24 October 2005

Questioning Conventions

Now that I have started this job, I feel a few of my favorite topics are off limits. For example, I have a lot to say about the Judith Miller case simply based upon what I have read but don’t feel it is appropriate since people in my office have business relationships with her. Often I feel like all of my potential blog topics are within this grey area and I become frustrated. However, recently there is so much to write about and never enough hours in the day – especially if you party/sleep your weekends away like I just did. Two major things are currently taking up space in my brain. One regards my trip to a spa/salon in the city Saturday morning and the other, my friend’s withdrawal from a PhD program in history. I’ll start today with the first one.

Saturday morning I reinstated my “blonde” status at Maiden Lane Salon and Spa in San Francisco. In the past year Nicki has introduced me to the concept of the expensive haircut – and as would be expected, I took to it easily. As for my highlights (for those of you who don’t know – I haven’t been a natural blonde since high school) I always get them done cheaply in Redding. Unfortunately I am not able to go home much anymore and was forced to bite the bullet and pay an exorbitant Bay Area price for my artificial color as well.

Trips to a salon, designer jeans…are all luxury items I enjoy more or less guilt free because I believe that I can be a politically aware/conscientious individual without feeling a need to deny myself the occasional luxury. Whether I am deluding myself or can actually make a good case for this ethical belief could be discussed at length and probably serve as the topic for a future blog entry.

Events at the salon this weekend, however, caused me to question the innocent-nature of a once-in-a-while pampering. As my hair glaze was setting I entertained myself by listening in on the conversation occurring next to me by a customer and her colorist. The customer, I can only assume, worked for a high-end fashion label, because they were discussing Giselle’s spread for her company in the fashion mag she was reading. The colorist asked, “Doesn’t that specific piece only go up to size eight?” The customer responded in the affirmative and acknowledged that even though the style would actually look quite good on a larger woman, the label doesn’t want to be represented by that demographic. Ouch! Larger than size eight my friends does not a large woman make. However, it is not their numerical delineation of what is and is not acceptable for their label that truly bothers me, it is that they define a standard at all. Sure, I guess all brands including the mainstream like Gap (size 14) or the slightly higher-end like Citizens of Humanity (size 32) draw the line somewhere and maybe a conversation should be had about that too… but I am going to assume they draw a line because the demand does not make larger sizes cost-effective in the mass-produced clothing world (not that I think cost-effectiveness is a good measurement either). However, I guess it becomes harder to swallow/ more problematic in my mind with the high end brands because they aren’t mass-producing their clothes and because they are openly stating (inside the salon) that a larger than size 8 woman does not fit their branded image.

Later in the conversation, the colorist relayed a related-story to her customer. Basically she made fun of another client she has who approached the salespeople at a popular new store, Zara, to ask why they didn’t sell clothing in her size. The colorist continued to make fun of her client (not present) along with her current customer, both of whom relayed comments like “its not their fault she has a problem.” Whoa! I liked the colorist I had at the salon, and I also like feeling pampered every once in awhile by the surroundings (being offered unlimited coffee while having my head massaged is my idea of a good time), but I don’t know if I am comfortable there anymore. I may fit into their standards, but that doesn’t mean I should buy into them as well. It was one of those moments that caused me to question if the lifestyle I lead is as innocuous as I like to believe. As I have talked to many of you about before, often lengthy process of analyzation that goes on in my head (weighing the consequences of my behaviors) before I decide to change my actions… but I think the discussion itself, or that moment of disconnect in itself is important for it is at least forcing me to confront that fact that my behavior has social consequences. My actions (dying my hair, watching The OC, dancing to hip-hop) have become habits that seem natural. Often it is in those jarring moments that we have the opportunity to disconnect from our habits and see that there is actually a decision being made that might not be so harmless. Whether or not I actually decide to change salons or go back to my roots has yet to be seen. But I will ask the age-old question here: what image am I buying into? who is not allowed to belong? This line of questioning reminds me of another lengthy blog I want to write regarding women and “liberation.”

21 October 2005

Out on the Town - Leah Style

I wouldn’t call my evening out at the opera sophisticated. Instead the night embodied a crazier than usual version of my normally harried existence with a three-hour opera added in. I should have known I am incapable of having a refined evening. No dinner out or limo (let alone taxi) ride for me.

Early yesterday morning I took a dress to the cleaners. I got off work around 4:45, walked home, fixed hair, packed up big bag of crap so that I could change at Christian’s house and then went to pick up his new bike. For some reason the bike shop had not put the lock/light on the bike yet (even though they knew I would be coming by to get it), and only begin working on it around 5:45 when I get there. Half an hour later it is finally ready. Of course this throws off my “never an extra second” schedule. I was supposed to pick up a black sweater from Nicki at her place before heading to the dry cleaners, then to Christian's work, then his place to change and finally to the opera: all by 7:30. I now have a little over an hour to accomplish all of that. Nicki starts calling me warning, "you are going to be late!"I am increasingly aware of this on my own, but the tense voice on her end of the line subconsciously informs me she doesn't want me to disrespect the opera. She meets me downstairs outside her apartment with the sweater, and I fly off to the dry cleaners. It is now approaching 6:30 and I get a call from Nicki that the bridge is wall to wall traffic and that Mindy has been on it for an hour. Yikes!!! She redirects me to BART, and I now have three minutes to park, get this massive bike off the rack of my car, collect all of my belongings in my big bag, try not to wrinkle my dress and buy a Bart ticket. I have never moved so fast in my life. Miraculously I made it on time only to discover I had lost my phone. Now there is no way for Christian to contact me. We had decided to meet at his place since I was running about an hour behind schedule, and so as I got off BART I was about to climb on his (way too big for me) bike and ride off when I hear my name. I guess he called me a few less than 50 times to tell me he would meet me at BART. When I saw him he informed me we were getting right back on BART towards Civic Center because by now it was 7:10 and the opera does not seat late. If late we would be standing for over an hour until the first intermission. I desperately wanted to change into my dress. I pouted, he reasoned...at least I already had a skirt on from work. On BART we realized those Mike's Bikes folks had forgotten to give us the keys to the bike lock!!! Christian had a cord lock with him, but that is certainly not enough to keep bike thieves away in Berkeley. I suggested valet parking. Luckily, the BART station was well lit and the BART monitor person was right next to the bike area. But I thought he was taking a HUGE risk locking up a brand new bike. Here’s where the night gets really glamorous. We ran from the station to the opera house, me carrying a purse, large tweed coat and big bag which now contains a useless and heavy bike lock. Of course I was excited to have a chance to wear the discounted Manolos I found at Jeremy's but I didn't intend to run a mile in them. However, I can now report after my brisk run through the city, that they are built quite sturdily. We arrived at the Opera House "perspiring" in the most refined way of course, with about three minutes to spare! When I returned to my car at Rockeridge BART at the end of the night, my phone was right where I left it, on the roof of my car!!!! I guess we just aren't ready for a sophisticated night on the town just yet...give us another decade and we'll be taking a limo.

20 October 2005

To the Opera

Tonight I am off to see the opera, Dr. Atomic. I hear it is a tad on the slow side, so I am disappointed I didn't get to nap today. While musically I might not be completely enthralled, I am interested in the historical moment portrayed in Dr. Atomic as well as the potential of the arts to find common ground between often disparate disciplines. Therefore it is fitting I (the wanna-be historian) attend the opera with Christian, a bio-physicist. That way he can attempt to explain all the physics formulas they sing about to me afterward. Really, I hate to admit it, but I am mostly looking forward to dressing up and going out for a refined event in the city.

12 October 2005

The Enlightenment Tradition


10 October 2005

Rock Star Dreams and Cal Football

Sunday morning I woke up in a funk. This brief malaise had few plausible explanations. The previous evening I imbibed sangria and cooked up a yummy eggplant sandwich for myself at a football viewing barbeque with some of my closest friends. This gathering was followed by the awesome experience of sitting in the 11th row at Shoreline for a Killers concert. Nicki scored us good seats thanks to her connections and we happily disregarded Modest Mouse (surprisingly boring live) for overly-priced garlic fries and t-shirt shopping. The Killers show rocked, and I don’t normally use language like that. The hour-plus it took to leave Shoreline did not rock, and sadly our post-concert slumber party was cancelled when we discovered our friends (depressed by Cal’s loss) had drank themselves into an early oblivion and passed out before our return.

With such an eventful night I couldn’t rationalize why on Sunday morning I woke up in a bad mood. Sure my mind was dealing with mild boy drama (he sure didn’t act like he had a girlfriend), but life has been unusually calm in that respect lately, so this was not the likely cause. A late afternoon five-mile run finally lifted my internal tension, and with it now being another day, I have narrowed down the cause of my pissy mood to two possibilities.

Losing the football game to UCLA:
Was I not in the Cal Band during the Holmoe years? I marched/cheered my way through a 1-10 season, where the game we won was away at Rutgers and one of the only games I did not attend! Who would have thought that we (Cal fans) would become accustomed to winning? But that is exactly what has happened. I expect to win. The only acceptable loss is versus USC, but I thought we would go into that game undefeated. This Saturday’s loss has thrown my whole football world-view into a tailspin and I am being forced to reassess everything. In a few weeks I am headed up to Oregon for the game at Autzen Stadium – guess what…we might not win. I don’t know if I am prepared to deal with that new reality. I know this sounds trivial, but it was a definite let down. My head is now a spin machine and I am trying to convince myself it is more exciting when the outcome of the game is not secured. I’ll let you know how this method of coping works out. Long talks with girlfriends and running with the Killers in my iPod are no longer simply methods for dealing with breakups, but now also the heartache from losing a football game.

Speaking of the Killers:
When Brandon Flowers announced they would be retiring "Hot Fuss" after their next three concerts Nicki and expressed a mutual sadness. Sure we have now seen them in concert twice, and we are definitely excited about what their next album will explore. But can their second album even come close to rivaling the power of their first? Most likely not. No one is more surprised than yours truly that I enjoying rocking out to the tunes of a Mormon Las Vegan, but the power present when Flowers sings “All These Things I’ve Done” live is undeniable. The energy he puts forth is intoxicating and makes me miss performing. Not only am I lamenting the fact that I will never again hear "Hot Fuss" again in its entirety, my melancholy state also reflected my own desire to perform/ create something so positive on a massive scale.

As of today I am not a rock star, and it doesn’t look like Cal will be off to a BCS game anytime soon… I am a proponent of lofty goals, but sometimes we have to be prepared to deal with the fallout of failure.

03 October 2005

Dr. Atomic

Last Monday night I attended a campus forum, “Science and the Soul: J. Robert Oppenheimer and Dr. Atomic.” Dr. Atomic is the new opera premiering this weekend by John Adams and Peter Sellars. While I profess to know little about the intricacies and significance of this work as a musical achievement (I will leave that argument to Nicki and Justin) I was fascinated by the forum that featured Adams and Sellars in conversation (or dialogue if you will) with a renowned Berkeley physicist, Marvin Cohen. The opera takes place in the hours before the summer 1945 atomic tests in the New Mexico desert. As the bomb tests are postponed a few hours due to an electrical storm, Oppenheimer is depicted asking all the ethical questions about the bomb that he did not have time for when the test was on schedule. Sellars, who I now completely admire, spoke of how he hoped the opera “made space” for the alternatives that have seemed less possible since the bombs were tested. Science, specifically how atomic technology could be utilized for political ends became the dominant paradigm, and Sellars believe his new opera and arts in general offer alternatives to the era of nuclear proliferation we find ourselves in.

For me, this forum embodied what I see as pragmatic possibility. A conversation among disciplines, the pinnacle of the purpose of the liberal arts education. Arts in this case stands in for the usual counter to science, religion or spirituality. Dr. Atomic shows how science and the arts can work together and produce more viable options then possible when disciplines work alone.