on astrology

important things i learned at my first job

I got my first real job when I was fifteen at a boutique called Wendy’s Closet in my hometown. It was on Main Street between a dog-themed restaurant and the town liquor store. Wendy, a zany redhead with a Jersey accent and a fondness for sequins, and the proprietor of Wendy’s Closet, first exposed me to the study of astrology.

Wendy and I spent most of the summer perched on stools around the glass checkout counter playing backgammon and looking at books. Many of the books had a metaphysical bent—dream analysis, colorology, palmistry—but my favorite was The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need. This book (and Wendy, herself) taught me how to read my astrological chart.

Before that summer, I had a pretty basic understanding of astrological phenomena. Like most people, I would sometimes check my weekly horoscope in the newspaper or read a candy-coated monthly version in People magazine. But a true scholar of the stars doesn’t settle for such superficial readings.

When you flip to the back of a magazine hoping for some prophetic declaration, you get only  a fraction of your relevant astrological information. Your astrological chart gives a full picture of the planetary alignments at the time of your birth. It’s shaped like a circle, with each “house” (sign) assigned to a fraction of the circle. Based on your date of birth, you have a sun sign—this is the one most people know about, the one to which the pick-up line “What’s your sign?” refers. But, like the sun, each of the other planets is also in a “house,” or a sign, at the time you were born, and each has its own implications.

Every planet is in its respective house only to a certain degree—between one and 30—which plays into how powerful its effect is. A person with their sun in Gemini at 28° is going to identify a lot more with the Gemini qualities than someone with a mere 4°. Every chart has an “ascendant,” or rising sign. The rising sign is typically explained as how others see you, or the camouflage you wear when entering into unfamiliar situations. Someone who is extremely shy at first, but reveals a silly side over time, might be a Sagittarius with a Libra ascendant.

I am a 21° Capricorn, 10° Virgo ascendant, which means I’m a goal-oriented perfectionist with high standards for myself and everyone else. Capricorn-Virgos are impatient with inefficiency and can’t stand bad manners. People think we’re outgoing, but we’re actually quite private by nature. We tend to have big feet and joints, and are prone to blood problems. We are self-critical and hate messes, and although we’re strong, we can also be quite clumsy. Like any true Capricorn-Virgo, I have a long history of broken bones.

I have no planets in Taurus, Aries, Leo, or Gemini. Of the eleven components of my chart, four are in Capricorn. This means I’m powerful, introverted, and a little intense. The first time Wendy read my chart, she exclaimed, “Watch out, world!”

Wendy gave me my very own copy of The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need, and the book has lived up to its name. It became an icebreaker, a source of entertainment, and a guide. I read up on my friends, either with them for fun, or behind their backs to figure out why the heck they are the way they are. I use it as a romantic guide (I fall for Leos—but those guys always end up being so dang self-involved!) and a way to make travel plans (never when Mercury is retrograde). Try as I might, I can’t prevent my knowledge of the zodiac from steering my personal decisions, just a little. If you could avoid a disaster, wouldn’t you?

Recently, I gave my phone number to a stranger who worked at an ice cream shop. Ice Cream Boy was tall and smiley, and we went to a gallery opening together and wandered through whitewashed rooms filled with bad art. We came upon a set of monoprints, each featuring an interpretation of one of the astrological signs. I paused in front of them, and when Ice Cream Boy came up beside me, I couldn’t resist asking the essential question: “What’s your sign?”

I prayed silently to myself, Please don’t say Leo, oh please don’t say Leo as he searched for the correct print, and pointed. It was the crab, Cancer. When I arrived home later that evening, I went straight for my book. I flipped through until I found the “Amorous Combinations” section, and in the Capricorn-Cancer column I read: “Capricorn isn’t willing to put up with Cancer’s endless emotional demands. Cancer’s need for warmth will be frustrated by Capricorn’s aloof coolness. These two are zodiac opposites with all that implies”. I shut the book, forlorn. I never saw Ice Cream Boy again.

I find myself in a classic chicken-egg conundrum. Who knows whether my readings about my chart have caused me to behave the way I do, or whether I am truly a perfect product of my planetary alignments? It’s undeniable that I can be “hot-tempered and internally furious, while projecting an air of calm,” as my book tells me, but have I just adopted these behaviors because my book told me to? At fifteen, my identity was still largely a work in progress, and as I’ve grown older, that progress has been constantly checked against, and validated by, my chart.

I’m not very well versed in science, which is perhaps a common trait among astrologists. I think the planetary movements enact some kind of magnetic or gravitational pull on us when we’re born, but beyond that I’m lost. And I don’t care—I don’t need to know how it works, or even if it does.

I’m happy to spend the rest of my life under the delusion of astrology, if that’s what it is. Is it possible that Ice Cream Boy is my soul mate, and I let my superstition get in the way of love? Yes. But it is also possible that he’s a needy Cancer who would have gotten on my nerves. And that was a risk that just wasn’t worth taking.