Smoking With Catherine Zeidler

Read the Story December 15, 2006

Those people—measuring him, begging him, yelling at him—drive Neot into the woods, where all is well. For awhile. What inspired this inspired flash?

I should say first that Neot is an actual saint and that I stole/appropriated the plot from accounts I found online. But beyond that, fish, fear. The image of a little man standing in a well all day. Refuge, rules, rebirth, to an extent. It’s hard to say what inspired the piece because it wasn’t sudden. I found Neot because he’s the patron saint of fish. And I like fish—looking at them, catching them, eating them. I did some research; I let it stew. When I started writing I still hadn’t figured out quite why I wanted to write it.

There’s an archetypal, mythic quality to this piece. In what sense, do you think, are we all “waiting for a verdict”?

Thanks. I’d like to be archetypal and mythic. But I hope we don’t spend too much time waiting for verdicts. Most of us don’t get rules and verdicts delivered to us so neatly. We may have an aspect of life where we’re waiting, or hoping, for some kind of verdict. But we don’t really get verdicts; we get validations. Verdicts are absolute and often pretty arbitrary—they’re for gods and kings. Validations are relative. What validates us today might mean very little next year. Life is certainly often absolute and arbitrary, but when it is, I don’t think it’s judging us.

Barius and Neot. Interesting. What interesting story lies behind these names?

Phew. An easy one. I mentioned above that Neot is actually a saint. He was Celtic, and died in 877; Barius was his servant. I assume the names would have been more standard then and there. So I lucked out and was handed charming names. I can’t take credit for the newness that Neot implies, or the plodding nature of the name Barius

What did the MFA from Michigan mean to you and your writing?

A lot. Time, money, validation, friends, drafts, feedback, confidence, despair, relief, inspiration, exposure, age, frustration, questions. It meant I barely ran excel for 2 whole years.

The 2005 Edge Annual World Question (www.edge.org) asked a question that the BBC called “fantastically stimulating.” One year later, we ask you this same question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”

That’s hard. If there are things that I believe are true, I think I believe them whether or not they’re provable. I’m not even sure I believe in proof (except in math, and I’m not about to state a belief in straight lines). I’ve tried thinking of trivial things, of meaningful things and of funny things, but haven’t really gotten anywhere. I think I believe less and less as I get older. I have a feeling the trend may start to reverse at some point.

I know you are but what am I.

About the Author:

Catherine Zeidler has a small website (catpatz.com), a fiction MFA (from the University of Michigan) and a short story (recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize) published in Hobart. She lives in Brooklyn.

About the Artist:

René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist (21 November 1898 - 15 August 1967).