Saving Earth

In case you missed it, the Trump administration announced a proposal that opens up large areas along the coastline of the East Coast, which includes Maine, to oil and gas drilling.

I don’t know how many Mainers know that we have 3,478 miles of coastline—that’s more than California (3,427), and over 5,000 miles of coast if you include all of the islands as well. Only Florida and Louisiana (mostly bayou) have more miles of coastline.

The Earth looks better without drilling rigs. [Old Orchard Beach, ME]

I thought that there was going to be an opportunity to offer public comments at the Augusta Civic Center today. I was planning to attend.

This morning, I found out that members of the public wouldnt’t be allowed to speak at this “listening session hosted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Instead, advocates, like Friends of Casco Bay are urging activists and other concerned parties to submit comments via the BOEM website set-up for that purpose.

There will be future opportunities to speak and “lend our collective voices,” as well as other actions. In the meantime, I’d urge you to submit your own comments. Continue reading

Another Day, One Year Removed

According to this website, Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday held on the third Monday of January. It celebrates the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., an influential American civil rights leader. He is most well-known for his campaigns to end racial segregation on public transport and for racial equality in the United States.

On MLK Day a year ago, Mark was watching a parade in Chipley, Florida. He had six more days of walking ahead of him before he’d be hit and killed walking westward, along U.S. 90.

I started watching Mark’s videos back in October. This was just prior the beautiful event that Brown (Mark’s library co-workers and members of the school’s literary arts department) held on a perfect fall day that also happened to be Josiah Carberry Day.

Each day I watched and wrote through the fall, as I was navigating Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period as an insurance rep, trying to supplement my income, selling Medicare Advantage insurance. I made several trips down the coast and back, working on a story about Bucksport and the closing of its mill. I began tutoring in September at Hyde School, a private boarding school nearby where Cher’s son attended, as well as Michael McDonald’s (of The Doobie Brothers) son. Continue reading

Barefoot Man Walking Across America

One year ago, a barefoot man (who was a son) was walking through Florida. Something out beyond the horizon kept pulling him westward, past tiny towns, abandoned historic buildings, and swamps and forests. On this particular night, his footsteps would be illuminated by the super moon. Days ahead, a woman driving an SUV would be waiting for him.

Back home, his father followed his progress via the GPS device he purchased: he didn’t want his parents worrying (as much as they did the first time). Emails went back and forth. Each day, the father waited for a video and a new blog post.

The barefoot man (who was a son) decided it would be better to sleep outside, rather than within shabby enclosures named “motel.” He kept walking, making videos, and writing poetry. He wrote this poem on Day 089, somewhere near Gretna, Florida.

A Poem (from Day 089)
The dirt / used to be / named / after /some old white guy /named jeff / he liked / to do / all the things / old white guys / named jeff / like / to do / including / violence / and / oppression / people / got tired / of / being reminded / of / violence / and / oppression / whenever / they looked / at / the ground / so / one day / everyone / asked / the trees / and / the skies / what the ground / should / be called / and / the trees / and / the skies / voted / for / dirt / over / other options / like / pasta sauce / and / crack

The father thought he’d like to listen to this guitar player while he was walking. The man walking barefoot (who was a son) emailed his father saying he was listening to the man playing the guitar. His father imagined his son listening to “Highway Anxiety” and “Country of Illusion,” while walking, bathed in moonlight.

Continue reading

A Year of Books (about grief)

An annual habit of mine since I’ve been blogging has been to compile an end-of-year reading recap. Each year I’ve done it differently: some years I got really involved with my reading recap blog post. Other times, like last year (2016), I simply “dialed it in” because I wasn’t really feeling much enthusiasm for that writing “assignment.” My reading recap in 2014 still stands as “the bomb” in terms of detail, depth, and length.

Keeping a reading list is another lesson I learned from Mark Baumer. He thought it was important to keep track of the books he read and he encouraged his parents to do the same. Like him, I had a website, so I incorporated my annual reading compendium into my blog/website. Like son—like father. Mary kept her list in a journal/notebook, as well as noting it on the Goodreads site.

When Mark was killed in January, I couldn’t read for most of the next month following his death. Grief affects you in a host of ways, and I experienced a sort of cognitive dulling that made following a narrative difficult, if not impossible. This concerned me, especially if it meant that something essential in my life like reading would get snatched away from me, just like Mark had.

I was grasping (and gasping) for understanding without much success in the days and weeks following Mark’s death. This was when I picked up a book written by a friend and someone I had worked with (as had Mark) in helping her publish that book. Linda Andrews wrote a beautifully-honest book about coping with the death of her husband, Jim. Her own experiences with many people’s inability to cope with what you are going through was oddly comforting. Coming back to Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve offered me a much richer appreciation for what she accomplished in writing that book. It also offered me the ability to make my way back to an important practice of reading.

Grief and an existential sadness have become daily companions during 2017, the year I’d soon like to forget (Mark was killed on January 21), or perhaps be offered some kind of do-over. I spent the final 11 months looking for other books that might offer solace and support. My experience became one where books offering insight and understanding of my new landscape of grief and loss and a world turned upside-down weren’t as readily available as I would have thought they would be. Maybe a better way of articulating that is to say that the kinds of books that spoke to me, personally, weren’t something I could just look up online or pick off the bookshelf at the local library. Finding them necessitated work and investigation. I’m still not sure why. Maybe it’s that the books that dot the self-help section dealing with grief and loss simply aren’t addressing the kinds of things I’m living through. Also, as much as we try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to “healing” the grieving, everyone grieves differently. I’m not looking to simply compartmentalize my feelings, or to make others more comfortable in my presence, which is often how it seems like we’re expected to process death in America. At times, feeling like I had to measure up to this unrealistic expectation made me angry. Continue reading

Birthday blog-34

[Note: I spent much of the weekend thinking and writing about the bond Mark and I shared around writing. We certainly bonded around sports and simply from spending time together when he was in his formative stage. But that doesn’t always guarantee a closeness later in life.

The driver who hit and killed Mark robbed his parents of many things. She robbed me of my only son, and a relationship I’ll never replace. She also took the brightest of personalities, one with passion (and compassion) from a world sorely in need of people like him.

As difficult as 2017 has been, one of the things that keep us going is knowing that Mark had a passion for Earth, other people (and bringing them together), and of course, writing. We founded the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund earlier this year. We’re happy to announce that we are now a 501(c)3 nonprofit. We also have a brand new website that just went live. Check it out. Also, today would be a great day to remember Mark by making a contribution to the fund. It’s now tax-deductible and a great end-of-year gift to give for a cause that will support causes and organizations that cultivate traits that were part of Mark’s philosophy of life—love, kindness, and working towards building a better and more equitable world for all people.-jb]

 

Birthday Blog, Thirty-four (34)

 

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Developing any craft requires diligence, attention to it, and maybe more than anything else—a dogged determination in cultivating it—regardless of how many people flock to your doorstep. I think this an apt application for both writing and music, too.

I’m not a musician, but I’ve had a passion for various kinds of rock-rooted musicology dating back nearly 50 years. I know a thing or two about it, and what I don’t know experientially, I’ve gleaned from a longstanding tradition of reading what once was known as “rock journalism.” While no longer as prevalent as it once was given the demise of print, there are still outlets where this genre of writing resides.

Since we’re on the topic of writing, I think I can weigh-in on this with definite ink stains on my hands, or perhaps better, a worn keyboard on my laptop. It was 2001—I had read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Afterwards, I decided not to be some occasional dabbler. I set a goal—I wanted to get published. Following King’s prescription, I got up early before work and wrote something every day. After a year of doing this, I got an essay published in Casco Bay Weekly just like King said would happen. I’d really become a writer. Continue reading

SEO, Googlebots, and Still Missing Mark

I don’t really know what to write this morning. I’ve been spending time each day, writing about Mark, using his videos from a year ago as writing prompts. This process of “writing into grief” is never easy.

Sometimes when I look at my blog stats, I want to stop blogging. Then, I’d become just another vacant and boarded-up storefront on the interwebs.

Mark would tell me, “don’t pay attention to your stats, dad.” He gave me lots of advice. Most of it was spot-on.

The other day I stumbled across a blog post from a local marketing firm that calls itself a brand collective. Not sure what the hell a collective of brands does. Well I do, but it doesn’t really jive with my own vision of what a collective should be about.

Given that my blog stats have returned to the paltry level they once were before Mark was killed, I decided to read one of their posts titled, “What is SEO?” for shits and giggles. According to the blogger, I’d fallen down in cultivating a warm relationship with the friends of SEO, the GoogleBots. I guess if I want people crawling all over my content, then I need to get cracking on my keywords. Keywords are the key to capturing eyeballs. Or something like that, I think.

I kind of got fixated on this for a bit longer than I intended. Let me share just a bit more, something that this collective of brands doesn’t really deserve here on my own personal site that I created as the antithesis to this kind of SEO-craven way of writing, blogging, and branding. Continue reading

Making Stories

A year ago in August, I was contacted about writing an article. The woman who emailed me read my Biddeford article for the “big city paper,” The Boston Globe. She liked it and thought I had what it took to tell her story. It was about a town that had stopped making paper.

In 2016, I was in a funk. I told Mark that “maybe I should quit” the writing game.

Part of this was self-pity. But part of it was also feeling like my writing was going nowhere. At the time, it wasn’t.

Mark’s response was, “keep doing what you’re doing, dad.”

I told the woman that I couldn’t do it.

Then, Mark was killed.

In January (and February, March, and April), writing didn’t seem to matter. Yes, I was blogging. This was more about simply pouring out my pain associated with loss and grief. I was shocked that people actually read my posts.

A decision was made to reconnect with the woman who reached out to me in 2016. She was pleased to hear from me. She was also sorry about Mark.

One year after she first contacted me, I made my first trip down the coast. I’d make several more.

I talked to people in the town. The town had lost a mill. A mill that had been making paper since 1930. I also met a man with big ideas about logs not needed for making paper. Continue reading

No More Turkey

America thrives on the superficial. Nothing screams “superficial” like the holidays. Never a fan of this particular season and its excess, my tolerance this year is at its lowest ebb.

Last fall at this time, Mark was out walking and was more than a month into his final trek. As Thanksgiving approached, we were sad that Mark wouldn’t be with us. We were also stressed knowing that in less than a week, we would be moving 26 years of stuff to a new house, having just closed on our house in Durham.

It’s only Tuesday, yet I’ve already heard three separate media outlets doing a version of “how to cook a turkey.” Are there no cooks left? Just this morning, NPR had Bon Appétit’s Adam Rapoport in to talk about getting through the next few days “fueled by anxiety,” as you choreograph the perfect family gathering around the bird. My suggestion for the person from Rhode Island hosting 27 people at her house—dump the anxiety and order out for pizza or Chinese.

One big, happy family.

If you’re not  invested in maintaining the facade, then in my way of thinking, the holidays are likely a time of dissonance and even angst. The most noble attempts at down-sizing and disconnecting from “the Christmas machine,” or something like daring to eat differently only deepens this sense of alienation from friends and family. Mark’s death has done nothing to dull the usual holiday malaise creeping in pre-Turkey Day. In fact, his being killed has only heightened it. Continue reading

Poets

I wish I was better-versed in how to read and understand poetry. Part of that longing emanates from a place of loss and grief—Mark was a poet—as well as being an activist, a performance artist, and one special human being always in search of his better self. His writing and poetry was part of his process.

The Tragically Hip had a song called “Poets.” When I was thinking about this post while making like a fish in the pool this morning, the song was in my head (and has been much of the day). I’m sad to say that we lost another poet and always-evolving human when Gord Downie “shuffled off this mortal coil” a few weeks back.

I was stricken with The Hip the first time I heard the opening chords to “New Orleans is Sinking.” Then, I went to Canada, their homeland where they were rock gods. Mark was probably five at the time. Downie’s poetic ruminations, framed by a rock and roll backbeat captivated me for more than a decade. So maybe I was more familiar with poetry than I thought. Perhaps Gord and Mark are somewhere reading together. Continue reading

The Day After The Election

Last fall on the day following the election of Donald Trump as president, Mark woke up in a hotel that didn’t have power in some of the rooms. The night before, he went to his room with his room key and flicked on the light switch. Nothing.

The hotel, an odd little place on the side of Old U.S. 22 in Shartlesville, PA, placed their room key envelopes fastened together with an elastic and sitting in an old coffee can. Mark merely had to go back to the front desk and pick another room key.

Sitting along what had once been a major east/west corridor, the interstate usurped this road’s importance. Like many similar roadways that once were important overland routes for travelers dating from the time of covered wagons up through the earliest days of Happy Motoring in America, most have fallen into disuse like much in a nation built around planned obsolescence. Mom and Pop lodging matching the place where Mark spent the night last fall struggle to remain solvent. Perhaps the owners had simply taken a page from the austerity playbook, implementing measures like asking guests to forgo electricity. Mark also noted that there were signs indicating to boil the water prior to drinking.

On his blog, following the election of the worst candidate we’ve ever called president (thus far), he made a connection between the new POTUS and what MAGA might actually mean when he wrote, “I hope the motel where I stayed isn’t an omen for the future of America. Some of the rooms didn’t have power and you couldn’t drink the water.” Continue reading