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Friday, August 26, 2011

Shaken, Then Stirred (Or) Cats, Quakes, Bags, Guys

Of course, I was standing behind a glass case, next to glass shelves filled to capacity with Waterford, Orrefors and other crystal when the earthquake hit Bethesda Tuesday afternoon. Exactly where you don't want to be when the walls, floors, ceiling and so forth are moving about unexpectedly.   I knew what was going on immediately (having been through two, less severe, earthquakes before), and my coworkers told me later I was quite calm (they were freaking out), standing at the counter, waiting for the world to stop jerking. My internal shaking didn't commence until sometime after the external vibration had ceased--I was on an adrenalin high for the next three hours, jazzed that we'd escaped without injury to shop or person (nothing in the whole store broke, despite the 5.8 tremors).

To round out the week, Hurricane Irene is supposed to brush us tomorrow night.

Brushing and clipping didn't do my sinuses any good, Bertram-wise.  I had to return him to the abuse of his big brother after only a week.  Why:

Semi-normal (tired) eye:


Eye briefly exposed to Bertram:

Note swelling.  It was still very hard to give him up.  He was a sweetie, and had made himself comfortable:



A handsome and winsome kitty.  Very genteel.  The fault was all mine--allergies unexpected and uncontrollable even with generous doses of Claritin.  His previous owners were actually quite happy to see him again (they know his big brother is the one that needs to be re-homed), and promised that I can come visit when I want.  Still, it was a huge emotional blow to be unable to keep him--I'd always thought that I'd settle down with a cat and a catalogue of personal peculiarities and grow old content.  And I wanted a fuzzy beast to cuddle when the miseries stalked me!

Instead, I am stuck with some 18 unfinished patchwork bags cluttering my common room area, and a couple of singularly annoying male relationships (or lack thereof).  I met one fellow last weekend who seemed promising, until a short exchange of emails ended with an insult to my Southern heritage and a comment that I had imbibed the "liberal cool-aid" (sic), which latter remark caused Susan to snort into her margarita this evening and blurt "You!?" in disbelief.  Meantime, a long-time male buddy remained obtuse to my real, financial needs keeping me from doctoral program-completion and instead cheerfully offered an alternative dissertation topic, as if that would magically solve my problems.  I thought murderous thoughts and euphemistically damned all and sundry who opt for the "be warmed and filled" or the Pollyanna "it's all jolly" mentality in lieu of even the "Gee, that sucks" commiseration or the practical "Here, let me help" attention that would be, you know, useful and welcome.

Friendship has been a great gift to me these last three, increasingly depressing weeks.  Susan and Stephen invited me out this evening to the Marine Barracks Evening Parade in honor of the Montford Point Marines, which was awesome.  Not anywhere near as well known as the Tuskeegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines were the first African Americans in the Marine Corps, first recruited in 1942.  I was in tears watching these old fellows, who reminded me so much of Granddaddy, be honored by the current members of the service.  That generation was and is incredible to me--the huge challenges they faced from enemies abroad and opponents to freedom and equal opportunity at home, and how far we've come since then.  And how truly far there is to go, as each generation has to resolve to treat others as we would have them treat us.  Apart from the historical-social aspect, it was just fascinating to watch the precision drill teams in action, and listen to the drum and bugle corps--observing some 200 Marines in picture-perfect formation is an obsessive-compulsive's delight!

Temporary delights or no, it's been a hard month.  I am pretty down and lonely.  I've had some health issues, which never brighten the day.  Work has been spotty, more irregular than usual, and a transcription gig which I had thought might increase my income has had the opposite effect, occupying my time while not plumping my pocketbook.  I haven't been sleeping well, and find myself frequently on the edge of tears, wondering what I am useful for, and when I'll have any stability in income and identifiable accomplishments, when I'll have somebody who will just hold me close and pat me gently on the head.  My outlook is pretty grim for the short term, and I can only pray that something good, or more than one something good, will happen soon, because it's like every couple of days brings a new round of sinking sadness. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Opportunity Costs

Happily, Bertram has not cost me a dime thus far.  He came with a carrier, bag of cat litter, litter pan, litter scoop, food dish and bag of kibble.  He's up to date on his shots, his front claws have been removed, and he has been neutered.  He's very sweet and fluffy--one of the softest cats I've ever met--and has only generated a mild allergic reaction in yours truly, which is a good thing, considering he's a Maine Coon, and there is a lot of fur involved.  He won't sit still for the camera, and so the only clear photo I have of him thus far is of his fuzzy posterior and tummy.  He doesn't eat or excrete much, and hasn't yet displayed any bad habits, but then I've only had him since Sunday afternoon, so time will tell.

Bertram is a bright, purry spot on what has been a dismal and depressing fortnight.  I've even had one brief glimpse of the depths of serious, clinical depression which so bedeviled me for decades (same old themes of OCD thought reinvigorated by current headlines and hysteria), but hopefully that was a one-of moment.  There've been unexpected expenses on the auto front: a flat tire (cost $25 and two plugs to fix) and a plugged emissions-control pipe ($340 to root out and replace), and then there is the almost-inevitable resignation from my graduate school program.

The latter has been a source of much heartache.  I've wanted to get my Ph.D. for as long as I can remember--since I was three, at least.  But taking out a loan on a liberal arts advanced degree is ridiculous in ordinary times, and in a day and age when countries are crying havoc and loosing the dogs of Wall Street, it's downright stupid.  A Russian History Ph.D. in these post-Cold War days is no guarantee of employment--in fact, it's little more than a "vanity"--a considerable bolster to my intellect and psyche, perhaps, but without any direct financial recompense in the near or even distant future.  At least two liberal arts Ph.D.s I know are unable to find employment in their fields, and at a tiny college in Pennsylvania a single opening for a faculty position in the same attracted over 150 applicants--typical, from my observations at Georgetown.  Trying to explain this fact to well-meaning people with "practical" degrees (finance, medicine, computer science) gives me a headache--additionally that I already owe my mother money I don't have a hope of paying off in any reasonable time (she's assured me that she'll take it out of me in elder care, and, failing that, it'll be deducted from my share of her estate), and can't take on any more debt, no matter how glamorous it would be to have people call me "Dr. P."  As I've repeated a lot lately, "That and 5 bucks will give me a small cup of coffee at Starbucks."

Furthermore, I can't work at all and make any headway on my dissertation--I've tried part-time jobs (I currently have four to make ends meet) and these inevitably swell to full-time.  I suppose it's a personal credit that all my bosses want to monopolize as much of my time as possible, and that two of them have given me raises in the last six months because they are so pleased with my work, but I'm still barely making do and until this last Sunday evening I'd not touched my dissertation research for more than 6 weeks.  And I haven't been frittering my time away watching TV, either--I hadn't turned my set on in that time period.  There's been no spare time--I work late, get home late, eat late, hit the gym between ten and eleven, and come home to shower and go to bed. 

So, I did some number crunching, to see what it would take for me to start and finish (insofar as it depends on me) my dissertation writing in a year.  Particularly as so many people have acted like it's a moral failing for me to quit "When you're almost done!"  (Like writing 400+ pages of text on sources you've gathered but haven't had time yet to read is "almost done"...)  A dear pastor from my church even called last night to tell me he thought I should keep going.  Well, let's see if someone wants to give me the money to make this possible!  (It has to be a gift, not a loan, because as aforementioned, this doctorate is an intellectual enrichment exercise, not a financial coup de gras)...   I could do it in a year, so: My rent is $1345 per month, including utilities, excepting electricity, which averages $55 per month (more in summer, less in winter).  That's $16,800 for a year.  My other expenses, including gas (!), food, and photocopying (or book-buying), besides the mentally-and-physically-necessary gym membership, run about $800 a month.  That's another $9600.  Then there's Georgetown tuition and health insurance: $4750 (that's just for thesis-writing credit, one semester of tuition and a whole year of health insurance): so far, we're up to $31,150.  Assuming that my gas expenses go down because I'm not driving to work every day, and that I can stay with friends/acquaintances in Ukraine and Russia for the one trip to archives/museums I need to make to each country to satisfy a prospective dissertation committee, I think I can accomplish the whole for $32,000. 

This is what I emailed the pastor, at least.  But I also told him that I thought that in these "uncertain" economic times (Gosh, that's an irritating phrase!) the deacons probably had a better use for their charity fund than financing my frivolous education. 

It's really disappointing, though, to be almost (well, with the serious caveat of all that research and writing to be done) within sight of this terminal degree, and have to toss in the towel.  But, there it is, as Daddy liked to say.