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New Year, New You: Ways to be Your Best Self in 2021

Move more, read more, listen to more music. Put your mind to it — you can do it!

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I don't know how much more excited we can be to say goodbye forever to 2020. Here we are, in a brand-new year — all shiny and sparkly and brimming with potential. The Flyer staffers have some ideas on ways to grow and thrive in 2021. Here, we offer them up for your consideration.

ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene

Take Time to Make Time for Music

As 2020 was in its final throes, I spoke with Steve Selvidge, guitar-slinger extraordinaire, and he observed: "With technology these days, streaming music is daytime whatever, just put on something that's rockin', get the dishes done. But for me, vinyl is the nighttime thing. It's the kids have gone to bed, decompressing, and talking about the events of the day, and what are we gonna put on?"

What indeed? Of course, Steve is a fellow performer, and we're known for taking time to make time for music. But music is so omnipresent these days that, for most people, it's strangely devalued. We have the power to soundtrack every moment, and many of us do. But a soundtrack is designed to play second fiddle to moving images, to washing dishes or to that endless scroll. I fall prey to that mindset myself.

To break out of that matrix, I make a conscious effort to settle into a space by the hi-fi and just listen. No devices, no flickering screens. Just me, the lamplight, and the sounds of my favorite players. If you take the trouble to make it happen, with a streamed playlist, a CD, or — still the best — a vinyl long-player, you will find spaces opening in your imagination that render all the anxious scrolling meaningless, so much chaff in the wind. Meanwhile, the beats, harmonies, and melodies, given their proper time and space, can resonate with nuanced emotions deep within. They are heavy, they are solid, they are sound. — Alex Greene

MARYJOY CABALLERO | UNSPLASH.COM
  • Maryjoy Caballero | Unsplash.com

Move More

It's too damn cold outside right now for the lovely walks I enjoyed so much last spring and summer, which kept me sane in the throes of The No-Good, Horrible Year. Until we get longer days and first blooms and that warm kiss of the season change, we can find new and different ways to move more.

I've never been much of a gym person, but I have quite the collection of Tae Bo DVDs. You know, the taekwondo-inspired workout that was huge in the '90s, hosted by master motivator Billy Blanks. I have very much enjoyed working out solo in my own home through the years, and it was especially beneficial over the course of 2020 — for both physical and mental health. I dropped some pounds and gained some sweet serotonin boosts.

You probably don't have a Tae Bo collection, but there are tons of free workouts available online via YouTube and Facebook and Instagram live. Kroc Center of Memphis, YMCA of Memphis & the Mid-South, and the Downtown Memphis Commission are just a few of the local sources for free virtual workout sessions (yoga, boot camp, barre, kickboxing, and more). Tune in and get your body movin' — it'll feel real good, I promise.— Shara Clark

Do it Yourself, and Do it Now

He who hesitates is lost, goes the saying, and that holds for she and it as well. Lost or not, the perpetrator of procrastination is certainly destined to fall behind, and only rarely is this strategically useful.

While Shakespeare's immortal anti-hero Hamlet mulled over several other existential dilemmas in the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy, certainly the issue of timely and forceful action was paramount. Avenging his old man was only secondary; the real point at issue was that Denmark was by rights his own kingdom-to-be; all he had to do was work up a sweat, commit to a risk or two, and take it away from Claudius the usurper. But he balked, and paid for it.

Rarely do our own timidities and postponements confront matters of such pitch and moment. But they sting all the same. The floor stays unswept; the book remains unwritten or unread; the romantic opportunity evaporates; the dream job, sans your completed application, goes to somebody else. T.S., buddy. Pick up the damned broom!

There are both disadvantages and advantages to our cybernetic age. But one of the latter is the ready accessibility of D.I.Y. instructions online — governing almost the entire range of needful actions you've been putting off. Surely you've already discovered that waiting for somebody else to do it for you is either futile or too expensive. And one thing leads to another: The habit of successful initiatives orders the mind for more of the same. Before you know it, you're self-reliant. It ain't Denmark, but it's something! — Jackson Baker

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Get Your Head in the Game

In the immortal words of Troy Bolton, you gotta "get'cha head in the game." The best way to jump into the new year after the horror show that was 2020 is to have some fun, blow off some steam, and inject some gamesmanship into your rotation.

Start by checking out some organized sports (when it's safe to do so, of course). Socialize and get a workout in at the same time by signing up for a local soccer league, or harkening back to your high school P.E. days with some Thursday night kickball action. There are plenty of options out there, and if sports aren't your thing, there are plenty of casual and beginner leagues to sign up with (for now, tennis makes for a great social distancing sport).

Looking to keep things indoors? Set up a weekly board game night to stay connected, and hone that competitive edge. Outwit your friends in a game of Settler of Catan, hoard all the wealth in Monopoly, or make things personal in a chess duel. With a little bit of ingenuity, it's easy enough to set something up over Zoom.

And if that's not enough, head over to the digital frontier. Video gaming is a great way to stay engaged with far away, out of town, or just plain unavailable friends, and there are lots of options even if you don't want to invest in expensive equipment. Try out some Jackbox Games over the phone for a casual opener, or engage in Clue-like, murder mystery shenanigans in Among Us. But if you have the equipment, there's no substitute for the catharsis of crushing your closest confidants in an intense round of Mario Kart. They probably deserved it, anyway. — Samuel X. Cicci

Total Reboot

It's time for a reboot of self. This upcoming year is well-situated to accommodate a mental initializing (exorcizing) and a physical revamp (exercising). But all this better/healthier blather of resolve is nothing without a nice systemic overhaul. The promise of a new year is only fulfilled when changes include not only what's gained, but what's axed.

It's vexing, for example, when a shiny up-to-the-minute laptop is acquired and then the end user migrates everything from the old drive to the new. No. Have patience and take time to evict the clutter. Those unreadable files from the previous millennium will likely not reveal deep thoughts or significant histories.

Understand that I am not really talking about computers here. This is the ultimate inside job, the better nature cultivating patience, saying "no" kindly to the insistent voices in culture, refining gratitude, paying attention, caring thoroughly. Also, updating passwords and deleting what's in the Trash queue.

I'm inspired to reboot because, since SCS started instructing at home a few months ago, my first-grade granddaughter has been coming by three days a week with tablet in hand to work the class. It's eye-opening. She grasps things with alacrity and makes astonishing observations. These sessions are a priority, for her sake of course, but especially for me. And I want more, which means eliminating distractions elsewhere.

So it is a change of priorities, not a revolution. More of a change in administration, if you will. The quotidian stays in place — I am not restless. But I'm done with being in a hurry. And I bet the wife and kids are gonna love it! Maybe. — Jon W. Sparks

FIZKES | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Fizkes | Dreamstime.com

Take Mental Health Seriously

There was a second, parallel pandemic in 2020. Depression and anxiety rates spiked alongside COVID cases. The numbers are striking.

"COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health," a study published last September by the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the number of people reporting depressive symptoms tripled from April 2019 to April 2020. Later studies would find that was the year's happiest point; a CDC survey in late July showed a whopping 41 percent of respondents were depressed. Correspondingly, the suicide rate is up (although it's unclear at this point by how much) and more than 81,000 people died of drug overdoses between May 2019 and May 2020, a new record.

If 2020 was the year you learned to take hand washing seriously, 2021 should be the year you learn to take your mental health seriously. With everything that's happening, if you aren't anxious, you aren't paying attention. Unplug occasionally — our messed-up world is still going to be there, even if you log off Twitter for a couple of days. Exercise, like yoga or running/walking, can help take the edge off, and also improve your sleep habits.

If your anxiety is spiking, mixing with depression, and interfering with your functioning, know you're not alone. The first line of defense is talk therapy, so find a therapist who can help turn things around. From there, they can help you find other medical interventions, if needed. If you're in the darkest of places, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255. For Spanish speakers, it's (888) 628-9454.

Even if you're not depressed and anxious, watch out for your friends, neighbors, and family. If someone close to you is withdrawing or showing signs of strain, reach out to them. Tell them they're not alone. — Chris McCoy

MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue

Learn to Cook

Before the pandemic, my kitchen skills included baking a killer country ham and yeast rolls from scratch, and making the cream sauce and hollandaise from the old Justine's restaurant.

But none of these were something I'd whip up for a quick dinner.

My box of recipes I'd collected for decades wasn't a lot of help, either. Recipes included Thomas Jefferson Ice Cream, Huckleberry Cobbler, and 14-Day Sweet Pickles.

So, when everything was locked down, I had to quickly get acquainted with my kitchen because I'd eaten just about all of my meals except for breakfast at restaurants for years. I began with pasta, which I mixed with chicken and fish. Then I got into different types of vinegar and spices. I steamed beets for the first time.

I realized there are so many things I've never done in the kitchen.

I've branched out to different recipes. If you look around, you might find an old cookbook at your house. I have a few of my Mom's. But you can find everything you want — recipes and videos — online. My favorite quote from a recent story on baker Sara Embrey, was when she said, "Thank goodness my mother taught me to read. So I know how to read a recipe."

Best of all, you can call a friend or relative who knows how to cook. I've found they're more than happy to help you. — Michael Donahue

JEEPERS MEDIA
  • Jeepers Media

Reuse

Memphis put the recycling program on hiatus due to COVID. Reusing is a form of recycling. Why not pivot for the time being?

My grandmother was the master of reuse. Every other month or so, my mother went to her home and threw out all the old Cool Whip containers and such in her kitchen cabinets and replaced them with Tupperware. This went on for years. The Tupperware remained untouched and the reused containers were back.

One day, near the end of my grandmother's days, I visited her. On the bedside table was a Cool Whip container with "cookies" written on the top in my mother's handwriting.

My four-foot-tall, 80-pound, 95-year-old grandmother had raised three families; my grandfather's younger siblings when their mother died, her own, and an uncle's three kids when their mother died. She was the first child in her family born in the United States. She lived through the depression with immigrant parents. Her mother never learned English. Waste was not an option.

It took her a while, but she finally taught my mother this lesson. I think this is a lesson that I'll take into 2021. Especially since things might be tough for a while. Maybe one day I can pass the lesson to my nieces and nephews. The same ones who recently threw away a perfectly good chair that I curb-shopped from their home. It's not quite ready for the landfill yet. And neither are my Cool Whip containers. — Julie Ray

BRUCE VANWYNGARDEN
  • Bruce Vanwyngarden

Learn to Live Outside

The safest place to be during this pandemic we're experiencing is outside. Which is easy and natural when you're taking a jog or biking or walking your hound. But not so much if you just want to sit around and visit with your friends and family. Indoor gatherings can be dangerous. And if you're not moving, hanging around outdoors in the winter can get chilly. That's why you might want to consider creating an outdoor living space — a "room" with lots of fresh air.

It's not that difficult. All you need is a porch or patio or backyard space with places for people to sit and a heat source (or two). And it wouldn't hurt to have a barrier against the wind, which can be as simple as the side of your house.

Any kind of deck chairs or camp chairs or outdoor furniture will work for seating. As for heat? There are many kinds of portable firepits available; just add wood and voila! Instant campfire.

But firepits can be hazardous on a wooden surface or even in a small yard in the city, so if you're setting up an outdoor space on your deck or porch, I'd suggest purchasing a portable heater of some sort. Options include electric coil heaters, electric oil-filled radiators, or propane fueled towers, like the ones restaurants use. Find the option that best fits your space and budget, and you're ready for company — the host with a great outdoor living room. — Bruce VanWyngarden

Read More

Last year I was given a stack of 12 books with the challenge to read one a month. For this challenge, the only rules my godmother — who, since I was little, has given me enough books to fill a small library — gave me was to finish at least one book a month and to read only one book a month. I would be lying if I said I thought the rules were a good idea. I'm an avid reader and plow through a couple of books a month, so the thought that I would be limited to one per month felt wrong.

But then I sat down to read.

For the first two months I was skeptical. I wanted to read more, and I came close to picking up another book and walking away. But then the world shut down. And as I found myself sitting in my apartment looking for things to do, the time that I spent reading and reflecting became more and more impactful. In the time that I needed it most, I found inspiration, escape, and hope in the pages of books. So for the new year, take the time to stop and read. — Matthew J. Harris

JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis

Don't Stand So Close to Me

At least until June or July. I feel like I'm cheating a bit here, taking the most obvious option, but if there's one thing Tennesseans need to do better in 2021, it's practice social distancing. As I write these words, we're the national hotspot for new coronavirus cases per population.

True, the numbers from Memphis and Shelby County reliably show that we're usually best in the state at slowing the spread of the disease, though we can always aim to be better. The good news is that the end is in sight. Even now, frontline healthcare workers are being vaccinated. But it will be a while, likely spring or summer '21, before the general population is in line for those sweet, sweet shoulder jabs.

So let me be the one to say let's all keep our cool, at least until the summer. Of course, I'm not talking to the people who have to expose themselves at work, who've borne the brunt of this pandemic. I've had so many jobs where I had to physically be somewhere to make a pizza or move a few hundred packages, so I recognize that it's a privilege to be able to work from home.

And I'm not talking out of one side of my mouth while I party it up in private. I've had exactly one friend over one time, and I set up chairs nine feet apart in the backyard. We drank and caught up. It wasn't exactly the same as porch beers after band practice, but I was happy for the company anyway. Then we got a little too much company, when my neighbor ran over, maskless, and tried to high-five us both. Maybe it's a low bar, Memphis, but just don't be that guy. At least until July. — Jesse Davis

Quit Talking Shit and Commit

Want to lose weight? Want to get a new job? Want to start that YouTube channel?

You can do all these things. Only you stand in your way. But you have to quit talking shit and commit.

C'mon folks, I'm no guru and I ain't trying to be one. I don't have the answers, especially in 2021. But I do know one thing. If you want change, you have to do it. No one is going to do it for you. No one is even going to give you a roadmap.

Take a breath this year and clean off your mental worktable. Pull out that goal and plop it down. Yes, it looks daunting sitting there, but remember other people (people not as smart as you) have done it before. You can do this. You will do this. Commit.

Find out what it takes (you probably know already) and take your first step. It'll be weird and probably hard and it'll make a mess of your regularly scheduled program. This is called "stepping outside your comfort zone," and that's where the magic happens, baby.

Look a'there! You got the hard part out of the way. Take the next step and the next 100 steps. — Toby Sells

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