Authors: Lia Matera
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ehind any book that deals, even tangentially, with shamanism, mythology, or cybernetics there's an author indebted to scores of writers and scholars. This author must, at the very least, thank Thinking Allowed Productions and Jeffrey Mishlove for their provocative video interviews with today's most original thinkers. I am especially indebted to Joseph Campbell, Michael Harner, Terence McKenna, Fred Alan Wolf, Rupert Sheldrake, Arthur Young, Brugh Joy, and Huston Smith for their mind-opening books, interviews, workshops, and audiotaped lectures. Without their insights, my characters might have lapsed into uncomfortable silences. However, any maladroit misstatements of fact or philosophy are mine alone.
I am also grateful to the anthropology museums in Victoria, Quadra Island, Prince Rupert, and Vancouver (University of British Columbia), British Columbia, and in Neah Bay, Washington, for their help in researching native cultures. For matters
closer to home, I'm grateful to Russ Imrie and his Costanoan Indian web site.
Anyone interested in learning more about shamanism, or wanting an extensive bibliography about it, should contact the nonprofit Foundation for Shamanic Studies, PO Box 1939, Mill Valley, CA 94942.
Anyone interested in a less complete and more eccentric bibliography will find one in my web site at
To Brendan Rehon, Mike Matera, and Dan Matera;
boys will be boys, but not nearly long enough.
spent three glacial years earning a piece of paper that read, “Willa Jansson, Juris Doctor, With All the Rights and Privileges Thereto Pertaining.” Not surprisingly, after that people expected me to be a lawyer. Resisting the temptation to confound expectations (not to mention default on my student loans), I became a labor lawyer, then a corporate lawyer, then a federal judge's clerk. But after years of nit-picking, hairsplitting, and matter-of-fact assertions of the preposterous, I had few illusions about the workâor the rights and privileges thereto pertaining. With three jobs in four years, I was serving notice more often than I was serving Justice. And as the novelty of solvency wore off, I found myself growing tired of lawyerdom. My creditors, unfortunately, were as sold on the idea as ever.
But I hadn't had a chance to tire of my latest new job yet. I was walking there now, crossing Market Street to begin my first day as a multimedia lawyer. I had no idea whether I'd like the
work, but I surely liked the sound of it. Multimedia law; so nineteen-nineties: a career for someone who'd dumped her sixties baggage to lay scratch on the information superhighway.
But this morning, in nonvirtual reality, I was on foot.
Market Street, as usual, seethed with impatient cars. I was too fond of my Honda to expose it to stripping, scratching, and parking-fee gouging. I was also a nervous driver, especially at rush hour. So I'd taken the bus from Haight to Market.
Apparently, this was the strategy of choice for multitudes of white-collar workers. The crosswalks were barely wide enough to corral all the lawyers and brokers and bankers, their shoulders hunched and fists stuffed into raincoat pockets. We were a dour army storming the Financial District, crossing the Maginot Line between warehouses and high-rises, between the chatter of Spanish and cranky Anglo silence, between cheap beer and ferny wine bars.
I lingered at the corner, waiting for the light to change. I was anxious about the new job. I didn't have the best track record; I'd never managed to feel like part of a team. Maybe it was my fault. But from my perspective, previous coworkers had seemed conventional and humorless, at best. At worst, they'd seemed heartless and pretentious. My parents had frequently driven me crazy, but they'd accustomed me to better company.
Along Market, only the homeless dawdled. Con men flashed jewelry to people heading into discount stores. Teenagers offered body parts for rent. Begrunged runaways panhandled. San Francisco didn't offer many self-employment options.
And since I was one of the few lawyers without a legal thriller in the works, I needed this job.
So at the green light, I let the yuppie river sweep me across the street. The sudden corridor of high-rises reminded me of rafting through the Grand Canyon. Thousands of hurrying workers resembled a white-water rush. I tried not to think how long it would be until my next vacation.
I'd spent the last week whipping up enthusiasm for work. If my pattern held, I would maintain a positive attitude almost until lunch.
It was a hip job, at least. I'd scandalized my Bohemian parents
two years ago by selling out to a big-bucks L.A. firm. It was the most elegant mine I'd ever toiled in, but I'd barely lasted a year before my inner canary died.
I'd been unemployed almost five months now, with no acceptable explanation for leaving big-firm practice. I'd used up the money I'd saved. And I'd come to an uncomfortable conclusion: If I'd taken low-paying work I liked, instead of trying to accumulate cash in a job I loathed, I'd still be employed. I'd be solvent, and my rÃ©sumÃ© would be unblemished.
No thirty-six-year-old woman should have to admit that her parents were right.
As if that weren't bad enough, I owed my new job to my father.
It started when he fell in love with the idea of an on-line democracy. He began playing with friends' computers. Then he discovered a latent artistic streak. He all but adopted a former psychedelic poster artist who now taught computer graphics courses. He spent days on end with a bad-boy cybernetics guru, San Francisco's notorious “Brother Mike.” He began accumulating the cast-off peripherals of acquaintances caught in upgrade frenzies.
My parents' Haight Street apartment underwent a transformation. The
posters were tacked over with fractal designs. The old Gestetner machine, veteran of a million political leaflets, was replaced by a color ink-jet printer. Stacks of flyers were thrown out, superseded by e-mail petition drives and downloadable polemics. My mother, seeing the potential to fill thousands of mailboxes, adapted quickly to electronic proselytizing.
At first, I'd thought this was an idiosyncrasy of my parents, one of thousands. But I'd been surprised by the flow of people through their apartment. I'd come to realize that many old friends of the family, activists and flakes alike, had taken to computers as they'd once taken to bead looms. They used them for cartooning, comic-book writing, collaging, video splicing, and writing music. The Woodstock Nation had moved out of the mud and into cyberspace.
A friend with some programs to copyright told my father about a law firm of “technohippies,” as he called them. He'd heard they were looking for the right associate.
Confronted with a three-figure bank account, I phoned the firm immediately. I collected letters of reference, and I took crash courses. I watched computer graphics videos until I recognized stylistic tricks. I risked comas reading software copyright journals.
At my interviews, I tried to pass myself off as a nerd, babbling about programs and patents as if the knowledge predated the interview by more than hours. I stressed nonexistent L.A. media connections. I used the term
After two weeks and four meetings with the named partners of Curtis & Huston, I was hired.
Only now, in the crunch, walking to work on a drizzly Monday morning, did I begin to wish I were back in bed.
I hurried up Montgomery to the heart of the Financial District. Most of my San Francisco jobs had been nearer the civic center, in tawdrier digs bordering neighborhoods of housing projects. This 'hood was scrubbed clean and accented with flowers. It smelled of pretzel carts and espresso, Bay wind and auto exhaust. Around me, jostling workers added occasional whiffs of wet wool and hair mousse.
I gave a stationary cop, speaking into his walkie-talkie, a wide berth. So did the rest of the rush hour foot trafficâit was too damp to stop and gawk. Passing him, I glanced in the direction the cop had been looking. Across the street, a crowded half-block away, wasâto my astonishmentâan old, dear friend of my parents.
For a split second, I pondered crossing to him. I didn't love all my parents' friends, especially my mother's friends, but I did love Arthur Kenna.
In that instant, though, I saw what the cop had seen: that Arthur was holding a gun.
A gun. I stopped, shaking my head. Arthur holding a gun? I'd have been less shocked to see my own motherâpacifist, vegetarian, Gandhi extremistâwith a weapon.
But within seconds, I saw something even more shocking: Arthur was pointing the gun at someone. Another pedestrian stood, back to me, with his hands up over his head in classic mugging pose.
Except that Arthur would never, ever mug anyone. Arthur Kenna was a mythologist, an ethnobotanist, an anthropologist, a sweet old scholar, and practically an uncle to me. He'd told me he'd been beaten as a child for refusing to hunt; he'd felt even then, he said, that to take up a weapon for sport “disparaged the Great Mother.” His best-known theory, popularized on a Public Broadcast System nine-hour special, was that most violent acts required cultural indoctrination, a warrior mythology; that they did not, in fact, explode from primally encoded urges. Ironically, the same people who scorned our “victim culture” derided his thesis as naive. They contended it was natural to brutalize, but unnatural to complain.
Arthur's rebuttal was too well documented to be dismissed with macho sneers. And it was sincere; he didn't believe in violence, nor did he believe that it was hardwired into us.
And here he was, holding someone at gunpoint?
I couldn't believe it. I
believe it. For once, I trusted what I knew over what I saw.
Around Arthur, people stopped, obviously aghast, taking fearful steps away. Arthur seemed completely focused on the gun, as if it were some reptile manifesting in his hand. The man holding up his hands was yammering. I couldn't hear what he was saying, only his tone: panicky, high-pitched.
I wheeled around. The cop; that's what the cop was doing, radioing for help before dashing forward to arrest Arthur.
Arthur Kenna, thirty years ago, participated in the now-famous Harvard LSD experiments. A prominent ethnobotanist, he'd been a logical choice for inclusion. He'd made a study of how plants affected culture. He'd sampled ayahuasca and yagÃ© with Brazilian natives, he'd eaten psychoactive mushrooms with Siberian peasants, he'd partaken of a whole dessert cart of botanical highsâand done far more retching than any other profession required. (This had been a major factor in shifting his focus from ethnobotany to anthropology and mythology, he'd told me.) Unfortunately, Arthur had been out of the country when LSD was later declared illegal. He'd been arrested and convicted of a felony the next time he'd been persuaded to experiment with it.