(P.S.) I love you... an interview with Pandora Sykes
When we first sat down to create Idle Chit Chat we came up (semi-jokingly) with two potential tag lines:
‘A poor woman’s High Low' and ‘Man Repeller’s sad, less sartorial sister’.
It is for this reason that it is both incredibly exciting, and somewhat nerve wracking, to be speaking to Pandora Sykes. As one half of The High Low and a contributing editor at Man Repeller, the journalist is just about everything we aspire towards. If that weren’t enough, she’s also a columnist for ELLE UK, regular writer for The Sunday Times and more. Her recent essay The Authentic Lie was backed by over 4,000 pledgers, a testament to her popularity and (to use a very High Low turn of phrase) her ability to tap into the zeitgeist.
Read below for our idle chit chat with Pandora, covering all topics from fiction to fountain pens.
Maddy: When I was growing up my mum forced me to read certain books. I wasn’t really aware of it at the time but they were nearly all female led stories: Journey to the River Sea, The Little Princess, Sophie, every Judy Blume book in existence. Maybe it sounds tenuous, but I’m in the midst of writing my dissertation and every book in it is written by a woman, with a wonderful and compelling heroine, and I truly believe that the reason I gravitate towards those sorts of novels was from reading those children’s books. I know you have a young daughter: do you think there are any books you will try and insist she read? And which books do you think were truly essential in shaping your young reading experience?
Pandora: Oooooh, that's interesting! I would hope she would read, and enjoy, in no particular order: Goodnight Mr Tom, any Roald Dahl (any at all), White Teeth, Any Human Heart, One Day, any Curtis Sittenfeld, the Interestings, Americanah, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, A Little Life, Fat is a Feminist Issue, Fight Like A Girl and oh god, so many more! That's just skimming the surface.
Mia: I first came to your work via your Wardrobe Mistress Column in the Sunday Times Style which I devoured every week and lots of projects you do are fashion-orientated. Are you ever pigeon-holed as a "fashion writer" in a way that is intended as being disparaging? It’s frustrating to me when this happens as it feels so gendered! I was so frustrated in fact that I wrote a piece for our website asking why fashion is often dismissed as a ‘frivolous and feminine pursuit.’ Fashion is the most accessible form of art and self-expression - literally everyone puts on clothes each day, so it’s baffling to me that it’s often looked down upon as a career. What’s your take on why people sometimes see it as such and how do you navigate those assumptions and preconceptions?
Pandora: Yes, I have definitely experienced that. Fashion is the dominant force - in that, it colours everything else you are doing. Right now, fashion is the genre I cover/engage with least, but it is still the one most people connect me with. I adored being at The Sunday Times Style and having a column; that was a major milestone for me. But I was seeking something else and whilst I still love style, I came to tire of how I felt defined - and somewhat limited - within those parameters. Trying to move away, a little, has made me feel more fulfilled. I will never turn my back entirely, but I feel like my career, now - especially The High Low, which is pure culture, no fashion - is more representative of who I am. I think that's also in part of the evolution of being human. It's not unusual to want to do something different at 32, to what you did at 25.
Maddy: I’m increasingly interested in the idea of oversharing on social media. I think I shy away from writing about anything serious on our website. I chalk this up to embarrassment at exposing myself, but also, it is clearly a method of self-preservation. I shouldn’t have to be completely transparent about my emotions all the time and certainly shouldn’t feel the pressure to immortalise it on the internet. Bearing in mind that I don’t even have a "following" (lol) I wonder if you, as someone who definitely does have a following, worry about this too? I definitely don’t think people owe it to us to share the minute, mundane details of their lives, but then equally there is something really reassuring about learning that people feel the same stresses that you do. I don’t want to sound too probing, but what prompted me to email you was how moved I was by your How To Fail interview. I felt like I was listening to something truly honest and relatable. But I am aware that it is probably exhausting to share so much of your personal life in an emotional way like that. How do you draw the line as to when, and when not, to share?
Pandora: I definitely share less than I used to. I no longer feel compelled; or have the time. As I move a little away from fashion, I find that I really hate being identified as a fashion blogger, or an influencer, as it's just not representative of my career right now (or ever, to be honest - I've never not been a full-time journalist.) I'm trying to engage much less with social media, as I find some distance from the white noise is really clarifying and fortifying for me and makes me feel stronger, not depleted. Not to mention, I have the time I desperately need, to keep my plates spinning, if I don't waste time on Instagram!
Mia: So we have heard you talk a bit about people’s incredible demands on your time, including some ridiculous requests during your maternity leave that you shared on The High Low. I also loved your piece about Out of Office responses for ELLE. I also feel the immense weight of emails - and my inbox is positively threadbare compared to yours I imagine! - to the point where I struggle to go to bed if there are ‘not-dealt-with’ notifications on my phone. A glance at a friend's 187 unread iMessages literally sends me into a tailspin. It seems to me that it used to be that discipline was required in order to get the work done, now discipline is what we need to stop ourselves from doing yet more work. We definitely subscribe as a society to the “cult of the busy.” How do you, especially as a freelancer, resist this pressure and create boundaries between work and leisure time? And how do you actually stick to them/ avoid beating yourself up about it if you don’t?
Pandora: I hate when someone tells me all the time how tired they are, and how busy they are (it can feel particularly painful to someone who suffers from insomnia, and has a baby!) but I'm guilty of doing it myself sometimes, too. I try and re-frame it, as "I am at capacity" or "I am fully occupied" - I think the re-spin is important! It's all about priorities, isn't it? Saying no to stuff that you would enjoy, or would another time like to do, is powerful. You feel sad for a second, but you realise that your mental health relies on you being able to keep all the plates spinning. It's definitely a work in progress, creating boundaries, and not getting pissed off when someone ignores them, just gently re-enforcing them. I'm trying to get less emotional about everything. Not everyone is out to get you, or, either, enhance your own wellbeing.
Maddy: I reference your (EXCELLENT) defence/appraisal of Taylor Swift on a regular basis to any, short sighted, haters (tay-ters?) This is probably a near impossible question, but: if you had to listen to only one Taylor song ever again which would it be? Mia and I have debated this for years and we have settled on ‘All Too Well’. Intrigued for your response.
Pandora: Don't kill me but I haven't kept up with Taylor. I literally just listen to Jazz FM and playlists on Spotify. I've replaced Taylor with Sigrid. SORRY. I am the worst music person ever.
Mia: Our final question, and possibly most important, is one we are both dying to know the answer to: which writing implement were you/ are you?
A) Parker fountain pen
B) Lamy - if so which colour?
C) Berol handwriting pen
D) the humble HB pencil
or E) something else?!?
Maddy was a Lamy (with “funky” sellotape masking its true colour.) Mia was a Parker combined with a clicky pencil. (Thinking of making this my Instagram bio).
Pandora: I was a Parker! Or those disposable fountain pens - I used to nick them from my mum, I adored them. My sister had a Lamy, I stole it from her for a bit, but I'm always a Parker. Oh god, such nostalgia!
- Maddy Fletcher & Mia Sharp
Interview has been condensed.