the lonesome death of Marilyn Monroe

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Mon, 08/06/2012 - 01:35

August 5, 2012, marks the 50th anniversary of the death (by suicide or accidental drug overdose, discounting various conspiracy theories) of film icon Marilyn Monroe. I'm not a huge movie buff; I actually don't think I've seen one of her films all the way through.

Yet her story is fascinating for what it reveals about the nature of sexual attractiveness, and also as an example of the sort of suffering Buddhists call "dukkha". Here we have someone who got past an abusive childhood to get to the point where she "had it all": fame, adulation, money...but it wasn't enough to fill the hole inside. She was not suffering from poverty, physical illness; her career was bumpy but looking up. What caused her to either take her own life, or become so dependant on drugs she was set up for a fatal accident? In a way, this woman the world adored died of loneliness.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "this moment appears, then compose a poem"

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Sun, 08/05/2012 - 22:25

Dochong: So, what you are saying is that only just this moment, whatever appears is usually your subject for a poem.

Zen Master Seung Sahn: Exactly, this moment appears, then compose a poem.

-- "Zen and Poetry: a Brief Conversation",

this moment appears, then compose a poem
this moment August 5 2012
this moment of late summer melancholy already descending
of unsettled heart mourning the loss of love

a minute of subway car fame

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Fri, 08/03/2012 - 13:44

The lovely and talented Sara Lynn Michener posted a little story on her Facebook feed today about a run-in with a subway preacher. It reminded me of an experience I had back in June, during my last trip to NYC, that I had intended to blog about but never got around to. So I'll just repeat my comment on Sara's post, because I think it's a good story -- and because I'd like to encourage people to stand up and speak out when they see bigotry.

"Fire Monks" review @ Hardcore Zen

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Mon, 07/30/2012 - 23:48

Over at Hardcore Zen, Brad Warner has a review of a book that looks interesting:

For those who don’t know, the basic story of the book is this. In 2008 Tassajara Zen monastery deep in the Ventana Wilderness area of Northern California just east of Big Sur, was threatened by one of the biggest forest fires California has ever known. There were a several evacuations that whittled the number of people in the valley further and further down until finally the forestry service ordered the last twenty-one people protecting the monastery to leave. At the last minute five of the monks turned back and went into the valley to protect the monastery.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "beautiful and terrible"

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Sun, 07/22/2012 - 20:06

Zelda's Inferno exercise (first in several weeks, due to being on the road): poem from the following list of words, generated from the theme "invisible stuff":

ego, wind, ghosts, fear, misconceptions, thread, some faeries, breath, cycle, gravity, lust, disease, joy, magnetism, oxygen, routines

this beautiful planet will
kill you dead
without a backwards glance

beautiful and terrible
ancient people personified it with faeries
some kind, some deadly
all to be respected
like gravity
or the winds of a storm

touching a miracle: my role in the resurrection of Ian Hesford

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Fri, 07/20/2012 - 00:25

As I re-arrange my on-line presence and start a new blog, it seems only fitting to start it off by finally writing about one of the most significant events in my life and the lives of several other people.

On April 20th, after presenting a lecture at the Ecumenicon Interfaith Conference in Beltsville, I happened to get a call from my day job about a server problem. I headed home to Catonsville to resolve it, planning to return to Ecumenicon for the evening's activities. But by the time the issue was resolved it was getting late, so rather than go back to Beltsville I made the fateful decision to go to the Telesma show at Power Plant Live...where I got to be part of a medical miracle.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: gathering rubbish in the corner of the harbor

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Sun, 06/17/2012 - 21:16

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem using at least half of the following words (from

contrary rubbish leading twisting count disco gathering double inject name two straight rural west inefficient

gathering rubbish in the corner of the harbor
twisting current leading together
empty potato chip bags and styrofoam cups and sticks and leaves
double down with a dead fish
floating on its side
one eye staring straight up at the sky

sometime I want a team with skimmer nets to walk the edge of the harbor --
I don't care if its inefficient --
just to pick out the garbage others throw in or let be washed in

it's sort of like
inside my head
bit of garbage injected in advertisers, salesmen, bankers, priests,
every so often I must walk the perimeter of the mind
remove that which does not belong
clean the trash dumped by others
the dead fish of expired ideas, rotting

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "streaks across my mind"

Submitted by Tom Swiss on Tue, 05/29/2012 - 21:44

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem from the following wordlist, around the theme "bugs hitting the windshield":

smattering, *sad, *smear, *wiper, *streaks, *ending, goo, spray, salutations, *fear, *blood, wing, *extinguish, crescent, oogie, squish

streaks across my mind that
I don't see every day
like streaks on the bathroom mirror that you only see when it fogs up
thought you'd wiped them away but
there they are again
manifesting when conditions are sufficient