Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and grey
Well it’s all right, you still got something to say…
~End of the Line, The Traveling Wilburys
It’s that time of year again, the turn of the year, when many us take stock of the past 12 months and, depending on how we feel about what happened or what didn’t happen in our lives, decide to make changes to improve things. At least that’s the general idea of New Year’s Resolutions.
Now, much has been written (and will be written in the coming days) about setting goals and keeping to them after the proverbial ball drops on a calendar year. However, despite all this positive, forward-thinking intention, it is safe to say, and I’m going to say it here, that there is far more failure than success when it comes to reaching milestones made, perhaps, while sipping (or guzzling) champagne amid the blaring of noisemakers. It is why I have long given up on the practice – not drinking champagne or blowing into noise makers, but making resolutions.
That said, I’m certainly not against others giving themselves challenges in the New Year that will result in the betterment of their lives. In fact, I encourage and applaud all and any efforts made toward self-improvement. But I caution about setting the bar too high, or too low. The sweet spot is in the middle – something, given my age and the widening space between my extremities, I believe I know a bit about.
So in the spirit of the new beginnings, I am offering up 10 New Year’s Resolutions to consider. But like toys and clothes designed for children by age range (I don’t know why they don’t do this for adults as well, aka pants or power tools recommended for 45-50 year olds), this list is formulated for fellow male travelers at the half-way point of their life journeys.
Stop Saying Sorry So Much
In my first published novel, The Book of Ash, the villain in the story says to his step-son, “Stop apologizing. Sorry is a wasted word. It never feels good saying it or hearing it.” While that may be a little harsh and extreme, I feel there is some merit to it. We say sorry quite a bit in our waking culture, and that is good, but it also means the word and the intent is apt to lose impact and meaning with such frequent use. Rather than the word becoming a knee-jerk means to express contrition, make a point in the year ahead to hold back apologizing unless a situation truly merits a mea culpa. Or better yet, work to limit the reasons you might need to say sorry.
Be More Grateful
Easier said than done, right. But voicing your gratitude can be a powerful way to actually feel this healing and centering emotion. Again, in my novel The Book of Ash, in the society I created in the book, citizens are required to “Greet with gratitude.” For instance, upon meeting a co-worker in the morning, they might say, “I am grateful for the opportunity to spend our day together in mindless toil.” The point is, seeing the good in things can help limit the bad. One simple but powerful way to do this is to just say “Thank you”, in your mind or softly to yourself, when a feeling of happiness first hits, acknowledging this precious sensation.
Be More Accepting
At our age, face it, we know there are ups and there are downs when it comes to life. This is a good thing. It is one of the true advantages of advancing age – the knowledge and strength gained by living through and enduring difficult times. That said, sometimes when the pendulum is not swinging our way, when things are really tough, it is easy to forget these lessons of life’s ebb and flow and fall into a lamenting mindset not conducive to resiliency. One simple but powerful way to stop the slide when a feeling of despair or sadness hits, or at least acknowledge that it is happening, is to say (again, in your mind or softly to yourself) “okay.”
I know – you might say you are slow enough already. I get it. Sprinting for me now is what sitting down in a chair was to me when I was young. But our minds keep moving, right? And maybe more with more going on, with jobs and family and changes galore. Slowing things down can make a difference in making better decisions, and, as stated in resolutions 2 and 3 above, being more grateful and accepting. One way I have done this is by making a vow to keep the speed limit while driving, always, and to go extra slow in my neighborhood, so as not to run over and hurt or kill any living creature. You’d be surprised how doing just one activity like this in a mindfully slow manner can encourage you to implement other speed-reducing elements in your life.
Write More Letters
Or any letters. And I’m not talking emails or printing out the alphabet. I’m talking putting pen or pencil or even crayon to paper. I’ve written before that the act of letter writing, the old fashion way, has innumerable psychological benefits. How about writing to a retired sports star you admired, letting him or her know how much you valued them. Or a letter to the editor of your local paper, not just to voice a complaining opinion, but also a complimenting one – see resolution 3 about gratitude. Or here’s an idea: I knew a man who wrote his wife a short handwritten note about how much she meant to him every day they were married – many, many years. He’d leave it on their kitchen table, near her coffee mug, before he left for work.
Memorize a Poem
Nothing is more impressive, at least to me, when someone recites a poem or a line from a poet in the course of a conversation. I’m not saying you should remember something as long and dense as T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland, but a short poem in the memory banks, or even a poignant haiku, is a nice quiver to have at ready in the wisdom bag.
Sing a Song
Singing is fun and relaxing and rejuvenating. We do it all the time – along to the radio in our car, in the shower, under the sound cover of the lawnmower. But how many of us have belted out a song to an audience, as a soloist even. I say this is the year to do it. Join a chorus or hit a karaoke club. Practice your song in private and let it rip in public. No matter the outcome, wild applause or awkward silence, you’ll be proud you put yourself out there.
Learn a Dance Step
It’s always good to try and learn new things, but sometimes we bite off more than we can chew and give up. So better to start small, to take a baby step. Which, in this case, I connect to dance. Always wanted to Tango, how about first learning to do an Ocho Cortadas. Still think you have a nimble enough spine to break-dance, why not master a power move, a toprock or a downrock. You can even practice a freeze from your favorite chair while watching television.
Grow a Plant
I have long believed that gardening is good for the soul. What I most like is how it brings out my nurturing side, or demands it, as I fret and fuss over seedlings and plants all the way to the resulting sprout of a flower or the production of a vegetable. Having a house plant also gives such satisfaction. Now’s the time to plant something in dirt and care for it the rest of the year and beyond. Trust me, in time, it will be caring for you as well.
I always have a rule when I take people out on my family’s Boston Whaler – “Whoever goes out, comes back.” I say it as a joke, but I really mean it (and if you’ve been on our boat, nicknamed the “Tetanus” for its rust and loose bolts), you know what I mean. The same applies to the new year. You start it, you finish it. I’m not being flippant. This is the most important resolution to make – for any age.
Of course, this is all just my opinion, and my advice is only advice. My greatest hope is that whatever you do or don’t do starting January 1st, you will enjoy, to the fullest, a Happy New Year.