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Margot Adler remembers Isaac Bonewits

Issac Bonewitz, respected Pagan elder and founder of the Druid group Ar nDraiocht Fein, died Thursday.

Margot Adler, NPR reporter and author of Drawing Down the Moon, one of the best books on the Pagan movement around, offered a remembrance on All Things Considered.

Issac was a regular at the Starwood Festival, and also appeared at FSG a few times. He performed at the first FSG where I was on staff, and I helped set up the sound system -- that was after running around camp trying to find him, yelling "Has anyone seen Issac Bone-Wits?" Which is, of course, not how he pronounced his name! I got to chat with him in the chow line at the Dancing Tree Cafe, and found him to be personable, intelligent, and possessed of a wonderful gentle sense of humor.

A few years ago, a conversation at Starwood with Issac and his lovely wife Phaedra helped put me on the trail of the Joseph Campbell essay The Symbol Without Meaning, which proved to be a big influence on the development of Why Buddha Touched The Earth. So I remember him with extra gratitude for that.

"Adventure, excitement -- a Jedi craves not these things."

Sunday night, after Zelda's. Nice summer night, didn't feel like heading home quite yet; sitting in Slainte, a little up the street from the Grind, for a beer. Pre-season football on the big screen over the bar...don't give a damn about it, but still can't help but look at it, ancient survival reflex to check out movement, I suppose -- something moving! Is it trying to eat me? Better look over and check!

Anyway. Trying to relax, past few days, after wrapping up the second draft of Why Buddha Touched the Earth. Feel pretty good about it -- it's ready to send out to potential publishers. It'll need a pass by a professional editor, for sure, and a publisher might want some re-working. But with the re-arranging of some chapters from the first draft, plus a few new opening paragraphs and a new chapter at the end to tie it all together (and big thanks to Dave Landis for that suggestion), and a little more detail in some critical sections, I feel that it's pretty solid.

(Wow. I don't have a big screen HDTV at home. I didn't know how much detail they show of people's skin texture. Makes people look pretty unattractive in close-up when every pore is at 4x magnification.)

Starting to feel that "oh, where did the summer go?!" thing. Well, I know where the month since Starwood went, it went to working on this book! You'd think that would be a good answer, but still there is that in my mind that wants there to have been new adventures and romances as well as a dozen things done at home.

Never mind that if I sat down and related my life since the start of May to an neutral observer, they'd probably find it full of adventure -- "you went to three Pagan festivals, presented lectures and workshops on a bunch of interesting topics, climbed a crazy PVC dome, taught people to smash boards with their hands, went running in the nude, danced in the street at the Sowebo festival, burned a sculpture, helped a local band put together a visionary arts gathering, worked on a book addressing one of the deepest questions of the human experience...and you feel like there were no adventures?!"

Which illustrates the old problem: you can never get enough of that which wasn't the thing you really wanted in the first place.

"Adventure, excitement -- a Jedi craves not these things," said Master Yoda. I suppose if I were a Sage I'd be living quietly up in the mountains somewhere...but of course, wanting to be a Sage is its own form of craving after that which is not the here-and-now. So I ought to shut up, sit here and pay attention to drinking my beer and being here in this bar.

RIP Marty Baum: "one bad daddy"

Even in these days of Facebook, it can take news, good or bad, months to find us.

Marty Baum was part of my original poetical family, one of the regulars at World Famous Poetry Night at the Planet X coffeehouse in College Park, Maryland, back in the mid 1990s. Though we were all equal poets there, he was a mentor to me in the full-on, balls-to-the-wall style with which he read and performed his stuff.

He was one of the nutcases who kept coming even after the place burned down, meeting on the "grassy knoll" right across the street on the campus of the University of Maryland, or under the awning of a sub shop a few doors up. I remember a bunch of us meeting under that awning one night with a tornado warning in effect -- I can't remember for sure if Marty was there that night or not, but I think he was. We were a bunch of crazy young poets, so what the hell and why not?

It was Marty, as I recall, who introduced me to the work of Charles Bukowski; Bukowski's been a favorite of mine ever since.

I had lost touch with Marty over the years, but back in February we met up on Facebook, and for about two months after that we would occasionally swap comments. I hadn't heard from him in a while, but that happens; I wasn't checking on his page or anything. So I missed the news.

I just learned that Marty left us back on April 4th, a victim of lack of health insurance. According to notes left on his Facebook page, he had lost his health insurance when he lost his job last year. And so a minor infection was left untreated and ran rampant, costing this fine young poet his life. Another needless death brought to you by our ridiculous, laughable, tragic, profit-oriented healthcare system.

So if I should happen to punch out the lights of the next goddamn teabagger who parrots the bullshit about the U.S. having the best healthcare system in the world, you'll know why. But I'll try to refrain, in honor of Marty's general good nature.

Instead I'll try to take this as a reminder to let the people who've touched my life, know what they mean to me. So all my fellow poets, those I've shared the stage at readings with, those I've struggled with crazy writing exercises with: you are my brothers and sisters in arms, and I love you.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: a travel poem

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem about travel, literal or figurative -- with a cherry on top (literal or figurative)

the car does not like these mountains
there are no switchbacks here, just a straight charge 2,000 feet up
and at 140,000 miles the engine is not as strong as once it was

but all true paths lead through mountains, as Snyder Sensei tells us --
there must be a challenge in the journey
so I turn off the AC, roll down the windows
accepting the heat so that we may have the power to climb this peak

Tom Swiss for FSA President

As I previously mentioned, I'm running for President of the Free Spirit Alliance. My complete candidate's statement is now available at

Here's an abbreviated version; the version linked above goes into more detail about my experience in FSA.

    When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists...When his work is done, the people say, "Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!" -- Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu (trans. S. Mitchell)

Hi. I'm Tom Swiss, and I'm currently serving as vice-president, and running for the presidency, of the Free Spirit Alliance. You might not know my name, but odds are that you know my face. You've been to the concerts that I've MCed, or to the Bardic Circles I've hosted, or you've been to one of my workshops on shiatsu or Zen or self-defense, or you've heard one of my Discordian fire circle rants. After the past year or two, you might know me as "that guy in the purple top hat".

From my involvement in our events and in our political process, I've come to believe that 1) we have a lot of smart, determined, hard-working, and productive people in our community -- and 2) we need to do a better job of making it easier for them to participate in this organization.

One of the obstacles I saw was the use of Robert's Rules of Order in our meetings. Last year I began a campaign to replace them with an alternative called "Martha's Rules", a more consensus-oriented approach that encourages dialog and discussion, but still allows for majority rule when deadlocks occur. I'm very pleased that at the most recent business meeting, the membership decided to adopt this alternative on a trial basis.

I also think that we can do a better job in using the Internet to enable communication. As a professional computer geek, I've been involved in on-line discussion groups since the late 1980s, from FidoNet and USENET through mailing lists to web forums and social networking sites. I've recently started working with Eve, our webmaster, to set up a wiki site for FSG staff to record and document procedures and information, and I think we can also expand it as a general community resource.

The past few years I've been trying to promote FSA events within the Baltimore area arts community. As part of that, I've been hanging out with "Burners" -- attendees of Burning Man and of the local Burns, Playa Del Fuego and Wicker Man. This is a community that already overlaps with us -- I've seen many familiar faces at PDF and Wicker Man -- and I think that many other people in it are looking for a spiritual connection in a way that is right in line with what we do.

And I think that we can learn from the radically participatory way that Burns are organized. The Burners have a wonderful term, "do-ocracy": those who do stuff, make the decisions. I would like to bring that idea of radical participation into FSA.

I want to make it so easy for the people of our community to participate and get stuff done, that there ends up not being much for the officers and trustees to do but sign checks and schedule meetings. I want to work hard to make it easy for members to get stuff done so that I can be a supremely lazy President. It's paradoxical, but you should expect that from me by now.

For that to happen, the President must be a highly visible presence. The President acts as the official spokesperson for FSA; as a writer, a performing poet and musician, and with my experience as MC, I believe I have the skills to represent us in any medium or circumstance, from presiding at our scholarships awards to composing press releases to being interviewed by the media. I would like to raise FSA's visibility in the community, and I think I am well suited to act as our representative.

On a more practical note, after this election the first thing the new FSA officers must address is ensuring that our financial records and paperwork are up to date. We recently learned that we may not be in full compliance with tax law changes from 2006, and we have to get right on that. This is why I recruited Alison Chicosky to run for Treasurer.

As of the June meeting, we've got a powerful line-up of candidates for President. (The line-up may have changed by the time you read this; so it goes.) Duckie and Kal have proven their ability in the position; Fred has held the VP slot and worked hard for us in his role as quartermaster. I'd be happy to continue to serve as Vice President with any of them.

But I think I can offer fresh energy and a new direction for this organization.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Please feel free to comment here, or to e-mail me at

Zelda's Inferno exercise: my father's Vietnam story

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about things you've learned about other people's actions, that affected you deeply.

my father doesn't talk much
about his time in Vietnam
(he always just says "overseas",
almost never names the place)

for him I think it was
mostly boredom
an AP, he mostly kept drunk airmen in line and
walked patrol around the perimeter of the base

but on his 60th birthday he told me a story I'd never heard before

on his way home, in transit but still in country
waiting for a connecting flight, he and a buddy having a few beers
stepping outside

FSG and accessibility

Hi friends. Some rumors have been going around relating to the Free Spirit Gathering and access for the disabled, and I wanted to clear up a few facts. This is my own opinion as an event staffer, not an official FSA declaration, but hopefully it will put to rest some disinformation that's going around.

First of all, the Free Spirit Alliance is committed to making our events as assessable as we can. While we -- like all religious organizations, and programs operated by them -- are exempt from the accessibility requirements of Title III of the ADA, we still take proactive steps like offering point-to-point transportation throughout the campground, and maintaining a cabin especially for accessible housing. After all, some of our valued staffers have disabilities, and we all recognize that in a few decades we might need a hand ourselves!

The safety of festival goers is another priority for us, and for this reason powered vehicles are generally disallowed from FSG, except for a couple of golf carts used by staff -- to do things like offer point-to-point transportation. But, as our web site explains, we do make exceptions for mobility aids for the disabled -- though we request and require that they be operated in a safe manner.

As with all elements of our events, we seek constant improvement in accessibility. We are considing developing a FAQ document on the subject, and we welcome your input; or if you have any other questions or concerns about accessibility or safety, we invite your comments. Please contact me privately and I'll forward them as appropriate. Thanks!

Skilcraft U.S. Government

When I was a kid (yeah, yeah, long ago), my dad worked as a computer programmer and systems analyst. (Dad's a Realtor now, so if you're looking to buy or sell a home in Baltimore City or County, or Harford County, look him up...)

Some of the jobs he held back then were government contracts; and so, as usually happens, minor office supplies would find their way home. I remember a pad of paper with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission logo, for example.

And of course, Skilcraft pens and pencils. I remember green wooden #3 pencils with the "Skilcraft U.S. Government" logo; and of course, the ubiquitous black ball point pens. So this Washington Post article was strangely nostalgic. But it's also a celebration of robust, simple engineering.

Chaos, Robert's Rules, and messages from the Goddess

Since last fall, I've been on a push to get the Free Spirit Alliance -- a Pagan/Pantheist organization I've been involved with for several years, and of which I'm currently vice-president -- to move away from the use of Robert's Rules of Order at its business meetings. I found a more consensus oriented alternative called Martha's Rules, and was going to give a presentation on it at the FSA business meeting Saturday during the Free Spirit Gathering, our main event.

To that end, I spend several hours coming up with a handout to distribute at the meeting, listing Martha's Rules and giving my arguments against Robert's. I printed out a bunch of copies.

Saturday, getting ready for the meeting, I grabbed my print-outs -- and found that all but the top one were gibberish. I recall that there was a paper jam during the printing; perhaps after clearing that, some settings got bollixed up. I don't know. Point is, I only had one useful copy.

I went up to the "White House", the historic house at Camp Ramblewood that serves as the base of operations for our event, to see if more copies could be made. No luck. While I was up there, I had the need for a rest room break, so I left my one good copy in a safe place (on top of the White House mini-fridge).

When I returned a few minutes later, it had vanished.

Arrrggghhh! Now I couldn't even read off of my notes.

Fortunately, I am a Discordian. When Chaos and Disorder appear, I know them as manifestations of the One True Goddess, Eris. Clearly, this was a divine message.

And what was the message? To go off book, and speak from the heart.

So I did. Rather than going from my notes, I talked about how I had come to my first FSA business meeting during the lead-up to the Great Split of 2003 (if you were there, you know; if not, it's a long story not necessarily suitable for discussion here); how I thought that our president at the time, Kalibran, did a fantastic job of guiding a very contentious discussion; and how I had wanted to acknowledge that. I spoke of how I tried to bring up a motion to express our thanks to Kal -- and was told that I could not, that the floor was closed or some such bit of Robert's Rule-ness. My first experience of an FSA meeting, in other words, was Robert's Rules squashing an attempt at a sincerce expression of thanks.

I don't think that's a good thing for an organization whose chartered purposes include "Maintaining communication between congregations" and "Promoting harmony and good will within the pantheist community".

To my delight, I found that my points were well received; so much so that, rather than scheduling a vote for the next meeting on a bylaws change to use Martha's Rules, the membership decided to adopt them on a trial basis starting at the next meeting. (It certainly helped that, in the course of our discussion, we got four or five layers deep in the Rules, with a motion, an amended motion, a point of order, and a point of information all floating around at one point. I couldn't have asked for a better illustration what what we Do Not Want.)

Saturday evening, after the meeting, my friend Sigre came up me. "I have something for you," she said, and produced the missing copy of my notes -- which she had found right where I had left it. So not only did it disappear in order to prompt a change in my presentation, it reappeared afterwards.

Such is the magical path. Keep doing it long enough, and weird little things like this happen. (See, for example, the case of the confounding keys.) What does it mean? Did someone, for reasons unknown, pick up that paper in the few minutes I was gone, and replace it later? Did I go temporarily nuts, and miss seeing it sitting where I had left it? Did the forces of chaos (Hail Eris!) decide to spin me around and do-si-do? I can only report my observations.

Hollywood, please don't mess up the Green Lantern movie

When I was a kid, my exposure to superheroes came more from the Super Friends cartoons on Saturday morning than from comic books. And those cartoons didn't much feature the heroes' origin stories.

But once in a while I'd get my hands on some of that four-color newsprint. And one of those comics (probably an issue of Justice League of America) featured, in some flashback context or another, the origin of the Green Lantern, Hal Jordan.

GL's origin story was my favorite: unlike those who were born into their powers (like Superman) or got them by accident (like Spider Man), Jordan's were awarded to him because of his character.

The Green Lantern Corps is an interstellar force of crime-fighters and heroes, whose powers come from the rings they wear. Before Jordan, Abin Sur was the Green Lantern for this sector of the galaxy; he crashed on Earth, and Jordan, a test pilot, flew to the scene and risked his life to try to save the dying alien. Sur sees Jordan as a worthy replacement, and gives him the ring.

In some tellings, Jordan is summoned by the ring when Sur directs it to find someone honest and fearless. But the point is that Jordan wasn't selected at random: he earned it.

Which is why a lot of GL fans are feeling nervous about the tagline seen on promotional art just released for next summer's Green Lantern movie: "Anyone can be chosen."

Uh, no, guys, that's the point. It takes a very special person (or other sentient being, up to and including an intelligent planet) to wield a Green Lantern ring. Not just "anyone".

Hollywood, please don't mess this up.


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