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

Marching forth for Mark

Grief does funny things to you. It’s not linear, and no, there aren’t five stages. Perhaps if you need to stage grief, know that passage doesn’t proceed neatly.

Mark was killed on January 21. We weren’t the first people who found out. Word passed slowly from where Mark was mangled by the side of the road by a woman, who at the very least couldn’t maintain her lane and left it—hitting Mark walking legally, in the ribbon of pavement reserved for pedestrians (he was walking against traffic, in the middle of the day, while wearing his fluorescent vest)—to possibly being distracted by something other than simply maintaining control of her 5,000-pound lethal weapon.

It was nearly 10:30 on Saturday night when the Maine State Trooper knocked on our front door. That was more than eight hours after Mark was pronounced dead.

I now know more about the timeline and who found out before we did. Some of those people botched the handling of that information. I’m not surprised, really. It’s pretty obvious to see from their actions since Mark was killed that they don’t care at all about how Mary and I feel about losing our only son. Obviously, they know little or nothing about grief and at the very least, they come up woefully short in the empathy department. Lacking basic humanness, could they not at the very least, send a corporate-produced card with a perfunctory message that says, “we’re sorry for your loss”? I know Hallmark carries some decent ones. Apparently not. But, it’s also not my fucking job to help you improve your skills in the area of compassion and grief. Continue reading

A Change is Gonna Come

When I launched this website back in 2012, I never intended it to be overtly political. The Jim Baumer Experience was me attempting to establish my personal brand, and this site (and blog) have played a part in that process. Life is a lot different these days.

Work is now a combination of freelance opportunities, with other fairly interesting part-time gigs rounding out the mix. I’m not sure how I want to write about all of that, at least not in the context of this blog.

Politics lately has taken up more of my blogging time than I intended. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made a valiant effort to reason and write about what’s going on from where I sit. Basically, it’s gotten me nowhere. How can you reason with people who have lost their minds and lack any historical context for anything that they believe?

What is it that I really love to do and would spend most of my waking hours engaged in if making money and paying bills weren’t the bane of my mortal existence? The answer would be, write. And likely, it wouldn’t be writing about politics, either.

I won’t promise that you’ll never see another political post here at the JBE, but I can say that you won’t be seeing one in the near future. Continue reading

The Ole’ Hometown

Memories are faulty at best. Often, the things that we remember happening, either never did, or they happened much differently than our recollections offer. Of course, as writers, many of us use memories, experiences, and even hometowns as touchstones to craft stories and narrative, swimming around in the pool of what we think we remember.

My final essay in The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories Vol. 1, “Goin’ Back,” is a narrative about my hometown of Lisbon Falls. I often describe the town where I grew up as “a bit rough around the edges” to characterize the changes that have happened to a place that was never high-end to begin with—however, it was never as shabby as it looks right now, in 2014.

Thomas Wolfe was another writer who mined personal experiences and his hometown and included them in his fiction—me, I’m an essayist, not a fiction writer. As far as I know, I’m the only writer who hails from Lisbon Falls who has managed to weave together Thomas Wolfe, Libya Hill (the fictional town of his best-known book, You Can’t Go Home Again), and Lisbon Falls. I bind them together to try to articulate what’s happened to the town over not just the past 5-10 years, but I decided to go back much further than that to the 1970s, when the current unwinding began.

The Facebook page that pushed me to write the final essay in this new book of essays, “You know you’re from Lisbon ME if…”, was all lit up over the weekend about smoke, stink, and what many were calling a “controlled burn” down at the former U.S. Gypsum mill that’s no more—it’s just a big pile of rubble these days that sometimes smokes and stinks (like on Sunday afternoon). Rather shabby-looking, really.

No smoke in this photo--just rubble.

No smoke in this photo–just rubble.

Continue reading

R U Happy?

Happiness can be elusive. Is it an emotion or a feeling? Opinions vary.

In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” That’s a good start, at least in terms of defining what happiness is.

I was talking with a longtime friend yesterday about happiness, and its opposites. I mentioned to him that I thought the key to successfully staying in whatever game happen to be playing, is “managing your down periods.” Continue reading

Priming the Pump

[Note: Various reports and articles indicate that by 2020, as much as 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will be comprised of freelance workers. I’m already there.–jb]

I’ve been at this free agent game long enough that I should know the routine this time of year. It’s prospecting time. Almost all of my activities are devoted to getting new things into the JBE pipeline. Continue reading

This Week in Moxie

Moxie can

I drove through Lisbon Falls over the weekend. One week out from the town’s crowning celebration, the place looked like a ghost town. Save for a couple of banners strung up over Route 196, Lisbon Falls looked nothing like a place where 20,000+ people will flock to in order to celebrate a distinctly different New England soft drink called Moxie.

Moxie’s been on my mind the past few weeks as it often is during July, when Lisbon Falls again assumes its place as the epicenter of the Moxie universe for one weekend. Then, it will go back to being a community in obvious decline, much like it has for the past 30 years that Moxie’s been connected to the place. Continue reading

Moxie Season

The Moxie Boy wants you to drink Moxie!

The Moxie Boy wants you to drink Moxie!

Moxie is a distinctly different soft drink that was once more popular than Coca-Cola, or Pepsi. Now, it’s an iconic regional soft drink with a cult-like fan base and a festival in its honor.

For the uninitiated, the Moxie Festival occurs the second weekend in July, just like it has been now for the past 30 years. The place is Lisbon Falls, the town where I grew up and still live across the Androscoggin River from. Continue reading

I Don’t Have a PhD

I lost a training bid to teach technical writing to someone with a PhD.

I learned to write by writing. I’ve written something almost everyday for the past 10 years, have three books in print (and a fourth on the way), blog regularly, etc. My competition has a blog that hasn’t been updated in almost a year and has a total of six blog posts over the past two. As far as I know, their total book output is 0. Their online presence is pretty lame. Continue reading

Communication Breakdown

School boy from the 1970sI’m glad that I went to school when I did. My public school teachers may have been part of a nefarious plot to turn me into a minor cog in some impersonal corporate machine. Or they might have just been putting in their time until retirement, weathering each successive storm of boomer births. Something along the way foiled their intent, however. Continue reading