by S.H. Aeschliman
I meet Robin Schauffler on a sunny Friday afternoon in February at the Bagdad. In preparation for this interview I’ve read “High Priest,” which was published in the Fall 2012 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions, and three other pieces she sent at my request. Two are from her memoir about living in Mexico; one is about family, growing up and growing older. What stands out most about Robin’s style is the description. Her writing is like the Oregon rainforest: lush, vibrant and textured. Alive. You could get lost in the forest of imagery and spend a whole afternoon fingering the leaves of a single paragraph. There is emotion there, too. One moment I am smiling, the next my heart expands with recognition, and in the next I’m tearing up.
Robin says she’s always written, mainly journaling. As she gives me the brief life history I’ve asked for, I long to read those journals. After college, Robin and her husband, Peter Samson, bought an old school bus and started a traveling school called High Country School. But after eight years of making little money, owning few possessions and sleeping on the ground as often as in a bed, she and Peter shut down the school and settled in Portland. They got good jobs – she teaching at Catlin Gabel, he at OMSI – and, in her words, “got very busy and important.”
It was during this time that Robin took some writing classes at the Northwest Writing Institute. But it wasn’t until she and her husband quit their jobs in Portland and moved to Morelia, Mexico in 1997 that she started to think of herself as a writer. In the three years they lived in Mexico, she “wrote like a madwoman,” she says. “There were so many stories just kind of screaming out at me.”
Mexico may have turned her into a writer, but she credits Kim Stafford and Martha Gies, at least in part, for turning her into an author. After moving back to Portland in 2000, she got involved again in the local writing community, taking more writing classes to work on her stories from Mexico. One day, she says, Stafford asked her, “What would it feel like to put a few of these stories together?”
His question got her thinking in that direction, and over the next several years, Gies “relentlessly pushed me to continue making my stories into a book.” The result was a 100,000 word manuscript, tentatively titled My Michoacán, that took her about 13 years to write, including the three years she and her husband spent in Morelia.
This particular project is important to her because she wants to start a conversation about our relationship with one of our closest neighbors. She points out:
You say “Mexico,” and people think palm trees, beaches, margaritas. Illegal immigrants. Kidnappings and people getting their heads blown off. But there’s also normalcy. And it’s a really different normalcy than here. We have a picture in our heads of what Mexico is, and that affects so much. It applies to our day-to-day lives, our government policies, and how we treat the people who live in our communities.
This project is also important to her because
So many people have said to us, “I wish I could do something like you did!” And the fact is, they could, and they should, and they shouldn’t wait. It is so valuable, so important … to get out of our own familiar culture. Everyone can find a way to be immersed in a different world, even if it’s not for very long or very far away. Peter and I were pushing 50 when we went to Mexico; we both had our 50th birthdays there. I want to encourage others to take that leap.
Although Robin has had several sections of her memoir published in various magazines and journals, she says shopping for a publisher for her book is slow-going because, in her words, “I don’t work hard enough at being published.” So far she has found places to publish mainly through her connections: friends who are writers, teachers of writing classes, classmates, writing groups. She’s also turned to Poets & Writers magazine, Writer’s Market, and newpages.com.
When I ask her for advice on how to get more involved in the local writing community, she suggests joining Willamette Writers and signing up for their newsletter; signing up for the Soapstone community announcements; taking classes at The Northwest Writing Institute or The Attic Institute; going to writing events, like book launches and readings at Annie Bloom’s Books or Broadway Books; and attending the William Stafford birthday celebrations in January.
An hour isn’t enough time to learn everything I want to about Robin Schauffler, especially since it’s become clear that we share a strong interest in cross-cultural exchange, in taking flying leaps out of our comfort zones in order to experience other ways of being in and perceiving the world, and in sharing what we’ve learned with others. As we say goodbye, we learn that we’ll be reading together on April 5, 2013 at Space Monkey Coffee House, and I’m glad to know that there will be an opportunity to continue the conversation.
Born and raised in Oregon, Robin Schauffler has traveled in every US state and in Latin America. She has lived in the East and Southwest, but Portland is the place she always
comes back to. From 1997 to 2000 she and her husband Peter lived and worked in Morelia, Mexico. “High Priest” is one chapter of her unpublished memoir about their life
there. Today she writes and teaches English in Portland, and she and Peter still visit Mexico whenever possible. Her work has appeared in Open Spaces, Oregon English Journal, Street Roots, The Sun (“Readers Write”), and Oregon Quarterly on line.
S. H. Aeschliman is a native Oregonian living in Portland with her dog, Milton. By day she’s a freelance writer, editor, educator and learning assessment consultant. By night she’s a writer, reader, learner and dreamer. She blogs about culture, travel, food and lifestyle and writes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and cross-genre work. Her prose piece “On Voice” appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of VoiceCatcher, and she’s thrilled to be volunteering for the organization. You can learn more about her work on her website.