Could You Be The One?

Back when life was simpler and a lot less sad, I went out to see bands because I thought music might save my life. Music as a life saver? Please do tell.

Lot’s been written about Mark by me and others. In death, there is a tendency to enlarge one’s life, or attribute qualities to people in the dead person’s life that may or may not have been present. In Mark’s case, he was the real deal. I did my best as a dad and things turned out pretty well until last January.

In 1986, I was simply a father and husband with a three-year-old son. We were living on a dead-end street in Chesterton, Indiana.

Mark had a tricycle and was making a few friends in the neighborhood. I worked at a prison and Mary had just started working breakfast at Wendy’s prior to me heading off to the med room at Westville Correctional Facility.

Mark and dad playing in the snow [1986]

Things were looking up for our little family, trying to scrape together enough money to return to Maine. I also had aspirations of being something more than an hourly wage slave. It would take me another 15 years to recognize that the writing muse was calling. Unable to recognize its beckoning however, caused considerable frustration and angst in my mid-20s. Continue reading

The Unbearable Whiteness of Lasagna

Becoming a plant-based vegan offered another connection point between Mark and his dad. We had baseball and sports (for much of our relationship), books and writing, and then, just prior to his leaving on his walk, I decided I’d see if I could go two weeks without consuming dairy or animal-based food products (namely meat). During his trip, we kept a dialogue going about plant-based eating and associated food-related topics.

This re-ordering of diet and food might seem drastic. It really wasn’t. I just stopped eating some foods–eggs, cheese, yogurt, and meat. I replaced them with mainly plants—fruits and vegetable that I already liked and was eating. A new attentiveness ensued, searching for meals and recipes that fit with that.

In August when the three of us were together in Omaha, Yelp directed us across the city to a nondescript eatery in a converted gas station. I found out later that the chef was none other than vegan cook and cookbook goddess, Isa Chandra Moskowitz. The food on the menu was amazing. “So this is veganism,” I thought at the time. Afterwards, it made sense to seek out her books.

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook is a book written with Terry Hope Romero for people like me (and Mary); those coming to veganism who want to learn to cook vegan, and not rely on others to cook for them.  The authors bring their unique, DIY-informed approach to food, billing it as “the essential guide to mastering the art of vegan cooking.”

Vegan cooking 101

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Pain in the Gut

For weeks after Mark died, my stomach hurt. Searing pain, centered in my gut.

Then, winter turned to spring. We made a pilgrimage of sorts to California. Upon returning, I was thrust into the school umpiring season and then, it was summer and more baseball games to arbitrate.

Mary decided to embark on training to get ready for the Tri for a Cure. She returned to work. I got dumped from one of my jobs. Life continued, without Mark.

How does one normalize that which isn’t normal? Life missing a portion of your heart, a family unit in mourning, and now, it’s tourist season and everyone’s life is filled with the seasonal things we all know and love. Except it’s hard to find joy when your life is turned upside-down and you continue reeling.

Our gut is part of the nervous system, known as the “brain-gut axis.” According to an older issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter detailing the effects of stress and abdominal pain,

“our brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Stress causes disruption of the digestive process. Since Mary and I have been on stress overload continuing to deal with the details of a life sans its guiding force here during summer’s height, I guess I know why my stomach is hurting again.

Stress can cause pain in the gut.

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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

I Fell Off My Paddleboard

According to this website, Stand up paddle boards (SUP) offer a fun, relaxing way to play on the water. With a minimum of gear, you can paddle ocean surf or placid lakes and rivers.

Paddle boarding delivers a full-body workout and thus has become a popular cross-training activity. And since you stand at your full height, you can enjoy unique views of everything from sea creatures to what’s on the horizon.

That might be the case. However, five minutes into the on-the-water portion of my Sunday foray into the sport, I was in the water, I’d lost my Solar Shield sunglasses, and thinking, “what the hell had I allowed Mrs. B. to talk me into?”

Stand Up Paddleboarding looks easy–it’s not!

We’d both discussed trying to get out and “do some new things” this summer. Like summers past, umpiring and once Mary returned to work—Saturday’s and Sundays often were “catch up around the house days.” Not too much new happening with the Baumers.

I’m not complaining about umpiring. Save for some reservations during my first week back on the field, baseball has been an adequate tonic for dealing with the loss of Mark. I say “adequate” because nothing—not even learning to walk on water if that was possible—will take away the deep emotional pain that we’re both feeling and will continue dealing with for a long, long time. 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.

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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