Falling out of love

THE DREAM IS OVER – LONG LIVE THE DREAM – Older adults with a varied life experience will relate to this: there’s a moment, and you don’t know when exactly that moment happened because you are just aware that it passed, that you realize you’re not in love anymore. There may be something there, but not that high energy, deep and mysterious sensation that follows your every interaction with her, him or it. It’s gone. There’s an emptiness in its place. If you are prone to depression, it kicks in right away. Depression is one of the best fillings for the emptiness pie.

The emptiness pie is what it is: emptiness. That’s when you realize hope, goal setting and motivation were related to that thing that isn’t there anymore. In its place, a little mild (or not) depression, just enough to allow you to adjust. It’s your mind telling you that you have time, but not so much. You have time to build another dream, another project, another motivational architecture.

It was like this with almost everything. Figuring out how much the environmental narrative borrowed from Ecology as a science was obsessively pleasurable. But I fell out of love even before defending the doctoral dissertation. I published some, but the book… THE book (the one your colleagues almost have a fit when you tell them it’s really not coming), I never published. “Science in the periphery” was more than a project: it was a love deeper than most I’ve felt. It was a mission. I can remember the transcendent joy of discovering those documents from the Karolinska Institute. I lived in Florida at the time, and I remember when I was invited back to speak about it at the Brazilian Academy of Medicine, the exact place where Chagas was humiliated and nobody knew he had been nominated four times for the Nobel Prize. But then I did, and I was telling that to octogenarians, nonagenarians… his colleagues, who waited a lifetime for redemption. They slowly crowded me, hugged me, and I cried because what I felt couldn’t be contained inside whatever container I had. It reminded me of when I looked at the autoradiograph against the light and realizing I had really isolated the receptor. I published many articles about that tropical medicine discovery, I spoke in Germany, Switzerland, France and even in Brazil. But one day, it was gone. I was not in love anymore. This time my colleagues were upset with me for a reason: Delaporte, a French historian with allies in Brazil, was publishing unacceptable versions of this story because, well, that’s what relativists do.

Nothing really filled this emptiness and it got emptier to a point that I had to leave academia at the time. Because you see, I guess I can only handle the despicable ugliness of petty local politics if there is some greater love involved. If not, then it’s time to leave or die. Because as much as human greatness (especially seen at a distance, with method) keeps the fire burning, human pettiness is a silent killer for people like me.

Many things happened between the last failure to love an intellectual project and the existence of powerlifting in my life, but to make a long story shorter, that was the love. The love I expected never to fall out of. Because it was complete, because it was so full of meaning that it would survive me, as it had saved me.

For eleven long years it did last. I “went native” in cultures I had zero attraction for even as “participant” study object, such as South American organized crime (which rules sports in general). I was sure I could gather other idealist, ethical and “rule of law” minds with me. We’d build an “alternative society”, where we would lift away from the ugly rule of small crooks and the “secondary economy”. Because small crooks are ideologically just as bad as big crooks (actually, they are frequently worse because they are emotional for lack of education). They are small, unscrupulous and most of all, embarrassingly emotional.

I tried to make social projects out of powerlifting. Why? Because I could, because it was honorable, because I felt that making it honorable would somewhat wash the stains that rubbing shoulders with the delinquents left.

But one day, like with my other love affairs, I woke up and realized that I wasn’t in love with powerlifting anymore. When had it happened? When did this emptiness set in? I don’t know. I just know that all the sacrifices I made to be at international championships where I lifted some pretty awesome weights didn’t make sense anymore. Would I spend again thousands of dollars to be at a certain meet? Hell, no. Wow. How could anyone do that? But I did. More than once. I did it for years.

That is when I start making inventories. What do I still like about powerlifting? What do I detest? I still like coaching. A little. I like coaching smart athletes and I like coaching non-athletes. So maybe I don’t particularly like coaching powerlifting. I do it because I can. I like coaching because coaching is teaching, and I’m a good teacher. I do like lifting, very much. But less and less in public environments. For years I had my home gym and lifted mostly alone. I also enjoyed completely impersonal well equipped commercial gyms. I like lifting with the least dose of inter-personal relationship. I think I realized that lifting, for me, is completely private. And all personal manifestations from others are not welcome. That creates a problem, because especially for the more emotional practitioners, it is all about inter-personal relationships. They want everybody to be flooded by their screams, their music, their existence, which makes sense in that social network. A network I want to abstract and ignore as I lift. A clash of interests is inevitable. I don’t need or want to be seen or recognized. That is not how merit is granted and I’m a very good sociologist, so I know all about merit and meritocracy.

Which brings me to the last deal breaker: where is meritocracy in powerlifting? Although we all know that merit, like most other cultural manifestations, is socially constructed, there has to be a strong “negotiation” with reality. Just like we can’t just have a skype call between a dozen good microbiologists and agree that we don’t like a certain membrane surface receptor – we can’t because it’s there and method doesn’t allow us to just “negotiate away” a molecule -, we shouldn’t be able to “negotiate” good lifting. But what is the myriad of “world champions” other than a complete deconstruction of merit itself?

That trickles down to knowledge systems. Everybody knows there is not enough science to fill in the gaps of ignorance in sports science. Mostly because it is still not okay to experiment with humans in certain ways. But instead of highlighting these gaps of knowledge and bringing closer strength researchers and coaches, what these fascinating ignorance pools created was the opportunity for every mediocre digital celebrity to create terms and concepts for phenomena we either don’t know anything about, or know a lot about and they are old news. Mediocrity and opportunism in model construction, complete lack of merit parameters for knowledge construction and shallow marketing.

Around all this, the “gate-keepers”: a group of equally mediocre agents that act on the digital info-sphere to make all of this opaque to the lay person.

And what do I do now? How can I unknow what I have just realized? What I now know? I can try, I can admit I have unfinished business with this sport, I can try to pump some of the little emotion I have left for this into my relationship with this sport again. But I can’t, it’s too hard. So I’ll probably “resignify” it.


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