala Khan is an unabashed geek. From Star Wars references to fan fiction to gaming, she is a young woman of many, wonderfully dorky passions. And it is to these passions she turns when the burden of the world is too much for her.

She has, in recent months, lost her mentor to Civil War II and her best friend to a horrible accident. She has had her judgment questioned, her legitimacy as a hero challenged, and has judged and questioned herself. Kamala’s world is full of uncertainty and fear and the only place she feels safe is in another realm entirely: the cheekily named World of Battlecraft. In the game, she is blissfully anonymous and everyone “is a legendary hero.” Within the confines of Battlecraft, fallout from a poor choice or consequences of a misstep are not only temporary but painless; any damage done is a matter of points and graphics rather than body count.

c. Marvel Comics

When reality intrudes into Kamala’s safe space, her bubble is shattered. She panics, shuts down, loses her cool, her perspective. The usually rational and careful hero goes on a rampage, stomping about town, searching for the interloper with extreme prejudice, causing more than a little mayhem.

Why does the intrusion trigger such an intense response from Kamala? Incite her to act against so against her nature?

Because World of Battlecraft is her haven and, though “haven” may not appear on Maslow’s hierarchy, it is, in fact, a fundamental human need. Not a “nice thing to have,” nor a “want.” A basic, absolute, essential need. Without a safe space, we are in perpetual fight-or-flight, dangerously hyper-vigilant, careening toward self-destruction.

Information is important. Resistance is important. Standing up is important. Making your voice heard is important.

But no one can do stand up every minute of every day. To do so takes energy and focus and fire, and, if you spend them all at once, you’ll flame out before the job is done, just as Kamala does.

c. Marvel Comics

The barrage is constant: internet, television, radio, apps. There’s good in that; we can stay informed more easily than ever before, know within moments if we need to write or protest or find a friend who may need support. If there are opportunities to speak out, to volunteer, to throw our financial resources or our voices to where one, or the other, or both, might do the most immediate or needful good.

But the barrage can also be overwhelming. It is harmful to live at peak stress response constantly, when negative emotions are predominant for an extended period. The flood can keep us from important or necessary tasks, interfere with daily life until we don’t know which way is up. It can obsesses our every waking moment. All of this is damaging to the brain, the body, the psyche (that’s another article entirely, let me know if you’re interested). Yes, the harm being done to our world is imminent and it is important but it cannot be everything lest your find yourself so overwhelmed you are lost or, worse yet, numb.

We all need the safety and respite Kamala finds in World of Battlecraft.

I lose myself in comics. In books. In Edge of the Empire and Marvel Tsum Tsum. In baking with my daughter and playing chess with my son. In learning to cook new foods for my family and watching Lucifer and Supergirl and soon, season 2 of The Expanse with my husband. More now than ever, when I do these things, I turn the volume off on my computer, leave my phone and tablet on silent and out of reach or, if I need one of them for said activity, turning off all the app notifications. Because even in a time of war, one can’t fight all the time.

If one tries, one finds oneself unable to fight at all. You may, as the old cliché goes, win the battle but you will, we will, most certainly, lose the war.

So do yourself a favor and take a page from Kamala’s book.

c. Marvel Comics

Log off. Walk away. Find your safe space. Find it in painting miniatures or RPGs or video games. Work on a cosplay. Write. Draw. Fall into a novel or a comic or a book about something you’ve always wanted to know more about. Take a break, take a nap. Watch Deadpool. Watch a Facebook live chat with the cast of a show you like or an author you admire on full screen so you don’t see everything else scrolling by. Make some bread or savor your coffee. Knit or crochet or sew. Do something, do anything you love, something you geek out about enough for it to consume you for a little while, to subsume you in the joy so it’s easy to forget about in dark times.

The world will still need you when you get back. The world will always need you. But others will carry on in your absence, will hold your flag, will take your place at the barricade. Then, when the burden is too much for them, you can take it up again.

In a world that’s smaller, and yet somehow more isolating than ever before, we often forget it doesn’t all depend on us. We need one another, now more than ever.

We are all in this together and we need, none of us, carry the burden alone.

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