Impulsiveness| ADHD | Adoption | Depression
Shooting Myself in the Foot
The Day I Used my Master’s Thesis for Kindling
and what I learned about adoption wounds
Starting To Work on the Thesis
Years ago I told the story I’m about to tell you. When an “expert” on doing webinars heard the story, he told me NEVER to tell it. People would think I am crazy.
You be the judge.
It all started when I’d completed the requirements for a master’s degree in musicology (that’s a fancy word for music history) from Ohio State University. Now it was time to write a master’s thesis.
This involved choosing a composer of the Middle Ages or Renaissance about whom little had been written. A composer for whom music still existed but had never been transcribed into modern notation.
One would dig around in the archives to find such a person. That was easy. And then you’d start looking for the location of the music itself. You’d cross your fingers that the music hadn’t been lost or destroyed during the War.
I found Thomas Simpson, an English composer who had written music for viols. (String instruments of various sizes from viola to cello.) I was in luck. Nobody had written about Simpson other than a brief biography in Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians. I wrote to a scholar in England who had written the entry. He replied that he barely remembered the entry and had no more information. Dead end.
Now to find the music. Without it, I had no thesis. Eventually I discovered the manuscript in a library in Germany that had been saved from the ravages of the bombing. I ordered Thomas Simpson’s “Consort for Mixed Viol,” sent an international money order, and waited. And waited some more.
My Mother Plans the Wedding
In the meantime while waiting for the music to arrive, I was getting married. My Mother was all in a tizzy. The wedding had to be perfect. Perfect by her standards for a middle-class Protestant wedding: not too showy, simple but proper, no liquor at the reception in the church. Guests would enjoy cake, two bowls of salted nuts, mints in pastel colors, and coffee or overly sweet red punch. (If a guest preferred tea, too bad.)
My Father, who had signed my adoption papers all those years ago and who had raised me with love and humor, had died suddenly just the year before. I was still grieving. That my Father wouldn’t be there to “give me away” at the altar was unthinkable. The idea that an uncle whom I was not fond of would “give me away” was too much to bear.
My Mother and I argued. I wanted something small with only the family. We continued to argue until I finally announced that Max and I would chose the music — no Mendelssohn Wedding March, no Wagner wedding processional from Lohengrin. We would choose the minister. I would choose my dress. It would be simple, tailored, perhaps linen — no frills, bows, lace, tulle, or satin. Mother could do everything else, the plans, the arrangements, the invitations. I would be out of the picture. I would spend the summer in the library working all day on my master’s thesis. So, no more arguing.
The Gray Box Versus the Pearls
In the middle of all this, a cardboard box with a gray shiny lid arrived from Germany. It was the untranscribed music of Thomas Simpson.
Oops, more unpleasantness with my Mother. Unfortunately the box arrived at the same moment my aunt and the walk-me-down-the-aisle uncle arrived with “real” pearls for me to wear on my wedding day. My Mother was not pleased that I found the gray box more interesting than the pearls.
But we still had our agreement. My Mother did the wedding. I hid out in Denver Public Library, working on my thesis.
After the wedding, Max and I returned to New Haven, CT where he was finishing a PhD at Yale. I worked on my thesis. The next year he was offered a year-long Congressional Fellowship. We moved to Virginia for easy commuting to the Senate Office building in D. C. I worked on my thesis.
Still Working on the Thesis
We moved back to New Haven. I worked on my thesis. Max received his diploma and accepted a teaching job at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island in BC. We moved again. I worked on my thesis.
Now I’ve worked on my Master’s thesis for longer than most work on their PhD dissertation. Using a fountain pen and special ink, I transcribed 30–40 pages of the original manuscript onto music paper. I typed 30–40 pages of text on a manual typewriter with footnotes at the bottom of each page. I sent a couple of drafts to my advisor.
He made a few minor comments. I made the corrections and retyped the pages with footnotes at the bottom of the page. Little did I know at the time that with a computer and a decent word processing program, footnotes at the bottom of the page would be no big deal.
I corresponded often with my beloved music history professor from my undergraduate days at Colorado College. He encouraged me, promising that when I’d finished the thesis, the Colorado College Music Press would publish the music. My name as the one who had done the transcription would appear on the front page. I was thrilled!
The last letter from my overly-pedantic Ohio State advisor suggested that I change the style of the footnotes to correspond with the latest revision of the Chicago Manual of Style. (It had come out just a couple weeks after I’d sent him my last draft. (And given that the CMS is revised more times than make sense, it didn’t matter.) I was discouraged. Too discouraged to answer his letter. Too discouraged to redo the footnotes and retype the text with the footnotes at the bottom of each page.
Going, Going, Gone
In a flash of impulsiveness, I picked up the thesis, the music, my transcriptions, all my advisor’s letters, and threw them on top of the blazing logs in the fireplace. The thesis was gone. The music was gone. My transcriptions were gone. No back up copy. Nothing!
My Colorado College professor was disappointed for me. Nobody else cared. My advisor didn’t care. My family and friends were probably tired of hearing me say “I’m working on my thesis.”
Burning my thesis was an impulsive act. I regretted it, but oddly not nearly as much I thought I would. I never got a master’s in musicology from Ohio State University. I’d shot myself in the foot.
Life went on. I changed fields, getting a PhD in American history. I wrote a dissertation which the University of Illinois Press accepted for publication. I never completed the corrections for publication. And my editor at the press retired.
Unlike the consequence of burning my thesis. I did get the degree, but my college teaching career was short-lived as I had never published my dissertation. I didn’t have a book. I had shot myself in the foot again.
Must Be ADHD
Years, later, having been diagnosed, I blamed the impulsiveness of tossing my thesis into the fireplace on ADHD. After all, “impulsiveness” appears on a long list of behaviors common to people with ADHD.
Was it really just impulsiveness from ADHD? Exhaustion from working on the thesis for so many years? My advisor always suggesting just one more correction?
Could It Be Connected to Adoption?
We know that adopted women often become people-pleasers. Down deep at an unconscious level, we wonder if we don’t make them happy and do as they say, will they un-adopt us? Would I be taken back to the Colorado State Home for Dependent and Neglected Children?
Never would my parents have thought such a thing! But that’s my logic brain, my conscious mind thinking, making sense of the world, knowing I am deeply loved. It’s not that hidden unconscious part that so often screws things up. The catch is, because it’s unconscious, it’s often hard to discover what’s under an odd or self-destructive behavior or negative feeling that seemingly comes from nowhere.
It’s taken me fifty years to understand why I burned my thesis. Why I never published my dissertation.
The summer before I went off to graduate school, my father stood at the top of the stairs yelling at me: “No daughter of mine will ever go to graduate school!” I yelled back from the bottom of the stairs, “I’m going! You can’t stop me!” My Mother ran around the house closing all the windows so the neighbors wouldn’t hear Raymond and MaryJo yelling at each other.
Six weeks later I was on a plane headed for Columbus, Ohio and graduate school in the Music Department at Ohio State University. I had displeased my Father. I’d gone against his wishes. I’d gone against his code of behavior for women: Go to college. Marry a lawyer or a doctor. Work for a year. Have a baby. Stay home.
I burned my thesis because I couldn’t displease my Father — even though he’d passed away several years before. I was married. I did the right thing. I would have a baby. I did the right thing. I stayed home — at least for awhile. I did the right thing. Getting a master’s degree and publishing some music wasn’t the right thing.
Adoption wounds and our behaviors because of them can often move us in strange ways. Cause us to do self-destructive things. Cause us to burn our master’s theses. Cause us to not publish our dissertations. Cause us to shoot ourselves in the foot.
This is the second story of the acronym: ADOPT. A is for abandoned, D for Discouraged, O for the Overwhelm of ADHD, P for people pleaser, and T for trauma. These five are common feelings and life issues that many adopted women experience. For a more comprehensive list, you’ll want to grab my free Adoption Checklist for Women: 25 Life Issues.
A is for abandoned shows up in my Memorial Day story about my birth-father who died on D-Day. Many years later an actor would play him in Steven Spielberg’s Band of Brothers.
You might also like my musings on Staying at Home because of COVID 19: The Good, The Bad, and the Not So Ugly. Or perhaps my story about Losing the Letters of Willa Cather: An Adoption Story about Unworthiness.
You’ll find me at LivingWithAdoption.com. I also write about ADHD and random topics that strike my fancy. Thanks to raging ADHD, I’m writing two books at the same time: “Finding My Hero: An Adoption Memoir from World War Two” and “Growing Up Adopted: Love Wounded.”
In between writing, I coach adopted women, giving them tools that make healing faster than just talking.
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