My sex-brain knows from real experience of fucking real women that it can let me talk, act, gesture, talk more, make shit up, charm her circuits, work the seduction. And if I do my job for it, it will give me the keys to the only true heaven on earth: a woman will use her judgment to betray her judgment. She will let herself be carried off to the alien planet of Sex with a New Man. –Adrian Flange
The Alien Planet of Sex with a New Man
by Ellen Salle
I go back and forth with this title. It’s not really mine and not really my style, exactly — it’s Adrian’s — from his prescient story, “White Fur.” My editor likes it, says I should keep it, says “it’s endearing and novel.” I thought about calling it “Red Yucca” for a bit, but you might've passed by “Red Yucca” — not “The Alien Planet of Sex with a New Man,” though! How could you resist “The Alien Planet of Sex with a New Man”?
A story, like a potential lover, wants — needs — to be noticed. Whereas a man might don a beautiful, deep-red linen shirt (especially when all the men are wearing blue, cotton plaid) in service of his genes, a story might don a cute, geeky, novel title in service of its memes. (Not that I know what the memes are in “The Alien Planet of Sex with a New Man” at this moment. I don’t. No more than I know what Adrian’s alleles are; I just know him. And I know him. I know him because I’ve been to the alien planet of Sex with a New Man.
Of course, stories are also written by carriers of DNA, and if I pause every now and again, I can feel the arrangement of cytosine, thymine, guanine and adenine selfishly arrange the letters and words
here. But I can also convince myself of the purity and memetic transcendental nature of stories, this one no different. By convincing myself of this, I can convince you, the reader. But then my right prefrontal cortex wakes up and transmits a little truth over to the other side. This story serves “me” — not memes. Of course, this, itself, is a meme: The self-deception-fosters-deception-in-service-of-genes meme. Perhaps I am a mouthpiece of memes.
But I need to tell the story now — in third-person, because I feel more comfortable that way.
Damn it. Yes. Just like “White Fur” predicted. She had gone there. To Nashville of all places; but not to see him — but rather, to witness her very New England younger brother get married to a Nashville girl. But Ellen was home now, in Vermont, and a part of her was just fine being quiet, not thinking of him and their visit, fine not writing and rewriting emails and letters she’d never send, fine actually doing the things she needed to do: An article for New Scientist, prepare for her yard sale, attend to her eleven-year-old son. Fine waiting, patiently waiting, to see if she’d ever see his name in bold in her Inbox again. No one else’s name ever looked that good! Never!From Subject Sent Size To
It probably doesn’t look that good to you, though, huh?
But another part, that habit-part, the part that hates endings, the romantic, narrative, hopeful-part, got up from the blissful window-seat where she had been reclining and reading a sweet New Yorker story from 1997 called “Virtual Love” by Meghan Daum (a piece written in a very, very similar style to her own about something she was all too familiar with), with the perfect breeze blowing in through the screen, and bounded up the stairs. She wasn't going to write an email to him, Mr. unhappily married neuroscientist; she was going to write him a story. Mostly because she didn’t want to forget. And because she could write it right now and wait, and if he never wrote to her again — Mr. “Forty years from now when we’re nodding by the fire"; Mr. “I like long-term relationships”; Mr. "You should move to Nashville," Mr. “I'm going to write you another story," then she would have something to send that was pregnant with all the richness of the thoughts and feelings and desires and memories and real things he said of the recent Now. And if she never sent it to him, at least it would be something —a story — and not some email that just sits there pathetically in her Drafts folder. No. A story has potential. It’s potent. And it was a way not to lose what was real. Because she might forget what he said, or what she was feeling. But cataloging the recent Now would preserve it; it was her tiny little battle against Time and Memory. She knew her mind might one day, in a month or two, come to believe that he never really said the thing about forty years — but writing it down, she’d know despite her memory that it was true and real. And yet, what does it matter that he said that to her? What does it matter that she wrote it down — as if writing it down could make it real — a binding contract. Forty years?
When he showed up at the hotel there was the big question of how to greet. In his story, "White Fur" he had written:
and when Ellen comes up to me, I don't know
whether to hug her like a friend, shake her hand like a sexless colleague,
or fall on my knees to worship Beauty Incarnate. I shake her hand, which
is smoothly warm and electrical, knowing my hand must be clammy, greasy,
rough, inadequate, but figuring she probably thinks hers feels the same to
But later he writes:
half-way through the warm/clammy
hand-shake, we both realize it's sort of stupid given the intimacy of our
emails, so we manage the world's least elegant segue into a 21st-century
metrosexually ambiguous hug.
She had only remembered the part about the hand-shaking. And she tried very hard not to think of what things would be like and tried very hard to be patient for the moment when she'd meet him and to just be with him in the moment once the moment came. Maybe that's why she wasn't all that nervous. Typically, she could be as distant as your average fucked-up guy — and she could have easily greeted him with a silly wave standing right in front of him, for example. But she was tired. And all she wanted to do was to lie down. In fact, she waited for him on a reclining chair by the pool and when she saw him pull up in his Jaguar XK convertible (he was well-known enough that she had seen pictures of him over the years in The Times and now on the Internet, and he also told her about the Jag), she went to him. And then she did the unexpected — she basically flew into his arms...but it felt more like mere desperate exhaustion than affection. There must be a difference. A more subtle, more interesting narrator might figure out a way to conflate the two. Might make you think there's no difference between desperate exhaustion and affection. Funny how we can do that with language. But I don't want to do that to you. There is a difference, isn't there? And yet, there's something to the fact that when she was tired, some defenses were removed. And so maybe her exhaustion allowed her to hug him because she couldn't think.
They were in the hotel lobby having coffee.
“I was nervous about this,” she told him.
“Me too, but you don't need to be nervous now," he told her.
"I know," she said. “I don't feel nervous now, actually. And I don't think I would have felt nervous before, except for the fact that I was so tired.”
Later she would wonder, would I really have not felt nervous had I not been tired? Wasn't my exhaustion keeping me fairly calm and not so reactive? Did exhaustion produce a more authentic Ellen or just a weaker, muted version?
She was trying to tell him something with this story, you can see. But she had to be patient. Maybe the stories they told each other, both real and fiction, could rearrange themselves now into something coherent, into a meaningful narrative that could give shape to their lives. But she couldn’t direct it. She had to let things be — maybe even trust the memes. Actually, this stuff was often a point of contention between them. During their electronic courtship she had accused him of trying to direct her and shape reality by creating pictures in her head. Like when he wrote her:----- Original Message -----From: Adrian FlangeTo: Ellen SalleSent: Thursday, October 07, 2004 5:37 PMSubject: aman
Well, if overwhelmed and pulled everywhich way,
you must just close your eyes, take a whole minute's worth of deep breaths,
and visualize resting on your back on a Balinese beach
with warm gentle surf waving your hair to and fro.
Next best thing is looking at the Aman Resorts websites and imagining being
in white linen sheets with somebody one shouldn't be there with, except in
one's own mind:
She made a note to herself to read as much as she could about theories (new age and not) that dealt with visualization and the write-things-down-and-they-become-real phenomenon. Maybe she’d check out that book Write it Down, Make it Happen. Yes, it was a title that you also might want to pass by, but maybe there are books out there worth reading with titles that don’t grab you; potential lovers out there clad in unworthy shirts. Maybe.
“White Fur” in case you’ve forgotten, was just a story Adrian had written for her. For Ellen. But now they had made it real. In Nashville. They made love. They made love in her hotel room — and yes, in his brain lab! You know, it’s hard to know so much about the brain, and about Mother Nature’s darker, selfish side; about some of love’s ultimate adaptive purposes and functions — and still love. But...they did love in those moments. Yes, when Ellen got to that alien planet of Sex with a New Man, it didn’t feel alien at all. It felt very much like home.<
On transcendental and memes, see memeticist Susan Blackmore's
"I Take Illegal Drugs for Inspiration."
On the self-deception fosters deception meme, maybe see Robert Trivers.
Ellen Salle is the pseudonym of a science writer living in Maine. She has published numerous science articles in popular journals and magazines. Her previous story "Arctic Refuge" was published in Entelechy's 4th issue.
Copyright © 2005 Entelechy: Mind & Culture. All rights reserved.