Thursday, October 13th marked the second time Mark Baumer, web content specialist and former Brown MFA graduate, left Providence with the intention of walking across America — except this time, he’d didn’t plan on wearing shoes. Baumer is a Providence local and actually taught a fiction course at Brown during his MFA program. He already accomplished the feat of crossing the continental U.S. back in 2010, documenting the journey through various media such as video, blogging, interviews, and even a self-published book.
“I don’t know what is drawing me back. The seed of this idea began five years ago when I learned of barefoot running. At the time I thought, ‘It would be much easier barefoot.’ This idea has not died. I’ve carried it with me each year. I know if I don’t go now I will forever regret it,” wrote Baumer in an email to me that explained his motivations for getting back on the road. The video below showcases his passion for running barefoot, and it’s just a sampling of the content Baumer has posted on his Youtube channel.
Mark’s journey across the country can be followed via this blog, which will surely spare no details, especially when it comes to the topic we’re all really concerned with—Mark’s feet. Following his last trip, completed with shoes, Mark reported that his feet were “still numb. I have not walked in two and a half weeks and my toes still do not have feeling. I cannot put on sandals with my eyes closed. The tips of my toes are tingling.”
Not only can you be proud of this Brown alumnus for inheriting the throne that Johnny Appleseed left vacant, but you should keep up with Mark because he is one of the most interesting and unbridled artists on the Internet right now. You could spend a lifetime unpacking his website, which includes thousands of pages of original poetry and prose, interwoven with autobiographical details. The “cover letter” below, credited to Mark’s period of “unemployment” during 2008, is just one of the innumerable examples in which he ties his art to his life story.
I’ve never met the guy in person, but oddly enough, spending the last few days examining his content has left me feeling closer to him than to some of my best friends. There’s something to be said about putting as much as yourself out there as Mark Baumer has, which Baumer says is motivated solely by a drive to put something out there, regardless of how well it is received.
If the two videos and excerpt above haven’t given you a good sense of Baumer’s tone and attitude, when I asked him what the highlight of his baseball career was, he replied (via email), “I once tried to hit a home run for a bird I saw sitting behind home plate and I did.” Mark is fully aware of the confusing, sometimes discomforting response that his words can elicit. He has fully embraced it as his style and has found no limits in exploring it (he wrote fifty books in one year—for free).
Regardless of what your opinion of his content is, it’s hard to deny his dedication to it, or the fact that he and his material are endlessly intriguing. Taking time to read through some of it will surely leave you asking questions (which can probably be resolved by Mark himself, who is very active and friendly on social media). But what first appears as madness often pays off with moments poignant clarity. In spite of a skeptical first impression, I’m slowly beginning to believe that Mark Baumer is actually a genius.