Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Mark Schimmoeller, October 27, 2014

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:03 - Introduction / family background

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Partial Transcript: Okay, um, it's October 27th, 2014. I'm with Mark Schimmoeller at his home in Franklin County, Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Mark Schimmoeller discusses his family background and early childhood. He was born in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1967 to parents who had recently returned from service in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. His mother had also worked as a Vista volunteer on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.

Keywords: Arizona; Charlie Schimmoeller (father); Ecuador; Frankfort, Kentucky; Laurie Schimmoeller (mother); Navajo reservation; Peace Corps; Traveling salespeople; Vista volunteers; Woodford County Community Action

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Frankfort (Ky.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Volunteers in Service to America; Woodford County (Ky.)

00:04:32 - Childhood in Woodford County, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: And so, um, can you describe how it happened--I, I--you, you mentioned your dad's sense of adventure kind of having you, your family leave Kentucky, and obviously they had a sense of adventure...

Segment Synopsis: The Schimmoeller family was granted permission by farmer Jim Gray to live on a Woodford County farmstead he owned. The house was in disrepair, so the family initially lived in their travel trailer; when it was repossessed, they moved into the farmhouse. Mark and his twin sisters, Chris and Trina, loved living there.

Keywords: Charlie Schimmoeller; Chris Schimmoeller; Clear Creek; Farmsteads; Starlight (horse); Trina Schimmoeller; Woodford County, Kentucky

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Family farms; Farm life.; Woodford County (Ky.)

00:11:59 - Early interest in books

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Partial Transcript: At, at what point did you develop a sense of, um, love for words and language?

Segment Synopsis: The family did not have a television, and when Mark and his sisters were not playing outside, they were reading. Mark doesn't recall ever wanting a TV, although he experienced some negative social repercussions at Woodford County High School for his lack of awareness of, or interest in, what was "cool."

Keywords: Books; Clothes; Reading; TVs; Televisions; Woodford County High School; Woodford County Library

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.; Woodford County (Ky.)

00:16:53 - Beginnings of environmental consciousness

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Partial Transcript: You describe in your book your, your, um, shyness at school, and, and your--that you didn't have a lot of friends or a sense of, of connection and community at school, but you had a very strong sense of that at home.

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller learned to value his outside-of-the-mainstream perspective, because he saw society "going down the wrong path." He credits his mother's environmental, conservationist sensibilities, and his reading in high school of Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America."

Keywords: Adventures; Conservation; Electricity; Environmentalism; Laurie Schimmoeller; Slowspoke (book); The Unsettling of America (Berry); Wendell Berry

Subjects: Authors.; Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Environmentalism; Rural conditions; Writing

00:21:23 - Schimmoeller family unity

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Partial Transcript: The--one of the things that, that has always struck me as remarkable about your family is the sense, um, of unity.

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller believes that he and his sisters had so many creative outlets that they didn't need to rebel from their parents in destructive ways. He also believes that his shyness kept him from participating in rebellious behavior; in that sense, he probably differs from his sisters.

Keywords: Chris Schimmoeller; Parent-child relations; Rebellions; Schimmoeller family; Trina Schimmoeller

Subjects: Child rearing; Childhood; Families.

00:23:34 - Becoming an English major at Transylvania University

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Partial Transcript: At, at what point did you start to think of yourself as a writer, or have a sense of what it was that you wanted to--what, what you individually wanted to do or be?

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller initially chose to be a political science major at Transylvania University because he was interested in "changing the world"; an interest derived from his reading of Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America." He soon realized that he was not well-suited to politics, however, and chose to become an English major, "because it seemed writers could change the world however they wanted."

Keywords: "The Unsettling of America" (Berry); Careers; English majors; Land use; Laurie Schimmoeller; Organic gardening; Political science majors; Transylvania University; Wendell Berry

Subjects: Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Education, Higher; Environmentalism; Higher education; Transylvania University

00:31:27 - Failed internship in New York / the unicycle / new homeplace

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Partial Transcript: So you, you got your, your English major, and what happened after you graduated?

Segment Synopsis: After graduating, Schimmoeller worked as an intern at The Nation magazine in New York City-- a profoundly difficult experience, which he gave up on after six weeks. By then, he had formed a strong attachment to the unicycle his parents had given him as a teenager, and he had the idea of traveling across the country on the unicycle. At that point, his family was transitioning to their new homeplace in the woods of southern Owen County, on the Franklin County line, and Schimmoeller kept his unicycle plan to himself until about a year after the move.

Keywords: Franklin County (Ky.); New York City (N.Y.); The Nation (magazine); Trees; Unicycles; Woodford County, Kentucky; Woodlands

Subjects: Families.; Woodford County (Ky.); Writing

00:39:32 - Philosophical framework of the unicycle journey

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Partial Transcript: So, had you--you described a little bit how you--when you were hatching the idea of going off on your unicycle, that you had, you had a philosophical framerk--work that you were working within, and you were thinking about efficiency, and, um, kind of questioning the American, um, road to progress...

Segment Synopsis: Initially, Schimmoeller's connection with the unicycle was intuitive; eventually, that connection became articulated in a sort of philosophy of slowness and inefficiency, which motivated his journey. Schimmoeller was terribly shy, and hadn't anticipated how visible he'd be on his journey; adjusting to the stares he received was a challenge, but there were moments when being seen was joyful. The journey was not undertaken as a writing project, although he sensed that it might become one.

Keywords: Children; Efficiency; Journeys; Philosophy; Progress; School buses; Shyness; Traveling; Unicycles; Writing

Subjects: Authors.; Travel; Writing

00:45:55 - The scope of the unicycle journey

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Partial Transcript: So, ca--why, why don't you just outline, um, summarize your journey; when, when and where it began, and when and where it ended?

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller's six-month unicycle journey began in North Carolina, near Hanging Rock State Park, and ended in Lukachukai, Arizona, close to where his mother's adoptive Navajo parents lived.

Keywords: Arizona; Hanging Rock State Park; Kansas; Lukachukai; Navajo Nation; North Carolina; Unicycles

Subjects: Travel

00:50:07 - How Schimmoeller was changed by the journey

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Partial Transcript: Maybe this is too facile of a question, but you tell me. D--can, can you put your finger on how the journey most changed you?

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller describes the process of traveling by unicycle as a process of being "swayed by little things," and says that the journey made it apparent that he wanted to live a life in which he was easily swayed by little things. He believes the unicycle journey may have been crucial in helping him work through his childhood shyness and become an adult.

Keywords: Adulthood; Childhood; Coming of age; Growing up; Schools; Shyness; Slowspoke (book); Sports; Transitions; Unicycles

Subjects: Travel

00:57:46 - Family's perspective on the unicycle journey

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Partial Transcript: Does, does it seem to you that--do you--that there's, um--that you take after your father at all in, in the adventuresome category?

Segment Synopsis: Both parents were influential in inspiring Schimmoeller's sense of adventure. Charlie Schimmoeller had a flamboyant sensibility, but Laurie Schimmoeller's choices, although she made them more quietly, were no less wild or different. The entire family was surprised by the plan for the unicycle journey, but accepting and excited about it.

Keywords: Adventures; Charlie Schimmoeller (father); Chris Schimmoeller (sister); Journeys; Laurie Schimmoeller (mother); Trina Schimmoeller (sister); Unicycles

Subjects: Families.; Travel

01:00:44 - Life in the Owen County-Franklin County homeplace after the unicycle journey

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Partial Transcript: So, um, I can't remember the, the exact word that you used, but about being--feeling the, feeling the motion of the earth through the wheel, and being, being at that level, where, where traveling on the unicycle you're, you're aware of the pull of the earth and the, and the changes...

Segment Synopsis: After the unicycle journey, Schimmoeller returned to his family's homeplace and lived in the 18x22-foot log cabin he'd built with his father. His parents and his two grown sisters lived there as well. He worked on building a cedar rail fence, a project he calls "half-art, half-construction" that was influenced by his unicycle journey, in that it was "inefficient" and "nonsensical."

Keywords: Art; Cedar rail fences; Forests; Franklin County, Kentucky; Homesteading; Log cabins; Owen County, Kentucky; Unicycles; Woods

Subjects: Art.; Families.; Franklin County (Ky.); Owen County (Ky.); Rural conditions

01:05:05 - Work and making a living after unicycle journey

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Partial Transcript: So you, um--when did you go to--you went--you joined the Peace Corps yourself at some point, right?

Segment Synopsis: After his unicycle journey, Schimmoeller spent six months in Peru helping people build solar ovens as a volunteer with Appalachia Science in the Public Interest. He also traveled to carnivals and festivals, and made money with a basketball-themed game. He and his wife, Jennifer, built their home off the grid and don't pay a utilities bill or mortgage; they attempt "to live a meaningful life without too many material things."

Keywords: "Snuggery"; Appalachia Science in the Public Interest; Carnivals; Finances; Homesteading; Jennifer Lindberg; Money; Peru; Solar ovens; Unicycles; Work

Subjects: Employment; Rural conditions; Volunteers

01:11:14 - Writing and revising the memoir "Slowspoke"

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Partial Transcript: So you started, w--at what, at what point did you, um, think, "okay, I'm writing a book about my unicycle journey"?

Segment Synopsis: It took 20 years for Schimmoeller's memoir, "Slowspoke," to find a publisher. During those years, the book's form and content was changed and refined, and Schimmoeller is now grateful that early drafts of the book were rejected.

Keywords: "Slowspoke" (book); Editing; Journeys; Literary agents; Publishing; Rejections; Revisioning; Revisions; Unicycles; Writing

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Authors.; Publishers and publishing.; Writing

01:18:32 - Responses to and media coverage of "Slowspoke"

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Partial Transcript: What sort of, um, responses have you gotten to the book?

Segment Synopsis: The first edition of "Slowspoke" was published by Alice Peck, and received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, after which it was republished by Chelsea Green. Schimmoeller says the book isn't getting a lot of media attention, and he shuns social media.

Keywords: "Slowspoke" (book); Alice Peck; Chelsea Green; Facebook; Media; Publicity; Publicizing; Publishing; Social media; Twitter; Writing

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Authors.; Publishers and publishing.; Writing

01:26:20 - Current novel-in-progress

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Partial Transcript: You willing to talk about the project you're working on now?

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller is currently at work on a novel, the tentative title of which is "Rock, Sky, Girl." He recently attended a novel-writing workshop with Kevin McIlvoy, which was helpful and inspiring.

Keywords: Fiction writing; Kevin McIlvoy; Leonardo DaVinci; Novels; Writing workshops

Subjects: Authors.; Writing

01:31:19 - Sense of community

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Partial Transcript: Something that, that I--a theme that I kind of, uh, have returned to in doing this group of interviews with p, with people, um, who for lack of a better word I've been calling agrarian writers...

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller suspects that he needs to leave home less often than many people do. His community includes his parents and his sisters and their families-- all of whom live nearby-- and a number of progressive homesteading friends.

Keywords: "Peas and Poetry"; Agrarianism; Charlie Schimmoeller (father); Chris Schimmoeller (sister); Family; Homesteaders; Laurie Schimmoeller (mother); Novel writing; Progressives; Rural Kentucky; Trina Peiffer (sister)

Subjects: Families.; Rural conditions

01:39:13 - Making it work financially

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Partial Transcript: I want to just follow up on the money question that I asked you a little earlier, speaking as someone who has, um--who, who struggles and, and, and worries over how to balance the making a living piece of life with the, with the creative, um, the creative pursuits piece of life...

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller says that he "feels subsidized" as an artist by his wife, Jennifer Lindberg, who works as a speech therapist. He prepares the food and does most of the chores, and she earns most of the money, which enables him to devote time to his writing.

Keywords: Artists; Creativity; Finances; Jennifer Lindberg (spouse); Jobs; Making a living; Money

Subjects: Authors.; Employment--Kentucky; Families.; Marriage; Rural conditions; Writing

01:42:38 - Connection between unicycle and woods / dealing with despair over environmental devastation

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Partial Transcript: Um, maybe one thing. This--I just wanted to make, uh, um--point out the--a brief connection between, um, my unicycle and the woods.

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller makes a connection between his unicycle and the woods: when he goes into the woods, he feels there is enough time for everything; and on a unicycle, you can't rush. He recognizes his luck in living in a beautiful place, and feels it's important to find joy in beautiful places, while also recognizing that many beautiful places are being destroyed.

Keywords: Beauty; Despair; Ecological devastation; Ecology; Forests; Time; Trees; Unicycles; Woods

Subjects: Environmentalism; Rural conditions

01:47:43 - Keeping in touch with the wider world through media and books

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Partial Transcript: How d, how do you keep your eye on what's going on in the wider world?

Segment Synopsis: Schimmoeller keeps in touch with the wider world by listening to National Public Radio, reading the New Yorker, and reading books from the library.

Keywords: Advertisements; Books; National Public Radio (NPR); New Yorker magazine; Urban media

Subjects: Mass media.; Periodicals.; Rural conditions

01:52:03 - Experiences with the family represented in the book "Pilgrim's Wilderness"

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Partial Transcript: I mentioned to you that when I read your book, I noticed--uh, we had gotten another book from the library, called, um, "Pilgrim's Wilderness"...

Segment Synopsis: In "Slowspoke," Schimmoeller describes an encounter with a family in the remote wilderness of New Mexico. This family was later to become the subject of Tom Kizzia's book "Pilgrim's Wilderness." Schimmoeller talks about his memory of the family, and his experience of reading the book.

Keywords: "Papa Pilgrim"; "Pilgrim's Wilderness" (book); "Slowspoke" (book); Hale family; Homesteading; Tom Kizzia

Subjects: Authors.; Families.; Writing