The small commuter airliner (redundant?) had barely lifted from the runway before the tray table was down, the markers out. More edits, several margin notes - clarify this, revisit that... There has to be another way to write this. While I gazed at the Earth below and listened to an audiobook, she went over a document she knew well. Only too well.
My friend and mentor told me years ago that writing for publication was an exercise in literary masochism engaged only by intellectuals too obsessive to relent. "By the time your novel is published, you'll recreationally write a horrible death scene for your main character. And then, delete it and move on." It was true.
I watched, fascinated in the between-the-fingers way one views GoPro clips of spectacular Russian highway accidents on YouTube, as my wife began her pursuit of a PhD in Leadership and Change. There was the initial question about acceptance into the University. Technical writing skills needed honing. Residencies, reading, group on-line chats. This person dropped out, that person has moved to candidacy. The dissertation proposal...proposal...proposal. Revise, resubmit, rinse, repeat.
One morning our truck was - literally - idling in the driveway. Bags packed, dogs packed. Somewhere off the coast of Florida a cruise ship made its way to the harbor where we would board. An airplane taxied to the gate, our seat about to be vacated, just for us. Her advisor, on the phone, told her "Take a deep breath, you can do this." And she sent a revised document, closed her computer and rushed for the Tacoma. We raced to the kennel.
And forgot the dog food.
"Advancing to candidacy" is a cruel euphemism drained of the horror in store for the candidate. A committee of kind souls is there to shepherd the soon-to-be doctor through the process. Often, they do so with a carefully studied stoicism, knowing the rigors of preparing the document for a proper defense. Writing, writing, writing. Missed grandkid time, preoccupation, sleepless nights, vacations scheduled around deadlines. Vacations spent in front of a laptop. More reading, more research. As the end nears, less sleep. Indispensable, heart-felt calls from close friends - classmates - urging her on, encouraging her. Commiserating about their own harrowing journey. Finally, the fateful day comes. Get on a plane, and explain why one is deserving of a PhD.
Fewer than half who begin the journey are successful. Two percent of Americans have climbed this mountain, and breathed the rarified air of an achievement so demanding that horribly bright people are routinely denied success.
My wife is one of the graduates. We stood in our kitchen, several days before we flew to Santa Barbara. We stared at each other, and the tears just flowed. Happy tears, proud tears, profoundly respectful at an accomplishment of enormous import tears. She stepped back, threw her arms in the air and yelled "It's going to happen!"
Never in doubt. Nicely done, Doctor Greer.