This week's centennial of the great quake of 1906, which destroyed my much-adored home city San Francisco, isn't the only anniversary I'm commemorating.
On Good Friday ten years ago, I purchased my first astrology book, introducing me to the profound and mysterious study of connections between the planets' motions and life here on earth and thrusting me, rather unexpectedly, onto the path I'm now treading as both profession and passion.
Astrology had first entered my awareness a few weeks earlier, thanks to an evening spent at a friend's house for dinner. (Nate, I owe you one.) The conversation had drifted to the topic, a hobby of his, and I was curious to find out more. He owned an ephemeris and agreed to look up some of my planetary placements. I didn't know what any of that meant, and didn't necessarily care. Like most folks, I just wanted to hear more about me.
I remember little from that first discussion about astrology, other than a curiosity to learn more that stuck with me. So when I was browsing through a local bookshop and fixed my eyes on the bright orange jacket of a cheap used copy of The Only Way to Learn Astrology, Vol. I, I decided to buy it.
The problem? The friend I was with also saw that same book at the same instant, and also had intentions to own it. We had a hasty back-and-forth about who wanted it more, before my (admittedly manipulative) retelling of the recent dinner conversationas a clear example that it was 'a sign' I should get the booktipped the scales in my favor. (Thanks for letting me have it, Joseph, wherever you are.)
Judging from progressive developments, I guess it was a sign of some sort. But if you had told me back then, a decade later, I'd be a professional astrologer, I would have laughed in your face. Prior to my 'awakening' in '96, I didn't really believe in anythingother than, I suppose, my smart-alecky knack for intellectualizing away any tidbit of existential mysticism (or trying my damnedest to). My discovery of astrology, in synchronicity with the overall eye-opening quality to my life at that time, changed everything.
When I got home from my Good Friday wanderings, I cracked open my new astrology book and started reading. I'd recently begun using the Internet, and was quickly able to locate a site that printed out astrology charts for free. I spent the evening learning the symbols of astrology, studying my chart and looking up the descriptions for the signs, houses and aspects of all my planetary placements. Before long, the sun was coming up. I stayed up all night, victim to the twin manias of philosophic excitement (which I'd later reinterpret as 'spiritual') and information overload. (And anyone who knows me can attest that I'm not the kind of guy who stays up all night. I love my sleep and lots of it.)
After a quick morning nap, I was back on the streets, scanning the shelves at the local new-age bookstore (which I'd never entered before) for more astrology information. I bought volumes 2 and 3 of the same introductory series, and spent the rest of that Easter weekend obsessively poring over their pages. I also bought an ephemeris and a book of house tables, and figured out how to calculate my chart manuallya skill which, praised be the personal computer, I no longer retain. The more I read, the more I bought into this amazing, insightful, and wholly inexplicable art. After all, my chart seemed to describe me perfectly, and I didn't know why. I simply couldn't get enough of astrology.
But, at some point, I had to get some sleep.
During that crazy weekend, I also remember a lengthy phone conversation with my grandmother, who had been battling cancer for a little while and wasn't doing so well. We spoke at length about all sorts of things, including how wild this new Internet technology was. She told me how much she'd have loved to explore its vast avenues of knowledge, but she knew she wouldn't have a chance. As the chat went on, her voice sounded wearied and worn out.
'Bar,' she said to me, 'I'm just so tired.'
I replied, 'Then, go to sleep.'
My grandma passed away the following month, and though I spoke to her briefly a few more times, I consider this our last real conversation. Since it occurred in the midst of the maniacal maelstrom that marked my first communion with astrology, I'll forever link the two events in my memory. And my relationship with this grandmawho had been my last surviving grandparent for the preceding ten yearscontinues to bear a powerful symbolism in my spiritual life.
Only later, when I looked back at that period through the eyes of a knowledgeable astrologer, did the timing make complete sense. That Easter weekend fell in the two-week span between two eclipses, including a solar eclipse in Aries that made an exact opposition to my natal Uranus. At the same time, during April 1996, transiting Uranus was precisely conjunct my natal Venus and was also within a close orb to my natal Sun.
There's no doubt, then, that Uranusthe planet of sudden epiphanies and total schisms with prior tradition, as well as the unofficial ruler of astrologywas a major player in my trajectory into this work. And for that, my dear planetary troublemaker, I'm forever grateful though in the process of becoming who I am now, I've had to uncomfortably eschew familial and societal expectations, as well as my own ravenous desire to meet those expectations. (Uranus hates expectation, and does what he can to spit in its face.)
I've also had to walk away from my know-it-all intellectualism (okay, maybe I just close one eye and pretend not to peek), and admit to believing in something I cannot prove. Instead, I stick close to my intentionsto help people, and to fulfill myself creatively and philosophicallyand assume everything else will work out. It's a road that must include Uranus-inspired detachment, or else I'm in for trouble. See, there's always the possibility astrology will, one day, stop working for me and then I'll have to find a different vocation. I have to be okay with that, or I'll hang on too desperately to the status quo and Uranus will zap me.
It's still hard to believe I've been swimming through the seas of astrology for ten yearsit both seems like such a short time since I first pulled that book off the shelf, and also like I've been speaking this language forever.
I also know now, to the root of my being, that often the most rewarding things in life simply find you if you're open to going in a different direction. Otherwise, you might miss 'em altogether.
Thank you for the blessings, astrology. I hope I'm returning the favor.