Quicksilver

I work in an office of techies, but I grew up in a neighbourhood full of hippies, crystal shops and tarot card readers. My sensibility lies somewhere in the middle. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being a flower child – my musical tastes, eating habits, style of dress and worldview don’t mesh with that mental image – but I did develop a few inclinations in my adolescence that I attribute to the fern-adorned, incense-scented shops and vegetarian restaurants that populated the Kitsilano of my youth.

For one thing, I have tofu cravings on a regular basis.

I also confess to loving the smell of sandalwood to this day; it pitches me headlong into happy nostalgia.

But the other thing is – and those who know me are well aware of this – I know a lot about astrology.

Now, I know some of you are going to laugh & click away. I don’t blame you, if your experience with astrology is limited to newspaper horoscopes or Cosmo’s Bedside Astrologer. (Or, heaven forbid, those little zodiac scrolls you used to be able to buy in the supermarket… do those still exist?) Most of that stuff is what my favourite astrologer, Steven Forrest, calls “fortune telling” and it’s not really helpful – or particularly interesting.

(One notable exception is Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology, a truly thought-provoking and delightful approach to the weekly horoscope.)

But lest I get bogged down in defending my interest in astrology, which would take several blog posts & likely convince absolutly no one who doesn’t want to be convinced… Here’s what I’ve noticed about astrology in my office, and in the tech world in general: even the most left-brain, logic-driven programmers I know will at least entertain the possibility that there’s something to astrology, if only because of what they experience during Mercury retrograde.

The planet Mercury appears to reverse its motion – from the Earth’s perspective, that is – about three times a year. For roughly 3 weeks at a time, it travels backward, then pauses and resumes forward motion. During its retrograde phase, as centuries of astrologers have observed, various aspects of life on earth that are “ruled” by Mercury – communications, short-distance travel, technology, electronics, and so on – go a bit kaflooey.

In my line of work, we tend to see stuff like this happen:

  • Websites crash for no apparent reason – and the “automatic” backup system has, it turns out, been on the fritz for the last two months without anyone noticing.
  • Emails disappear mysteriously into the ether without a trace.
  • Projects slow down due to missed connections with clients.
  • A piece of code that won’t seem to work, no matter what, works fine the next day when you come back into the office.

Over the years, my code-writing colleagues have become accustomed to my warnings when Mercury retrograde periods are approaching. At first, they greeted them with amused indulgence. Nowadays, though, after years of observing first-hand the effects of these retrograde periods, they pay attention and note the dates. We regularly schedule backup checks in the weeks prior to a retrograde and double-check all of our code-testing checklists. It’s to the point now where if I announce an upcoming Mercury retrograde at a staff meeting, it’s greeted with a chorus of groans (which, I confess, makes me smile a little).

Some might see this as superstitious nonsense. I actually like to think of it as the scientific process in action. If you can’t remain open to the possibility that something might be true, without having concrete evidence that disproves it, then you’re not entering into inquiry with a truly open mind.

I’m impressed with my programmer friends for tolerating my quirks well enough that they could embrace a seemingly woo-woo idea like Mercury retrograde. It leads me to ask myself: What kooky possibilities are you willing to entertain in the spirit of scientific inquiry? What dearly-held “truths” are you willing to question? And what patterns will you observe if you let go of your knee-jerk explanations and well-worn stories about the world?