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.

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