Willing Flesh, Weak Spirit: Are We Being too Hard on Underachievers?

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.

Erin J. Bernard

Erin J. Bernard

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.

Erin J. Bernard

Erin J. Bernard

Erin J. Bernard

Erin J. Bernard

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.

Erin J. Bernard

Erin J. Bernard

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.

What about you? Any latent Path-Not-Chosen fantasies you are willing to cop to?

Erin J. Bernard

Erin J. Bernard


10 thoughts on “Willing Flesh, Weak Spirit: Are We Being too Hard on Underachievers?

  1. DebraB says:

    I don’t really dream of underachieving-path-not-chosen-fantasies. However, I do OFTEN wish I could just stop the “merry-go-round” of life’s obligations for a few weeks. I just want to step off and rest, and to have no responsibilities–not even social responsibilities or the pressure to “have fun” in a socially approved kind of way. Maybe in the end that is similar to your fantasies. Perhaps we are both simply tired?

    • erinjbernard says:

      I actually first read your comment last night in bed while scanning through my iPhone. I was so fried from a long Monday that my eyes were crossing. I couldn’t move a muscle, save for my typing fingers. Perhaps we truly are just that tired … The simplest explanations are often the most correct ones, I suppose. I remember once, when I was a kid, I bought a copy of The National Inquirer. And it had a story in it about a man who was so annoyed with everybody bothering him all the time that he’d decided to bury himself underground in some sort of a large coffin for 12 months. I remember he said he was looking forward to the rest. I think I sort of get that!

      • DebraB says:

        The story about the man in the coffin is pretty amazing. Some days, I can sort of understand it, though.

        I’ve heard that in the bad old days, some cultures had menstrual huts to which women had to retire during their periods. Now, we frown on it as a sexist, patriarchal practice. I’m thinking, though, that i I had a menstrual hut that was heated in winter air-conditioned in summer, and stocked with plenty of coffee, snacks, and good books, I would be perfectly happy to retire to one a few days each month.

  2. Intergalacticbattlegirl says:

    Your existentialist crisis is picking at too many of my scabs. Unlike you, i have in no way actualized my potential, i squandered it. Now i am paralyzed by a kind cliched housewife variety of ennui. I could have been many things, juvenile tendencies take me to high class hooker or assassin or mermaid, but alas it’s getting late for me. It’s time to think of wearing that ominous Mom hat, and i am terrified having skipped all the other hats before that Mom hat will make it fit poorly, or will make my head incapable of donning any hat other than the Mom hat going forward. I might have squandered my potential, but as long as i wear no hat there is room on my head for a hat. So i keep going without. It’s a vicious cycle. 😛

    • erinjbernard says:

      Ya know, something funny happened to me the other day … I was asked to sit on a career explorations panel at an alternative middle school for naughty kids. Hilarious, because nobody has ever asked me to sit on a panel for anything before, but also profound because it got me thinking a lot about potential. What we are capable of, what we squander, what we master. I told them that I believed it’s never too early and it’s never too late, and that they should ask the universe for what they want and then just start working toward it, a little step each day. I lifted the asking the universe part from a fantastic Jim Carrey speech, but I stand by the advice. You are a fantastic writer and you should put your stuff out there if you aren’t already. I’ve been cruising the Internet for cool websites that like personal essay kinda stuff and there are lots of them. Let me know if you ever want any advice. You have some talent, girl!
      And BTW, I still can’t figure out why your comment button isn’t appearing for me anymore. 😦

      • Intergalacticbattlegirl says:

        Erin, that’s very kind and very optimistic. I’d be telling them to go start flipping burgers now to improve their odds at getting that covetted burger king position, cus that’s like where most of them be going. lol. I am admittedly, a tad more morose than you. As for my own writing, i appreciate your words more than you know, but I only quarter believe you, I don’t think i am bad or anything but “fantastic”? I doubt it. You’re fantastic. I guess i want advice, but i have to be honest although i like my writing, I don’t love it, the task of self promotion is paralyzingly daunting to me all around, I think there are millions of writers at least as good and many much better than I, which makes me kind of ashamed of seriously considering to pursue it.
        As for the comment button, this is pissing me off, can you please go to my latest post i need you to read it anyways lol), the part 2 and see if it gives you the comment option? Meanwhile I’ll troll setting to see where the hiccup is, others have been successfully commenting on my blogs, so i think it’s just you 😦

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