Mark Baumer was walking across America barefoot when he was hit by car and killed in Florida on January 20th. This was not the death of a bipolar vagrant; instead, it was the death of an internet poet with a Master’s degree in fiction from Brown University.
Unlike the first time Baumer walked across America in 2010, this walk had a purpose: to “raise awareness for climate change.” But awareness for whom? American adults are aware of climate change. It is a highly politicized and contentious subject discussed in the classroom, in the media, in congress. The only people who need to be made aware about climate change are the world’s poor, and they couldn’t care less. Their environment is still trying to kill them while they struggle to feed their numerous children. Climate change is a privilege of the rich world. I digress. Baumer’s purpose only raises red flags. There are more efficient ways to educate people about climate change than daily vlogging and writing poems about Donald Trump’s bigotry.
Admittedly, Baumer had impressive energy. Walking 20+ miles a day simultaneously shooting and editing video, writing poetry and blogging is not easy. His body was athletic and his mind was restless—something I admire and envy.
And Baumer did posthumously raise money for the FANG collective, but given the amount of energy and time he expended to raise such a measly amount suggests that raising money wasn’t his primary goal. After all, this amount could have been donated by him directly in installments. But donating or volunteering just doesn’t have the potential to draw crowds in the same way that walking across America does.
Now this stunt becomes understandable! An internet poet, recognized and respected within his community, still trying to stand out in the crowd. Internet poet is still a poet. They never get the recognition they deserve. No matter what they do, they will always be obscure unless they do something really, really big. So Baumer rescued the masses from environmental ignorance with his quirky videos and endurance protests.
Like his alt lit peers, Baumer was a lonely narcissist, and he hid behind a cause that anyone outside of the cult of environmentalism saw clearly as a harebrained protest/cry for recognition. And his alt lit community, with all of its introspective acumen, failed to identify Baumer’s deeper issues. But he was a grown man, and could make his own decisions, and his friends and family just echoed the same naive political sentiment without considering the practical consequences.
This type of diaristic documentation and obsession with the self is typical for alt lit writers promoting their introspective personality as a brand. Baumer was not a crass sensationalist. He was pensive and meek and shy. He wanted to believe that he was different, but he really wanted the same things that everyone wants—to be loved. He was a lonely man without lasting companionship. Baumer had plateaued. He had a cushy job with a pension that guaranteed him to work for life at his alma mater. He played baseball successfully and almost made the major leagues, but did not. He bought a house with his savings and lived in it all alone. He was athletic and restless and could not be confined to the library. Who can blame him? There was no rush to finish the walk, since there was nothing waiting for him back home besides an easy job and an empty house. So he meandered, dying in Florida having left from Massachusetts.
Baumer’s untimely death haunts me. I walked half the length of Long Island with my best friend when I was a senior in high school. Danger was the reason I ran off in the middle of the night because we “wanted adventure.” We filmed the journey until the reality of exhaustion caught up to us. Then we just wanted to finish and go back to our normal lives. Like Baumer, we did the walk again a few years later, this time with a mission. To paint a line down the side of the street as we walked.
But we were some dumb college idiots trying to be rebellious. We weren’t supposed to be mature 33 year old homeowners with pensions yet. Baumer didn’t know how lonely he was. His mission was lazy, and didn’t even try to conceal his real desires.The environment didn’t care about him. The environment doesn’t care about anyone. It has no feelings because it is not alive. It cannot defend itself from human exploiters, so it needs a champion…or so their line of reasoning goes. Regardless…
This is why the majority of performance is fucking idiotic. Its a boring shock show put on by people who don’t have hard earned talent. This was the reason I liked performance art, because “it was easy.”
“Anyone could do that!” But they didn’t! Because it was dangerous and retarded and accomplishes little.
Donald Trump is expanding two billion dollar pipelines. The $3000 Baumer raised is .003 cents for the oil industry. At least he got the fame he wanted.
For someone so smart he was very naive. Super intelligentsia types that cannot believe that the science is still out on climate change, and go out into the world to prove that they exist and have feelings about it. Baumer had nothing new or insightful to add beyond a surface level hatred of Trump and misunderstanding of politics. Maybe he felt like he was like the environment. Neglected. Exploited?
Nonetheless Baumer will get his wish, at the cost of his life. He will be remembered by his community as a fearless intellectual who stood up for his beliefs. The library will commemorate him with a placard and his picture. They will keep his poems, memoirs, short stories and videos in a special section, and some undergrad will read through his body of work and write a dissertation on him in 10 years. He will get the recognition that he wouldn’t have received had he lived and returned to his position at the library. He would have worked there till he retired with a nice pension, possibly becoming upper management. His life would have resembled Stoner’s. Just an ordinary life of an academic. Not bad at all.
Baumer is dead, and I am mad about it. I didn’t believe in his useless attempt to bring attention to climate change. But he was young and healthy and could have done more with his life had he not quested for recognition. Am I being a dick for criticizing how he wanted to live his life? It is tragic. He would be alive if he lived it better.