Zodiac Arrest: An Interview with Claire Comstock-Gay

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Fake astrology that feels truer than most things you know. Fiction that crawls under your skin, and makes a new home there. That’s the magical world of Claire Comstock-Gay, also known as Madame Clairevoyant, the in-house astrologer at The Rumblr. I fell in love first with Claire’s shimmering horoscopes, then her weird, beautiful stories, then with the fact that she’s so hard to track down online. She seems inseparable from her writing and alter ego, mysterious, ethereal, charming. You end up feeling certain your life would be better if she were your friend, and every time you read her words, she is. Every horoscope feels like a personal message written directly to and for you. Every story has characters that tug at your heartstrings, often uncomfortably, making you wonder how she knows what’s going on in your head. Read on and see through her eyes a view that’s a little wider, a little dreamier, and just a little better than the one out your window.

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What is your earliest memory? Describe it in the form of a horoscope.

When the world is green and orange and red, when the afternoon is sweet and gold, when the world smells like dirt and frost, you might be too small to see over the back gate, but you’re big enough to know who you are. You might be too small to know who you are, but you’re big enough to roll in the leaves and feel wet dirt on your face. You have a mom and a dad and a sister. You have a friend. The sky is bright blue and the world is so big.

Your horoscopes are gentle and dreamy and magical, while your fiction is a little darker, a little sadder, a little weirder. What is it like for you writing stories versus horoscopes? How is it different and how is it the same?

It’s like I’m exercising completely different muscles when I’m writing stories versus writing horoscopes. They rely on different kinds of thought, different kinds of motion, different kinds of feeling. My brain needs to go to a rhythmic and dreamy kind of place for me to write horoscopes; when I’m writing fiction, I feel much sharper. The stories live in my head and the horoscopes live in my hands, maybe.

I do wonder if my fiction would be gentler and more dreamy if I didn’t write these horoscopes. I’ve got this wonderful outlet for all my good and kind thoughts, and all that’s left for me to work with after that is the weird stuff.

How did you become a fake astrologer?

Very much by chance. I wasn’t even especially interested in astrology until I moved to Brooklyn, where I suddenly had all these friends who loved talking about astrology. I knew very little about it, and more than anything it just felt like a very complex system of jokes and stories for people to tell their friends (this is not a bad thing!).

Then Molly McArdle, the Rumpus Tumblr editor, asked me if I’d write horoscopes for them, and each week, my understanding of what these (fake) horoscopes could do shifted and deepened. Even fake horoscopes can be a lens, they can be a tool, they can tell us real truths, they can give us things we aren’t getting elsewhere. A very long time ago I was a fake poet who tried so hard to be authentic, and slightly less long ago I was a fake intellectual who tried so hard to be brilliant, and now I’m just a fake astrologer doing fake horoscopes that feel sometimes very vital and true. Where does that leave me? I’m not sure. I’m not worried.

Imagine Madame Clairevoyant is opening a School for Fake Astrologers. What would the training look like? Can you give us a sample homework assignment?

  1. Pick a sign, not your own. (Writing to and for ourselves is advanced fake astrology that we’ll get to later in the semester.) Make a list of every person you know with that sign: some should be people you love and some should be people you hate. Think about each of their faces. Think about the way each of them moves. There’s something in them that needs the same thing. Think about them until you know what that thing is.
  2. You are limited, as a fake astrologer, by the boundaries of your own brain. You only know the things that you know, of course, but you know much more than you think you do. There is knowledge that lives in your stomach and chest, and there is knowledge that lives in your skin, in your hair, in your hands. Write one horoscope from each of these places.
  3. What is the role of the fake astrologer in a world where Darren Wilson is rich and still free? What can fake horoscopes do in a world where the Louisiana coastline loses 16 square miles of land every year? Come to class prepared to discuss.

How much Claire is in Madame Clairevoyant and vice versa? How do the two of you get along? Arthur Conan Doyle had a love-hate relationship with his Sherlock Holmes: Do you ever want to do away with your creation?

I think that probably Madame Clairevoyant is me, if you took away the parts of me that are dark and impatient and prickly. (Of course, I would never want to lose the things in me that are dark and impatient and prickly!) Everything in her comes from my real self, but it’s not a full picture of my real self. Mostly I love Madame Clairevoyant; it’s nice to have this wise and gentle alter ego. A vision of myself as I could be in a different world. I imagine that if she was ever nearly as famous as Sherlock Holmes, we would start to have some real problems with each other. As it is, though, she’s a good kind of companion.

What connection does your work with homeless youth have on your writing?

For the most part, my writing work and my work with young people are pretty separate parts of my life. I owe it to the young people I work with to interact with them as an adult person who cares about them, first and foremost, rather than as a writer. I owe it to them to be as present and unselfish as I can be. Their lives are so much more important than my writing.

At the same time, how could this work not shape and change me as a person? How could it not shape and change the way I write? Doing this work has expanded (and still is expanding) my own field of vision. I see so many different kinds of courage and different kinds of empathy. I am reminded of my own place and shape and size in the world.

What are your five favorite words embodying winter? spring? summer? fall?

Winter: hush, velvet, ice, knife, stone. Spring: mud, thaw, bud, green, unfurl. Summer: highway, berry, skin, deepen, dusk. Fall: smoke, sigh, frost, rust, gold.

Can you describe your writing and revision process and routines?

I work three twelve-hour overnight shifts a week, which makes it difficult to keep to any kind of routine. I like to write when it’s slow at work—the late hours make my brain really loose and loopy and free, and I’m always having these wild and exciting flashes of insight that very rarely end up being actually important. I like to work on revisions in the late morning at my desk, or any time of day on the subway.

What obsessions did you have when you were a child? What are your current obsessions? What obsessions would you like to have when you are 80?

When I was little: fantasy books, mystery books, my sisters, being as good as the boys (no particular boys, just the general boys). Currently: ghosts, faces, Sophia Tolstoy, northern New England. When I’m old: I hope I’m the kind of 80-year-old who’s really deeply invested in the local history of the place where I live. Also like UFOs or something weird.

What scares you?

The bottom of the ocean. Greed, intellectual laziness, very charming people, too much attention, too little attention. The thing in horror movies when someone’s looking in their bathroom mirror and you know that something really horrible’s about to pop up in that mirror.

What are your favorite smells? Least favorite? If you were a perfume, what scents would be in you?

Favorites: muddy pine forests, Coney Island, very chlorinated indoor pools (I know), jasmine. Least favorite: roses, Jolly Ranchers, hard-boiled eggs. If I were a perfume, I’d be something woody and green and sweet.

If you were a stuffed animal, what would you be and what sign?

Oh, hmm. Probably a floppy stuffed dog. And I’m a Sagittarius! I’m so much a Sagittarius.

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About Author

Georgia Bellas is an editor and artist living in Somerville, Mass. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Lockjaw Magazine, Synaesthesia, Sundog Lit, Cartridge Lit, Bird’s Thumb, WhiskeyPaper, The Collapsar, and [PANK], among other journals. She is one of the poetry winners for Sundress Publications' 2014 Best of the Net anthology. You can follow her teddy bear, host of the Internet radio show “Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon,” on Twitter @MrBearStumpy. If you ever meet her, she will probably tell you about her bicycle’s movie star status.

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