Every year, the same thing. Otherwise normal people get all bothered about what they hope to accomplish in the coming year. To them I say: give up. Or, if you must go on with this fancy charade, do it right. Don’t resolve to lose some weight. Don’t resolve to write in your journal. Please don’t resolve to change over to extrovert. There are better schemes available.
If you want to get this new year to give up its secrets, you have to go small — or go big. Going small is the smart money. Don’t resolve to lose “some” weight. Resolve to lose a pound. Don’t drink water for two days: you win! Forget the novel. Resolve to write a haiku — 17 syllables between you and self-congratulation. You are one of those people who keeps resolutions. Feel good about yourself — why not gain a pound and throw out the notebook?
Personally, I recommend option two. Go big. Now and then, you’ll get lucky. And if you don’t, who cares? No right-thinking person could have expected to dance with wolves anyway. Plus, you’re ready for next year’s resolution list.
The top of my own list has been the same since about 1978.
Number one: Go to Mars. I haven’t made it yet, but viable options are appearing. Heck, there’s even a balloon-to-space service about to commence. This could be the year! Even if it’s not, I’m way more fun at parties than the guy who’s resolving to wear pants more often.
Number two: Lose one metric ton. “Yeah, the first 500 was the hard part,” I can say, reaching for the cheesecake.
Number three: Complete my 10-novel series Grant of Green Gables: A Saga of Jupiter’s Moons. Even War and Peace started with a paragraph. It’s in progress, okay? This one is going to happen. It may be when the Antarctic ice shelf melts, but Grant is going to be the basis of a Hollywood franchise. Keep it to yourselves, dreamkillers.
What I’m saying is: you have permission. Go ahead, embrace defeat. You’ll feel much better, and it’s cheaper than buying spandex.
But of course, there are those among us who will persist in setting up a list of resolutions. Some of you will go so far as to keep the darn things. For you, we’ve rounded up some experts to lend advice on how you can do better in 2015 at the things that really matter: eating, breathing, sexing, chilling — the cornerstones of contentment. I wish you good fortune. And I will wave from the window of my capsule to Mars as I sail high above you slender, yoga-pants clad strivers as you listen to accordion music and sip lattes in Venice.
More Nature. We all love getting outdoors — it’s just a matter of grabbing the chance.
Jim Sotiropoulos, the executive director of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club in Springfield, is all about looking for those chances.
“In an urban environment, it’s hard to find wide open space,” he says. “But I remind people that the Connecticut River bike path and walkway is right here, and it’s cleared all winter long.”
The club offers year-round bicycle rentals for $5, as well as $10 kayak and canoe rentals in the spring, summer, and fall. But anyone is welcome to park a car at the riverwalk and make their own outdoor fun.
Sotiropoulos says that although plenty of athletes work out at the riverfront club, “a lot of people come to us a little later in life. They say they just want to get out on the river for solace and respite. I encourage everyone.”
The riverfront is an underused resource, he says, but it only takes one trip out on the water to convince people.
“You can’t believe you’re in Springfield when you’re on the Connecticut River. If you go downstream, you get beautiful vistas of the city skyline. Then if you go upstream, toward Chicopee and Holyoke, you see the bald eagles and peregrine falcons hunting near the North End bridge. Even within the city limits, it can feel like a wildlife reserve.”
No Vending Machine Lunches. With a little prep work, 2015 can mark the end of eating sad vending machine lunches at your desk.
Alec Goodwin, store manager at McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls, says, “There are so many options in this area for prepping and eating decent food.”
Goodwin says he often buys food in bulk and cooks large enough portions to make dinner and the next day’s lunch at the same time.
“But when you’re packing ahead, little snack packs are great, too. That way you can skip the M&Ms from the machine and eat your carrots and crackers and peanut butter instead. Anything you can get out of a vending machine, there’s a natural version of it available to you.”
Goodwin suspects that the vending machine lunch trend is spurred by too-short lunch breaks.
“There’s not usually time to get to the market on a break. But if you can, make the trip. Even if it’s just to grab something like a small salad to go with the homemade soup you brought with you.”
Pressed for ideas? One simple way to think about eating more healthful meals is simply to spend more time around people who love cooking. At McCusker’s, Goodwin gets that all the time. “People who come in usually have recipes in mind. Customers have lots of helpful tips. Somebody will come in and describe how they just made lamb ginger tacos. Then I end up thinking about that for days.”
Gotta Dance. Rick Gifford couldn’t laze about on the couch if he tried. Anyone resolving to get out of the house more this New Year could stand to take some advice from “Big Rick,” also known by many as the “Night Mayor.” Gifford, 51, of Northampton, is the definition of extrovert.
As a founding organizer of the Northampton Jazz Festival, a frequent choreographer in youth theatre groups and an all-around lover of live music and dancing, Gifford urges people in the community to get out and express themselves, even, if like Gifford, they don’t have the best moves. “I was probably a really bitchy ballerina in a past life and was given this body as a punishment,” he says.
The secret to an energetic late-night life? Pace yourself, says Gifford.
He may close down the hotspots on the weekends, but he knows he can’t stay out late on the weeknights, as he teaches Conway’s sixth graders in the mornings. That, he says, doesn’t mean he doesn’t do fun things on the weeknights.
“You can’t have fun at the expense of work but you can’t work at the expense of your fun,” Gifford says.
Gifford, whose wife goes to yoga early in the morning and does not go out as much, says he also makes sure to fit in one-on-one date nights with his number-one lady.
Don’t feel too old to go out, Gifford says. The World War II Club in Northampton is a great place to go with karaoke and dancing on the weekends as well as a great mix of age groups.
During the week, he says, save your energy a bit and catch some sit-down shows. He often goes to jazz night at the Clarion Hotel in Northampton and an array of shows — from hip-hip to bluegrass — at the Iron Horse, Calvin and Pearl Street. He also likes to see some funk at the Hinge, and Bishop’s Lounge has some great reggae on weeknights, he says.
Gifford says don’t think about what it is — go where the people are and have fun. Go to a show, a house party, a dinner, a movie — whatever it is.
“Just do it,” Gifford says. “Go out!”
Just Breathe. No one is telling you to take a chill pill (though maybe you should); We’re just telling you to breathe. It may sound strange, but yoga teachers like Sabine Merz argue many of us aren’t very good about breathing healthily. Take note — it may benefit you in unexpected ways.
Many of us breathe too shallowly, she says.
As a yoga teacher with severe asthma, Merz has thought a lot about ways to achieve what she refers to as a “flowing breath”— an unfailing rhythm of breathing that coincides with your movement.
In stressful moments, she says, breathe not just to bring oxygen to your nervous system so that it functions fully, but also to ground yourself.
Merz, 50, of Northampton, says focused breathing translates to a focused life. Healthy breathing, meaning consistent breaths of about three seconds of inhalation and 3 seconds of exhalation, is good for the nervous and stress management systems. Better breathing practices, she says, also benefit your sleep and immune system. Healthy breathing oxygenates your blood, calming your nervous system and fueling energy levels.
Merz recommends “breathing into” areas of a person’s body where they are feeling tense. It means taking deep breaths and visualizing that breath reaching stressed-out tissues. This visualization and calm breathing triggers the areas to relax, thus easing discomfort.
Try incorporating breathing routines — a minute or so of focused breathing practice — into your day, Merz suggests. Every time the phone rings, inhale and exhale deeply before answering. Every day at noon, take six deep inhalations and exhalations, or before a meal, or while in the shower.
“These rituals help you to be more conscious of your breathing and therefore more grounded and steadfast — so you can ride the inevitable waves that happen in life,” Merz says.
Socialize With Creatives. For a real change of pace in the coming year, how about stretching some creative muscles in a different social setting?
“We often get new people,” says Liz Popolo, one of the organizers of the GoFigure Drawing Studio in Holyoke. “Some say that they’re not good at drawing. But it’s a mental fitness thing. You just have to train for it.”
Popolo says new people find out about the weekly drawing sessions through the website Meetup.com.
“We have some who are shy about their abilities, and also some professional artists. But it becomes a little community. Conversations spring up. People start networking a bit.”
Autumn Roberts, an instructor at Potterville Pottery in West Springfield, loves the feeling of making something three-dimensional. “The first time you get to use a coffee mug that you made yourself? That’s the greatest feeling ever.”
Potterville offers group and individual lessons for kids and adults.
“People usually expect it to be easier than it actually is,” Roberts says. “There’s a lot to learn. But I think it’s really stress-relieving, just to be in the studio with everyone.”
Erin Rhindress runs Paint Sip Fun, a Hampden-based company that hosts painting sessions, usually at local restaurants and bars, to raise money for charity. Instructors take a follow-the-leader approach, but free spirits can paint whatever they want. The important thing, Rhindress says, is to start. “I tell people all the time: let it go. Just push paint around the canvas. Who cares?”
Travel — on the Cheap. Claire Kelley’s propensity for travel is truly enviable.
The 28-year-old Northampton resident is a customized programs manager at Spanish Studies Abroad in Amherst and has been all over South America, Europe and Southeast Asia — she leaves the country about four times a year. Kelley says she spent a large part of the past decade traveling — backpacking, mostly — by herself.
“You pick up a lot of friends along the way,” Kelley adds.
During our Skype interview, which was scheduled around Dominica’s apparently wavering Wi-Fi access, Kelley says that if you’d like to have more money for travel, spend less money on frivolous things. Instead of going out for drinks, have friends over and buy a bottle of wine. Make your own meals and buy less takeout.
Also, she says, plan your trips on the cheap so you can take more of them. Go backpacking, she says. Stay in hostels — most cost about $10 per night. Kelley says that some places, like Dominica, are unavoidably expensive. In those cases, she says, plan accordingly. Bring bottles of water and snacks, like nuts, granola bars and peanut butter, so you can eat them for breakfast and lunch while saving your money for dinner.
Kelley says traveling is always worth the effort.
“I learn a lot about myself when I’m traveling, outside of my comfort zone — it’s character building,” she says.
Finish Your Masterpiece. Sally Curcio, 43, of Northampton, says that to truly be productive as an artist you have to set your own deadlines.
“It’s not as romantic as you might think,” Curcio says.
Even as someone who’s involved in the art world full-time, Curcio says it can be hard to hold herself accountable. To do it, she says, she has to extend her personal accountability outside of herself.
Schedule a show at a gallery, a coffee shop or a diner, she says, even if you know a lot of people won’t see it. Or start a monthly gathering with your artist friends to check in on each other’s work. Decide to make something as a birthday or holiday gift so that you have a timely goal.
As a longtime writer and workshop leader through Main Street Writers and Gateway City Arts, Kathy Dunn, 63, of Amherst, also says that external accountability yields more productivity. Any creative end, she says, is a highly personal process and she tries to help people find what that is for themselves. She suggests that if you’re stuck in your writing and you need a fresh start, take a creative writing workshop or class — there are plenty in the Valley to choose from.
“I encourage people to take the leap, carve out the time and protect it with barbed wire,” Dunn says. “There’s so many things we let get in the way.”•