Waiting and Listening

Mark was wise beyond his 33 years. Since he was killed in January, I’ve often reflected on his wisdom—where he gathered it from—and maybe more important, his ongoing commitment to cultivate it.

He reminded me time and time again of the efficacy of stepping back from something that I lacked perspective on. Often, this “thing” would be (at the time) a source of dissonance and more often than not, causing me to get tangled up in anger, frustration, and anxiety.

I believe that Mark’s daily discipline of meditation was teaching him the need (and importance) of creating space from those things that create emotional “white noise” in our lives. Sadly, I no longer get to bounce things his way. Maybe that’s why I’ve been finding myself getting “stuck” in spaces that I should know intellectually are not worth occupying.

Last week, I spent far too much of my time fixated on a moneymaking proposition that I recognize (now) isn’t a good fit. Not a get-rich-quick scheme—but a career maneuver that had me twisting towards something that I’m probably not really invested in. Instead of trusting my instincts, I rushed foolishly ahead and ran into a wall. After a couple of days given to beating myself up about it, I am now able to see some humor in it. I’m also reminded of the scene in Animal House, the one where Stork (played by Douglas Kenney) knocks down the drum major and leads the marching band off the parade route and down a dead-end alley.

That sound of the crunching slide trombones was me, last week.

In the midst of my own stupidity and lack of perspective, glimmers of light flicker. Seeing old high school classmates Saturday night was wonderful. It didn’t feel like 37 years had passed since we were marching across the high school football field gathering our diplomas. The kind words and hugs received made me realize that people care and that I am still tethered to many of my former classmates.

Kayaking out from Sebasco Harbor Resort on Sunday and the amazing scenery and wildlife-viewing offered up by Maine’s rocky coast was pretty damn close to being perfect.

On Monday I celebrated 35 years of marriage to the best partner I ever could have found to go through this life with.

A week later, I feel like I’ve righted the ship and managed to get it pointed in the right direction.

Finding the Bridge

Sleep and sleep patterns have always intrigued (and affected) me. As in, I don’t always sleep as soundly as some. Basically, I wake up in the middle of the night more often, than not. This has been especially true since Mark’s death.

Several years ago, new information about the history of sleep came across my desk and it helped me recognize that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep wasn’t necessarily the norm, at least until marketers seized upon another way to deepen their pockets—by pushing the idea, along with a host of sleep aids and other pharmaceuticals.

According to Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech, people slept in “shifts,” basically, or twice per night.

His research conducted over 16 years found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight-hour chunk, but instead, sleep came in two shorter periods, but over a longer range of night, with the range being about 12 hours long. He later wrote a book about it.

When I wake up and can’t fall back asleep, I get up, go downstairs and attend to some task for about an hour. Then, I get drowsy and often, go back to bed and sleep for 45 to 90 minutes. I generally wake up refreshed and ready for my day.

These nocturnal interludes between sleep shifts are when I discover interesting things, or do some quick research on something I’ve jotted down the previous day or prior week. Continue reading

Cover Letter Writing

Mark was a content-creation machine. Just look at all the fucking stuff he’s posted on the feeds since 2006!! He puts most of us who call ourselves creatives (and writers) to shame.

I wrote about our last in-person visit with him. The week following that visit, we had this exchange via email about blogging and a post about creepy clowns that he liked.

I’m glad you are enjoying the Jeff Buckley book.

I liked your blogpost today. Have you ever thought of returning to the blog daily? I know you have a lot going on, but I really like what you wrote today. Especially the paragraph linking the governor to a creepy clown. I think sometimes you put pressure on yourself to create these fully formed blogposts of a certain length. If you were to do a daily blog again I think maybe you should abandon the notion of word count and focus on observing/saying one thing once a day. When you feel inspired to go long then definitely still go long. Maybe keep the same schedule of Tuesday and Friday to go long, but fill the other days with smaller things. Anyway, it’s just a thought.

 I hope the repairs are going well. 

Oh and here’s a neat tweak on cooking sweet potatoes that looks good

I’m not committing to any kind of schedule for blogging or anything else for that matter (at least remaining somewhat in charge, as is humanly possible in money-driven America), but I think I can blog more often, even if it’s following Mark’s prescription to riff on something observed or some other element of living.

Today, in addition to blogging, I’m intent on finishing a lengthy package for a freelance writing gig that matches much of what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. No matter what kind of skills you have, however, there’s no guarantee you’ll get noticed.

I was thinking about that along with something that a Brown MFA colleague of Mark’s, Darren Angle, shared via Quora. Darren who I’d describe as a life coach for people who think life coaching is a crock of shit, uses this tagline describing what he does—I help people quit their jobs (and do work they love). Sign me up!!

Darren offered the most unique response to the Quora question, “What is important to include on [sic] a cover letter? Please read it now—do not pass Go until you do!

It was Darren’s reality-based advice that made me decide to change my own approach to cover letter writing. Why the hell not? What do I have to lose at this point—grief and loss, if anything is freeing and it helps you to feel like Teflon.

I’ve included my “new” cover letter that I plan to continue using. Key details like employer name and contact person have been redacted. My approach is the “getting real” method. Your own cover letter may likely contain something slightly different.

While preparing to post this, I was also reminded of Mark’s calls to agents. Oh Mark, you were a one-of-a-kind soul and I miss you each and every day (and all the moments in-between).

A real, live draft of my cover letter, with edits.

Continue reading

Finishing the Walk

I haven’t thought a lot about Mark’s walk for a few months. That’s not to say that I haven’t thought about Mark. A day, nary an hour passes when I don’t think of him, especially when I see a picture of him somewhere in the house.

On Sunday, I was working the bases during a Twilight League game and I looked up and saw the moon, pre-dusk. I thought of a tune I’ve heard countless times by Xian rockers, The Violent Burning. The chorus line, “if you ever reach the moon before I do, wave goodbye.” I imagined Mark waving to me planted on the grass of a baseball infield. It was hard not to tear-up and hold it together. I had to because that’s just life—plus, “there’s no crying in baseball,” at least according to Tom Hanks.

Holidays without Mark are tough. Monday and Tuesday were rough days for Mary and me. They always will be.

Today, after completing my tasks for the day around noon and dreading waiting around ‘til tonight’s umpiring assignment, I dug out my 2017 Rand McNally Road Atlas. For some reason, I take comfort looking at the map of where Mark walked and then, projecting the potential route he would have taken west from where he was killed. Continue reading

Remembering Others

I’ve written tributes about people in my life who were special to me. I think it’s important to discharge our debts of gratitude personally, and in some cases, publicly. I’ve tried to walk that out in my own life.

Having written two books about Moxie, the distinctly-different regional soft drink that has developed a cult following in parts of my native New England, I know a bit about the elixir’s history. I also recognize that there have been figures in that history that were essential in keeping Moxie’s brand alive.

If your curiosity about Moxie’s been piqued, I’d point you to a couple of blog posts. This one about Sue Conroy is one I’d highly recommend. Sue got me excited about Moxie and forced me to dig into the drink’s past. And then if you think you are good at math, there’s nothing quite like a little Moxie math. Continue reading

Free Wi-Fi

I am writing this post from a public library that rests along Main Street in one of Maine’s quintessential small towns. For what it’s worth, it could be a stand-in for Main Street, USA if producers truly cared about places removed from the population centers on the left and right coasts.

Driving “down” the coast from Woodward Cove, the morning’s radio waves were crammed with news of another shooting. Even sports talk wasn’t immune from the hosts adding their two cents worth of political grandstanding.

Libraries are always full of little treasures.

Where I live, if you want to know what the conservative talking points are for any given day, just head over to the AM side of the dial and WGAN will let you know the pulse of the angry, white (predominantly male) pitchfork-bearers in five minutes or less.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been repulsed by the ugliness of humanity. Mark would have had an antidote for me, but in case you’ve forgotten, Mark’s no longer with us. Continue reading

Memorializing Mark

Our Memorial Day weekend centered on burying the remains of our son, Mark Baumer. In case you may have stumbled across this blog and lack context, Mark was hit and killed by an inattentive driver in Fort Walton County, Florida on January 21. He was an award-winning poet and writer, and was engaged in his second crossing of America on foot. He walked across the U.S. in 81 days in 2010.

Because of the newsworthy nature of Mark’s walk, his cause (raising awareness) about climate change, while also walking America’s highways and byways barefoot, the story of his death received widespread media coverage. In my opinion, this article in The New Yorker was the best of them, written about Mark by a writer, Anna Heyward, who made an effort in understanding the arc of the story, and “got” Mark, as a creative genius and activist, also.

Mark’s been gone for four months. For Mary and me, his parents, our lives continue to be affected each and every day by the grief associated with this loss.

Losing an adult child that you loved more than life itself isn’t something that you simply get over in four days, four months, or four years. Yet, there are people at work and elsewhere with unrealistic expectations who don’t seem to understand the devastation associated with an event like the one visited upon us.

Here are remarks that I delivered at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco, on Saturday morning, prior to interring Mark’s remains:

For the past four months, I’ve been trying to locate meaning for why Mark was killed. I’ve been unsuccessful on that front. How does one imbue an event with any meaning, like the one that robbed our families of Mark, a loving, vibrant 33-year-old?

Mark loved baseball for a time in his life. In fact, baseball is where we may have ultimately forged our bond as father and son. In baseball terms, a 33-year-old is in the prime of his baseball abilities and acumen. In a creative sense, I believe Mark was just hitting his stride as a writer, poet, and digital gadfly.

Why would someone who worked so diligently and was ever at their craft, cruelly taken away before they ever got to the zenith of their creative capabilities? Perhaps you now see why finding meaning has been so difficult a task for me since the end of January. Continue reading

Nature’s Way

Spring is when our natural world emerges from hibernation—at least that’s how it works in places like New England—especially in the far-flung northern locales of the region. Buds appear, perennials poke up through the earth, and dormant lawns demand attention by way of a lawn mower.

Even in the midst of coping with the fallout from death and loss, it’s impossible not to notice and be affected by spring’s rousing “hallelujah.”

May moves forward and folds into June. Summer’s official commencement isn’t far off. And yet, the defining event rooted in winter’s cold and darkness travels with Mary and me, no matter how bright the sun shines, or how directly its rays reflect.

Upon returning from California, I was shoved into normalcy. I say “normal,” knowing that for us, normal will never be the same again. How can it be after losing someone we loved as deeply as Mark?

I’ve blogged about being a baseball umpire. Spring is a busy time when you officiate high school baseball in Maine. While our season is shorter than other parts of the country, by the first week of May, high school schedules are in full swing. With rainouts backing games up and umpiring numbers being down across all four umpiring boards in the state, you can work as many games as you want and can physically tolerate. Continue reading

Travel Writing

[Leaving LA and Santa Monica]

Our time in California is coming to an end. We’ve been on the road for nearly two weeks, nearing the completion of a trip we felt compelled to take. We’re missing home a bit, even our cat, Lucy. Odd how our heartstrings pull at us.

This journey has been centered on Mark. Emotions Mary and I have been contending with in losing our only son don’t seem close to dissipating. Love doesn’t disappear just because someone we loved dies. Tears continue streaming, while the holes in both of our hearts remain (and will live there forever).

Time spent in Santa Monica and Los Angeles was beautiful. Seeing Gabi again was one of the highlights of our time in this magnificent state. When political types slag California either through ignorance or ideology, they know not what they are talking about. It’s hard to put into words what we’ve seen and experienced during this briefest of stays in a place that could just as easily be its own county if it wasn’t one of America’s most important states.

Checking out of our cottage near the beach, we began trekking up the Pacific Coast Highway last Monday. We stopped and watched an amazing group of surfers spend their morning catching and riding waves at Malibu Lagoon State Beach (also known as Surfrider Beach). Our morning in Malibu was close to perfect.

A surfer catching a wave in Malibu.

Continue reading

On the Beach

In 2007, we rented a camp sight-unseen in Steuben, Maine. The tiny village west of Bar Harbor, was just far enough from touristy Mount Desert Island that it remained stuck in a state that felt more like 1955 than the first decade of the 21st century we were living in.

Mark and his girlfriend-at-the-time, Gabi, drove up from Boston in her Jeep and spent the week with us. Bernie, our beloved Sheltie was still alive and seemed to have recovered from a stroke suffered in January. Our little unit of three (plus one and a dog) was back together, gathered under one roof.

It would not be stretching the truth at all to say that the week in late July was one of the most memorable ones of our married lives. We hiked, biked, played cards, and enjoyed the old house abutting a National Wildlife Refuge on a picture postcard-like portion of Maine’s coastline. “Idyllic” is another well-worn word that wouldn’t be inappropriate in framing this snapshot in time.

We never judged or compared Mark’s three “serious” girlfriends that we’ve known. However, we adored Gabi. Maybe because she was Mark’s first long-term romantic relationship—or perhaps it’s because she was so easy to like and “got” our family and the special place it occupied in Mark’s life. She also spent the most time with us and we knew her the best. When they broke up in 2009, we were sad. We wondered if we’d keep in touch.

When Mark was killed, Gabi called us that Sunday less than 24 hours after the horrible news. She was devastated. Crying on the phone, we shared an emotional 30 minutes catching up and hearing her share with us that Mark was “her best friend” and that she was so sorry for what we’d just suffered in losing him.

She continued calling us nearly every week. In February she sent a package that included photos.

Gabi was also who Mark referred to in his blog about walking across America in 2010 when he wrote,

I am on my way to a friend’s house in West Hollywood. I drank a coffee. It is my first caffeine of the trip. After I drop some weight from my pack at my friend’s apartment we will walk to ocean. We will march to an end. Continue reading