Friday, August 20, 2021

My Trainer Believes In Aliens

Like I could open a blog about aliens and lifting weights without explaining grammar. Did you know that the word "in" in the phrase "believe in" is an adverb? This means it is a word that modifies a verb, in this case creating a verbal phrase that changes the meaning of "believe" from a surety (either an opinion, as in "I believe you're mistaken," or something accepted, as in "I believe the coroner's report") into a matter of faith: I believe in magic. I believe in aliens. I believe in God. Do you believe in life after love? You get the idea. Anyway, this means that the "in" in the title of this blog gets capitalized, because it is an adverb and not a preposition. (A preposition is anything a cat can be in relation to a tree: in, on, around, under, above, below, within, beside, atop, across, before, after, from, to, with, near, far, etc.; and the type of thing you're not supposed to end a sentence with.) And now you know.

So anyway, my trainer believes in aliens. Not necessarily like they're out there, right now, probing people; but more like they definitely built the pyramids. With lasers or something. (Because that definitely makes as much sense as levers and pulleys and sleds and tens of thousands of people doing literally anything to get out of paying taxes.) Friends, let me tell you this: the effort that it took for me to keep a straight face when I learned this was matched only by the effort it took not to get crushed by the weight of what I think is called a Smith machine (you can Google it, I'm busy writing this). (I did it anyway, I was right!)

Now, I've always been a moderately skeptical person. Part of that is because the world is full of assholes, and that's a good defense mechanism, but also because my favorite books from between the ages of about 5 to at least 8 was the DK Eyewitness series of "how stuff works" books for kids. (At least, according to my best Google-fu, that looks the closest to what I remember. It could have been the Smithsonian version of the same thing.) YOU GUYS. THESE BOOKS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS.

But. And this is, I think, the key to my entire identity as a human being. BUT. At the end of each chapter, there is a little box text "for the parents." It is in a smaller font, and there aren't any bright colors or pictures, so kids are supposed to look right past it. And for a while, I did. But then I saw it. And I swear.

It was like, imagine if you're Harry Potter, and not only did you just find out--FUCK that transphobe who wrote that book, by the way, don't ever forget she is trash and does not deserve a single ounce of pity or respect, let alone another damn dollar--but imagine you're not just finding out that there ARE wizards, and YOU get to be one, but then you get on this magic train to this magic castle and THEN you go the library, and there's a RESTRICTED SECTION. LIKE EVEN MORE SECRET AND POWERFUL AND AWESOME THAN ANYTHING ELSE.

You're sneaking back in that magic library in the magic castle in the middle of the night to break into the restricted section. YOU HAVE TO.

And that was me, and the "For the Parents" section. It was the answers. It was the WHY and the HOW, and once you know that stuff, you can see behind the screen. You can see the wind, not just the leaves shaking. You can see the shape of the earth, not just the horizon. You can see the patterns in the stars are NOT the archer and the bear and the lady-or-the-chair, it's the entire freakin universe spinning around and spreading out and cooling down and we are MADE OUT OF THE ASHES OF EXPLODING STARS.

"So do you watch ancient aliens?"

I make a face, which looks exactly like not making a face, because otherwise I would die because this Smith machine is maybe a torture device, and my hip flexors are too tight but I haven't figured that out yet. "On History channel? Where that guy is like 'oh, it's aliens' about a bunch of stuff from a long time ago?" I'm very carefully not dying, because I learned the right form and that alone is worth whatever I'm paying for this, and because no one wants to die in a Smith machine.

"Yeah so I've been binge watching it," she says, and tells me something I don't remember because I was trying really hard not to let any of it get remembered, but might have had something to do with floods.

"Well it is pretty cool that the Aztecs and the Egyptians had similar structures around the same period of time, and they found cocaine under one of the Pharoah's fingernails," I say. "That's pretty hard to explain." So far, as far as I know, I'm telling the truth.

"RIGHT?" And she says something else I commit myself not to commit to memory.

"I mean, someone did build a reed boat and sail it from Venezuela or somewhere all the way to... maybe Morrocco," I say. At this point I know I'm only half right. Which, I assume, is still more than the Ancient Aliens guys.

"Oh weird. Yeah I wonder if they could have just sailed there?" At least, that's what I remember my trainer wondering aloud. My memory could be faulty, considering how poorly I abused it right up until that point in this conversation.

"Squats or leg press?" I ask, and we leave the Smith machine and that conversation behind.

But I didn't, not really. I can't leave that conversation behind. I keep thinking about lasers and how did they make the Nile flood and how did that make a pyramid? And the first draft of this had a lot of other shit and then ended with something about ELECTRONS ARE NOT FRIENDS WITH EACH OTHER, because science.

And really, that's all that matters. Just science. There’s this principle in the philosophy of science that any true theory must be falsifiable, or conceivably able to be proven false. And I know this for a fact because I heard it somewhere. (Now, for too many people, that would be the end of the sentence, and that’s part of the problem.)

I know this for a fact, because I heard it somewhere and then I repeated it to someone who should have also known it, my freshman biology teacher in high school. We had just started evolution, which was actually kind of a controversial topic 20 years ago, and she was dipping her toes into the water of explaining that “evolution is just a theory,” and I asked (attempting to be helpful) “Well isn’t it true that all scientific theories should be falsifiable, so even though we can observe evolution, the theory of natural selection may not be the mechanism?” (I was 14, that should have earned me a Nobel prize or at least a gold medal in something.) And she said no. NO, she said. Maybe she was diplomatic about it, but I was crushed.

There are maybe only two reasons for a 14 year old boy to race to the Internet after school as quickly as I did that day: mine was to prove her wrong. And she was. (Mostly.)

So that’s me. And, with both honor and pride intact, let me label that: I’m a skeptic. As by instinct, I test each new thing I see and hear against what I have heard and seen before. When I first heard about falsifiability, it fit with everything I knew about the scientific method. And when my teacher said NO, it didn’t. I don't always have to be right (don't laugh, reader, who knows me too well), but if I’m wrong I have to know why. I have to peel back and look behind and test and probe and weigh and judge.

And that's me, too. Look behind the easy thing, the obvious thing, the fun thing, to find the real thing. And the only reason any of this felt like it fits together (aside from how clacky my keyboard is, which is super fun, and if not for any slight degree of restraint might have led me into a lengthy aside about the tortoise trade), is that THAT is what I'm doing in the gym.

I don't need muscles. I want better posture. I don't need to lose my love handles, or my quarantine belly. I just want to sleep better, and move better, and feel better. (And look better, okay you got me.)

My workouts aren't just 30 reps of this and that and go home. That's how you end up with bad posture. (Seriously. There's a guy at the gym who looks like a wet noodle because he only works his chest and not his back.) There's science to balance, to feeling better, to work one thing and stretch the other, over and over until you're perfect. (Or better.) And when things don't work you can find kinesiology textbooks online and find terms like lumbar hyperlordosis and then search for exercises to correct it and realize you’ve completely fucked your hip flexors by doing the wrong ab exercises. How’s that for falsifiability?

ALL of which is to say: my trainer believes in aliens. Sometimes it’s easier to turn your brain off and let the guy from the meme tell you that “it’s aliens” whenever something happens that you can’t quite explain. But I’ll be in the Smith machine, watching my posture, waiting for the incline bench to open up so I can go target that one part of my pecs that’s lagging behind, humming under my breath a made-up song about electrons. (The second verse might stray off topic because collapsed-chest guy is doing competition poses in the mirror again. It is a waist-high mirror. I will laugh because my legs are bigger than his.)

Weight: 139