“Some things are under your control. And some things are not under your control.” -Epictetus
A central tenet of Stoic philosophy is to focus your attention on those things that are under your control and let go of those things that aren’t. It makes a certain sense. No matter how hard you train, you can’t control whether you win Wimbledon. There might just be someone better, so it’s futile to rest your happiness on winning. What you can control is how well and fully you train. So, the Stoics say, if at the end of the tournament you have played your best possible game, you have fulfilled yourself, and ought ask for nothing more of life.
By the same token, let’s say you’re writing a book about science in Antarctica, and there’s an NSF Artists and Writers grant that would let you go back and get the material you need to write it.
You have no control over whether you get that grant. Steven Spielberg, Alice Munro and Jonathan Franzen might all decide to apply for it (Werner Herzog and Kim Stanley Robinson have, in the past). All you can control is how well you’ve done your work and how good your proposal is. So that, the Stoics say, is what you should concern yourself with.
You see where this is going. In terms of fulfilling my effort, it was a damned fine proposal. Really felt like my best work, and I think I’m justified in being proud of the result. Put close to two months into preparing it and, reading it over even now, I’d be hard pressed to say what I would change about it.
So maybe Spielberg, Munro and Franzen all did apply. Who knows? But I’ve received unofficial confirmation that my proposal was not one of the ones selected (I’ll find out more whenever the formal comments came back).
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a rejection of me as a writer or a member of the Antarctic community. I can easily image the reviewers loved the project, but just didn’t have enough funding to spread around. But it’s a disappointing setback. Yes, I can apply again next year (for the 2017-2018 season). I can even try to get back to the ice next year with another tech support position. But If I want the book I’m writing to cover the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory, or the meteorite hunts out on the La Paz glacier or any of a dozen other Antarctic science projects, it’s going to be at least three years before I can gather that material. Assuming, of course, that next year’s proposal is successful.
Obviously, I’ve got a lot of mixed, non-Stoic feelings about this: maybe I’d feel better if I hadn’t thought it was such a damned good proposal. Maybe that would make me feel like I could put more work into it and have a better proposal next year. But I don’t. And I want to be writing this book NOW. Not in three years.
Anyhow. Thanks in advance for all your sympathy. No need to email/post/whatever assuring me that I’m a good person and a compelling writer, etc. etc. And no need to suggest other avenues I might pursue to get this work done. At least not yet (unless, of course, you’ve got an inside line to on-ice opportunities for this season). I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into what can and needs to be done, and I’m not sure if I have the emotional energy right now to respond gently to a hundred suggestions with “Yes, I’ve thought of that, and here’s why it wouldn’t work.” Rather than making things better, I’m afraid it’s going to just make me dwell on the dead ends I’m confronting.
Better, for now, to just give me a little space on this. Ask me about happy things, like airplanes, and Port Townsend, where I’ll be later this week. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about Antarctica later.