'Workaholic': a compliment or a diagnosis?
A conversation with Christina Donoghue, Fashion Journalism student at Central Saint Martins.
I am sitting outside a Shoreditch coffee shop with Christina, who is browsing Airbnb flats on my laptop for our trip to France.
“A balcony is a necessity to enjoy Paris,” she informs me, tartly, when I point to a photo of a wilted looking box room on the ground floor and suggest it might have potential.
This is not a trip we planned together. She was always going to go back to Paris, and I am an add on, potentially less of a necessity than the balcony. I am going to see Christina’s Paris, which I am convinced will be utterly different to the Paris I saw on a family holiday seven years ago.
Christina is a Fashion Journalism student at Central Saint Martins. We met around two years ago, when I moved into a halls of residence flat with her best friend from home; she used to get the train from Finsbury Park to New Cross at least three times a week.
“It was commitment,” I muse.
“It still fucking is! You’re all still in New Cross!”
Adjectives for Christina: intelligent, sharp, honest. She does not dumb herself down to a simple-pretty-giggler for boys, or anyone. She is also passionate, driven by her feelings and potentially one of the most emotional people I know: we are friends because I find her fascinating. Unsurprisingly, summarising a complex person in a few hundred words is a bit of a challenge. You’re getting the career version, today; we’ll do loves and losses another time!
“Tell me about the internships. Do some name dropping. I’ll weave it in really subtly, it will look really sophisticated.”
“Name dropping? Right, okay. I did a Vogue Japan shoot. That was really recent, it was a shoot for the Jan 2020 cover. At the time I was an Editorial Intern to a fashion film company, and the director of that company was requested by Vogue Japan to do their cover shoot, using the latest haute couture seasons, from Autumn/Winter 19 that had just shown in Paris. So it's designs by Valentino, Chanel, I think? Definitely Dior. My boss at the time was the fashion photographer, Nick Knight, and the company thought it would be a really good experience for me to go on that shoot, see what it's like.”
“What did you do on that?”
"My job was to make sure all the social media aspects were covered; live tweets, live Instagram posts, stories and actual written posts. So I'd be posting a 'behind the scenes, Sam McKnight gets Anok Yai’s hair ready’ and that would go out on the Instagram. This was all happening whilst the whole shoot was being broadcast around the world, so I was kind of giving an insider insight to the livestream. That was in the past two, three weeks.”
“And prior to that?”
“I was at The Times for a bit, interning, which was so interesting; I was going through all the 'letters to editor', so they can be about anything; this was back in January, so Brexit drama was at its peak. They have around eight hundred plus letters a day come in, and only select a few to show in the paper. So I had to go through all the mail, and some of them were just empty envelopes tacked with 'pro-Brexit' stickers on them, but so many were handwritten, which I found really surprising. Anyway, I had to make a 'good' and 'bad' pile, then present them to the editor and explain why I had put them there.”
The CV doesn’t end here: she has been a Gallery Assistant at Saatchi, a Fashion Week Assistant at Marie Clare, created schedules for editors and directors in Milan and New York, transcribed interviews on fashion technology and exhibitions at the V&A…
I am slightly sheepish in bringing up my next point: before this interview I vaguely suggested it as a theme, which she quickly decided was ‘not that interesting’. I disagree. And anyway, it's my interview.
"When we first met, I was pretty set on being a teacher and having lots of babies,” I say, with an element of caution - I am still pretty set on this.
"Although I've also been looking at internships, masters, MFAs; most of which are options I just didn't really know about before I moved to London."
It's worth noting that Christina grew up in a suburb north of London, whilst I was in a (ridiculously rural) North Norfolk village. Not that my CV would be anywhere near as impressive as hers if I had spent more time in Welwyn Garden City, but I may have been little more aware that graduating an English degree and becoming an English teacher is an option, not an allocation.
"Anyway," I press on, "What interests me is that I know, without a doubt, that if someone walked past us right now with a baby, it would make me want one." And yes, I am fully aware that there is no logic behind the biological determination to have a baby, aged twenty, halfway through a degree with no steady source of income. "But you're not like that."
"Do you ever think about career vs family? Does it ever come into your head?"
“To be honest, it just doesn’t interest me. I haven’t really thought about it.”
This is mind blowing to me.
"So, you're not stressed?!" my voice is a little high pitched, now. I often think about how I’m going to fit a career around a baby. Or, a baby around a career. The partner is also fairly important, considering I would ideally like to breed with someone interesting / attractive / competent / family orientated / not afraid of wasps / emotionally supportive in a way that suggests he is able and willing to put up with all my flaws and annoying habits; the idea of passively waiting for things to ‘fall into place’ feels a bit like expecting an A* in an exam you have not revised for. What if my perfect partner is Googling the PGCE right now? I settle for: "I think... If, when I'm thirty, I haven't had a baby... I don't know, I think I would feel upset about that. And probably be panicking."
"Well... Look, this is an opinion, not a fact, but I do think society pressures women into the idea that if you don't have children and a loving husband then you've failed, no matter what else you do. I think society sees a woman with a successful career as an obvious threat, because when men are successful they are known as the providers, providing for their desired nuclear family, but when a woman has a successful career, she's neglecting. I think we have branched out in some ways, but ultimately the message is that if you don't have a happy family, settled in the countryside, you have failed. And I think that's just laughable, to be honest, because to me... If I'm doing that by the time I'm thirty, I would think I have failed."
“When men are successful they are known as the providers, providing for their desired nuclear family, but when a woman has a successful career, she's neglecting."
"If someone looked at your CV, they would know that you're obviously driven and committed to pursuing your career."
"And what would you say is your current career plan?"
"I know it will definitely change, they always change with situations. I'd like to move city when I graduate. Paris, ideally. But there are flaws in that: I have my CV, but all my contacts are London based. At the moment, I think my need to be in another city with a fresh mindset is stronger than pursuing a career here. I think that will come naturally, and once I have a foundation laid I can build on that. I'll write for publications based in France, I'll approach people-"
"What just stood out to me then was that you said your need for another city and fresh mindset is overtaking the logical step to stay in London. It's a need overtaking logic. Like, baby vs career."
I have said all of this very quickly: there is a sense of satisfaction in this conclusion. It is proof, to me, that whilst the context may vary, making life changing decisions based on need and feeling rather than reason and logic is a human trait, but not necessarily a flaw. And Christina can move to Paris to find that thing she is missing in London, and I can yearn for a family despite it inevitably pausing all the career plans I have worked so hard towards.
"So, last question," I say, feeling hopeful now, "If you met someone who you absolutely fell in love with, who wants to swap Paris and promotions and fashion for the suburban nuclear family-“
“Oh Ruby,” she says, shaking her head, “I would never fall in love with someone like that.”