I’ve never understood why spaciness is supposed to be a bad thing. In high school and college, my French teachers (for some reason it was always the French teachers) complained about my spaciness all the time–to me, to my parents, to the rest of the class. “Sarah est comme Le Petit Prince,” a professor announced mid-lesson during my freshman year of college. “Sa tête est toujours dans le ciel.” I was taking the class with a few other girls from my hall, and as we exchanged bemused looks, I knew I would hear this phrase repeated to me at parties for the next four years. And so it was.
Petit Prince references aside, my French teachers’ frustration didn’t make much sense to me. I wasn’t being disruptive; I was still doing all of my work, still getting As and high Bs. An occasional daydream didn’t really interfere with my learning or with the class. What they found so annoying, I think, was that they could tell I wasn’t paying attention, which they interpreted as a sign of disrespect. But shouldn’t people be allowed to be in charge of their own thoughts? Does the authority of the teacher extend inside students’ brains? Many schools and offices ask people to restrict their thoughts to very specific topics for eight-hour stretches, but this seems like a flaw of the system, not a problem with people whose minds are prone to wandering.
To me, being spacey is like being stubborn; both are qualities that may bug others, but can be positive forces too. If you’re spacey, you’re thinking about stuff that’s not right in front of you. You’re using your imagination, and you’re not afraid to say or do things that other people may find strange.
The wonderful Luna Lovegood of Harry Potter is the best ambassador of spaciness I could ask for. She wears radishes for earrings and expresses her school pride with enormous lion hats. She professes her belief in creatures like Crumple-Horned Snorkacks in a wispy, reedy voice. People call her “Loony Luna,” but if you actually stop to listen to her, everything she says is smart or funny or kind—most often all three, all at once. Take, for example, this scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Luna’s star turn):
Harry Potter: How come you’re not at the feast?
Luna Lovegood: I’ve lost all my possessions. Apparently people have been hiding them.
Harry Potter: That’s awful!
Luna Lovegood: Oh, it’s all good fun. But as this is the last night, I really do need them back.
Harry Potter: Do you want any help finding them?
Luna Lovegood: I’m sorry about your godfather, Harry.
[clasps his hand comfortingly]
Harry Potter: Are you sure you don’t want any help looking?
Luna Lovegood: That’s all right. Anyway, my mum always said things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end.
[they look up and see a pair of her shoes hanging from the ceiling arch]
Luna Lovegood: If not always in the way we expect.
For me, the scene encapsulates everything that’s great about Luna, and all the possibilities that spaciness can open up. Because Luna is naturally kind of vague and far-off, she’s able to shift gears mid-conversation without worrying about whether or not their talk is following a deliberate line. She doesn’t let the tricks other students play on her ruffle her feathers, because she already knows she’s different, and it’s her difference that lets her brush off bullies. She can talk about her missing shoes while telling Harry something else. And she can do it all so gently, and so easily, that Harry finds comfort with her in his grief.
Because Luna’s not strictly tethered to reality, she’s able to gain insight into the motivations of others. She can see beauty where others may not, as in her ready acceptance of Thestrals and her appreciation for Harry’s broken nose (“Personally, I think you look a little more devil-may-care this way,” she tells him). Luna’s dreamy attitude makes people underestimate her, but she’s in Ravenclaw for a reason. In fact, Luna’s just as smart as Hermione, though her brand of intelligence has less to do with logic and answers you’ll find in books, and more to do with an internalized wit and expansive vision of what the world might be. Both forms of intelligence are important, but Luna’s is the kind that tends to get disparaged or ignored.
Harry Potter: Sorry I made you miss the carriages by the way, Luna.
Luna Lovegood: That’s all right; it’s like being with a friend.
Harry Potter: Oh, I am your friend, Luna.
Luna Lovegood: That’s nice.
When someone calls me spacey and means it as an insult, I don’t get mad, because it’s true. I don’t get mad at people for saying I have freckles or brown hair, either. But I know we’ll never understand each other, because if you don’t like my spaciness, you don’t like me. It’s a game-over type of deal.
We choose the people we surround ourselves with for their flaws—or what we perceive as their flaws—just as much as for their strengths. And when we’re chosen by others, our flaws transform, the way Luna transforms any scene she’s in. She makes Harry Potter weirder, sillier, more vibrant, and bigger-hearted too.