Mark Baumer Wanted To Change The World. He Died Trying – Junkee


Mark Baumer died while walking barefoot across America, part of a lifetime’s work fighting for a better world.

Five years ago, Mark Baumer, an environmental activist and author who walked across America one and a half times, was struck and killed by an SUV. He was in the middle of trying to change the world.

Baumer had spent most of his adult life committed to this process of improvement. It mattered to him that we live better; that we accord more with nature. He had grown frustrated with what he saw as a vast system of apathy, a quiet cruelty that manifested itself in a myriad of little ways, some of them not entirely perceptible.

He was, like author David Foster Wallace before him, committed to making a thousand little unsexy choices, every single day, to get closer to a kinder, freer future. Then, on January 21, walking down a Florida road, wearing a hi-vis vest, shoes off, he died.

The Art Of Subtle Weirdness

Mark Baumer grew up in Maine, the only son of Jim and Mary Baumer. Throughout his teenage years, he was an accomplished athlete — he headed a hockey team, and then a baseball team. But though he was a prolific writer and vlogger, chronicling his life in the hundreds of videos he uploaded to his YouTube channel, he rarely spoke about his childhood, or his family. His website, still active five years after his death, offers little in the way of biographical information, save for a single, blunt note: “I live in Providence Rhode Island. I work in a library”.

Baumer had drifted through different jobs before settling at the library. For a while, he was homeless. After graduating from the MFA program at Brown University, he taught a class on “the art of subtle weirdness”. Students were baffled by it, and by him. Baumer, with his long hair and drawling voice, resembled David Foster Wallace, and matched that author’s tendency to gravitate to the dense and the discomforting. He consumed content voraciously: his website has a reading list, filled with hundreds of titles, all reflecting his skewed, obscure way of looking at the world. He read the poet Pablo Neruda; self-help guides by Eckart Tolle; complex science fiction. The last book listed, added in 2017, the year he died, is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

He was also an author, self-publishing a number of quietly strange, lopsided works of poetry and auto-fiction. The best thing he ever wrote is a short, Richard Brautigan-esque tome called Fifty Books. It is a collection of short stories, some of them just a page long. “The day before I was officially homeless, I asked the internet for fifty thousand dollars so I could write fifty novels and live the rest of my life for free, but not enough people on the internet wanted to give me money,” Baumer wrote in the …….


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