27 March 2006

Music Moods

During graduate school I started listening to hip-hop – that is, when I wanted a complete break from studying. Usually this respite from academic work also coincided with a trip to a club and probably an alcoholic beverage or two. Since then, hip-hop has been the soundtrack of a more reckless version of myself.

When I am moody or looking to be productive in an intense sort of way, I turn towards more independent rock.

Unfortunately, balance for me is probably best signified by a heavy rotation of pop in the vein of Kelly Clarkson. Good thing I am hardly ever balanced.

Ever since my way too eventful New Years Eve, I have been in productive mode with my moody music (with one notable detour on St. Patrick’s Day). God help me, I even have downloaded a Coldplay song (“Fix You,” the only one I find even mildly palatable).

Following this past weekend’s conference I am excited to say I am most likely headed into a PhD program. More of course will be said about this change in outlook, but right now you are probably wondering what this has to do with the previous four paragraphs. Well, it seems dreams of a healthy Kelly Clarkson-filled lifestyle are again being placed on hold in favor of five more years of Seth Cohen intermixed with the occasional wild outing with my morally questionable friends The Pussy Cat Dolls and 50 Cent.

20 March 2006

I Have A Citation!

At long last, I am published in a location more significant than this blog!

You can download the article and print pages 117-131 for my contribution. The topic is esoteric, but I find it interesting. Happy reading!

19 March 2006


Hard at work on my presentation. Will break for nothing except food, the phone, The New York Times, my laundry, Grey's Anatomy and the two friends I have over... Wait, I swear I thought I was being productive. It was the first sunny day in Berkeley in what seems like a month - so the fact that I got anything done is a miracle. Momentarily distracted by my need to see in the Cal Women's Basketball team won in the first round of the NCAA, I came upon this news item at the Berkeley website: http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/2006/mar16.html

The University of California has rightly divested itself from companies doing business with the Sudanese government. I almost wrote my undergraduate history thesis on the student movement at Berkeley to end apartheid in South Africa. Student divestment movements at universities (esp. Columbia and the UCs) went a long way towards change in that country and we can only hope this might too be a turning point.

Now don't consider me a traitor, but I am quoting from Nancy Su's article in the Daily Bruin:

Now, some students and UC officials described the campaign as one of the most important student campaigns they will probably see.

"It represents student activism of the 21st century. We addressed every concern. ... We always had an answer. We always wanted to be able to say this can be done and this is how," said Adam Sterling, co-chair of the divestment taskforce.

At last week's meeting, the regents praised students for leading the way toward divestment, with some standing to applaud the students after the vote.

Rosenthal said he always knew divestment would be a very long process, but it was the students' persistence to bring the issue to the forefront of the regents' agenda that led to the divestment vote.

17 March 2006

Cyber Sociology

As the number of women writing Carrie Bradshaw-like sex and dating columns skyrockets, the percentage of op-ed political columns written by women remains depressingly low. It is in this vein that I acknowledge I have taken an extended hiatus from long-form political entries. Sorry about that! But I promise, serious politically minded Leah will return right after I finish this paper presentation. Fluff to follow;

To make the argument that the Internet has changed our communication and dating practices would seem a tad obvious at this point. But still, I can’t help but think about the hilarity and possible insight that would ensue in writing a quasi-sociological work on how the Internet has “revolutionized” the dating practices of teens and twenty-somethings.

Of course there are the more obvious ways dating life has changed: websites like match.com, J-Date, and e-Harmony. But I am less interested in these sites, and more in the subtle changes the internet has provided – the small interactions, flirtations and just as important, the confusions that the internet has brought to our single lives.

Growing up mainly before the advent of Instant Messenger, it quickly became the flirtation method of choice along the halls of my freshman year dorm. I specifically remember being ICQed an mp3 (also a newfangled concept back then in the pre-itunes era) by Barry White and wondering “is this a sign he is interested?” Boy does instant messenger open the floodgates for over-analyzing and miscommunication. Yes, he ended up being interested…but maybe I should have let the fact that we spent every waking minute together speak to that rather than his mp3 choice. From college I looked on as my sister applied IM technology to the high school dating scene. Watching her navigate the world of high school crushing from the relatively anonymous seat behind our painfully slow 56K powered Packard Bell grey box, I was jealous. Had I had instant messenger in high school would I have found the guts to ask out my silent crush of four years? Probably not, but you never know.

But looking back, I am relieved to have made it through high school before the dawn of the ipod, the internet and the cell phone (only Cher in Clueless had one). Not only did I actively engage the people around me as I walked through the halls at school, when I eventually did exchange numbers with my high school crush and call to discuss math homework, it was a big deal. I am not becoming a cultural conservative here I promise, but there is something to be said for old-fashioned (and by this I mean mid-nineties) dating practices…not that I know much about these said practices. But I hear there was a time when men and women definitively asked each other on dates and people knew what it meant – and didn’t “chat” you on IM or ask how you were doing on Friendster – their egos protected by the vagueness of it all.

Case and point: Awhile back my friend (we’ll call her C) informed me that a guy she was reintroduced to at a party had contacted her through Friendster (we’ll call him S). Paraphrasing of course, he informed her he was “bored at work, randomly surfing Friendster, found her under their mutual friend’s profile and thought he would say hi.” She actually believes this! “Do you think he’s interested,” C asks. Uhhh…, PUUULEEEEEASE! Well I guess this isn’t a good example of the trials and tribulations of online connections, because last night when I asked C when she and S were going to be comfortable enough to call each other “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” she happened to be online scanning Friendster and discovered he had recently changed his profile status from “single” to “In a Relationship.” Guess that answered that question. So it isn’t all bad.

I may have had a personal foray into the world of email declarations of interest myself recently. However, I think from now on I will stick with the old fashioned methods – but at least I have tested out the new technology, and know for sure I prefer the old.

Feel free to comment with your more awkward online moments – including googling and away message stalking. You know who you are…

15 March 2006

Procrastination and its Discontents

Unfortunately, since that great moment of intellectual satisfaction that I wrote about on the fifth of March, I have hardly glanced at my paper presentation. Looks like working in the journalism world has deeped rather than altered my deadline driven work ethic. I don't know exactly when I will start to freak out about the nearing conference, but hopefully it will be soon.

We had a great event here on Monday night wherein I remembered what it is like to work for 15 hours in one day - haven't done that since the days of CalSO. The atmosphere in the building on an event day is full of buzz and the excitement propels me through the day. When the event eventually ended around 10PM the exhaustion set in. This exhaustion hadn't lifted until I woke up this morning - yesterday I existed in some zombie state where my most important task at work was staying awake.

So now that the event is over I have no excuse but to work on my presentation. Of course, both St. Patrick's Day and Cal's berth in the NCAA tournament threaten to derail my path to productivity. Similarly distracting is the tennis round robin tournament I have organized for my friends this Sunday. It will be the first day of real sun here in weeks and I can't wait to get out on the court and double fault most of my points ;-)

I have so many blog entries planned in my head, but they will have to wait until this presentation is over next Friday.

Until then read this: http://tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=68077

06 March 2006

"robbed" v., 1. Al Gore, 2. Brokeback Mountain

After picking up our Round Table pizza (yes, we do appreciate the finer things in life), Nicki and I drove to her mom’s house to watch the Oscars. I have only seen two movies of note this year, Brokeback Mountain and The Constant Gardener, so this doesn’t exactly qualify me as a movie critic. But I can honestly say that I know how to pick them, because Brokeback and Gardener are two of the best movies I have seen in recent years. As we drove through inclement weather to watch the Awards, I had a foreboding feeling that Crash (the LA race drama) was going to upset Brokeback. Unfortunately, my gut was right. Now I haven’t seen Crash, but I trust those close to me that have told me it is not worth my time – a surface level/ neatly packaged/ contrived look at LA race issues. In one review it is called “a feel-good film about racism.” So how did this movie win? I didn’t have a single friend recommend this movie to me, or comment on how much it made them think (let alone cry) in the hours after viewing the movie. The love stories and the larger social/political issues in both Constant Gardener and Brokeback embed themselves in their viewers for days and months. They don’t wrap themselves up nicely in the end, they don’t make you feel good – but they make you feel something. I sat stunned on the couch for about fifteen minutes – shocked by both the loss as well as by how much the news was affecting me. Nicki finally asked me, “Leah, whenever have you known the Oscars to actually award the best film correctly?” I realized she was right. However, there is some part of me that hopes each year that they might for once get it right. Something about this year’s movies (Good Night and Good Luck, Capote, Walk the Line) made me forget that this same Academy voted for the sickly-sweet A Beautiful Mind. So as of today, Brokeback Mountain enters my pop culture lexicon under "robbed," co-existing in a category once solely inhabited by Al Gore. I promise to watch Crash, but I don’t promise to like it.

05 March 2006

A Moment of Intellectual Satisfaction

It is Sunday afternoon, and like many Sundays before it, I am sitting at The Beanery (my favorite café in the Elmwood District of Berkeley). Elena and I are reliving our grad school study practices. She currently sits across from me studying for a big engineering licensing test while I work on my presentation for the history conference that is coming in less than three weeks. As per our usual habits, I am chatty but she is the study nazi that keeps me on task. It takes about an hour for me to truly warm to the idea of sitting quietly, and I am slightly daunted by the tome in front of me, a long/complex paper I wrote eight months ago. How am I supposed to immerse myself in it again when I feel like I am reading/learning it for the first time? Are these really my words on this page? But then, about eight pages in I start to recall the process of writing the paper, the terror and frustration, but also the excitement of making a new connection. And then I remember my professor telling me that my paper made him think about progressivism in a new way and I get excited – maybe I am really going to contribute something new at this conference – maybe I actually have something to say.

There is this feeling I get every once in awhile. And I am having it at this very moment, sitting across from Elena in the café. I can’t really describe it except to say there is an inner warmth inside me and my eyes start to well with small tears. The tears never fall, but they signify that I am truly connecting with what I am reading or writing. I feel so completely interested in my subject matter, and the connections being made in my head simultaneously gel and overwhelm me – I realize I am so close to doing exactly what I am meant to do.

I don’t know what has compelled me to express this today, as words cannot do this feeling justice. It is this feeling that propels me toward a PhD program but also repels me – as in these moments, nothing else matters. Are these fleeting moments of intellectual satisfaction worth the sacrifices?

01 March 2006

Someone's Got a Case of the Mondays

Written Monday:

Today my pants ripped, displaying a not-oft seen part of my body – signifying the end and representing the whole of what has been a pretty awful day. Yet another metaphor for this less than thrilling day is the weather outside. My wimpy umbrella and soon-to-be torn pants were no match for the downpour that soaked me on my normally relaxing walk to work. No cup of coffee could cheer me up – and I had three. Determined to shake my pissy mood I ate comfort foods including my usual Hershey’s Kisses, stolen from a neighboring office.

Weather and wet clothes alone don’t normally bring me down, but I am also still learning a lot at work – namely how not to get my emotions involved in office matters. Long gone are the days of student employment, where you are hired because they can tell you will benefit from the experience and the boss makes sure you are growing professionally within the environment (oh CalSO how you spoiled me). Instead I relay bad news to people who don’t want to hear it and then take on the guilt of having disappointed them. I think the secret is retaining an emotional core but realizing your limitations and power in the individual situations. For the situations I dealt with today, my power was nil – therefore I must eat my comfort food, complain to my blog, go spinning and thus hopefully retain some semblance of a de-stressed being by the end of the night.

I had a perfect weekend, and while you would think that would be a plus, it rather makes going to work even harder. Thinking about sunny days playing wiffle ball in the park (I just learned I am a left-handed batter this Saturday – I could have used this information about a decade ago!) does not make answering slews of email seem enticing.

So weekend memories, chaotic office drama and dreary weather all combined to produce a day well represented by my split pants. Now don’t worry, the comfort food hasn’t all gone to my thighs…rather I was wearing a pair of brand new pants that zip in the back (first mistake) and the zipper simply broke. It had been stubborn all day and I should have known better. I am hoping it wasn’t until my walk home that they decided to give out, but alas I will never know.