What do you do with something you're proud of, but which you know isn't up to snuff? What if you're not up to snuff?
The Philadelphia Fullerine was intended to be a study, a personal project which would help me research the background for the sort of narrative I really wanted to create. But then the ball started rolling, people liked it, and time became very short as I threw myself into scholarship applications last fall. So I showed up at my thesis defense with little more than the preliminary project I had completed a year earlier.
They passed me. Can you believe it? I have some serious doubts about its viability as a quality academic work, but they insisted. And they passed me, more on the novelty of the idea I think, than the quality of the scholarship, which they weren't able to examine in detail (2.5 hours of audio involved much more text than is average for a thesis project).
I have been given suggestions to expand the work, or at least exhibit it in Philadelphia. But I hesitate. I know there are errors and inconsistencies. I know I haven't researched deeply enough, that I rely too often on large quotations and paraphrasing. Display in the city would be to effect claims which I think it cannot sustain and bring it under more scrutiny than I think it could safely bear.
And what good would my project do in a gallery? Rich people would look at it and say, "interesting," while rubbing their chins. Yay.
So what do I do with 2 years of heavy research and work? I thought about writing a nonfiction book or creating a CD-ROM documentary, but who for? Who cares or needs to know about these things? I certainly can't contribute new knowledge to history, so I must look to the popular audience. I'm writing about a period which is quite important and yet quite ignored, so that helps. But do I really want to write something for adults to skim, nod their heads, and settle back in their chairs, content that they have filled a hitherto empty gap in their understanding?
"I will write for young people," I thought to myself. "And I will make it relevant by following the threads of immigrant life and people's efforts to improve life in the city, in an attempt to wake up young people to the power they have to change things, inform them of the long-term effects of people of the past, and kindle their minds to think, plan, and act wisely in their time."
Then I visited Kenwood. Why would these young adults ever listen to me? What do I have to offer them? Books--any books-- that capture their attention can make a huge difference in their lives. But how can I, the rural bookworm son of a Guatemalan peasant and an American missionary, speak to the hood?
A friend suggested I spend a year as an urban teacher before ever thinking of writing for young adults. It seems like a wise suggestion. But it doesn't answer the question of now. I have almost six months before I resume school. There's time to do something with my research, but only if I act quickly.
Should I really set aside my research until I'm better able to write wisely?