As many of you know, on January 21st Mark Baumer was struck and killed while walking near US Highway 90 in Walton County, Florida. He had just passed his 100th day of walking across America barefoot to raise awareness for climate change and money for the Providence-based environmental activist group, The FANG Collective. (His donation page is still running and taking donations as of this writing, so give if you are so inclined.) I didn’t know Mark beyond a few interactions on social media, but I’ve followed his Internet presence for seven or eight years and always looked forward to what the hell he was going to do next. I remember when he would post disturbingly embarrassing videos of him on Brown’s campus, then he walked across the country (with shoes), then there was that year that he wrote 50 novels, and, now, he was walking across the U.S. again–with no shoes! Daily I could count on seeing his dirty, unimaginably flat feet, flash across my Instagram feed as he made his way from state-to-state.
Mark was a strange bird. I honestly didn’t know what to make of him most of the time. He seemed restless, fraught, and endlessly peripheral to whatever big thing was happening in what used to be called “alt lit.” Getting his MFA from Brown in 2011, I thought I might be seeing his book release announcement any day now and he’d be–like Blake Butler, Justin Taylor, Roxane Gay, etc.–folded into this newly emerging American scene. But I never did and he never was.
I’m still trying to process his death. A death that is inseparable from the cultural context of 2017 and the beginning of Trump’s America. I’ve returned again and again to the last video he uploaded to YouTube trying to put the pieces together. Apparently, I’m not the only one, judging by how many views it currently has. In the beginning of that video, I see Mark as I’ve come to know him throughout the years–irreverent, lighthearted, critical, but funny–towards the middle, however, when discussing Trump’s presidency he becomes more confrontational, resistant, and angry as the cars speed by on rainy streets. Finally, there is that last moment of Mark, it’s dark out and he is in a wet poncho, he is screaming into the voids of Northern Florida: “Your ignorance is killing people!”
Mark, your voice is necessary and won’t be forgotten.