Oh joy—existentialism. No, seriously.

This post is dedicated to all the people I’m not with today, but to whom I always, always feel close. And as my third grade teacher used to say: “You know who you are.”

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve stopped. I tend to make them around the 11th of February, when enough time has passed for me to reflect adequately on how it felt to end one year and start the other. Making resolutions and (God forbid) announcing them on the actual 1st day of the year feels to me like how it would have felt for the U.S. poet laureate to crank out the great collective national grief poem for September 11, 2001 on September 12th. It’s just not enough time to get a grip on the monumental.

And even if the events (great and small) of my tiny life are far less significant on the human stage as that one, they are still “biggies” for me. And I need to mull them over a little. Spending the holidays in Burgundy hasn’t helped fuel any sunny tendency I might have to conclude that I will “do better” this year on any number of fronts. Mostly, I’ll be happy to be alive at all.


Winter here is harsh—psychologically. Yesterday, it was warmer than usual, but today, there are low gray clouds screaming relentlessly across the sky. (Clouds usually scud, don’t they? But scudding is altogether too gay and carefree a word for what’s going on outside my window.) Gray takes on new meaning. So does dark. So does cold. So does damp. The houses in these medieval towns seem to hunch their stone colored backs in unison against the arctic chill, becoming one with its monochromatic face and breath as it bears down on them. As they’ve done for hundreds of years. And will continue to do.


It’s hard to sit at my little desk in this little window, knowing that I emit a warm yellow light to whomever might be looking in from out there, without thinking: It’s no wonder existentialism came to be in this country. It’s no wonder someone devoted an ism to the realization that what we get in life isn’t necessarily the promise of happiness (or even the pursuit of it, as is dictated in our American DNA), but the chance to just be.


When the sky is gray and the road is gray and the stone walls are gray and the tree branches are bare and the pigeons line up like shooting targets on the mossy summit of the 12th Century church, and it seems for all the world like there’s nothing to do but open another bottle of wine, finish the eternal game of Monopoly (agreeing to trade “Solar Energy” for New York so that the game can come to a calamitous end), petting the dog, and contemplating once again the deep shade of almost-black that’s overtaking the sky…when that is the way things are, sometimes day after day after day, you start to get it: there might not be much to do, but you are here to witness each passing moment of that nothing-to-do-ness. And to be the best witness-participant you can be.


And then, perversely, you feel good and the great gray knot starts to come undone from the inside out. And even though the world’s colors are mostly in hibernation, your inner lights are still shining in the full spectrum. Weird, that. Weird that in the gloom of the season you all of a sudden feel happy, just because you get to be huddled in the middle of it like everyone else. With everyone else. Though separately, of course, existentially speaking.

So I’m not placing any final punctuation on the resolutions that I’ll write come mid-February, though phrases are already forming in my head around the ideas of being a better mother, reading more books and watching less television, feeding my family healthier food, etc. But what I do know, is that my greatest resolution isn’t a resolution at all, but a realization. I get to be here. Now. And I’m really happy about that. And I’m going to try to remember that feeling. Yes. About that I am resolved.

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10 Responses to Oh joy—existentialism. No, seriously.

  1. your photography and writing is so dear and beautiful. stark and wintery.

  2. Diane says:

    You’ve summed up this time of year and life so well. Your mention of a recent trip to Burgundy brings a specific wine to mind. Last week, a friend brought over a Magnien 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin by Frederic Magnien. It tasted so good that I did a bit of research on it. Frederic Magnien is the fifth generation of a vigneron family. He develops 40 to 45 different cuvées every year, each offering a distinctive terroir expression. A vacation to Burgundy, to sample some his creations alone would be such a treat. I’m wondering if the Gevrey-Chambertin area was part of your recent travels? Here’s a link on him if you’re interested. http://www.wineterroirs.com/2008/11/magnien.html
    On resolving to improve oneself, I’m thinking that our habits lead to much of who we are. This year, I’m resolving to exchange one habit that doesn’t help me achieve my vision for a habit that does. After following it for a month, I’m going to exchange another habit that I’d like to get rid of for something better. If I can keep this up each month, 2012 should be an interesting year.
    Wishing you all the best of the best in the new year,
    Diane

    • Whoever said “wine is life” knew what he/she was saying. It is, somehow, true. I look forward to checking out this site…as for your idea of exchanging habits, I think that’s a very interesting and ambitious approach…I wonder: will you document that passage somehow? Illustrate it? Give it a story? A timeline? I’d love to “see” it…I have an itchy feeling it’s much harder done than said…will you let me know how it goes?

      • Diane says:

        Charlotte, I am intrigued with your suggestion about documenting the exchange of habits. I’m going to mull this around a bit as I hadn’t thought to share this idea. Documenting it in some way will better keep me on track…hmmm. I have a feeling that you’re correct about it being much harder to do than discuss. My very first few days haven’t led to a total success.

  3. Ann Moore says:

    For this, black-and-white film was made. So, so beautiful. I hear some sort of melancholy music in my head–and it all makes me happy in some very strange tears-in-my-eyes sort of way. Thank you.

    • You’re right about black and white…sometimes nothing else will do, particularly when the real thing has gone all colorless on its own. Might as well push it to the desaturated extreme. Today nature has done a turn-about. It’s all blue and sunny…just to mock me, I suppose…

  4. Debra Kolkka says:

    I don’t make resolutions. I prefer to just get on with it. I love the grey days of winter in Italy. I suppose it is because they are new to me. We don’t have that here in Queensland. We get the odd rainy, cold day, but so few it doesn’t count.
    I love to stand at my window in Bagni di Lucca (against the heater) and look out over exciting morning storms, or driving rain or fabulous winter mists swirling through the valley. The river turns from a quiet trickle into a raging torrent and I love it!!!
    Your story and photographs are beautiful.

    • Thank you Debra…your life in Bagni di Lucca has taken on mythic proportions for me. I will now add to it my version of you standing by your heater watching the storms roll down that narrow gorge. It must be something…

  5. Such a thoughtful post. Thanks

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