Who's got the button? At seventeen, Amy Wallace met Carlos Castaneda through her father, best-selling novelist Irving Wallace. In those innocent '70s, the reclusive Peruvian-born Journey to Ixtlan author was a celebrity, although his peyote-spiked sagas of having been initiated by a Yaqui sorcerer were hotly disputed later.
When Wallace became reacquainted with "the charming Carlos" twenty years later, the two became lovers.
"Carlos explained how his sperm -- being nonhuman -- would alter my brain cells," says the ex-Berkeleyite Book of Lists coauthor, whose new memoir Sorcerer's Apprentice (North Atlantic, $25) is an explosive bundle of revelations. "He told me to 'intend' to pull his sperm to my brain, which would then destroy my pernicious 'humanness.'" He urged her to think of him as her husband. "It was five years before I learned I was part of a harem of a dozen or more."
"I now believe it's a travesty when a guru figure uses sex as a power move. It's demoralizing, devastating," says Wallace, who will be at Black Oak on September 23. "I reduced myself, after eight years, to becoming a pimp for him." Such arrangements, she says, are "more common than not in spiritual groups -- Muktananda, Rajneesh."
When Castaneda died of cancer in 1998, his top female disciples -- including popular Shabono author Florinda Donner -- vanished and are presumed to have committed suicide. "I believe they are dead. Bodies have not been found, but they were savvy people, and I believe they jumped into a ravine, shot themselves, and/or died at sea."
Some would use the C-word to define Castaneda's followers. "A 'cult' is a false family," Wallace muses, "often replacing the 'dysfunction junction' many of us grew up in" and typically requiring the renunciation of "all worldly goods, sometimes one's job, and cutting off from all family." These days, she says, "I'm still renewing friendships I broke."
Everybody's got one: From the aroused man celebrating a bonfire-lit ritual to the woman masturbating enthusiastically at a gallery opening, the new coffee-table book Photo Sex (Down There, $35) reminds us that almost anything can excite someone, somewhere, somehow.
"Images that trivialize sex encourage us to relate to sex in simplistic ways," says editor David Steinberg. "Images that portray sex as naughty and forbidden encourage us to think of sexual desire as inherently suspect and dangerous. Images that portray sex as complex, intimate, profound, and mysterious encourage us to open ourselves to sex in all its depth and power."
Photographers from all over the Bay Area contributed to this collection whose subjects include the straight, the nonstraight, the solo, and the disabled, giving the phrase "just plain f--ks" a whole new meaning.
Tricky Mickey: In 1971, a team of Bay Area underground cartoonists helmed by Odd Bodkins creator Dan O'Neill started producing parody comix in which, among sundry ribaldry, Mickey Mouse dropped trou. Lawsuits ensued.
"You can tell the story two ways," says Berkeley lawyer Bob Levin, who tells it in The Pirates and the Mouse (Fantagraphics, $25.95). "Disney's Evil Empire crushes courageous band of noble, counterculture artists -- or drug-crazed but still noble hippie madmen kamikaze-dive into Disney Death Star. I emphasized the latter, but the truth probably lies in between."
It's hardly the only Death Star. If some people "view Disney differently than any other greedy, individuality-stifling, mindlessly consumption-mongering, bloodsucking conglomerate octopus," Levin says, "that's probably because [it] latched onto them in their childhood and they're reacting out of feelings of manipulation and betrayal because the world hasn't worked out as it promised."
But you've gotta hand it to courageous counterculture types. "By pursuing individual creative visions for reception by a tiny audience that offer them meager rewards, in the face of massive societal forces urging the abandonment of such quests in return for lavish material success," Levin says, underground cartoonists "reaffirm an older model of where art's supposed to come from."
Train in vain: Berkeley's Gary Soto is among a handful of "certain writers" who appear "again and again" in today's English-class textbooks at the expense of "recognized writers" such as Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, and Doris Lessing, remarks education historian Diane Ravitch in The Language Police (Knopf, $24). In her scathing examination of the process by which textbooks are assembled and approved, Ravitch mourns that pressure from both the left and right which "effectively removes everything from tests and textbooks that might be offensive to any group or individual ... has evolved into an elaborate and widely accepted code of censorship." The result, she charges, are standardized texts and tests that avoid mentioning illness, rats, religion, crime, class distinctions, or magic. The state of California goes on record for having once rejected a reading anthology because the protagonist of The Little Engine That Could, included in the text, was male.
Draw a lesson: What started one morning almost exactly two years ago is far from over, as Oliver Chin makes clear in his new graphic novel, 9 or 1: A Window to the World (Frog, $12.95). In this tear-jerking tale set in a fictional Fremont/Union City-area high school, teens representing a kaleidoscope of cultures explore their reactions to 9/11. In so doing, they speculate on Ronald Reagan, Ho Chi Minh, Moses, Rambo, drive-bys, the NRA, and other factors that have shaped modern youths' lives.
Geopolitical conflicts and kids' awareness of them have both mushroomed, says the former Harvard Crimson cartoonist, who will speak at the Oakland Public Library's main branch on September 6. "Every day there's another story in the paper, whether it's about a coup in the Philippines or about imams in Pakistani schools indoctrinating students to hate Indians." With an appealingly sharp art style and authentically teenish voices, Chin hoped to convey a message that was "like E Pluribus Unum" -- in which instead of seeing American society as shattered and terminally divisive "we can see ourselves as coming together after being broken apart."
Something's rotten in the state: In David Corbett's new thriller Done for a Dime (Ballantine, $24.95), a legendary bluesman based loosely on Dewey Redman is slain in the front yard of his home in a town based loosely on Vallejo; a key suspect is his musician son, based loosely on Joshua Redman. Ex-private investigator Corbett felt compelled to write about a culturally diverse community facing its demons -- partly because "since the Reagan Revolution, I'd sensed a creeping backlash racism in even former liberal friends: a newfound license to denigrate blacks and blame them for all that's befallen the black community."
In this tale of large and small forces at cross-purposes threatening to destroy a town, "I drew heavily on Bay Area newspaper reports of corruption and illicit power-brokering by developers and local government bodies, especially redevelopment agencies, which are unique to California. This problem plagues virtually every Bay Area community, from Hunters Point to Marin, and I suffered no lack of usable data," sighs Corbett, who will be at Lafayette Bookstore on August 28.
Zip it: Oakland-based activist org Sweatshop Watch earns kudos from ex-Mademoiselle editor (and size 4) Michelle Lee, whose Fashion Victim (Broadway, $24.95) strips bare the motivations and machineries that drive sensible people to spend bucketloads on platform shoes and skintight jeans: The former have caused traffic deaths in Japan and the latter are suspected, Lee reports, of causing endometriosis.
Snippets: A Playdate with Death (Berkeley, $6.99) is the latest Mommy-Track Mystery out in paperback from Berkeley's Ayelet Waldman; she also has a literary novel on the way. ... Oakland's Jeff Greenwald, author of Scratching the Surface (Regent, $18), launched EthicalTraveler.com to help voyagers "confront injurious practices like child labor, while supporting efforts to protect the environment, improve human rights, and spread goodwill."
Culture Spy - February 23, 2:42 PM
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