A new year always reminds me of an unexpected hospital stay. You’ve got your confusion, altered states of mind, flashing lights and general exhaustion. Then there are bad things, too.

If you arrived at an infirmary via the special $800 van ride, there can be a lot of trepidation involved. Added to the fear of the soon-to-arrive bills is the unavoidable realization of mortality.

In those rare moments you’re not being poked, tested and queried, you get to stare out through a small window at the wide world beyond and wonder about your return to it. Inevitably, there’s a cascade of regret.

You ponder squandered time and lost opportunity. Little of it has to do with money, as among the most common regrets of the dying is remorse at having put too much into work. Other common regrets revolve around things like remaining true to oneself, expression of feelings, maintaining friendships and dropping societal pretense.

Many among us harbor creative ambitions, things we delay until another time. Sadly, a number of us never scratch that itch, as we let other stuff stand in the way.

Why not promise yourself you’ll change that in the new year? Often what separates the artists you know from others is merely their courage. They weren’t afraid to risk social disapproval in pursuit of self-expression.

They weren’t afraid of failure, which is the greatest teacher and motivator there is. Even giants stumbled but moved forward anyway.
If you look around, there are ample chances. Instructive classes on expressive mediums meet all the time and a quick glance at my email box finds myriad choices at hand.

The Alabama Dance Festival Jan. 22-31 has a variety of classes and workshops available for all age and skill levels. Visit the festival website at alabamadancefestival.org for more information.

There are exhibition opportunities at the spring version of Arts Alive, Dauphin Island Gallery, the Eastern Shore Art Center, Market on the Square and Mobile Arts Council.

Mobile Writers Guild is looking for members who are both professional and aspiring writers. The guild’s monthly meetings — 6 p.m. every first Thursday of the month (September through May) at the West Regional Library on Grelot Road — are open to all.

The Eastern Shore Camera Club meets on second Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. on Faulkner State’s Fairhope campus. It is free.

A Sumi-e studio hosted by the Shibui Chapter of the Sumi-e Society of America meets twice a month at the Asian Culture House in West Mobile. The three-hour sessions are only $2 each.

There is also an Ikebana workshop on first Fridays at the Asian Culture House. The events are free.

The City of Mobile Parks and Recreation Department has a panoply of courses in more areas than you can imagine for very nominal fees at a selection of locales across town. Its online posting — cityofmobile.org/parks/pdf/current_program.pdf — reveals 32 pages’ worth of pursuits from painting and wire sculpture to dance and various musical instruments.

The Mobile Museum of Art and Eastern Shore Art Center both feature ongoing classes and their websites are easy to navigate.

All of these prospects and more are easily discovered on the Mobile Arts Council’s website. You can even sign up for a regular email that will send you a list of these opportunities.

Then, of course, there’s something that is beneficial to more than just yourself: volunteerism. There’s not a creative endeavor in Mobile intended for more than a handful of people that doesn’t depend mightily on volunteers.

If you are involved in cultural endeavors here, you’ve likely noticed the same thousand or so faces who crop up with steadfast regularity. Substantial portions of them don’t just support organizations with their patronage but also volunteer their most precious resource. They agree to sacrifice their free time in board meetings, ushering, working on transportation and facilities crews or in numerous other ways.

In a place as historically capital-poor as Mobile, volunteers are essential. With so much of our area’s resources soaked up by pre-Lenten activities, other cultural pursuits have to fight like mad over the scraps.

The effect for those volunteers multiplies. Not only do they get the satisfaction of seeing the festival or event accomplished, they normally enjoy the connections they make with organizers and other volunteers. In turn, it often opens other doors.

Like all human undertakings, being a volunteer can have rough spots at times but they’re normally not as numerous as what you suffer at the hand of a paymaster. I promise you, most volunteers relish their time in service and hold few regrets when they consider the bigger picture.

It stems from an understanding they actually contributed to something greater than themselves, the belief they made a difference. While it’s hard to perceive in a society that seems to worship at the foot of celebrity, wealth and selfishness, we still carry a desire to belong to a community. It’s as much a part of our genetic blueprint as bipedalism and tool usage.

Learn for yourself through the experience. Better that way than through an $800 ambulance ride.