29 August 2009

The Story of My Master's Thesis

Even before I started really thinking about my Master's thesis, I knew I wanted to write about Mormon mommy blogs. I'd been collecting posts from mommy blogs for two years already (I ended up with a 600-page document). The genre/fad is so fascinating to me because this group of (relatively) conservative women seem to really take to writing about their lives intellectually, humorously, thoughtfully, and one can see the way they love the roles they have chosen. This satisfaction would not be something many feminists (ahem, Betty Friedan) would expect because of the limited community and intellectual stimulation that can come with being a stay-at-home mom.

But after writing my abstract and tweaking it several times, my peers told me I was too close to the Mormon theme and needed to broaden to other mommy blogs. I tried to work it out anyway and finally decided I would try again some day in the future after submitting a horrible version to a conference and feeling completely ashamed that my name was published on something so bad. (Yes, I tried to make it up by giving a fabulous presentation. It worked in some ways--all but one of the follow-up questions were aimed at me. I hoped that no one thought to read the article until I was far, far away.)

So I broadened the theme and turned to a lot of autobiographical studies. I was amazed to find that the blogging form was so perfectly what autobiography scholars had said was needed for women's autobiographical writing. The patterns between men's and women's autobiographical writing were so different. Men wrote of their adventurous public lives chronologically and didn't include a lot about family (except for parents). Sometimes lifelong wives were never even mentioned. Women, on the other hand, wrote about their private lives, even if they had very active public lives (Margaret Mead, for example, skips the twenty years of her life when she did her famous sociological work.) Their subjects were more eclectic. They also wrote based more on subject than on time, included a lot about relationships, and described personal spiritual journeys.

Then I read a lot of narrative theory about how people are their stories and identity comes from the narratives they create. Sometimes I would spend time trying to decide how to design my future layout (I wanted to include some century gothic and some dots, both of which turned out very nicely). After a loooot of preparatory reading, I would sit in the train and stare at my notes and try to make outlines. I wondered about the patterns I saw and what they meant, and thus was my argument born. The writing process refined it until it basically and finally turned into this:
Mommy blogs show a satisfaction that stay-at-home mothers want to share and that would not have been expected by Betty Friedan's research (published in The Feminine Mystique in 1963) because they fulfill the centuries-long need for a women's fitting autobiographical genre, provide a varied and broad community from within the home, and are whiteboards for identity formulation.
Early in the process, I made this list to remind me of why I should be motivated:

Motivation Minute!!!

I got the brunt of the work done (with the chapters on The Feminine Mystique and the history of autobiographical writing and women's writing patterns) while I was in Switzerland (thanks to the Lochers for letting me stay at their house and for being progress-monitors). I was lucky to get another wrist brace for my carpal tunnel and a student gave me a mouse so I wouldn't have to use the finger pad all the time.

Getting those last chapters with the heavy stuff done was the hardest and if I were to be given another year to complete my thesis, I think I'd focus mainly on those. I spent hours and hours sitting at the desk trying to get a few pages done, and then hours and hours laying on the couch until my computer ran out of battery still trying. Sometimes I'd try out writing in the kitchen, but I felt bad about my stuff being everywhere.

Each evening, I thought, "Tomorrow I can easily get five or ten pages done," but the process was much slower than I thought. I had foreseen that it would be hard to have motivation, but the problem turned out to be time. There were so many distractions and interruptions--church activities, doctor visits, meals, emails, and work. Not to mention that while trying to focus, I had the best ideas come to me for completely separate projects, it was like I was suddenly a genious in every other category. I tried to get rid of as many distractions as possible, meaning I turned over some church responsibilities, put off working on my health, rejected most calls asking me to fill in, and even turning on my email's automatic reply function (which ended disastrously because my mom thought I was dead or something and then when she wrote she got this reply and thought I was mad at her for some reason and was really upset. Sorry, mom, and Sica, thanks for the SMS that let me know.).

I aimed to get done by the end of June so I could take another two weeks and revise, but I was getting extremely stressed out because my Grandpa was really sick and I was so far away. I finally decided to book a ticket to go see him and spent all the money I've earned in my job since it started. I booked the ticket a week in advance which was already pretty tight timing, but unfortunately he died before I left.

While in Utah, I really tried to work on my thesis because I didn't want to have to worry about it during EFY and during the YSA conference. However, one doesn't pay that much money to go write their thesis somewhere else while surrounded by family for the first time in a year, so my professors nicely allowed me to have an extension until the end of August.

After being an EFY counselor and attending the YSA conference, I set out to clean up the last two chapters and include some more close readings. At this point I ended up with some hardcore health problems all at the same time, including carpal tunnel in both wrists. Ow. My physical therapist suggested I get an extension on my thesis, but I said no way and asked what else I could do. So I ended up wearing braces at all times, doing stretches often, and icing both wrists every couple of hours. I also started sitting on two books, resting my feet on my art box, and wearing the most supportive shoes I have around the apartment.

The revising and finishing-up part went relatively fast and I even thought I would be able to turn in the thesis a week early, but what I didn't anticipate were all the formatting problems. Let's just say that Word and I are not on speaking terms. Well, actually, I want to tell you the details because they're crazy. First, one of the four images I had in the document kept moving to a different page without its caption, and I'd have to track it down. But every time I moved it back, it would snap to the top of the page, no matter what setting I tried. I spent a whole afternoon and evening working on the problem and no suggestions I found on the internet or from facebook friends helped. Everyone said I should have done the whole thing in Open Office, but it seemed a little late to change at that point. The next day, I cried out in frustration and my roommate suggested I put the image in a text box. Voila.

Then the page numbers kept changing to different fonts and starting over with each section. Once I got that fixed by scrolling through a billion times and making changes, I realized that the headings I had spent hours getting to switch between "The Mommy Blog" and "Michelle Glauser" had changed to only one of them in the page-number process. I could get them to go back to every other page, but they kept appearing at the start of the document where the title page was and such. Ack!!!

I finally figured it all out, but what should then appear as I scrolled through? Three weird places where there was no text, just a white space. I thought there was a paragraph break or something and tried to delete the empty space, but nothing helped. I finally realized the problem was that the heading on these three pages had made itself huge somehow. So I should have been able to just drag it back into place, right? No! That changed every other page to have weird formatting and words on top of each other. Nice. This time, however, no amount of time fixed the problem. I spent a whole day wanting to pound my fists on the desk or break something and another day waiting for someone to answer my emails for help (I'd sent an S.O.S. to all the computer-savvy people I know). You have to laugh in bitter frustration when someone who works at Microsoft says they've never seen that before and don't know what can be done.

Finally, I did the inevitable. I imported the entire document into Open Office, which messed up the heading and page numbers again. Amazingly, though, Open Office learned from my actions. After I made a change twice, it made the rest automatically. Hallelujah, success. Then I just had to change the Table of Contents because the pages were somehow a bit different.

But the one problematic picture turned out really unclear and pasting it or importing it again only made it about as big as three lines of text. Stretching it obviously didn't help. I finally got it to be fairly clear, saved the whole thing as a PDF, and leapt into the air for joy, clapping my hands and declaring I would print it the next day.

You knew there had to be more complications, didn't you? That night, while I was laying in bed, I thought of some things I would like to change, so I got up really early the next morning. I added one, I repeat, one sentence to the document. The page numbers changed. The problematic image leapt to a completely different section and took another image with it. The headings went bonkers, and this time, Open Office didn't learn a single thing from me. I had to teach myself how to make different page styles for even and odd pages, and even then it didn't work for every section. I could have gotten rid of that one sentence. But actually I couldn't.

I got to the copy shop about an hour and a half later than I said I would be there. Somehow, even though I had saved every document in the A4 format, when they opened the thesis on their computer, it was in American letter format. We decided it looked okay printed like that and stuck with it. However, when they printed out the color pages, I knew something would need to be done about that problematic image. It was simply too unclear. So, I tried to duplicate that one page in Word, but the headings were different in Word and I couldn't stand for one page looking different. I finally faked it and played with spacing until it looked fairly normal, but the 1,5 spacing wouldn't cooperate and I ended up typing out the whole page again. Luckily they were patient. Right as I finally got it right, I realized that very page had an orphan I had somehow missed. I wanted to die. But I didn't. The other pages had already been printed. I bit my lip really hard and looked the other way.

Then I realized that I had wanted to write an acknowledgments page. Luckily, I had left one of the opening pages blank, so I just needed to add a paragraph there. It took me five minutes to think of the word "acknowledgments" in English, another five minutes to think of how to spell the darn word (okay, I used spell-check), another five minutes to type out my thank yous, another five minutes to justify putting the page where the blank page was (it would have been better before the abstract), and then I let them print it (the employee there asked how to say "acknowledgments" and I realized for the first time in my life what an awful spelling disaster that word is--or maybe it's a pronunciation disaster).

I picked out a fabulously rich red for the soft covers and the only red they had for hard covers--a deep burgundy--for the copy I was printing for myself. They told me to come back in a few hours, so I went to the market to pick up vegetables for my trip that evening and allowed myself to get a treat at the bakery.

As soon as I got home, I felt so thankful, I had to kneel down and let out my praise. It was at that moment that I realized I'd forgotten to thank my Heavenly Father in the acknowledgments! Ack!!!!! I immediately called the copy shop, but the bindings were already done. I then had to kneel again and apologize, and then I thought that He counts as family, though I think He really deserves to be specifically thanked.

Turning in the thesis was great. I picked up another goodie at a different bakery on the way home and thought about how I wanted to make some changes to the PDF before I sent it to anyone, but figured I'd do that in a week or two (if you want a copy, let me know).

After taking a picture for your viewing pleasure, I set my thesis on the table in my room and thought of how when people come and ask what it is, I can say, "That? Oh that's just a book I wrote." Then I showered and let all my thesis worries wash away.

My finished thesis!

Thank you to everyone who supported me in any way throughout the whole program!

Here are some things I wish I'd known/done:
-ask for one chapter at a time to be read for feedback
-set up firm appointments for group feedback
-learn to skim for the important things first
-deadline for first draft so there would be more time for revisions

Though I'm already sad to think that I'm not really a student anymore, now I can focus on a lot of other things that have been building up on my list of things to do and I hope to get my health in better shape.


  1. I almost cried with joy for you! Congratulations!

  2. Congrats Michelle! Now take a really really long nap - or I'll take one in honor of all your hard work for you!

  3. I am so thrilled for you and send my congratulations. I'd love to read it (if it isn't 600 pages!). Love to you and do take care of yourself!
    Suzanne Johnson

  4. Congratulations!

    I know exactly how you must have felt! Writing my BA Thesis was like that as well.
    After reading your blog I thought that I must be crazy to enter the MA program... all that madness again. That thought only lastet a moment though. Right now I simply try to not think about the MA thesis I'll have to write...

    What are you going to do now that you done with your MA?

  5. What a fascinating topic! I would love to read your thesis.

    Congrats on being DONE! Gotta love that feeling.

  6. You must have been really panicked when you added that one sentence to your thesis and had everything all mixed up! Sigh, the tensions of my thesis are still on their way. I hope I could get it all over and done with asap. I can't wait til I get the same feeling you've felt when it was all over!