Do you ever fantasize about your own personal Path Not Taken?
I don’t mean the path that would have led you to a better-paying career, or a nicer partner, or a different, cooler city to live in. That’s boring. Everybody fantasizes about those things, for obvious reasons.
I’m talking about the alternate life trajectory in which you grew up to become a total loser, devoid of ambition or achievement or responsibility.
Because I absolutely do. Truth told, I nurture a recurring alternate-self fantasy that I ’m actually more than a little bit ashamed to even cop to out loud. Because I think it’s going to sound narcissistic and humble-braggy and just plain wrong no matter how I describe it. Because it’s going to make me sound like I think I’m superior to others who have landed in unpalatable life circumstances, with debts and drug addictions and clogged toilets and the rest of it. I swear I don’t.
But here goes. Because I’ve just got to know if I’m the only one. In my Path-Not-Taken-Reveries, I am: an unemployed stoner who sits on a ratty couch all day long with the shades drawn, wrapped up in cozy blankets, wearing dirty sweats, taking bong rips and giggling at bad television shows. I sleep in ‘till 11 a.m. most days, and I work part-time at a mindless service job that requires so little of me that I can and do go to work stoned most days. I also smoke cigarettes and eat lots of Taco Bell meals. How’s that old Biblical proverb go? The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
I’m not trying to be outrageous or contrary here. And I’m not trying to make myself look fancy just because my actual grow up self doesn’t resemble, in any capacity, this alternate stoner self. I’m being completely serious. I daydream about being this girl on a weekly basis. Especially when things get hairy with work or interpersonal stuff and I just feel completely overwhelmed from the pressure of it all.
For the love of God, why? I The real life me got just-about straight A’s in college and grad school, and travels out of my home city a lot, and hates television, and can’t even really smoke pot anymore, unless it’s at night and I don’t have to drive or read or work or talk coherently to anyone. The real me works 60-70 hours many weeks to keep my small business afloat and worries constantly about whether I’m underachieving and has trouble relaxing, even on the weekends, even for an hour or two. The real me feels consistently inferior and thus overwanks on just about everything. The real me sleeps terribly.
But I wasn’t always this way. In high school, matter of fact, I was definitely on the fast and wicked track to becoming a slacker stoner grown up type for the future indeterminate. I cared not a whit for grades, or authority, or fuzzy life achievements. I cared about fun, and my friends, and my pleasures. My parents worried a lot about who I would turn out to be in those days, or about whether I’d even graduate high school, let alone be accepted into and attend college. I, on the other hand, didn’t worry at all. Not because I knew everything would work itself out and I’d pull my act together just as soon as I had a little freedom to carve out my own rules about how I wanted to live life. I didn’t worry because I didn’t give a rip. I didn’t worry because I didn’t know enough to worry.
Now, I know enough. Now I understand how many things can go wrong. And now, I worry. Lots.
I was talking to my roommate last night about my Slacker Stoner Girl fantasy and she had a great insight: the fantasy probably isn’t about truly wanting to be that person so much as it is longing for a time when I had less pressure, less responsibility, and far, far less to worry about. Or, perhaps, longing for a Never-Was Future in which I spent the bulk of my time relaxing, spacing out, and catching up on sleep. I’ll admit it: this sounds fantastic on so many levels. It sounds safe and easy, even if it doesn’t sound fulfilling or all that meaningful.
In short, I feel safe dreaming of becoming that girl because I know that I’m probably no longer capable of becoming her. I’m not who I was at 16. This is a good thing. But in a backwards fashion, it’s also a sad thing. Because my life as it’s turned out is complicated, and full of deadlines, and last time I took a big, fat bong rip (last winter), I was a goofball zombie for like three quarters of the day and I didn’t really enjoy the sensation all that much and it’s hard to even conceive of doing that all day long, every day.
Is a Meaningful Life overrated? I don’t believe in God, which means I don’t anticipate that some great punishment awaits those of us who choose to fritter away our days on pleasures of the flesh.
Besides, what does a single life add up to, anyways, no matter how it’s parsed out? How much will it matter 100 years from now if you used your fingers to compose a symphony or load a bong, or if you ran a marathon or just watched the Maury Povich marathon on television instead? Probably not very much.
And that begs the question of whether there’s a point in trying very hard at anything at all. We are born, and then, a little while later, we pass away. And the years in between are filled up with our milling endlessly about, busying ourselves with tasks. Whether those self-appointed tasks involve great toil or great repose, they will eventually fall away and be forgotten by just about everyone. This much is guaranteed.
Perhaps our refusal to let the calculus of our existences add up to pointlessness is the only stalwart we’ve got against the ultimate pointlessness of it all. Perhaps suffering in the name of a cause is deeply satisfying to our noisy, chattering, and slightly masochistic egos, and that’s why we endeavor to turn out to become at least slightly better than the worst possible versions of ourselves.
It’s fun to fantasize about what might have been if you’d chosen the other direction, sure, but maybe that’s only because you know on some level you wouldn’t have been capable. So it’s safe to do. And even strangely comforting.
Let’s flip that old religious canard on its ear: the flesh is willing but the spirit is weak. Yes. That’s pretty much me exactly.