Positively Podcasting

Are you into podcasts? I know a lot of people are.

I worked on an article this week that I was assigned by the editor at the auto trade magazine I’ve been writing for since 2015. She wanted me to gather some podcasts for their end-of-the-year “best of” issue.

Mark was a big fan of podcasts. When he’d email me from the road last fall and winter, he regularly shared something he learned from one of the rotating podcasts he was listening to. Sometimes he’d tell me about a topic covered by Rich Roll, one of his favorites. Do you remember on Day 009 how excited he was when Roll tweeted about him? He also liked Malcolm Gladwell’s  Revisionist History. Because of his enthusiasm for these podcasts, I started listening.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to Roll and Gladwell. The past few days, I immersed myself in the world filled with innumerable people broadcasting and streaming outstanding and maybe more important to me—uplifting content. I don’t want to let the “cat out of the bag” in terms of my future article, but I will share a few things I learned by simply taking time to fill-up with something more positive than the latest angry tweets from our president.

I’ve been a fan of Gladwell’s for a long time. He’s such an outstanding writer. I fell in love with his writing after reading several of his long-form pieces he wrote for The New Yorker. He had a talent for taking a topic that you thought you knew something about and turning it on its head. I then read The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. I still can’t believe that book is more than 15-years-old. Continue reading

When Disaster Strikes

When loss hits you, your world is turned upside down. Whether the loss involves death, or in places hit by hurricanes and other kinds of disasters where people are displaced from their homes, stress and the subsequent emotional and physical effects target the victims.

A key element in ensuring health and harboring the hope for longevity requires learning to manage and mitigate stress. That’s easier said when you are observing stress from a distance. When you are in the midst of swirling waters either literally or figuratively, remaining detached and free from roiling emotions and a knot (or pain) in your gut is nearly impossible.

Disasters bring out the best and worst in humans. While now personally acquainted with the personal variety, natural (and national) ones are often magnified by the media. They serve an important function for programmers—ready-made stories that fill hours of air time, with advertisers happy to fork out marketing capital to capture fixated eyeballs.

Speaking of capitalizing on disaster, our sitting president is someone who has done well capitalizing and exploiting the misfortunes of others. I’ve mentioned Sarah Kendzior before. She nails it in this article by Nancy LeTourneau on our Exploiter in Chief being our “ultimate disaster capitalist,” a master at reveling (and profiting, handsomely) when others are in the midst of chaos and suffering. Make sure you click on the links provided in the quoted snippet, too. This isn’t false (or “fake”) propaganda, but a telling measure of the man we elected as our 45th president. He’ll surely find a way to profit from the fates of those in Houston like he has throughout his business career. That’s the Trump MO.

Trump spent his business career eagerly anticipating both social and economic disasters. “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said of the housing crash in 2006. Before that, Trump spent decades exploiting the damaged economies of towns like Gary, Indiana and Atlantic City, leaving them as bad or worse off than when he arrived.

America’s 4th largest city, underwater. [Aaron Cohan photo]

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Head On

I’m pleased that copies of I am a Road are being snatched up. I want people to read Mark’s writing because it’s worthy of a wider audience. I haven’t been this busy shipping books since my own collection of essays came out in the summer of 2014. Of course, that may as well have been 100 years ago, given the events of the last eight weeks.

Our son, Mark, was a poet. I should add, an “award-winning poet,” as his walk was being partially funded by a poetry fellowship from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. The award likely became a factor, helping him again heed the road’s beck and call.

In 2015, Mark also won the Quarterly West Novella Contest, for Holiday Meat. I enjoyed finding this review by Mary-Kim Arnold, from last summer, and reading her obvious appreciation for the work and Mark’s writing.

Mark was just hitting his stride as a writer and poet. I can’t imagine where his commitment to craft might have taken him if he wasn’t tragically killed January 21, walking along a highway in Florida.

This thought is merely one of many that arrive daily, if not more often. Grief is packed full of questions relative to loved ones lost.

Packing books means that at some point, I need to bring them somewhere and ship them. Since we’re now in Brunswick, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the post office on Pleasant Street.

On Monday morning, I ran across the street after doing my book drop, and grabbed a stack of books about grief at Curtis Memorial Library. Out of six books randomly chosen, two might be rated as moderately helpful. I’m finding that most of the books occupying library self-help sections on the subject don’t offer much in terms of assuaging the pain associated with losing someone, especially a son that Mary and I loved more than life itself.

One book that I grabbed was pretty good, though. It was an older book, published by a small press in New York. It’s title, The Death of an Adult Child: A Book For and About Bereaved Parents. Definitely one that will never be considered an entry for “sexiest book title.” The book, published in 1998, isn’t one of the newer books on the topic, either.

The writer, Jeanne Webster Blank, lost a 39-year-old daughter to breast cancer three weeks after being diagnosed. Naturally, Blank and her husband were devastated.

Books about grief.

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Absurdity Illustrated

Wheaton College holds a special place in our hearts. It’s where Mark spent four formative years between August, 2002, and May, 2006. We made the 180-mile trek (from Durham, at the time) probably close to 100 times to visit him on-campus.

I’ve been reminded often of late that there are many people who don’t know of Mark’s baseball exploits at Wheaton and before that, at Greely High School, in Cumberland, Maine. In high school, Mark was also a defenseman in hockey, and one of the captains of the team as a junior and a senior. The barefoot-walking, vegan superhero, who didn’t seem enamored of “doing sports” while making videos and blogging his way across the country, was once quite an athlete.

Back when I was driving up-and-down (and sideways across) Maine, retraining the state’s workforce in my nonprofit role, I regularly touched on “transferable skills.” Mark’s death and the subsequent focus on his life and our memories of him reminded me on Wednesday that his laser-like focus and discipline he drew upon “doing sports” transferred readily to that next creative chapter in his life, when he walked away from the diamond.

Professor Charlotte Meehan played an integral role in Mark’s literary and creative development when he showed up at Wheaton. She organized a wonderful reading in his honor on Wednesday at the college. More than 50 people filled the May Room in the Mary Lyon building to hear selections chosen by Meehan of Mark’s work. These were read skillfully by former professors, his college baseball coach, the sports information director, friends and classmates, and other faculty. I closed the reading with a selection from my 2014 book of essays, specifically, “A Northerner’s Journey Crossing the South.” Continue reading

We Showed Up

There’s a huge advantage to living nearly halfway across the country from the rest of your clan when you are 21 and you are a brand new dad. This formative experience fosters deep bonds between you and the other two members of your unit.

Being so young and suddenly thrust into the role of parents forced the two of us to become really clear about our lives and our love for one another. Yes, I suppose we could have gone in the opposite direction, but what we lacked in money and resourceswe more than made up for in devotion to one another and our newborn baby boy, Mark.

When I look at photos of the two of us from the early 1980s, I’m struck by a couple of things. First, I’m amazed at how young we both looked. This was the stage in life when many people our age were getting started on a career, and contemplating what grad school to apply at. For the two of us, it was cobbling together enough cash to pay our rent, keep one of our two clunkers running and on the road, and later, how best to sync our dual work schedules so that Mark could have a parent home, spending time with him and nurturing his spirit.

On the steps of our duplex in Chesterton, IN (circa 1986)

After I fell out with the God people in Hammond and Crown Point, Indiana, I landed a job working in a prison. While Westville Correctional Center sure as hell wasn’t glamorous, it offered decent wages and even more important for our young family at the time—access to health insurance and our first HMO. Continue reading

Being Present

Losing someone you love, as Mary and I loved Mark, creates a holeone that beckons to be filled. We were a close knit unit of three, now reduced by a third. Percentage-wise, the number is 33, Mark’s age at his death. This is merely another random detail aggressively forced upon us by the universe, without solicitation, or any offer of negotiation, let alone any thought for our welfare or benefit.

Our experiences as brand new members of the Grieving Parents Club have helped us to learn firsthand to understand why parents that have lost a child unexpectedly would look for ways to assuage their pain and the waves of grief that threaten to swamp them. We also live in an age where there are a host of pharmaceutical remedies and of course, there’s always the option of legal self-medication, too.

Someone that I don’t know that well, but who offered me some unexpected kindness and empathy this week, shared a bit of his own story about members of his family and how they chose to deal with the grief of losing a teenage son 20 years ago. The mother drank herself into alcoholism and the father tried to cope by filling their garage and yard with “toys” of all shapes and sizes. Neither of those were solutions capable of bringing their son back to them. Fortunately, they were able to find a more positive approach further along in their own journey along grief’s highway. Continue reading

Beyond Words

It was three weeks ago last night when the state trooper drove down our darkened driveway and knocked on our door. Three weeks ago, our lives were forever altered by the actions of a woman who from this report and information available online, shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of her SUV. Mary and I shouldn’t be left to grieve the death of our son. But here we are.

Grief has been written about and described in various ways. Linda Andrews, who wrote a wonderful book on the subject, describes it as “a deep dark hole.” At times, it feels like that.

Linda’s a friend, and I actually served as a consultant when she was developing the idea for Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve. Mark did the layout and design and developed a website for her. She’s stayed in touch with Mary and I since Mark was killed. The other day she sent us this:

The death of a loved one shifts the whole foundation of our life. Nothing is as it was. Even what was most familiar seems in a strange way unfamiliar. It is as though we had to learn a new language, a new way of seeing. Even the face in the mirror seems the face of a stranger. Continue reading

The Celebration

I’ve written an obituary for our son. Then there were several days worth of interviews following his senseless death along US 90 in Florida, when he was struck and killed by a motorist. Mary has been dealing with all manner of details related to Mark’s life (and death), too.

Yesterday, we gathered with hundreds on hand at Brown University (and many, many more watching the celebration on live stream) and told what our son meant to us as parents. So did an amazing gathering of people from across Mark’s life.

Program cover-The Mark Baumer Celebration of LIfe

Two weeks out from losing Mark, today is similar to every other day since we received the news that fateful Saturday night. We’ll never not remember the date, time, and what we experienced then—a sense that time was standing still. Continue reading

Dadtalk

Mark and I had countless conversations when he was out on the road.

On his first crossing back in 2010, I’d send him emails every day. These might be commentary on the prior night’s baseball game, things I was observing across that day’s news cycle, and questions about what he was seeing as he trekked across America one foot at a time.

We discussed this in early October when we last saw each other. Mary and I had driven down to Providence and spent the day with him. It was a beautiful day on some many levels—this is was also our last time seeing him and hugging him. To be hugged by Mark was something I’ll never forget and miss so much. Oh those shoulders!

A trio of Baumers.

My routine this time had me emailing him in the morning after I’d wake up and get a cup of coffee. I’d sit in my darkened office illuminated with an overhead desk lamp and bang out that day’s first note. I’d sometimes send another one or two shorter blasts. I warned him that I’d probably send him way more shit than he had time to respond to. He knew his dad and he was probably thinking the same thing, but he’d never crush my spirit by saying anything mean. Continue reading

Death by SUV

[Due to my site being hacked, I’ve had to repost a couple of pieces I wrote about Mark, as I was processing my grief in the aftermath of his death. The world is truly a cruel and heartless place at times. This was originally posted on Jan. 25.–jb]

As a late-blooming writer, I’ve maintained a commitment to working on my craft. Along the way, I’ve read a myriad of books that spoke about the writing process. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book that talks about writing through grief, or possibly, how to put words on paper when your heart’s been ripped out and run over several times.

That’s a pretty shitty metaphor, I know. I’m just trying to paint a word picture of what I’ve been feeling since 10:30, Saturday night, when the trooper from the Maine State Police knocked on our door and delivered the news to Mary and me that our beloved son, Mark, had been hit by an SUV in Fort Walton County, Florida, and killed. Our lives as they’d been up to that moment were forever altered. Continue reading