Embracing the joys of laziness

The Joy of LazinessPreparing to embark on a week of holiday leisure, I inventoried my reading material and came across the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It’s called The Joy of Laziness. The early bird may get the worm, but late sleepers live longer, according to this wonderful book by German Scientists Peter Axt and Michaela Axt-Gadermann.

You hear that, mom–and every single boss who has dared to give me the stink eye when I stumbled in a few minutes late because I needed that triple latte more than I needed to be on time–late sleepers live longer!

According to The Joy of Laziness, everybody has a limited amount of life energy at his or her disposal. The speed with which this energy is consumed determines your life span. Every day we encounter countless demands on our energy, such as stress, hurry, frustration, cold, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and an inappropriate fitness regimen. A lifestyle that uses a lot of energy accelerates the aging process, makes you more susceptible to illness, and can even shorten your life.

In other words, laziness rocks! And I’m not the only one who thinks so. I’ve got German scientists behind me on this.

My theory is that the only reason we don’t embrace our laziness more openly–and less guiltily–is those darn pilgrims. All that nonsense about every hour needing to be spent productively and idle hands being the devil’s workshop is just that: nonsense.

Most men I know already embrace the laziness rocks theory. They don’t even notice the dust bunnies hopping off the sofa as they plop themselves on to it. And it would never occur to them to wash the dishes immediately after a meal, or fold clothes as soon as they come out of the laundry. They may be on to something there.

The women I know, on the other hand, have an almost impossible time relaxing just for the heck of it. They join book clubs, so they’ll have some justification to read for pleasure, and get dogs, so they’ll have an excuse to walk on the beach.

My friend Suzanne, who is a stay at home mom, says that she feels guilty for playing with her kids unless her house is perfectly spotless.

“You’re a stay at home MOM, not a stay at home MAID,” I reminded her. Her perfectly clean house always leaves me with a sense of wonder. That is, I wonder how much happier she would be if she stopped cleaning and took the time to read People Magazine, watch Grey’s Anatomy and play computer games like I do.

Nonessential household duties have no hold on me. I hate to do things like wash dishes and make beds when I know that the next day there’ll just be more dirty dishes and more unmade beds. Doing the same housework over and over again makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel to nowhere. Look, it’s a sink full of dishes. Look, it’s a sink full of dishes again! Ooh, look, the dishes are here again!

Sure it’s wonderful to have a clean house and a home cooked meal, but I would much rather write a few more stories and pay someone else to provide those things for me. Especially since the domestic arts are not exactly where my talents lie.

I’ll confess, the worst grade I ever got in high school, I kid you not, was in home economics.

Admitting I’m not a domestic goddess takes a lot of the pressure off, especially this time of the year. One of the great advantages of not cooking–or not cooking well–is you get to be the one who brings wine and cheese and crackers to Thanksgiving dinner.

In addition to not having to ruin my makeup while slaving over a hot stove, there are actually intellectual advantages to idleness. According to the book How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, Einstein launched his theory of relativity by wondering what it would be like to ride on a sunbeam; Newton discovered gravity while sitting in an orchard; and the Harry Potter character popped into J.K. Rowling’s mind as she was gazing out a train window.

I’ll be counting my blessings that a few more people have figured out that laziness rocks, and also makes you healthier, smarter and more creative. And by the way, have you read the latest positive news about dark chocolate and red wine? We’ve got a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving–except for those stupid Pilgrims.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Oops She’s Single Again

Britney Spears, courtesy Wikipedia.

Britney Spears, courtesy Wikipedia.

Britney Spears and the people of Connecticut both voted Independent this week.

But Britney captured my interest in a way that Senator Joe Lieberman never could, even if he is a nice Jewish boy.

Sure they’ll both have plenty of party invitations, but I’m more concerned for her. A recent study found that if you’re a woman, divorce is bad for your health.

Granted, dumping an unemployed, 28-year-old father of two babies who spends more time changing hairstyles than changing diapers is probably not the biggest “Oops!” in the world for Britney–that would have been hooking up with the loser in the first place. K-Fed? A cross between K-M art and Federated? Classy written all over that guy.

At first glance, both divorce stories made me laugh out loud. “Britney Spears has filed for divorce from her husband Kevin Federline, citing irreconcilable differences, like Britney is the only one with a career.” And “Stand by your man or get sick, study says.”

What a load of hooey, I thought, thinking of how many women I knew who were far better off once they’d lost a couple hundred pounds of husband. Maybe Britney can get back together with Justin Timberlake. They were so cute on the Mickey Mouse Club.

As I pictured them spawning a whole chorus line of belly-baring, head-popping, break-dancing babies, I couldn’t help wondering about that other story. The one about real women getting divorced, without a record deal and a few hundred servants to keep them warm at night.

Conducted over a ten-year period at Iowa State University, the study found that women who were divorced were not just husband-less, they also had less income, less help around the house, and less–and sometimes no–health insurance.

“What we found was that the act of getting a divorce produced no immediate effects on [physical] health, but it did have effects on mental health,” said co-author Fred Lorenz. “Ten years later, those effects on mental health led to effects in physical health.”

Now granted, these women all lived in Iowa, which has got to be the most depressing, schizophrenic place on earth. How would you like to be wined and dined and complimented and courted like crazy by presidential hopefuls once every four years, and then completely ignored until someone had a craving for potatoes? I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole state eventually developed some mental health issues. Maybe the divorced women are just a bit more precocious.

And it’s not like any of those Hawkeyes–who probably kept the house but lost their season tickets in the divorce settlement–had Britney’s $38 million bucks to help mend their broken hearts. When they were interviewed a decade later, the divorced women reported 37 percent more sickness than the married ones. Do they not have match.com in Iowa? Or are they putting something funny in the Happy Hour Cosmopolitans in Des Moines?

Personally, I think Britney and those women from Iowa ought to get together for a few cocktails. I’ve always found that the best cure for any kind of man trouble is a night out with the girls.

Even us happily married people (gotta throw hubby a bone here) need a girls’ night out every once in a while. And while Lieberman can probably count on plenty of new friends when he returns to the Senate, we’ll still save him a seat at our table.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

SB People: Randall J. VanderMey

Randall Vandermey in Santa Barbara Magazine

Randall Vandermey in Santa Barbara Magazine

Westmont College‘s popular English professor is more of a modern Renaissance man than a typical academic. With a blue-eyed twinkle and a sparkling turn of phrase, this Grand Rapids, Michigan, native who’s been at Westmont since 1990 can engage you in intellectual conversations about art, poetry and religion as fluidly and captivatingly as he can turn the dialogue toward the joys of getting down on the floor to play blocks with his 2-year-old granddaughter, Jasmine Marie.

Despite his many literary accomplishments–he’s written eight books, published short fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and produced three plays–VanderMey is really a teacher at heart, who describes the Christian liberal arts college as having “an atmosphere that’s really quite filled with trust and joy.”

It wasn’t always that way. “When I came to Westmont 16 years ago, I would say that, at best, the spiritual climate was sketchy,” says VanderMey, who credits the leadership of former President Stan Gaede (who left in 2005) for much of the turnaround.

These days, “People’s politics differ and religiously differ, maybe academic politics differ. But still my colleagues are people I could have lunch with, talk with, respect.”

A highlight of VanderMey’s professional and personal life was escorting 43 students through a semester in Europe in 2003, where they spent four months traveling through 23 cities in 12 countries. One of the best parts of the trip was spending a week each in four different religious communities: the abbey on the Isle of Iona in Scotland, where Celtic monks are believed to have produced the Book of Kells, a marvelous example of medieval illumination; Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in the United Kingdom; a Catholic monastery in Teze, France; and the Schloss Mittersill Study Centre in Austria, which VanderMey describes as a castle housing a Protestant evangelical community.

As a professor, VanderMey prizes and encourages independent thought. “I guess I have a model in my mind of what kind of student I want to produce–a student who’s a little bit contrary. They should be willing to stand up for themselves against what they read, not to be hostile to it, but to think for themselves,” says VanderMey. This idea, he acknowledges, “might surprise people who think of a Christian college as a place where students are taught to think in lock step. But that’s not how Westmont is and that’s not how I am at Westmont. I want to make them better critical thinkers and open-minded. I mean, if the Christian faith can’t stand up to critical thinking, why embrace it?”

That critical examination of faith is a recurring theme in VanderMey’s work. “I’m writing out of my core convictions, which is why things germinate for 10 years before I write them,” he says, over lattes at downtown’s Finestra cafe. While certainly heartfelt, his work is also a bit irreverent. For example, his 1993 book, God Talk, is a critical look at “the triteness and truth in Christian cliches,” taking on routine phrases such as, “God wants you to succeed,” “Act of God,” and “There must be a reason,” and examining what people really mean when they use them. Writes VanderMey: “The habit of using stock phrases can sometimes be not only a symptom, but also a cause of spiritual paralysis.”

Language, both spiritual and otherwise, is a topic close to VanderMey’s heart. He’s the author of The College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing and Researching, which is now in its second edition. And locals may know VanderMey’s work from the 2004 production Kenosis, a theatrical staging of his spiritual poetry set to contemporary music, which played at the Center Stage Theater. He has also taught poetry writing classes (partnering with Peri Longo) at Hospice of Santa Barbara and is currently at work on another textbook, with the working title of The Contrary Reader.

He writes and teaches with the same zest for life he embraces with his family. VanderMey–who loves golfing and bowling–is an enthusiastic grandpa and 54-year-old father and stepfather to four grown children (Gabrielle VanderMey, Julia and Jason Clark, and Mike Sakkers), as well as the self-proclaimed “biggest fan” of his wife Dana VanderMey, who is the supervisor of volunteers for Hospice of Santa Barbara.

There’s never a dull moment at home, says VanderMey, whose daughter Gabrielle and stepdaughter Julia were both married in Santa Barbara this summer, coincidentally to two young men named Matt.

VanderMey, who once considered writing a book about marriage communication, chuckles at what kind of advice he might offer the newlyweds. An editor discouraged him from writing the book, asking why– with so many experts–they would want a marriage book from him.

There’s that twinkle in VanderMey’s eyes again. “I’m thinking about making it a humor book,” he says. “My wife (who can sometimes be found doing stand up comedy at Soho) is a very funny lady.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine

SB Magazine story on Randall Vandermey