SOME CULTURES have the decency to celebrate their New Year come spring. The sun’s out, flowers are blooming, chicks are cheeping — it’s much easier then to come through on a New Year’s resolution to, say, sweep out the detritus from your psychological landscape or pick up Spanish.
But think of it this way: After huddling together to ward off winter darkness, all that intimate humanity can push you to a resolve of bettering yourself. That, or you’ll scuttle deeper into your misanthropic cave, taking all the remote controls with you.
However, a monastic approach of denial need not be the path to a New You. True, cutting out smoking or losing 10 pounds might require a certain steeliness. Then again, you might decide that learning to juggle will give your hands something to do other than reaching for a cigarette, or swimming lessons will polish the delicacy of your butterfly stroke while toning your, er, buoyancy.
If a little company and guidance are needed, the Bay Area is stocked with people who can’t wait to make you over. Check out offerings through city leisure departments, adult schools, park associations, community colleges, university extensions, specialty schools, the infamous Learning Annex and Open Exchange clearinghouse. Here’s a glimpse of what’s out there to make you smarter, more attractive, better at signaling when making a right turn and rolling up a mean California roll.
Cultivating the wallflower
Shy? Awkward? An inarticulate, quivering lump of ineptitude when it comes to the opposite sex? The Learning Annex has seminars to make you more palatable, depending on how hard you like your science. For men who prefer an evolutionary psychology approach, there’s “How to Date Out of Your League: Practical Tips for Attracting the Best Women!” (6:30-9:30 p.m. Monday, $39). “Romance Boot Camp for Men Only: Heat Up Your Love Life” (3:30-6 p.m. Jan. 26, $39) has a hypnotherapist instructor.
Men and women both may sign up for “How to Attract Love & Romance: Use the ‘Science of Love’ to Find Your Soulmate” (6:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 15, $39), taught by a biologist — and former professional model. Remember, all classes are guaranteed.
Learning Annex, 291 Geary St., S.F., 415-788-5500, www.learningannex.com, $10 monthly nonmembers registration fee.
Sins of commission
Perhaps you’re not scaring off romantic prospects but merely everyone in your vicinity with your rat-pack slovenliness or chronic tardiness. “Eliminate Clutter Forever! And Take Control of Your Life” (6:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 10, $41) targets those people who can’t rid themselves of piles of newspapers, clothes, books and other flotsam and shows them how to be organized and let go of the past. If you pencil in 3 p.m. for “Never Be Late Again! How to Manage Your Time and Overcome Procrastination” (6:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 28, $39), then you might actually be able to make it and find out you don’t have to be as busy as you think you are.
Could you be too accommodating? “Stop Being Too Nice — Be Brave: Strategies for Saying What You Need” (6:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 23, $39) promises to “tap into your childhood bravery” and “unpack your ‘anger luggage.'”
Get all your neuroses in one fell swoop with “What to Do When Your Willpower Fails: Why You Behave in Ways You Hate” (6:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 23, $39). The seminar runs through “self-defeating patterns,” your knee-jerk responses to your family, compulsive eating, six “hidden powerful forces” that make you choke up in relationships and, since you’re at it, how to be a career success.
Learning Annex, 291 Geary St., S.F., 415-788-5500, www.learningannex.com.
Speaking of career success, sure, everyone wants to be a millionaire, but maybe you don’t want to start off by thinking that big. The more manageable “100 Businesses You Can Start for Under $100” (6:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 24, $39) sounds like it’s within your reach — and you could always find nine other friends with $10 to pitch in. See Learning Annex under Sins of Commission.
Then again, you might find you owe those nine friends, plus creditors and other less-friendly folk. Get liquid with “Debt-Free for Prosperous Living” (9 a.m.-noon, Jan. 26, $40) and be out of debt in five or seven years. Pay by cash or credit only — better make it cash. Martinez Adult Education, 600 F St., Martinez, 925-228-3276, http://mtec.mtzusd.k12.ca.us/information /contact%20info.htm.
Hittin’ the health trail
Remember the good intentions littering the path to hell? In the mortal world, that’s called the gym — although if you think about it, running or cycling in one spot isn’t that far removed from Sisyphus’ eternal damnation of pushing a rock up the hill every day, only to repeat the process when it rolls back downhill.
Walking and hiking groups are everywhere, from city parks to Mount Diablo (Mount Diablo Interpretative Association, www.mdia.org) to the East Bay Regional Park District. The last has “New Year, New You!” (1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, Tilden Nature Area). Precipitation does not cancel, as “rain and mud only make it more exciting, so put on some good boots and get to know the parks, and their history, on foot.” East Bay Regional Park District, 510-525-2233, www.ebparks.org.
The city of Dublin’s “Successfully Manage Your Weight” (7-10 p.m. Jan. 30, $75/$86) distinguishes itself from other weight-loss programs with its hypnotic element. The Kiva Spirit Foundation uses the same approach in “Stop Smoking Through Hypnosis” (7-10 p.m. Jan. 23, $50/$58). Perhaps this way you won’t even have to know you’re trying. Shannon Park and Community Center, 11600 Shannon Ave., Dublin, 925-556-4500, http://126.96.36.199/html/ClassList.cfm?Heading=adclass.
The ballroom dance resurgence peaked a few years back, but grace never dies — and wedding invitations never let up, either. “Social, Ballroom” (7:30-8:30 p.m. Mondays, Jan. 28-March 11, $60/$72) gives you a swing, with some salsa thrown in as well. Valley Oak Room, Danville Community Center, 420 Front St., Danville, 925-314-3300, www.ci.danville.ca.us.
Getting your feet wet
Does your butterfly stroke make you look like you’re wrapped up in a cocoon? Do you envy the plodding grace of a hippopotamus as it glides through water, yet fear the liquid molecules that bind to your skin and drag you down into its depths? Various versions of swim lessons for determined landlubbers exist, including Transpersonal Swimming Institute’s beginning classes for “Miracle Swimming: New Lessons for Adults Afraid in Water” (Varied hours, Jan. 17-20, $340). It’s pricey, but then you’ll no longer be excluded from 70 percent of the Earth’s mass. Berkeley High School, Channing Way at Milvia Street, Berkeley, 510-782-3110, www.conquerfear.com.
Practice driving test
When those four lanes narrow to two at the Orinda side of the Caldecott Tunnel, are you one of those creeps who take the Gateway Exit and cuts in at the last moment? Well, the “Highway Safety Course” really has nothing to do with you, except that you’re the type against which other drivers have to guard. Local driving schools might have defensive driving classes, but $385 gets you skidding around for five hours in simulated horrific highway conditions, like constant rain. Classes are generally one weekend a month. The next available class is 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 13. Russell Racing School, 29305 Arnold Drive, Sonoma at Sears Point Raceway (Highways 4 and 121), 707-939-7600, www.russellracing.com.
If you think throwing a pot in pottery class sounds violent, what must you think of caning? The Caning Shop in Berkeley does more than repair wicker, with its classes on making feather leis, cedar bark cross baskets and even spirit painting on gourds in one-day seminars. The Caning Shop, 926 Gilman St., Berkeley, 510-527-5010, www.caning.com.
Language at once unites and divides us. In this Pacific region, Asian languages, such as Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, have become as commonplace as the European standards. For less traditional options, Acalanes Adult Education Center offers Arabic, just in time. (7-9:30 p.m. Mondays, Monday-March 25, $70.) Acalanes Adult Education Center, Del Valle Campus, 1963 Tice Valley Blvd., Walnut Creek, 925-935-0170, www.acalanes.k12.ca.us.
According to the West Contra Costa County Adult Education program, about 150 million West Africans speak Edo. “African Language — Edo for Parents and Children” (10-11 a.m. Saturdays, Jan. 26, $15) makes for a family pastime — so if you’re going to talk about the kids in front of them, you’re going to have to stick to pig Latin. West Contra Costa County Adult Education, Alvarado, 5625 Sutter St., Richmond, 510-215-4666, www.wccusd.k12.ca.us/ADULTED/index.htm.
Cooking lessons are offered in stores and specialty schools, or both, such as Cooks and Books and Corks (148 E. Prospect Ave., Danville, 925-831-0708, www.cooksbookscorks.com) or Home Chef (1604 Mount Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, 925-943-3191, www.homechef.com. Also Corte Madera, San Francisco and San Jose locations). The Shaw Guides provides a superlative Web site of recreational cooking schools and programs that involve a jaunt to Europe for that true spice of authenticity (http://cookforfun.shawguides.com).
Looking for the earliest holiday to flaunt your mastery of your cookware? The Year of the Horse obligingly comes in Feb. 12 when you can use everything you learned in a class about Chinese New Year feasts (10 a.m.-2 p.m. Jan. 19, $20) through the West Contra Costa County Adult Education (see address under African Language class). Or, start small but elegantly raw with “Make Your Own Sushi!” (11 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 2, $35/$40). Be warned: You may be overcome with the sudden urge to start buying those cute little plates and saucers. Lafayette Parks & Recreations, 500 St. Marys Road, 925-284-2232, www.lafayetterec.com.
A New You may call for soul-deep scrubbing. “Everyday Zen: A Beginner’s Course” (Wednesdays 7-9:30 p.m. Jan. 23-Feb. 27, $150) begins each lecture with a 30-minute meditation session before delving into how Far Eastern guidelines can apply to a postmodern Western world. Yes, grasshopper, it’s time to go beyond Feng Shui. UC Extension, 211 Richardson Hall, San Francisco Center, 55 Laguna St., S.F., 415-252-5221, www.unex.berkeley.edu.