MOVEMENT + REPOSE

About a year ago, I told you all that I was living in a shed.

THINGS ARE TERRIBLE! I said. ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE. I find pleasure in nothing — only dramatic and ill-considered break-up metaphors I am likely to cringe at in twelve months’ time. AND HERE WE ARE!! A full three-hundred-and-something-something days after…… cringin’ hard.

I mean, in my mind that is progress. Of some sort. I always think it must be progress if you look back on stuff from a year ago and want to burn it, whatever it is, because that shows you have developed and maybe hopefully possibly in a positive way. What is the point otherwise?? Though I won’t lie to you: I still like a good (bad) metaphor, and dramatics-wise there has been very little change.

BEAR WITH ME.

It was very silly because I wasn’t living in a shed. I was living back at my mom’s house, about to move into a little flat. An actual flat, a non-imaginary flat, an APARTMENT, if you will, but I won’t. It was cold and I had packed all of my stuff and put it into cardboard and bags for life and then it got bundled onto a big lorry with sofas and kitchen tables and I had “ALL MY POSSESSIONS IN BOXES” bouncing around my head for the day even though I hadn’t listened to Atom and His Package since 2007. My brother carried a million books up flights of stairs like a champ. Somebody mentioned Marie Kondo. I asked everyone in attendance if they said it like in-vun-tree or in-ven-tor-ee. They weren’t really fussed. We went to Subway for lunch. The day was strange and sad but it was also movement, which felt like something. A lot of people sent their best.

Are you supposed to tip removal teams? I wasn’t sure, but I was so grateful to Michael and co. for giving me reassuring looks and for not accidentally smashing any part of my carefully-curated Disney collection that I decided it was a given. They said “We are going for beers after work and now the beers are on you. Thank you and good luck in your flat. Would you consider leaving us a Google review?” and I said yes I would, a glowing one. Then they congratulated me on choosing a home with such good natural light and I said it was a conscious decision because gloomy rooms make me feel listless, a bit like the Beast when Belle leaves, and they told me that sometimes they walk into a sunless house like that and they think: rather you than me, pal.

When everyone had gone I looked around my new home and tried to think: rather me than anyone, pal. This is good this is good this is good this is good and this is also what you asked for, so chin up and calm down.

For the first few nights I sat hunched on the edge of the sofa like a nervous guest. Three-weeks-minus-the-internet, so I watched my Friends DVDs and laughed deliberately and gratefully at jokes I had heard a thousand times before. PAPER! SNOW! A GHOST! I know that Friends is not to everyone’s liking but I also know that, at least in my mind, it is the TV version of comfort food. Monica is a baked potato on a wintery evening. Rachel is beans on toast at 9pm when you really can’t be arsed. Friends is stodge, and when it is dark outside and your living room smells like Sebastian and Emily, the couple who sat in it before you, sometimes stodge is what you need (said Sophie, ticking a box marked 2019 METAPHORS).

I pretended I hadn’t seen my data limit warning. I made sure other people still existed when the curtains were closed. I saw them tweeting when I was supposed to be asleep and I thought: carry on, this is so soothing. I started eating meals at the table because I decided that a tray is a treat if it’s unusual but a stupid solo sad face if it’s often. I realised that I REALLY DO take an abnormally long time to get ready for bed but marked it as an endearing quirk and carried on making up dances to ’80s pop songs while I was brushing my teeth. (IT’S A NICE DAY TO………….. START AGAIN.) I slept at 2am and then at 8pm. I liked not having to choose. I finally watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset but couldn’t get into Before Midnight and knew for sure that this was a reflection on me and not the film. I worked out that if I could hear my elderly neighbour singing her Les Mis medley then she could probably hear me crying in the bath. I stopped crying in the bath and started taking showers instead.

Unless you count a short stint in a studio flat at university (WHICH I DON’T, because the walls were so thin it’d felt like I was sharing with my Kasabian-loving neighbour anyway), I had never lived alone before. It was jarring, and then it was so-exciting-I-am-going-to-scream, and then it was lonely, and then it was okay-I-guess-some-of-the-time, and then it was quite-nice-actually, and now it has been a year. I have seen seasons here, all four of them. It has snowed and scorched and I have worn three layers under a dressing gown and sat on the carpet in my underwear thinking of ice. It is a luxury in a million ways — there is something tingly about walking into a space and knowing that it is yours and yours alone, made up of lots of things you consider to be good. It is a treat that no-one else can snack on; do whatever you want with it. Within reason, anyway. My landlord Anthony advises no candles, no pets, no clothes left to dry on the radiators lest you start a fire, but knock yourself out the rest of the time. GO TO TOWN. OR DON’T. STAY HOME, BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT HERE.

Sometimes — not often — the space gets a little too much. At 6pm on a Wednesday night you will cook dinner and suddenly be struck, hard, that it is just you. There is no-one there to say “HOW WAS TODAY?” or “TELL ME MORE ABOUT BECKY’S BREAK-UP, IS SHE OKAY??” No real-life-person on the sofa to care that you saw a rabbit on your lunch break, or to rush to the rescue when you slip over in the shower and cry. Your shin will feature a dark rectangular bruise for two weeks and nobody will ask about it because nobody knows about it. Has it gone yet? No, look. You will feel sorry for all of the poor tiny capillaries that did nothing wrong and wonder what is going on under your skin as you heal. You won’t include Netflix in your Monday morning recap, because watching Netflix with whoever-you-live-with has the potential to be relayed as lazy weekend fun but doing it alone with a large bar of Dairy Milk just sounds a bit like nothing. When you live with someone else, nothing is nothing. Everything is a plan.

But when you live on your own, everything is growth. You learn how to cure boredom; how to pull yourself back from sad Thursday evenings that would’ve floored you two years ago; how to be a better host; how to make decent social plans during the week instead of scuttling home to watch American sitcoms in the dark; how to assemble flatpack furniture that swears it requires two people; IT DOESN’T; how to sleep soundly despite knowing that if a murderer comes to call at 2am there is no-one around to fight him off while you escape. Every day can be a little drip-drip-drip of progress, everything can be a secret project that you work on when no-one else is around.

Some nights, before I go to sleep, I make a list. There is a notebook on my bedside table with Aladdin on the front of it and a turquoise feather bookmark attached to it and at least once a week I pick it up and write three things from the day that I did well or am proud of. ACHIEVEMENTS. SOMETHINGS. Some of them are small and some are bigger, like: I learned how to make aubergine lasagne, or I realised everything is uncertain at the moment but whatever the outcome it will all be okay because I was fine before this and I will be fine afterwards too.

They are not things I would tweet about. They are not ~exciting announcements!!!~ and they are also not things that might surface naturally when I bump into someone from school in Tesco and they ask “so, what’s new?” while their baby stares at me. But they count. They count they count, and a lot of the time I feel like the most important achievements and somethings are these smaller, quieter ones we might not feel warrant sharing — the ones we keep chip-chip-chipping away at in the background while only those closest to us observe. I am living here alone, I am alone and I feel more myself because suddenly I have time to work out who that could be. I keep forgetting that this is all growth — it is scary as shit, but it is movement.

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: A LESSON FOR THE LOT OF US

(An advance warning that this contains spoilers. LOTS AND LOTS OF SPOILERS.)

I knew that Vanellope von Schweetz would go far when she announced that she wanted to be President of Sugar Rush. It really DID have a nice ring to it, and after years as the outcast glitch I was rooting for her to take her new position of power and use it to do whatever the heck she wanted. So on Saturday I sat down in my cinema seat, cried at the opening shot of the Disney castle (as per the norm) and then waited a little breathlessly to see how my old pal Vanellope was doing.

And you know what the answer was? Well… not really so good.

I mean, don’t worry. Vanellope is FINE. She’s still racing. She hangs out with Ralph. She’s not in danger. She has everything she needs. But in Ralph Breaks The Internet there’s something niggling at her, something that started small at the very back of her brain and has now begun to grow and shout, and you can see it every time she talks. There’s this scene right near the start of the movie where Vanellope asks Ralph if there’s anything – anything at ALL – about his life that he would change. Anything he would want to try or do differently if he had the chance. Ralph is baffled and says no, and Vanellope apologises for acting weird. It seems as if she’s torn. On one side there’s security and warmth and gratitude – because, like Ralph, what she has now is SO much better than what she had before – but on the other side there’s the unknown. The WHAT IF?s. The WHAT NEXT?s.

Ralph isn’t torn. He hasn’t even thought about that other side, because that other side is scary and for the first time ever he has an actual real-life friend. He isn’t visiting Tapper alone or sleeping in a pile of bricks anymore — he’s content with the way things are. Just him and Vanellope. And you can see him start to process and struggle with her urge to pull away and try something new — why would she want to do that? Why can’t she be happy with what she has? Why isn’t Ralph – and only Ralph – enough for her?

HEY, KID

Ralph calls Vanellope “kid”. This isn’t new — and it’s always been super-sweet — but watching Ralph Breaks The Internet all of a sudden I noticed how often Ralph says it, and then I started to wonder if it could be laced with subtext without him even realising it.

HEY, KID!

YOU’RE A KID!

REMEMBER YOU’RE SMALL AND YOUNG AND YOU NEED ME!

Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship is interesting because (in my eyes, anyway) it has the potential to represent SO many different forms of love. In the movie they’re friends – best friends – but at times I saw Ralph flit over to more of a paternal role; he worries for Vanellope’s safety and wants to keep her close. He wants to be needed. During one scene, the way they argue reminded me unintentionally of a couple – “She wants a new track? I’ll give her a new track!” – and Ralph’s dislike of Shank, a racer Vanellope instantly clicks with, feels rooted in jealousy and reminiscent of relationship insecurities. I felt like I could see Ralph’s fear and Vanellope’s restlessness in so many of the complex connections we all have. That’s why the crux of the movie – the focus on stepping back and allowing the people you care about to grow – is as relatable as it is.

“YOU MUST LOVE YOU”

What I got from Ralph Breaks The Internet was not simply that Ralph liked Vanellope and would be sad without her — it was messier and more complicated than that. The way I see it, Vanellope is the source of all of Ralph’s positivity. He says it himself at the end of the first movie – “if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?” – and I feel like his knowledge that Vanellope cares for him and enjoys his company was probably what started to rebuild his wrecked (hur hur) self-esteem. But as all good therapists would tell you, that’s not really enough. “Ralph”, I would say, if I was a Bad-Anon group leader, “You’ve gotta have some DEEP-DOWN-SOLID-CONCRETE LIKE for yourself – if you’re basing all this on what someone else thinks of you, you’re setting yourself up to fail. You’re giving that person too much power.”

And power isn’t always a good thing, because Vanellope actually seems like she’s crumbling under the pressure of it. She is the only good thing in Ralph’s life. She is the only person he wants to spend any extended amounts of time with. When Ralph refuses to let her go to work as a pop-up across the internet, you can see her torn between irritation and dejected defeat. At that point, I started to cry — I hated seeing Ralph so needy and Vanellope so trapped.

What’s powerful about Ralph Breaks The Internet is that we have all been Vanellope, and we have also all been Ralph. We’ve had friends we loved so much that we wouldn’t step back to share them when they started dating someone. We’ve been in relationships with people who can’t understand why we’d want to spend time with anybody else. We’ve secretly, selfishly hoped our pal would choose job A instead of job B so they could stay living a five-minute drive away. We’ve all felt smothered and numb and penned in, yet conversely we’ve all felt that shoulder-crunching, stomach-searing despair of please don’t go.

It’s part Marlin and Nemo in Finding Nemo. I’d argue it’s actually kind of part Mother Gothel and Rapunzel in Tangled, when it reaches its worst form. But Ralph isn’t a bad guy. He doesn’t want Vanellope to be unhappy; he just wants her to be happy with him and the life that she has. He wants her to swing by Tapper every day and stick to her routine, and that’s not enough for her. I feel like Vanellope is angry that it IS enough for him — she tells Shank that life will never be exciting if she stays put, because every day is the same with Ralph and that’s how he likes it. Even at the start of the movie, when there’s the potential for the broken Sugar Rush game to be permanently switched off – and for Vanellope to become homeless and jobless – Ralph still doesn’t really GET it. He hates that his friend is sad, but he still cites the positives of being in her situation: she can sleep all day and hang out with him all evening. Great, right?? Vanellope, on the other hand, is dripping with ambition and enthusiasm, and the thought of being minus a racer job – even one that was getting stale – is crushing for her.

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND…

I have always been a huge fan of a recurring theme from the 2002 movie About A Boy, which is: no man is an island. And, more importantly: even if a man stops being an island, he needs to make friends with more than one person on the mainland (I’m paraphrasing, but you know what I mean). Remember when Marcus (AKA a young Nicholas Hoult) says: “Suddenly I realised – two people isn’t enough. You need back-up. If you’re only two people and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number. You need three at least”? THAT was what I kept thinking about throughout Ralph Breaks The Internet.

Look at it this way — Ralph is so excited to spend time with Vanellope that he doesn’t have a huge amount of interest in other activities or other people. Felix? A bit. The Nicelanders? He spends enough time with them during the day. New stuff? No thanks. Things are fine as they are. I felt really strongly that Ralph had lost his way a little when it came to investing time in other people OR (hear me out, I know this this sounds cheesy) IN HIMSELF. And as a result, I really loved that he started to get involved in other social events and actively wanted to better himself by the end of the movie. He wasn’t doing it because he was bored or because he missed Vanellope, but instead because he could now recognise the perils of expecting one person to provide him with everything he needed, and because he wanted to grow and learn and build his support network. And that to me was as important as Vanellope getting the chance to move over to Slaughter Race, because it wasn’t just about Ralph accepting Vanellope’s growth — it was about him ENCOURAGING it while still taking steps to focus on his own, enriching his life with new stuff and new people.

Is Ralph a bad guy? No. He was an insecure guy, and at times I saw the potential for that to really flip into something not-at-all cute. But you know what makes Ralph a cut above the rest? HE SAW THAT TOO. HE RECOGNISED THAT IN HIMSELF, AND HE WORKED TO CHANGE IT. My love for his character has only increased, because instead of taking his insecurities and throwing them onto Vanellope and saying “HEY KID, WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT THIS? HOW ARE YOU GONNA MAKE THIS BETTER FOR ME???” he turned inwards and asked “HEY RALPH, WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT THIS? HOW ARE YOU GONNA CHANGE YOUR OUTLOOK SO YOU CAN KEEP THIS PERSON IN YOUR LIFE?”

And personally, I feel like we could all learn a lesson from that.

(Image credit: Disney / geektyrant.com)

THE BARCA-LONER

THE RUMOURS ARE TRUE: I AM A FAN OF MY OWN COMPANY. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet or anything but…… here we are. Toot toot.

Really, though. I make myself laugh. I give A+ pep talks to the mirror. I write good stuff sometimes and then sit there clutching my own arms as I read it back because I’m so feverishly excited about what I’m doing or how it sounds. I don’t know. Most of the time I like me, and that means I like spending time with me.

One time I was off work with a plan-free day ahead and I ended up at a Mexican restaurant, where I sat in a booth and wrote a poem about Dudley Dursley (as ya do) until my food arrived. I ate my main course plus a side plus a sharer dessert and the waiter was like “lol you won’t finish that” and I was all “WATCH ME ROBERT.” Robert did watch me and was proven wrong as I ate everything in sight like a female Augustus Gloop.

Sometimes I go to the cinema alone. Years ago, one of the later Twilight movies was a solo-Sophie-date (it was the best of a bad bunch of offerings okay) and I would be lying if I said I had not had a blast, largely due to spending two hours stifling my laughter re: the CGI baby. OH RENESMEE! YOU STILL HAUNT MY DREAMS YOU CREEPY THING.

“I could NOT do it. I literally could not walk into the cinema on my own,” one friend admitted as we had dinner together. I asked her why and she said she would hear a voice in her head that just screamed: EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT YOU. I get that. Sometimes anxiety is a pain in the ass and you feel like certain things are impossible. But if that isn’t what’s holding you back and it’s just a little twinge of discomfort or embarrassment, then here is a hot tip 4 ya: give it a go.

Because what is the alternative, really? What if your friends aren’t available? What if you just fancy taking yourself out for dinner? What if nobody wants to see The Muppets live in concert or eat churros with you right now?? What if the other option is sitting in your house all evening or NEVER GETTING TO WATCH THE TWILIGHT SAGA*, in case a few people you’ll never see again happen to glance in your direction???

*Team Jasper. Clearly the hottest.

At the start of June, the Sophie’s Solo Adventures tour bus decided to head outside of the UK — I took a four-day trip to Barcelona, because I had a week off work and a very strong urge not to waste it. It was great! The flights were cheap! I ate a lot! I only got lost once! Nobody stared! Nobody died! And ya know what? I would do it again. So, as per the norm when I have a Slightly Eventful Life Experience, I have written a blog post nobody asked for, which is part ‘here’s why YOU should consider jumping on the bandwagon, even if you’re a bit scared’, part ‘therapy for me’. HERE WE GO:

You deserve a holiday, even if there’s no-one around to come with you

For the eight years that I was part of a couple, weeks off meant days out or plane tickets. Shared time. Relationship roadtrips. Now I am single it’s a different kettle of fish, and to be honest YES, left to my own devices I probably COULD easily spend an entire week watching Netflix, making vegetarian enchiladas and wearing my Harry Potter jogging bottoms. I mean, it’s weird. I am only just realising how weird it is. You might have a few days off or a holiday booked with friends or family, but you’re probably not going to use up your entire annual leave year at the same time as other people. Hence the Netflix. And the Hufflepuff clothing. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES, said Sophie, pulling up a badger sock.

I have a point here (I think) and my point is: DON’T BE THE NETFLIX GIRL. Or rather: be her for a bit. Be her if you want to be. But don’t forgo fun stuff for Riverdale just because no-one you know is available and you don’t want to look like Loner McLonerson or his dad, ol’ NoFriends McGee. You deserve days out and weekends away and happy holidays, regardless of who is or isn’t with you.

NOBODY CARES!

In the words of Anne T. Donahue (my fave), NOBODY CARES. I don’t mean that in a bad way, like EVERYONE HATES YOU AND SECRETLY HOPES YOUR PLANE FAILS. What I mean is: nobody really gives a rat’s ass who you go on holiday with.

I am being serious. None of the Barcelona natives sat there on the bench with a newspaper thinking “GOD, look at that woman on her own.” None of the tourists in the Sagrada Familia were like “WTF, A SOLO TRAVELLER??” There were a lot of us! Nobody cared! I had a phone and a book to keep me company, and I walked around with a moody American man who I mentally named HERB, which is what all 60+ year-old American men are called in my head.

Some people will have something to say. I had a few “poor you” comments (SINGLE AND READY TO MINGLE DIE) and a couple of “will that be…….. SAFE?”s, from people who winced hard, as if they could foresee me fighting off an angry pickpocketer on La Rambla (GIVE ME BACK MY EUROS, THIEF! OH MY GOD IS THAT A KN-). But generally, nobody cared — and, I guess, if you’re being super-mature-and-emotionally-astute you will know that the people who do seem to care largely mean well. They just WANT TO SEE YOU SAFE AND MARRIED ALRIGHT.

Long story short: it really doesn’t matter. You don’t owe anyone — at home or elsewhere — an explanation. There is something quite nicely neatly liberating about booking something alone, paying for it yourself, and knowing that you are ~AN ADULT WHO CANNOT BE STOPPED~.

If you can be alone with your thoughts, you’re doing pretty well

I don’t know about you, but I tend to fare better when I’m busy, because when I’m busy I don’t have time to think. But when I’m alone and takin’ some downtime, it’s harder.

Like… do you remember when we had really bad snow earlier this year? THE BEAST FROM THE EAST! I tried to slay it. I could not. No-one could drive anywhere and I spent three days alone in my flat, stewing and feeling claustrophobic because the world had turned white and the sky had disappeared. (I have a weird thing about looking up and only seeing clouds, with no blue at all. It frightens me if it lasts too long because it feels like a big man – possibly God – has put a blanket over our birdcage.) But I cried several times and wrote in my journal and drank a lot of wine and by the time the three days were over I actually felt better, because I’d been forced to lie in the bath like Juliet Capulet and deal with some of the stuff that had been stored in an old box at the back of my brain.

Being alone and unbusy (and almost-literally trapped with my thoughts) had helped, even though I’d wanted a weekend of anything but that. Barcelona was similar in some ways — productive and difficult — but a lot more cheerful. I would recommend it. You’re probably not going to come back A CHANGED PERSON, because we don’t live in a movie, but you’ll come back having allowed yourself some time and space to process or think or mourn or recharge or whatever else you might need to do.

I have a lot of respect and back-pats for people who make time to hang out alone with very few planned activities, because it isn’t easy for everyone. Whether you struggle with that or not, if you can take yourself on a solo holiday and come back feeling brighter or lighter — or just plain old NOT WORSE THAN BEFORE — it’s an achievement.

It’s not depressing, I promise

A few weeks after booking my Barcelona extravaganza, I called my mom in a panic and was like “IS IT DEPRESSING? JUST BE STRAIGHT WITH ME, IS IT LAME AND DEPRESSING TO GO ON HOLIDAY ALONE??” And you know what she said? “I don’t think so. Going on holiday on your own is fine – what’s depressing is if you come home and have nobody in your life who missed you and wants to hear about it.” I was calm after that, and I felt kind of dumb for calling. I thought that was a pretty good way to think about the whole thing.

Being there, on your own, can be what you make of it. You can sit in your hotel room all week if you really want. You can stay in a hostel and have dinner with other people every night and go on enthusiastic walking tours with a man holding a red umbrella. Or you can do something sort-of-in-the-middle and have a little mooch on your own and chat to people you happen to come across. It’s your holiday, so do what you want. But LET ME TELL YA: none of it is depressing. It’s exciting.

It’s exciting!

ISN’T IT?! Just think of all the things you will do.

I met a girl in the queue for the plane and we talked for hours about her ex (scumbag). I bumped into a skateboarder by the sea who told me my sunglasses were cute and that he wanted to marry me. I waved at happy tourists from my open-top bus. I sat on the beach and drank freshly-squeezed orange juice and felt the sun on my face. I bought fruit salad from the food market and cried because it looked so pretty. I read I Am Legend from start to finish and took pictures of all of the lines that stood out to me. I felt like I was a broken leg that was close to healing. And when the cast comes off I will smell repulsive and look even worse and there’ll probably be a load of crumbs or a paperclip stuck to me……. but long term, I know I’ll be better.

Here you are in a brand new place, ON YOUR OWN. Who are you going to see? What are you going to think about? What will you remember from this in 10 years? What is going to inspire you or test you?

We are lucky lucky lucky lucky. What is going to happen next?

THE IN-BETWEEN

Sometimes all you can do is put your Madonna playlist on and try your damn best.

Which is your favourite Madonna song? Mine is Don’t Tell Me but I am also a big fan of Ray of Light, because I mean who isn’t. I genuinely remember hearing it for the first time on the radio in 1998 which is slightly strange but also very unsurprising because I have the memory of a CREEPY ELEPHANT: I was sitting in my dad’s car at the local allotment wishing for time to hurry up and for various family members to stop their damn weeding, and Ray of Light distracted me for three minutes.

(Sidenote: until I was about 15 I thought ‘prima donna’ was ‘pre-Madonna’, like ‘before Christ’ but referring to a time many moons ago when Madonna did not yet exist in the public eye. It made sense to me because she had been around for so long and showed no sign of leaving. None of us could picture a world without Madonna. The 1970s were pre-Madonna, and we shuddered at the thought of them.)

ANYWAY. How are you? I am up and down, like an overzealous child on a swing. BE CAREFUL, RICHARD! I am in-between, like… some sort of sandwich filling. I could think of a better simile but I’m not going to.

(Another sidenote: don’t you think it’s weird that the word ‘simile’ is basically the word ‘smile’ with another ‘i’ in it? If I was learning English as a second language and I came across that discovery I’d be impressed and deflated at the same time.)

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT? I am quoting Vogue, not being mean. Another Madonna classic, I’m sure you will agree. I am looking at everything laid out on a table and wondering what to do with it: where it should all go and where I fit in and where I want to mould things and where I don’t need to. I am very lucky to be here, and even on the most difficult of days I can’t not wake up and feel something at the bottom of my gut that says “THIS IS EXCITING.”

LEAVING THE SHED

I don’t live there anymore. The shed, I mean. There is a chance that I will go back to visit from time to time, not because I want to but because Things Happen and Life Is Unpredictable and that is just the way it goes.

Working late makes me happy. Finishing early sometimes on a Friday also makes me happy. I like it to be one or the other: leaving ahead of schedule to do something fun or wandering out at 7pm with a buzzing head. On Monday it was the latter. I went food shopping afterwards and I thought how weird it was that I was so happy to BE. There was nothing special about my evening or about buying spinach, and Mondays are not particularly interesting days anyway, but there I was. HERE I AM. MONDAY. I have my bags for life. I can put all of this stuff into them, walk out of the shop and not need to check my bank balance immediately afterwards. I can drive home and make myself something nice to eat and then I can write or read or call a friend or practise my winged eyeliner or roll around on the floor or pretend I am a famous woman on a talk show (“Well, the thing is, Ellen…”) or decide what I want to do with my life, like really do with it, or anything else.

Anything else, ever. The day after that, I saw a low-flying plane in the dark as I was heading back down country lanes, and in my head it was a spaceship I would never forget. The day after that, I laughed so hard I cried and Diet Coke nearly came out of my nose. The day after that, I thought about this: “You are different. Before you were in the background but now you make things happen and you don’t care.” I do care, but I can end the week knowing I am so markedly altered that someone who has been with me since the age of 11 is knocked back by it. And then start the next.

TALKING, QUIETLY

Sometimes life is hard, and at the moment I am waiting it out.

I am waiting it out in a old, rickety shed on a beach somewhere. This is where I live, for now, and it rains a lot of the time. Some days I don’t mind the rain – I put a bucket or two out, just in case. If I could whistle, I would. I wear a turquoise waterproof and my motions are slow and I say “this is all manageable” three times over, like I am chanting a magic spell.

Other times the rain gets heavier and I look up at the sky like it is going to eat me. The bucket overflows. My socks are damp and my heartbeat is fast, thumping no-it-isn’t, no-it-isn’t, no-it-isn’t. I kick the bucket hard, heavy, but nothing dies and I feel the bones in my foot flinch, horrified. What did we ever do to you?

On all of the days, it helps to talk. I am talking a lot, just quietly.

At work. With friends. To dogs. In the doctor’s office, during my smear test. “Sometimes these things just happen, don’t they, love?” They do.

Honesty is weird. Saying “Actually, I’m finding things quite hard right now” when someone asks “How are you?” is weird. My mouth blurts “Good, thanks” before my brain has had chance to catch up, because I am always good. Good, thanks. Good, thanks. Good, thanks.

You?

You? is pointless, mostly, because Good, thanks begets more Good, thanks. I am trying honesty, LIKE BILLY TALENT. People don’t really mind vulnerability, and I tell myself they do but they don’t. People like knowing that it isn’t just them who cries in the toilets sometimes or feels claustrophobic when the sky is grey. They get it when you tell them your brain won’t work today because all of its energy is devoted to something else, something sad. Every time I share a little of myself, every time I talk about it, someone else surprises me by what they share in return. Now I am talking a lot. Just quietly.

DISNEYLAND, I LOVE YOU

I WILL ONLY SAY THIS ONCE: until about a year ago, I didn’t really have any interest in visiting a Disney Park that wasn’t Paris. Alright? I admit it.

This wasn’t because I didn’t like the sound of ’em – more because I felt INCREDIBLY protective and defensive of Disneyland Paris (my French baby!), and I worried that visiting another Disney Resort would make it cry. Whatever, I’m weird.

If you’re a DLP fan you’ll know what I mean: it’s a regular occurence that Brenda from down the road who has never stepped foot in our beloved Parisian resort will tell you it’s “NOT A PATCH ON FLORIDA!!” and you will seethe silently while trying really hard not to burst into tears.

So that sums it up for you, really. Defensive Sophie. Sad Paris. Stfu Brenda. etc etc. But the more I thought about it, the more I was like “Sophie, Disney Parks don’t have feelings,” and the less I felt like I needed to stick to just the one. After all, there is a lot of world to see, which means there are also a lot of Disney Resorts to see, and I decided that top of my list was the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

I mean, Disneyland is WALT’S PARK. He walked in it. He spent years dreaming of it and planning for it and building it. He had a little apartment above its fire station. There are photos of him exploring it, all of which make me sob very loudly. How can you be a Disney fan and NOT want to see that? (This is what I asked Past Sophie. She said she wasn’t sure and then felt a bit silly).

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SO WE BOUGHT OUR TICKETS! One day, two Parks (you have to cap up the ‘P’ because Disney caps up the ‘P’ okay, please let it be known that I am nothing if not a stickler for Disney accuracy despite my usual lack of interest in capital letters). In an ideal world we would have opted for a 273-day/two-Park ticket but beggars can’t be choosers and we had a lot of elsewhere-California to peruse.

The car park in Disneyland is called the ‘Mickey and Friends parking structure’. Is that not the cutest thing you ever heard? I know that it is. We don’t call them ‘parking structures’ in England, we’re just like “OI MATE WHERE’S YER CAR PARK??” so the concept of a parking structure was all very new and exciting. AND the best thing is that this one LITERALLY MEANS MICKEY AND FRIENDS, because we parked in the Donald area and then we took a photo of it and I cried a bit:

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Well who wouldn’t. Did you ever see a more pastel-candy-perfect-aesthetically-pleasing parking sign, because I sure as hell did not.

It turned out we needed to get on a cute little tram to take us from the parking structure to Downtown Disney, which I was only too pleased to do. A TRAM! A MAGICAL TRAM! It sounds dull and practical but the elderly lady in me was very impressed by said tram: barely any wait time and very friendly Cast Members. A+++ re: the trams.

BUT WE DIGRESS, because the real excitement OBVIOUSLY starts as soon as you exit the tram and realise you are standing in Downtown Disney, staring at things that you have lowkey (read: HIGHKEY) obsessed over since the halcyon days of 2012 Tumblr.

Was it emotional? Yes it was. But I was also very conscious that we had BUT ONE DAY in Disneyland and that I wanted to stuff as many activities into it as humanly possible, so we scurried along to the front gates of Disneyland.

Seeing the railroad and flowerbed Mickey and ACTUAL DISNEYLAND kind of took me aback. It was surreal: you know when you have a dream and it’s very vivid and as you wake up you need a few moments to realise it didn’t actually happen? It was a bit like that, except I kept having to tell myself that it WAS happening. As soon as I saw the main entrance I instantly thought of Saving Mr. Banks, and then I thought of Walt, and then I felt like my heart was going to set alight, but in the kind of way where I wouldn’t need a fire engine or anything else. 20170920_092318

(I cried again at this point. I know right, quelle surprise. I probably cried some more on Main Street. I AM NOW EMPLOYED AS DISNEYLAND’S TOWN CRIER! They bring me out on the hour, every hour, and I bawl uncontrollably while regaling guests with tales of That Time Mickey Mouse Remembered Me.)

(I know a town crier doesn’t actually cry. Imagine if they did. A new career path for Sophi— OH, WE DIGRESS AGAIN!)

In my eyes, you have to begin your Disney trip with a favourite attraction. Mine is Pirates of the Caribbean – I always say “Oh! I don’t know! How could I possibly choose?!” but like, if someone told me that I had to select a favourite or they’d kick me in the shin or something then I would just say “PIRATES,” no questions asked. (Phantom Manor and “it’s a small world” are my joint second, in case you were wondering.)

Seeing Pirates from the outside was CRAZY. So, so crazy. Its facade is v. different to Paris’s so that was another “wow” moment for me – in Paris, Pirates is kind of nestled towards the back of Adventureland and genuinely looks like somewhere Jack Sparrow would hang out on a Friday night, whereas the Disneyland Pirates is very… smart and beautiful and grand.   20170920_094728.jpg

The ride itself is wonderful, which is nothing less than I expected. The best way I can think to describe it is LIKE PARIS BUT BACKWARDS, but obviously that’s not a very good description because Paris came after Anaheim, anyway. What I mean is, the village-y scenes come second to the skeleton-y scenes (SKELETON-Y! I AM SO ELOQUENT) in Anaheim, which is the opposite of Paris, and I found that very interesting.

I said “I can feel Walt” a lot as we made our way around Disneyland, which would no doubt sound dumb to some people, but I really could feel him. He was there in Pirates and everywhere else. While I was sitting on the ride I thought about the piece I wrote for the Walt Disney Family Museum, about how PotC was created, and I had this little SWELL of pride. Walt made this, he thought about this for years, and now I am here.

The Haunted Mansion has always been one of those attractions-I-feel-like-I’ve-been-on-even-though-I-haven’t, probably because I have listened to the ride spiel more times than I have ordered Domino’s pizza. I know it by heart. I love it. I want to hug the Ghost Host and tell him to CALM DOWN BECAUSE I WON’T TOUCH HIS DAMN SAFETY BAR IT’S ALRIGHT JUST BREATHE. You know? Anyway, despite feeling this way I have in fact NOT been on a Haunted Mansion ride IRL, and I was kinda disappointed to realise that when we were due to visit there’d be no ‘classic’ attraction to go on, due to the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.

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You know what, though? Haunted Mansion Holiday is a HOOT. Russ and I had so much fun on it, AND it wasn’t like I didn’t get to see what the original mansion looked like – we had a good ol’ stare at the tombstones in the queue (which anyone who’s read my Disney poems will know I am obsessed with) and I did a lot of “LOOK! TOMB SWEET TOMB! THE WALLPAPER!” gasps as we swung around in our doom buggy. In short, it was amazing. I would’ve loved to see the stretching room in its full glory and experience the whole ride as it was originally intended, but I guess not being able to just means I WILL HAVE TO RETURN SOMEDAY.

After the Haunted Mansion I felt like I was really getting into the swing of things. I had a packet of tissues to hand in case of crying emergencies, I had eaten a Disneyland chocolate muffin (MAGICAL and much better than a standard chocolate muffin I will have you know) and I realised I was walking around like I knew where stuff WAS. That was because I kinda did – I’d studied the Park map in slightly obsessive detail ahead of our trip and that meant I knew (albeit roughly) where Fantasyland was, how we could get to Big Thunder Mountain, and so on. I’d expected that Disneyland would feel like this unfamiliar-yet-wonderful place, but after being there for an hour or so I genuinely felt as ‘at home’ as I do in Paris. Isn’t that nice?

(Sidenote: if you thought of Jungle Cruise skipper Albert Awol when I said “Isn’t that nice?”, pls CALL ME NOW AND BE MY BEST FRIEND.)

This is where stuff starts to get hazy. Do you ever find that? You’re on the holiday of a lifetime and you’re like “I WILL NEVER FORGET THIS. NEVER. I WILL REMEMBER EVERY SECOND UNTIL THE LAST BIT OF BREATH LEAVES MY COLD DEAD BODY!!” but then three days later you realise you are in fact struggling to recall Quite A Lot Of It and you wish you’d written it all down in a little notepad or something.

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I know we walked past Splash Mountain. I say “walked past” because YES I am one of those boring people who doesn’t really like getting drenched on water rides. I wish I was different and that I LAUGHED IN THE FACE OF DANGER and CARED NOT ABOUT DAMP JEANS but I am afraid that this is just me and has been since a chilly school trip to Alton Towers in 1998.

No reason why we couldn’t have a look at Splash Mountain, though. Isn’t it pretty?! ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH.

As I said earlier, “it’s a small world” is another all-time favourite of mine. It’s also an attraction I’ve written about for the Walt Disney Family Museum, despite never having actually experienced the original ride in person, so it was very high on the Disneyland to-do list.

Being on IASW in person was pretty overwhelming – I felt as if I had to cherish every single moment and see/hear/smell EVERYTHING. It was so much fun to see real-life-Mary-Blair-flair, and I also loved spotting the Disney characters along the way because we don’t have ’em in Paris. I know opinion on these are kind of divided, and I get why, but as a one-off Guest I didn’t feel that the addition of Lilo and co detracted from the attraction in any way for me, if that makes sense. I had a blast.

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Crying uses up a lot of energy, so we decided it was time for lunch. We went to the Red Rose Taverne in Fantasyland, which is Beauty and the Beast-themed and LITERALLY IDENTICAL INSIDE to Au Chalet de la Marionnette in Disneyland Paris, except that Au Chalet is Pinocchio-inspired. It was bizarre and slightly surreal, but in a nice way.

After we ate, we carried on with some attractions:

  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (ADORABLE, and we met both Pooh and Eeyore after which was wonderful)
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (they really did continue. I enjoyed myself a lot, cried in the queue line and spent too much in the gift shop)
  • Big Thunder Mountain (SO GOOD SO GOOD. Also really cool to see the queue area and how different it is to Paris. ALSO x2: COULD NOT BELIEVE THE QUEUE WAS 15 MINUTES AT 3PM. A SEPTEMBER MIRACLE)
  • Mickey’s Toontown (beyond cute. I bought a proper mouse ear hat which I have ALWAYS WANTED and then we met Mickey in his house)
  • The parade (I won’t lie to you, we kinda stumbled across the parade, but I was really glad we did. Mickey PLAYS THE DRUMS in California and very good at them he was too)
  • The castle (rude not to. Genuinely. I don’t ever use this word but it was EXQUISITE)
  • Jungle Cruise (a classic in every sense of the word. I laughed too loud at the skipper’s jokes cos I got overexcited)
  • Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room (the best ever. Walt was in this room, and I know you think I’m odd for saying it but he WAS. He was singing with us and laughing along. I had a photo taken with José afterwards and it felt like I had taken a pilgrimage to the US purely for that. He looked at me while he was singing and I burst into tears. Colette! Suzette! Mimi! Gigi! Fifi! Sophie!)

I know I rushed those last few summaries a bit, but that is because we are 2,000 words in and not everyone has as keen an interest in reading lengthy blog posts as I do. My apologies.

BUT I HAVE TO MENTION THIS NEXT PART, because it’s the part where I met my internet pal Katie! I can’t even remember when Katie and I first started chatting online – I think it was via Instagram a few years ago! – but she is an absolute gem and when she heard I was coming to Disneyland we decided to meet up. She’s a CM, so she had some super-useful tips for us as we planned our visit – then when we actually arrived in Disneyland, we met her and her fiancé Mitch and they were the sweetest.

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This photo makes me so happy! I can’t wait until I go back to Disneyland or Katie comes to Paris (or England, though we don’t have a Disney Park so I mean…) and we can meet again. Sort-of-sidenote, but one of my favourite things about this whole holiday was being able to hang out with people I’ve made friends with online – when we went to the Walt Disney Family Museum I met Bri, the museum’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, who I’ve been emailing and working with for over a year, and I was also lucky enough to visit the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where my lovely and super-talented friend Rachel works. CAN YOU BELIEVE how cool the internet is? Cos I can’t. I wouldn’t know any of these amazing women without the wonders of social media – I know it has its drawbacks in other ways, but I’m beyond grateful for it.

OH LOOK, I’ve just added another 400 words without trying. STOP TALKING, SOPHIE. I kinda can’t, though. Not without telling you about the end of our day, which took place in DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE! We didn’t get over there until about 7pm, which at the time I was all “Oh it’ll be fine” about, but then I realised:

a) we had missed Oswald’s meet ‘n’ greet (Oswald! ANOTHER REJECTION FOR HIM oh my god)

b) World of Color started at 8.15pm which only gave us an hour to see everything else

c) I had made a grave error and should have planned DCA into our day a LOT earlier on.

But hey, you live, you learn. We made a beeline for Oswald’s store – YES HE HAS A STORE AND IT IS DELIGHTFUL – and I bought a couple of pins and the most adorable sweater. Real talk I am SO HAPPY Oswald is getting the recognition he deserves – I was sad I hadn’t been able to meet him but I felt a weird surge of pride in knowing that he had his own little place in Walt’s original resort.

Walking around DCA was super-exciting – it was all geared up for Halloween and the decorations were beautiful. The whole Park just felt CLASSY and it was so much bigger than I’d expected – we could have spent at least two full days exploring it, I’m sure.

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I know everyone says it but CARS LAND IS INCREDIBLE. I am not the biggest Cars fan by any stretch of the imagination but like… it is impossible to walk around that area and not leave with 528 new Instagram photos to edit and a Mater plush. It just is.

We ended our visit with World of Color – I wasn’t sure what to expect (for some reason I’ve never watched the whole thing on YouTube, which is very off-brand for me) but I LOVED it. The way the water is used honestly took my breath away, and I may or may not have shed another few tears. There is something about being in a Disney Park at night with all those other people and feeling all that anticipation… I don’t know, it always makes me get shivers.

I should probably stop now, because we’re heading towards 3,000 words and I KNOW WE CAN GET THERE if I don’t abandon this laptop asap. But if ya made it this far, thank you for joining me in my reminiscing. If you’re going to Disneyland in the near-ish future and you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them as best I can! In the meantime, I will be thinking ’bout José and wondering How Soon Is Too Soon when it comes to a return visit. HAPPY DISNEYLAND BLOG DAY EVERYONE, I’m sorry this took almost three months! xoxo

MR. TIGGS THE CAT

HELLO FRIENDS. A while back I said I might write about my cat, but the other day I realised I have not mentioned him, as of yet. I feel like it is important to tell you that this cat isn’t actually alive anymore, and I don’t mean that in a morbid way but really because I was making it sound like he is here sitting on my lap or something and I don’t want to be misleading.

My cat’s name was Mr. Tiggs. We collected him from a rescue shelter when I was in year 5. I remember reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in class and passing my friend a note behind it that said “WE R GETTING A CAT TODAY!!! HIS NAME IS MR. TIGGS!!!!!!” We didn’t know quite why his name was Mr. Tiggs, just that his previous owner had called him that and that we weren’t sure about it but that there is no accounting for taste. I mean, Mr. Tiggs is really quite cute, if you think about it. His owner had gone to work on a cruise ship, which is no place for a kitty.

We dropped the ‘Mr’ when we felt like we’d got to know him a little better. He didn’t seem to mind, and he responded to anything. In fact, IMO one of the best things about having a pet is that you can give them all sorts of different pet names (LITERAL PET NAMES FOR YOUR ACTUAL PET) and they sort of just go along with it. EEE JEE:

  • Tiggs
  • Tigg
  • Wig
  • Wiggy
  • Baby Wig
  • Mr. Wigglesworth
  • Mr. Tigglesworth
  • Tiggy
  • Tiggsy
  • TiggsywiggsyohmygodwhyareyousocuteOWstopscratchingmeIjustwantedtotouchyourtummy

I liked the idea of a cat who would be my best friend, but in my experience cats don’t really like BFFs. They like food and giving people dirty looks and sitting in the airing cupboard. Mr. Tiggs was a fan of lying at the top of the stairs and swiping at my leg when I tried to walk past him, and my mum would say “He thinks he’s above you in the pecking order because you don’t feed him*.” Excuse ME. I know this is a lie b/c when I did feed Mr. Tiggs he tried to eat my ankle. There was no pleasing that cat.

*Also I don’t mean like, I tried to starve him. I mean, my mum took care of the adult stuff like getting food for the cat and doing the litter tray.

Sometimes I tried to gain the trust of Mr. Tiggs by being the one to perform his nightly brush (he had long fur and I found it very cute that he had his own hairbrush) but this didn’t work either because I gave him too many treats and exposed my weakness. There was this girl at my primary school who used to give out Mars Bars in the playground if you promised to be her friend and I believe that Mr. Tiggs viewed me in the same way as I viewed this poor girl. He would take my snacks but HE WOULDN’T GIVE HIS RESPECT IN RETURN. Can you tell that my childhood cat had a weirdly large impact on my self esteem. CAN YOU??

I’m being silly; he didn’t really. Well maybe a bit. But he did make stuff really fun, in a grumpy, I-don’t-want-to-be-stroked kind of a way. We still talk about him all the time, even though he died in 2008. He got cancer, which I didn’t even know cats could get, and we had to have him put down. On the day he died I went to see Horton Hears a Who with my boyfriend-of-the-time, who said “I don’t know why you’re crying; it’s just a cat.” I cried some more. (That one quote is representative of our entire relationship and I would just like to zigzag off for a moment to say that if your boyfriend ever talks to you like that then maybe tell him HORTON ALSO HEARS A BREAK-UP ON THE HORIZON).

I liked that movie, though. It was an okay distraction. I went home after and it reminded me of when our first cat, Kash, died and my mum took us to the Science Museum so we wouldn’t have to think about it all day.

I had an old phone with a video of Mr. Tiggs on and I used to watch it when I was sad except now the battery has died and I accidentally threw the charger out. It was me stroking his back and saying “AWWWW” really loudly while he glared at me. I loved it when you stroked towards his tail and the fur rippled back into place. He hated it. He hated ME, but sometimes we still find bits of his fur in bags we haven’t used since the mid-noughties and it is the sweetest softest weirdest thing.

STILL ILL, SAY CHEESE

Today I have no energy to do anything, largely because I keep sniffing and sneezing and my back aches and I’m just really Not Very Well. I’ve done that thing where you keep using the same tissue for hours on end in an ‘am I lazy or just the least wasteful person ever’ kind of a way, and every time you wipe your nose you realise what you’re using is less ’tissue’ and more ‘tiny wet rag with loads of rips and holes in it’. And then you feel even more sorry for yourself.

I’m fine really, though. In my head I’m good, and that’s more important than a cold that’ll be gone in three days. It’s really sunny today, which means I am sitting in my usual spot with sun streaming through the window and I keep having to squint, in a nice way. I am shocked by how dirty my laptop screen is, which never happens when it’s raining, but I’d rather have sun and a grubby screen.

Cheese is on my mind right now. Like, actual cheese, because I have this undiagnosed dermatitis (is that how you spell it?) slash eczema sort of thing that only affects my hands and I had a small epiphany yesterday that MAYBE IT IS CHEESE THAT CAUSES IT. Cos I eat a lot of cheese, and when I say a lot I mean cheddar on everything. I am a Mini Cheddar’s big sister, Maxi Cheddar. I’m not an adventurous cheese eater who’s all BRING OUT THE STILTON or even MAKE MINE A BRIE, but bog-standard cheddar I am all over.

My hands were really bad yesterday (wake-up-in-the-night-because-they’re-bleeding-from-all-the-sleep-scratching bad) and I had a sudden realisation that it is possibly maybe because this week I have eaten cheese-stuffed jacket potatoes every lunchtime and things like pizza or pasta with Grated Goodness on top for tea. I think I ate broccoli once this week. I had a bit of spinach on Monday. I don’t know.

So this coming week is a cheese-free week, just to see. I miss Babybels already if I’m being completely honest, but I have to think of my hands and not my stomach. *blows mournful kiss to Papa John*

An analysis of Marissa Cooper

Most people watched The OC between the years of 2003 and 2007, and then moved on. They enjoyed the series and CONTINUED WITH LIFE, satisfied in the knowledge that Summer was off to save the world, Ryan was “hey kid, you need any help??“-ing like a champ and Seth was pretty happy being Seth. And that was that.

For me, it wasn’t that. IT WASN’T THAT AT ALL!!! And as a result, I have been watching The OC on and off pretty much non-stop since the day it first aired on E4 13 years ago. I love everything about this show. Sandy and Kirsten Cohen taught me more about adult relationships than I could ever hope to convey. Ryan and Summer are the king and queen of character development. I enjoy analysing Volchok’s minimal backstory, I boo internally when Oliver arrives onto the scene, and I marvel at Kaitlin’s occasional profound moments.

But you know who I’m most taken with, always? MARISSA COOPER. Coop, if you will. CosmoGirl, if you read Atomic County. Newport Barbie, if you’re a jealous girl from Harbor’s state school equivalent. Marissa, in my eyes, gets a raw deal. Despite her untimely screen-death 10 years ago, she is still discussed on pop culture websites and Twitter profiles (mostly mine) on a regular basis and seems to be largely regarded as A BIT OF A BRAT – a spoiled, privileged, melodramatic little rich girl who does nothing but destroy the lives of those around her.

To that I say: NOW JUST HOLD ON ONE SECOND. Seriously, please do. I have a lot to say about Coop, and seeing as she’s not here to defend herself (GET ME A TISSUE), I’m happy to share it with you. I get that she’s not perfect, and yes, I agree that she has her fair share of selfish and straight-up annoying moments, but I ALSO think that she deserves to be cut a little slack from time to time. I have overthought perhaps every word that has ever come out of Marissa Cooper’s mouth, and so I feel sort of, maybe, potentially qualified to talk this through with you. Are you ready?? Let’s go, Ryan!

That was an OC reference. Expect a lot of them.

THAT WAS AN OC REFERENCE, TOO. I TOLD YOU TO EXPECT A LOT OF THEM.

Family

I’d describe Marissa as a bit of a family girl – or at least someone who wishes her nearest and dearest were tight-knit enough for her to be one.

It’s obvious from the outset that her relationship with her mother, Julie, is strained – in season 1 she tells Ryan she’s “scared” of her – but it’s also clear that Marissa cares about the Coopers. She describes her dad, Jimmy, as the “one thing” keeping her sane (no pressure, Jimmy!!) and in season 3 she’s totally willing to leave her boyfriend Ryan and everything else in Newport Beach behind if it means her family can regroup in Hawaii. Like, I wouldn’t put it past Marissa to pull some Parent Trap stunt with Summer in tow, because that girl seems to yearn for a nuclear family – even one as dysfunctional as hers. She looks to the Cohens as a source of normality, stability and bagels during Cooper family disputes, and compares her own parents to Sandy and Kirsten. During one argument with Jimmy, she says “For once, I wish you would just grow up and be like a real dad.”

The trouble with Marissa’s relationship with her family is that it’s shaky. Her parents adore her in their own messed-up ways, but they’re always coming and going: leaving without notice, becoming obsessed with tennis instructors, marrying for money. They’re 15 year-olds in adult bodies. And Marissa is often sneered at for crying at family events and shouting obscenities at her mother, but I’m wondering who can blame the gal. She aches for a unit – a solid, dependable team. But instead she’s given a mother who sleeps with her ex-boyfriend and tries to frame her current boyfriend for attempted murder, a father who steals from his clients and leaves town at the first sign of trouble, and a sister who returns to Newport ~FOR THE DRAMA~. The Coopers love each other, I’m sure of it, but there’s nothing anchoring that family down. Not even Jimmy’s boat.

The only thing that could come close is Julie, who, despite being manipulative and ruthless, does almost all of what she does with Marissa in mind. Julie’s “personal sacrifices” with Caleb might creep Marissa out – and being dragged to live in his mansion doesn’t help much, either – but Julie does what she does to provide for her daughters. She literally refers to it as “keeping a roof over our heads” in season 2. This is why season 4, despite any flaws, wasn’t a waste of time – because we get to see Julie move from the Riverside-denying, depressingly-dependent housewife to the college graduate with self confidence and, for once, her own money. U GO GIRL.

Season 1 Julie, however, is a different story. Season 1 Julie attempts to have Marissa sent away to a psychiatric hospital, embarks on a weird, motel-based relationship with Marissa’s 16-year-old ex, Luke, and marries Caleb Nichol just months after divorcing Jimmy. Season 2 Julie isn’t much better: remember when she tried to bribe hot-yard-guy-DJ to stay away from Coop?? The less said about that, the better.

Marissa’s dad is kind and well-meaning but that doesn’t get rid of the fact that if you looked for the word ‘flake’ in the dictionary, the definition would be: ‘JIMMY COOPER’. Jimmy lives in a dream world where stealing millions of dollars is totally okay as long as you say sorry – even almost-angel Sandy becomes frustrated with his sheer lack of interest in taking any responsibility for the things he messes up. If there’s one thing Jimmy’s good at, it’s burying his head in the sand. He also seems to hold the belief that IF ONLY HE’D MARRIED KIRSTEN things would be perfect and amazing and never ever sad. Ignoring the fact that if he’d married Kirsten his own children would not exist, I think this mindset kinda blows. Marissa and Kaitlin are young and impressionable, and to see a strong-willed, determined father who says things like “YES! YOU CAN DO THAT! LET’S ACKNOWLEDGE OUR MISTAKES AND MOVE ON! POSITIVITY IS KEY!” would be great for them. But instead they get Jimmy, whose self-defeating, woe-is-me outlook is enough to make anyone have a tantrum with the pool furniture.

Julie and Jimmy, although unintentionally, make everything worse for poor Marissa. After dealing with their divorce, she later has to put up with:

  • the whole Luke thing
  • Jimmy leaving
  • Jimmy coming back
  • Jimmy getting back together with and later proposing to her mom
  • Jimmy leaving (again)
  • being blackmailed into living in Caleb’s mansion
  • the whole sex tape thing
  • the whole YOUR DAD IS STILL A THIEF thing
  • Julie bribing Trey to say Ryan shot him (wtf)
  • the whole I LIED ABOUT THE CONDO WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO LIVE IN A TRAILER thing
  • Julie getting together with Summer’s dad (…….weird at best)

Right? RIGHT?? I’m not saying Marissa is perfect, far from it, but you have got to give her that. Her parents try their best, sort of, but Julie admits herself that the Cooper household is “no place for a child” (i.e. Kaitlin). I’m not sure it’s really a place for an alcohol-dependent teen either, but that’s just my two cents.

Friendship

Marissa is shown as a caring friend who occasionally goes off the rails a little (a lot) but means pretty well. She’s less stable and dependable than her best friend, Summer, who comes across as a fairly rational person and a calming influence in Marissa’s life (as soon as she moves on from hotboxing Luke’s car and saying stuff like “gnarly”, that is).

Is Marissa a GOOD friend? It depends which way you look at it. Like all of us, she’s got so much going on at times that she physically can’t deal with much more than she has on her own plate – but most of us are able to push past this and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, at least temporarily, and that’s where Marissa seems to struggle.

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Her friendship with Summer really interests me. I love Coop, but I want her to be like “How are YOU, Summer? Stuff with Seth seems kinda tough recently; how’s that going? Are you okay? Do you miss your mom? Are you sad that your dad isn’t around much cos of all the rhinoplasties he’s performing???”

This never seems to happen. Summer grows from a vapid, fairly one-dimensional character at the start of season 1 to an intelligent, mature, loyal friend in seasons 2, 3 and 4, and although we’re dropped hints about her backstory I feel like we could use some more in-depth Summer storylines. We know that her mother left when she was younger and that she lives with her dad, who works all the time. So that’s literally just only child Summer, in a mansion, on her own.

Summer also has a stepmother, Gloria, who she refers to – completely unaffectionately – as “the stepmonster.” Summer goes to a Mexican pharmacist in season 1 to buy drugs for this woman and regularly mentions that Gloria has passed out at home or is so dosed-up that she doesn’t know what’s going on. If this was a Marissa sub-plot we’d hear a lot more about it, I’m sure. There’d be tears and underage drinking and POSSIBLY SOME SHOPLIFTING. But Summer, like Seth, tends to only be around for the comic relief most of the time, and so it barely gets mentioned. Marissa doesn’t question it or even ask how Summer is doing, and that seems like a cop-out when you consider all the times Summer has supported her.

It kind of doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that Summer and Marissa fall out in season 3. Marissa – jealous of Summer’s long-term relationship with Seth and ‘perfect’ home life – lashes out, and Summer tells her to grow up, adding “Aren’t you just the saddest girl in the world?”

I get Summer’s frustrations. I really do! And the thing is, if Marissa would just BREATHE, she’d be able to see that Summer’s life is far from perfect. Everything that Marissa deals with, Summer deals with too, because it’s impossible to avoid Marissa’s melancholy. Summer’s relationship with Seth is pretty much fraught with drama throughout The OC, and between Seth blowing off his Brown interview and telling her he doesn’t love her anymore, I’m sure season-3-Summer has enough to deal with. But, as usual, she’s left to battle it on her own. Perhaps Marissa’s worst quality as a friend is that when the chips are down, she becomes so consumed by what’s happening in her world that she doesn’t always remember that her pals are trying to navigate scary little paths of their own.

Niceness

‘Niceness’ might not feel like the right word, but I feel like Marissa, despite her flaws and what I’ve just rambled about above, is actually one of TV’s quintessential nice girls. For starters, she’s kinder than she gets credit for. She shows her generosity in season 1, when she opts to make friends with Theresa Diaz, Ryan’s ex, even though she can’t think of anything worse than Ryan getting back together with her and rekindling his love of musicals and Girls Who Used To Live Next Door To Him In Chino. She even goes as far as giving Theresa a makeover so Ryan can come out with his annoying “Wow… you look… you look… amazing” spiel that he uses every time a girl he’s dating makes an effort.

And when she discovers Theresa is potentially pregnant with Ryan’s baby, does she freak out? Not as much as you’d think. While everyone else is falling apart, Marissa wishes Ryan well and tells him that although she wishes he didn’t have to leave, she totally gets why he has to. Sure, she goes home and drinks straight vodka on her balcony later but THE MAIN THING IS THAT SHE’S THERE FOR HER FRIENDS. She could have been mean to Theresa. She could have yelled at Ryan and called him a bed-hopping scumbag. BUT SHE DIDN’T, and no-one ever seems to remember that. When it comes to the big stuff – especially big stuff that isn’t about her – Marissa can actually get it together and support the people who need supporting.

But when I say ‘niceness’, I actually don’t mean ‘generosity’. I mean the good old-fashioned nice gal syndrome that Marissa encapsulates perfectly. If you don’t know what I mean, I will say a few words which might jog your memory: OLIVER. TREY. JOHNNY.

What do all three of these characters have in common? They all stuck around for longer than they should have done because Marissa is nice.

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Let’s take Oliver as our first example. He lives alone in a hotel, he meets Marissa at therapy, he has an imaginary girlfriend, blah blah. Oliver is clearly troubled, and Marissa is visibly uncomfortable to be around him at times – she doesn’t even seem to like him the first time she meets him – but before we know it she’s attending his New Year party instead of hanging out with Ryan, skipping school to plan trips to Paris and so on.

Trey is Ryan’s brother. Marissa looks out for him when he gets out of jail, throws him a birthday party, finds him a flat and buys him a lava lamp. All perfectly lovely things, hmm?? Trey thinks so, too – so much so that he gets it into his head that Marissa wants to switch Atwood siblings. I’m not sure if the word ‘rape’ is ever actually used in The OC, but if it isn’t then it should be, because Trey snorts coke, takes Marissa to a beach under the premise of a PALLY WALK and then tries to rape her. It’s really hard to watch. When Trey tells Marissa that no-one has ever been this nice to him, Marissa says “Yeah, because you’re Ryan’s brother!” and her voice cracks.

Remember Johnny? He’s season 3’s Guy Who Becomes Obsessed With Marissa And Then Meets A Sticky End. When everyone realises he’s got it bad, it’s suggested that he and Marissa stop hanging out for a bit – Johnny just wants to be left alone with his broken heart and his broken leg!! – but Marissa won’t hear of it and turns up every day to be Johnny’s nurse. And then he falls off a cliff and dies (no really).

This is, in my humble OC-loving opinion, where stuff starts to get complicated. I really feel for Marissa in every single one of these situations, because throughout all of them she was genuinely, honestly just trying to be a good friend. Summer later admits that Coop isn’t the best judge of character, which is possibly true, but you know what? Coop also isn’t the best at allowing outsiders to keep feeling like outsiders. I really do believe that. Behind her incredible face and privileged lifestyle it’s clear that Marissa struggles to fit in, and as a result she does seem to gravitate towards other people who don’t quite slot into typical Newport life. You know how we all have that one friend who only dates boys who need a bit of looking after and would adopt a shy dog with three legs instead of a Cockapoo? I feel like that’s Marissa.

Plus, she’s pretty much besotted with Ryan for 90% of her time on the show. We can all see that. When she’s making Johnny food or helping Trey find jobs, she’s not doing it because she wants them to fall madly in love with her – she’s doing it because she’s nice. Is she too nice? Is she so afraid of hurting people’s feelings that she doesn’t feel able to remove herself from certain situations? Are the characters in The OC still buying into the whole ‘women can’t be attractive and down-to-earth and if they are then they definitely want to have sex with you’ myth that should have died a death many moons ago??? Maybe. I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure: you can’t blame Marissa for the people who read too much into her kindness.

That said, there are occasions where I just wish Coop would slow down, take a step back and think “Is my friendship with this boy I didn’t care about three weeks ago REALLY worth upsetting Ryan and all my pals over?” Largely because if she did, I reckon the answer would mostly be “No.” The Oliver situation, for example, is not one of her proudest moments. Sure, Oliver was manipulative and a liar, but there was still something in Marissa that said “Ignore everyone you trust and tell your boyfriend – who has thus far shown himself to be pretty sensible – he’s imagining Oliver’s craziness. Don’t worry about that time Oliver got caught trying to buy drugs, or the fact that his girlfriend doesn’t go to the school he said she did. It’s totally fine.” Why did it take her so long to cotton on? Why did things get to the stage where Oliver had isolated her from everyone she was close to? I’m not sure even Marissa would be able to explain that one, but it’s interesting.

Appearance

Marissa’s appearance is a huge theme throughout the entire series – as a viewer, you get the impression that although people think Summer’s a hottie (duh), Marissa is somehow on another level, one of unattainable, ethereal beauty. Boys can’t talk to Marissa without wanting to date her and save her from danger (“The compulsive need to rescue Marissa Cooper”). Girls seem to automatically hate her a bit (early season 3 Taylor Townsend) or feel jealous of and intimidated by her (Jess, face-down-in-the-pool girl).

Lindsay, Ryan’s season 2 girlfriend, is a great example of someone who takes one look at Marissa and wants to curl up into a ball and never leave the house again (I feel ya, Lindz). She describes Marissa as “the most beautiful girl in the history of high school” and wonders why Coop turns up to school every day looking as if she’s dressed to star in a fashion show. This awkward/jealous sorta theme gets explored as season 2 continues: Lindsay tells Marissa she likes her outfit and Marissa – surprised – struggles to genuinely return the compliment, eventually mumbling that she likes Lindsay’s “…backpack.” There’s no malice on Marissa’s part. She’s portrayed a bit like Belle from Beauty and the Beast – unusual and obscenely beautiful, while not really realising she’s either.

On one occasion, Lindsay is mad as HELL when she sees Marissa and Summer are eating burgers for lunch. When she realises the duo aren’t gonna be “hours on the elliptical trainer” workin’ it off, she asks “So… you guys can just eat cheeseburgers and look like you?” This comment flies far over the heads opposite her. Marissa is confused and Summer simply replies “Sometimes we get chili fries, too.” Lindsay stares at her low-carb meal the way Ryan used to stare at Oliver.

Marissa seems to have a strange relationship with food. When we see her eating it’s almost all stodgy junk food – fries, milkshakes, bagels – but that isn’t often at all. In season 1 a psychiatrist asks about her ninth grade anorexia, and on one occasion Summer actually remarks that her friend is looking “a little thin.” Marissa responds in a slightly defensive way, firing back with “I… eat!” But it feels like her brain is ticking away, wondering when her last full meal actually was.

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Why couldn’t we have expanded on this conversation? Why did Marissa struggle with anorexia? Did it ever really go away? Is she healthy now? It would have been interesting to explore her relationship with food in a deeper way but we never really got much more than this, which I think is a massive shame. The chili fries scene could have opened up at least a short dialogue, but instead it reinforced the ‘Marissa is so insanely beautiful she doesn’t even have to try – she never exercises and actually eats burgers all the time, so don’t even bother‘ thoughts that every 15 year-old girl was having along with poor Lindsay.

Confidence

Would you describe Marissa as confident? I think it’s a toughie. On one hand, she can definitely switch it on when she needs to – she arranges that fashion show in season 1, remember? They play that ALL AROUND THE WOOOORLD, HEY GIRL song and she flashes Ryan a winning smile (soz Luke), so we know that she can do it. She’s social chair (although Oliver hits the nail on the head when he says he doesn’t find her to be very social at all) and seems to get involved in occasional extra-curricular stuff as and when she needs to.

On the other hand, there’s a real shyness to Marissa, which I don’t think anyone could miss. While Summer’s body language is largely relaxed, Marissa crosses her arms, slouches and looks at the floor. She’s tall – when she wears heels she totally dwarfs Ryan – and when she sits her shoulders hunch downwards, as if she’s trying to shrink herself. If I was gonna really overanalyse, I’d throw that out as a potential early insecurity for Coop, who might have started developing before the rest of her class and been embarrassed by the attention her appearance brought her as a quiet ninth grader. But who am I to say?

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I feel like Marissa has a lack of self-confidence – she never seems to feel as if she can make it on her own. As much as I love her, she’s someone I’d worry about being friends with because I’m pretty sure that if I ever drifted away from her or forgot her birthday she’d use it as a reason to drink alone in a bathroom or write a list called Reasons Why Marissa Sux.

When she discovers Luke has cheated on her – on the same weekend she finds out her dad is moving out – she tells Summer “I have no-one.” The thought is enough to push her to overdose, while Summer, Ryan and Seth frantically search the streets of Tijuana for her. After the incident with Trey, she tells her friends that she won’t be applying to college because that’d mean she’d have to discuss what happened. She talks about not fitting in and tells a guy she meets at a college open day (who also wants to date and then save her, by the way) that some people “just get lost.”

You can’t blame Marissa for freaking out – especially with the plethora of shit that she has to deal with between seasons 1 and 3 – but part of me wants to step into the TV, take her by the hand and have a chat over a bagel in the Cohens’ kitchen. I want her to get that even if her dad doesn’t live with her, her boyfriend cheats on her and she doesn’t feel comfortable at college, she can still do it. She doesn’t need everything to be perfect in order to move forward with her life. But she never quite seems to realise that.

Love

Marissa occasionally dates girls or yard-guys, but she’s at her happiest with Ryan Atwood and I will absolutely fight anyone who says otherwise. Ryan, despite all of his own issues, is a real source of stability in Marissa’s life – he looks at her like I look at enchiladas and he genuinely wants nothing more than for her to be safe and content.

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Although I will defend their relationship until I am on my deathbed, I do agree that Ryan and Marissa had an intense, angst-ridden few years together and that it might not have been sustainable on a long-term basis unless stuff changed. I always wonder if Ryan – in a Freudian kind of a way – might be attracted to Marissa because she represents the only kind of woman he’s ever really known: vulnerable, sad and unpredictable. She’s familiar – and he’s so used to taking care of his mother that he doesn’t really know that other, more-emotionally-stable girls are out there, except for maybe Theresa. You can see in season 3, when Ryan goes out with Sadie, that he almost breathes a sigh of relief and thinks “OH. So you can date a girl who does stuff on her own and doesn’t cry five times a day.”

That said, Lindsay, Theresa, Sadie and other short-lived flings aren’t ever quite enough to fully take Ryan’s attention away from Marissa. Their close friendship serves as a source of jealousy and anxiety for Alex and Lindsay respectively and it’s not surprising – you just KNOW that if Ryan was on a ~hOt DaTe~ and Marissa called about her broken-down car, he would be by her side with a toolkit within seconds.

But even Ryan has his limits, and when Lindsay gets drunk and almost dies in the sea in season 2 (ahh, memories), he isn’t happy. Assuming that Marissa encouraged her to drink, he yells “You spent all of last year trying to drag me down with you, and now her, too?!” This is an unusually honest revelation from Ryan – and although he speaks in the heat of the moment and later regrets it, you can tell that he’s kept that resentment buried pretty deep for a while. Maybe some of it was directed at his mother, not Marissa…… But again, that’s just my opinion. PRETTY SURE I’M RIGHT THO.

What I think is really interesting is that although Ryan is a sweet, caring boyfriend, he’s also someone who struggles to talk about his feelings – and he can’t deal with Coop talking about hers, either. Ryan likes to save people but he likes that to be the end of the situation: he doesn’t enjoy revisiting awkward or upsetting moments. That’s partly why Marissa is drawn to Johnny as a friend – he lets her vent to her heart’s content. He doesn’t just want to fix things and close the case.

Coop seems to have one criteria for her significant others: if her mom doesn’t like ’em, she’s onto a winner. Julie goes as far as to call Alex Kelly (WHO IS 17 BUT SOMEHOW RUNS A FREAKING BAR???) Marissa’s latest “weapon of torture” – she’s well aware that her daughter likes to act out and doesn’t believe that her new relationship will be anything but short-lived. And when Kevin Volchok comes onto the scene as Marissa’s season 3 boyfriend, no-one’s quite sure what to make of him. First of all, how do we say his name? The characters on The OC seem to flit between “Vol-chuck”, “Vol-check” and “Vol-chock” but in all honesty it’s still a grey area even 10 years later. That doesn’t really matter, but SECOND OF ALL, why is Marissa even entertaining the idea of dating someone who clearly isn’t going anywhere and once held her hostage under a Newport pier?

I think it’s all down to self-confidence, once again. After Johnny’s death, Marissa kind of flounders for a bit. She and Ryan break up, she spends a lot of time hanging out near lifeguard huts… you know the drill. Kevin Volchok is affected in his own way – he tells Marissa he was always jealous of Johnny, who – from his perspective – had a perfect life and everything going for him. Maybe Marissa can understand that. Maybe she can see a bit of herself in Kevin and a bit of Summer in Johnny.

Volchok can’t get his head around what happened and suddenly starts to think of Marissa as a kindred spirit who also happens to be really hot, so he decides to follow her around and skulk outside her trailer park until she eventually relents and sleeps with him. Like, that is literally what happens. And I think that’s one of the saddest moments of season 3: that Marissa reaches the point where she feels so damaged and afraid that she embarks on a sort-of relationship with someone she has no attachment to and who doesn’t really care about her.

Volchok isn’t there to upset her mom – worse than that. He’s there because she doesn’t believe she deserves any better. She’s gone from the popular social chair with a mansion and a ‘normal’ family to the girl who lives in a trailer park and can’t deal with the events of the previous year. Everyone is moving on and doing well and Marissa can’t see herself doing the same, so she gives up.

But the old Coop is still in there, and although she’s nervous to remove Volchok from her life, she still does it. Something inside of her knows that she is worth more than what she’s giving herself right now, and I feel like that’s THE very best realisation she could have had before her death. She prepares to leave Orange County single and afraid, but not in a bad way. She’s going to help herself. And this is maybe the first act of self-love we’ve seen from Marissa.

“Sorry for all the craziness.”

“I wouldn’t have done it any differently.”

I can harp on about happy endings and self-love as much as I like, but we all know what happens next. Marissa dies, and everything changes. But was her life a waste? Was what we saw from her genuinely all brat-fits and life-ruining? Absolutely not. We can tell from season 4’s pretty much constant theme of grief that Marissa is desperately missed and was nothing short of CHERISHED.

I can’t pretend that Coop is perfect – I said that before. There are moments when I want to throw her damn Berkeley hoody in her face and say “JUST PUT IT ON AND SUCK IT UP, MARISSA.” Sometimes I can’t watch what’s coming next, knowing that she’s about to ignore the people who care about her and run as far away from The Rails as humanly possible. But Marissa is a teenage girl who dealt with more in three years than most people can expect to juggle in a lifetime – and to me, she’s endearing, frustrating, exciting and exquisitely tragic in equal measure.