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IT'S IN THE STARS

Always behave like Mercury is in retrograde

Milky Way is seen during the annual Perseid meteor shower.
Reuters/Paul Hanna
The simple explanation that will instantly make you feel better about all your failures.
This article is more than 2 years old.

A bad thing happened to me the other day. After years and years of worrying that I would humiliate myself by doing this very thing, I went ahead and did it. I accidentally wrote “Love you” at the end of a serious, carefully worded pitch to an editor. Specifically, an editor I am intimidated by, and with whom I have had only the most fleeting of professional interactions. I sincerely did not mean to do it. I do not love her, or indeed know her. So why did I write that, instead of “Best wishes” or “Thanks!” Why?

A few reasons spring to mind: I had just finished writing an email to my mom, in which I signed off with “love you.” I drank too much coffee too quickly. I was reading too much stressful news, and texting too many people about bad events. My mind was elsewhere. All of these are contributing factors—valid(ish) reasons for pulling such a bizarre and bitterly lamented move.

I sent a long, anguished text to a friend about it: What was I going to do? Why was I so stupid? Should I change my identity or career? Things of that nature. He replied immediately: I wasn’t to be too hard on myself, because it wasn’t entirely my fault. He reminded me that Mercury had just gone into retrograde, and so a disastrous failure of communication was inevitable. I felt better straight away.

The problem with the other reasons for the email which will keep me awake at night for the rest of my life is that they did not allow for any pointing of fingers. I had only myself to blame for the sick sense of panic surging around inside me, and the fact that I would never be able to contact this powerful editor, under any circumstances, ever again. Seemed unfair. The overall badness of this year has demanded a lot of introspection and moral-inventory-taking and acknowledging of personal flaws. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is necessary but exhausting. But wouldn’t it be super if, just for once, I could blame my mistakes on something other than my own inadequate self?

Enter Mercury in retrograde.

Three or four times a year, for about three weeks at a time, Mercury appears to us mortal humans to be orbiting backwards, or in retrograde. It’s not actually doing that, obviously. According to this astronomy website for children, Mercury only appears to be behaving that way because of the relative positions of the Earth and the planet, and the differing speeds of their orbits. Not important for our purposes.

What is important is that Mercury is the planet of communication. According to Susan Miller, astrological queen of the universe, we can include the following under the umbrella term “communication”: listening, speaking, learning, reading, editing, researching, negotiating, selling, contracts, book manuscripts, agreements, wills, computer codes, and travel.

The (vastly reassuring and soothing) idea is that when Mercury is in retrograde, our ability to communicate is disrupted. In other words, three or four times a year, for three or so weeks at a time, we are allowed to cast interstellar blame for our miscommunications, Freudian slips, typos, swearing in front of religious children, badly worded sexts, and professional failings. From the third to the 22nd of this month, for instance, every stupid thing that we did, every missed train, every poorly chosen outfit or weird thing we said to a stranger at a party, wasn’t entirely our fault. The planets had it in for us, and we didn’t take the necessary precautions.

Susan Miller says she gets more emails about this than any other topic. She cautions us not to make any important moves during this period, because we will inevitably screw it up. We must be still and silent, and hold our breath until it passes. The Astro Poets tell us to text our crushes before Mercury retrograde begins, before it’s too late and we say something irrevocably insane. The Astro Twins tell us to embrace chaos, because it is the only way we will survive. The consensus is that the universe has it in for us big time, during this period. Things will go wrong and it isn’t our fault. Hooray! Don’t you feel better about how terrible you are, now?

Maybe not. Maybe you are right now sitting up straight in your chair, shuffling together your papers, in preparation for the delivery of your prepared speech, tentatively titled: “Astrology Isn’t Real.” That’s fine. This year has been long and brutal, though, and I’d advise you to recognize a gift when you see one.

If I wholeheartedly believed that things went wrong because Mercury looked like it was moving backwards, and if I listened to the advice of queen of the universe Susan Miller, then here are the countermeasures I would take to ameliorate its effects:

  1. Be more careful in general
  2. Hold on to my receipts
  3. Choose my words wisely
  4. Cut people a bit of slack once in awhile
  5. Strive for punctuality
  6. Not accidentally write “Love you” instead of “Thanks” at the end of a work email
  7. Avoid rash moves

If I scoffed myself to death at the very idea of astrology, but wanted to be a better person in general, then here’s what I would do:

  1. See above.

There is nothing to be lost from behaving as if Mercury in retrograde is a powerful force to be reckoned with. At worst, you will have cultivated some beneficial personal habits. And three or four times a year, for three or so weeks, you will experience the great relief of forcing the universe to take responsibility for your problems. You don’t have to. But the option is there, and I suggest that you take it.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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