Walking and Remembering

I’ve been thinking about walking. Admittedly, thoughts like these have their origins in reflections backward to this time one year ago. Mark said “goodbye” to his house at 38 Pleasant Street, and walked down the hill on his one-way street commencing yet another cross-country journey into the unknown. He’d done a similar one in 2010, but this one was different in a host of ways.

He let readers know some of the reasons why he was making this trek. I knew the road had been calling out to him across the expanse of the previous six years since he stepped into the Pacific after wearily making his way across the sands of Santa Monica Beach at the end of that epic march.

Mark wasn’t the first writer who’d been drawn to the realm of walking. Perhaps the obvious name that crops up when talking about writers who valued the walking experience would be Thoreau. There have been a host of others. There seems to have been some deeper, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and then, writing. We of course have by-and-large lost this. I’m sure part of this stems from being immersed completely in our American version of Happy Motoring.

I found an older article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik. He details how at one point in the mid-19th century, walking was actually “the dominant spectator sport in America.” Could be that if enough fervently patriotic football fans abandon the NFL, then walking might make a comeback? That would be a shame because if there was a figure who could captivate fans of professional walking, it would have been Mark. 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

Pride and Prejudice

Everyone’s looking for a tribe to run with. Sometimes, people find it when they embrace a certain way of seeing the world—religion and politics being two of these.

Turning on the Tee Vee is always fraught with the potential that it could ruin one’s day. I was reminded of this again on Sunday.

After standing in the rain for 5 ½ hour, umpiring two AAU tournament games, I got home late on Saturday, cold, hungry, and exhausted. If you were out in the elements on Saturday, you’ll remember it was unseasonably cold, with precipitation alternating between light drizzle and downpours.

With yet another game on the books for Sunday afternoon, I was looking for a weather forecast, while also wanting to see if the local news puppets bothered to cover the Moxie Festival parade from Saturday, I flicked on the television after pouring my first coffee of the morning.

Oddly, I was treated to a series of social justice warrior gatherings in the first 10 minutes of the newscast. Maine, like the rest of the country, seems to be in the midst of some kind of collective meltdown.

The second story, about a group of white people, mainly women, caught my attention. They had gathered on Saturday in Belfast, Maine, and held a Black Lives Matter rally, or so I was told by the newscaster, reading from his teleprompter. Have there been a rash of racially-motivated shootings in Maine that I missed?

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

Continue reading

The Way We Talk

Communication fascinates me. Speaking well delivers advantages to the speaker. Good to great speakers are often in demand.

We are living during a time when the speed of communication has accelerated exponentially. We’re awash in information. Most people are struggling to render heads or tails from the onslaught. Speaking (and writing) clearly about your subject can help diminish confusion.

For the past decade, I’ve been actively engaged in helping to create messaging about a diverse array of topics, from workforce and economic development, to aging in place, and of course, my own publishing ventures. I’ve learned to be intentional about the information I’ve been tasked to develop and disseminate. My experience regularly reminds me about the power of words, and how they’re arranged in order to make points.

Interestingly, just this week, I stumbled across an older article that I remember reading when it initially ran in The New Yorker, back in 2001, 14 years ago. It was about PowerPoint, as a communications tool.

PowerPoint corrupts, and absolute PowerPoint corrupts, absolutely.

PowerPoint corrupts, and absolute PowerPoint corrupts, absolutely.

Continue reading

Court of Public Opinion

There is a belief in some circles that news and journalism has only recently succumbed to pressures from the masses and corporate interests, dictating what’s acceptable for publication. Knowing a little about the past will quickly cure you of that notion and any nostalgia about the “good ole’ days.”

E. B. White wrote an essay for The New Yorker that the magazine published around this time (January 31) back in 1948. It was titled, “Expediency.”

E. B. White and Martha White, Allen Cove, 1957.

Continue reading

The Other Direction

Going against the grain is never easy. Swimming upstream is bound to get you talked about, criticized, and maybe even hated. As writers, our job isn’t to make people comfortable—it’s to write what we know to be true (spoken as a writer who writes nonfiction).

Mark Twain was quoted as saying “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” I don’t know if he added, after reflecting—move in the other direction.

What I’ve noticed throughout my life is that the majority is often on the wrong side of history. A mere cursory reading of the subject will tell you that. Yet, many people still hate having you point that out to them. Continue reading

Get Writing

I was at a party with holiday overtones over the weekend. The hostess introduced me to another writer. We had an enjoyable discussion about writing, particularly the craft of writing. A recurring theme in our discussion was why some writers move beyond mere procrastination and actually get down to writing.

There continues to be a romanticism attached to “the writing life.” Some of this is the equivalent of what is attributed to Joyce Maynard in Salinger, about the late literary icon, and his hatred about the “artiness in writing and writerliness…tweedy types sucking on cigars on their book jackets or exquisitely sensitive-looking women in black turtlenecks.”

While Salinger became as famous for his obsessiveness and privacy as he was for his literary output, he apparently kept up more closely with the literati than we thought he did at the time, and had “little but contempt for what he sees…” of that world. Writers more famous for the pose they strike, than their writing.

Writing requires work, and sometimes slogging along in near obscurity for some period. Yet, any craft requiring creativity (and ability) must be honed.

Writers write!

Writers write!

Continue reading

I Like Words

I gave a talk on Wednesday night about small towns and the economic changes affecting them. I was in the small town where one of my seven recent essays was based. I had a small crowd of mostly friends show up.

I mentioned a recent dust up that occurred on Facebook on “You Know You’re From Lisbon If….”

That’s the problem with most of the communication on social media sites. It’s always, “I like __________ and you should too. Oh, you don’t? Well, you suck.” I exaggerate slightly, but the frame of Facebook is fairly narrow and all too often, binary. Continue reading

Too Busy to Think

I’ve had a subscription to The New Yorker for years now. It was a gift from my son, as he knew that I was a fan of long-form narrative nonfiction. I still am. Most stories are impossible to capture in a few sentences, let alone 140 characters.

The New Yorker still offers information and stories that I find worthwhile. Often lately, I find the urban, smarter-than-thou orientation of many of the writers somewhat off-putting. It seems like many of the issues taken up in each issue are often predictable, at least predictable in a liberal, elite sort of way. Continue reading

Calling (out) Dr. Oz

Photograph by Ethan Levitas, The New Yorker.

Photograph by Ethan Levitas, The New Yorker.

There is a fascinating article in the latest (February 4) issue of The New Yorker by Michael Specter, on Dr. Oz. I say fascinating because the man that Oprah dubbed “America’s doctor” has bounded over the barricade that separates celebrities from the rest of us relegated to anonymity, or perhaps semi-obscurity. Continue reading