Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Curtis Smith

by Michael Czyzniejewski Read the Story September 19, 2016

Let’s start with this: When’s the last time you were naked in public? Tell us that story. Spare nothing.

I’ve made a lot of poor decisions in this life, but I don’t think I’ve ever been naked in public. (I say think because there may a repressed incident lurking in my past—thank God I grew up in the days before cell phones—the grace of forgetting one’s stumbles is something I wish this generation would know.) I can’t even recall a naked-in-public dream. But I’ve still got a few years left in me, so who knows? Maybe tonight’s the night.

I’ve thought that perhaps this Believer’s accident was no accident—that he was meant to be left behind. Imagine that scenario: What’s his purpose, the one that’s left behind? Turn off the lights?

Believe it or not, I’ve thought a lot about the concept of being left behind. In my last essay collection there’s a piece titled—wait for it—“Left Behind”—and here’s the link to prove it http://www.philadelphiastories.org/left-behind. I guess the purpose of the one who didn’t get on the bandwagon is to testify for those no longer around to do so. To balance the scales perhaps. Or maybe he’s just left to kick himself for the rest of his life for missing out.

When I went off to college, my mother’s number one fear was that I’d get sucked into a cult (she watches a lot of 60 Minutes), shave my head, live on a farm in New Hampshire, pledge my life to some ex-con who would let me come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Didn’t happen (though I had a Mohawk before long). What’s your experience with cults? Are you in many? What advice would you give to someone who was in the market?

When it comes to belonging to anything, I always hear Groucho Marx in the back of my thoughts—and I doubt the merit of any club that would have me as a member. I even thought the same of my wife—and as we approach our thirtieth anniversary, I keep waiting for her to come to her senses.

Advice for cult seekers? I don’t have any—but perhaps they’d be well served to listen to Groucho.

I realize that not only are the police pursuing this crazed escapee, but they might be using him, following him to this mound, a location they’ve been searching for for months. What’s the penalty for leading the authorities to the mound? Shepherd’s not gonna like this, not one bit.

I don’t think the Shepherd, given his current condition, cares. He and his flock-minus-one are riding their mystery ship, and they can’t be bothered with the trivialities of earthly endeavors.

They’ve called everyone to ride along to another shore—they’re going to laugh their lives away and be free once more. Or so is their belief.

This story could be a metaphor for belief, what it’s like to have faith in something when no one else does. What do you believe in, Curtis? What makes you rip out the IVs, hotwire a car, and speed into the valley?

As far as a belief system goes, I’m a hopeful agnostic. The door’s open, and I’ve still got a bit of the seeker inside me, but I’m also a lot nearer to the end than I used to be, and there’s a certain, weary peace in accepting that. There’s not much left that would make me want to rip out the IVs—but if my family needs something, then I’m hot-wiring that car and barreling off into the night.

About the Author:

Curtis Smith's stories and essays have appeared in over one hundred literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, and The Best Small Fictions. Smith has published five collections of fiction, the first two with March Street Press and the last three with Press 53. He has published three novels, the last two with Casperian Books, and two essay collections (Sunnyoutside and Dock Street Press). His latest book, a personal take on Slaughterhouse-Five, was recently put out by Ig.

About the Interviewer:

Michael Czyzniejewski is the editor of Moon City Press and Moon City Review. His stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Boulevard, Western Humanities Review, Salamander, Bull, Necessary Fiction, and Wigleaf.

About the Artist:

Claire Ibarra is a writer, poet, and photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Roadside Fiction, Alimentum--The Literature of Food, Foliate Oak, Lime Hawk, and Blue Fifth Review. She was an artist in residence for Counterexample Poetics and art editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. Claire’s work was included in the “Finding the Light” Exhibition at the PhotoPlace Gallery.