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Escaping February and Mercury Retrograde

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Mercury – He’s a tricky fella

Have you been feeling out of sorts lately – a little sluggish, despondent … generally muddled? Are you snapping at friends and family for no apparent reason? Are miscommunications wreaking havoc with your plans? Do you find yourself wanting to go to bed immediately after dinner and sleep until – oh, I don’t know … April?

Don’t worry. It’s not you. In fact, it’s perfectly normal given the trying circumstances we’ve been in for the past few weeks.

For starters, we’ve had to deal with the February Blahs. There’s a reason that February is the shortest month of the year. Scholars will tell you it has something to do with the Romans (particularly that egomaniac Julius Caesar), but I’m pretty sure it mostly has to do with the way this month seems to drive us New Englanders right to the brink of insanity. You’ve heard Twain’s tale of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court? I think there may have been a Yankee at Caesar’s court, too, advising the emperor to minimize the dreary days of February.

February is a month that seems to go nowhere. Other than Groundhog Day (which is almost always disappointing news) and Valentine’s Day (which often brings as much stress as romance), these twenty-eight (or twenty-nine) days are usually pretty dull. While January sparkles with the last of the holiday magic and the first blush of the New Year’s promise, February drags its feet through the slush like a sullen teenager who is frustrated at being caught between innocence and independence.

Indeed, February feels like a kind of purgatory. It is the holding pen where we gather to wearily endure the last of winter’s wrath and prove that we are worthy of spring.

Unfortunately, this year’s February Blahs coincided with another challenge: Mercury retrograde. I’m no astrology expert, but there are two astrological occurrences that I believe exert a very real influence on humans: full moons and Mercury retrograde.

It was while I worked in retail that I came to believe in the lunacy-inducing effect of the full moon on otherwise normal people. Without fail, each full moon brought out the crazies and the crazy behavior. I learned to expect anything during a full moon.

Mercury retrograde happens (thank goodness) less frequently than a full moon. This year, we will be subjected to this phenomenon in February, June, and October. While I can’t explain the astrological details (it’s sort of like an optical illusion that causes Mercury to appear to go backwards in its path across the sky), I can tell you that when Mercury retrogrades things tend to get a bit mixed up.

In addition to messing with technology (expect bugs, breakdowns, and a general lack of cooperation from machines), Mercury retrograde is typically blamed for silly mistakes and what the characters in Cool Hand Luke referred to as “a failure to communicate.”

The planet Mercury is named after the Roman god of the same name – the fellow with wings on his feet who is frequently seen schlepping bouquets of flowers for FTD. In the past, Mercury used to schlep messages for the other Roman gods and also served as a guide for souls heading to the Underworld.

The period of Mercury retrograde is sometimes likened to a trip to the Underworld because it tends to be a time of reflection and reinvention. It’s common to find yourself questioning the status quo and tuning in to your intuition (which is heightened during Mercury retrograde).

So you see, whether you’re feeling discontent, cranky, or confused it’s not really you. It’s just the effects of the February Blahs and Mercury retrograde. The good news is that both the month and the period of retrograde end tomorrow, so you should wake up on Friday feeling like a new person. Won’t that be nice?
 
 
This piece originally appeared as part of my bi-weekly column series in The Ipswich Chronicle.
Photo Credit: A.Currell via Compfight cc

Off-Topic: Finding the Flu’s Silver Lining (No, really)

cloud silver liningThe flu has few redeeming qualities. It is a nasty and indiscriminate predator with a habit of lingering long after it has exacted its due from the unwilling host. I recently had the acute displeasure of being caught in the tenacious clutches of this viral beast. I have also watched helplessly as many a friend succumbed to a similar fate, sinking into a temporary oblivion that only time and patience can overcome.

From a distance, one might think that a few days laid up in bed would not be such a bad thing. I will admit to having frequently pined for a respite of uninterrupted rest and guilt-free reading time. The fever-induced couch coma that I received in answer to my silent prayer is testament to the wisdom of the cliche advice that we should be careful about what we wish for. There was nothing relaxing or comfortable about my week-long engagement with this year’s influenza.

To begin with, though I remained in a mostly horizontal position for the duration, I cannot recall – despite having ingested copious amounts of over-the-counter remedies – a single moment of true restfulness. The flu simply isn’t designed to deliver that kind of experience. It is much more vindictive than the kinder, gentler Victorian illnesses that called for fainting couches and trips to the seaside.

In general, the flu has evolved to render its victim so far past the point of caring that all but the most essential functions of life become optional. Showering, for instance, becomes a luxury that is easily passed up in favor of another twelve hours immobile on the sofa. Eating, once a much-anticipated activity of the day, becomes an arduous chore that is tackled without pleasure or the slightest hint of enthusiasm. Driving children to school becomes an insurmountable task that is best delegated to a healthier party, someone who will not get lost on the way.

In short, having the flu is akin to being forcibly removed from your life for however long it takes you to recover.

Though I risk the weak but fiercely justified wrath of anyone still pinned under the iron fist of this vicious affliction, I have to say that I think there is a silver lining to the flu. Having emerged on the other side, so to speak, I find that my flu-induced absence has made me appreciate the small pleasures of my life with fresh fervor.

It’s kind of like returning from a trip. Though a vacation has little in common with having the flu (unless it’s absolutely the most abysmal trip ever), there appears to be a strong similarity between coming home and recovering from an illness. Both transitions make the riches of our lives evident because they have been temporarily stolen away.

In the same way that our homes feel cozier and more welcoming after a time away, our lives feel sweeter and more full of good fortune when we finally feel well again. Things we once took for granted (like being able to taste our food, go for a walk, and get a good night’s sleep) are suddenly seen for the miracles they are. Though it renders us helpless, hopeless, and all kinds of miserable while it runs its course, the flu ultimately reminds us just how wonderful life is.

This isn’t to say that I wish the flu on anyone, but if it does come calling I hope you will take some comfort in knowing that the world will seem a brighter, friendlier place once you’re on the mend. Be well.

 

 

This piece originally appeared on suddenlymarketing.com and prior to that was published as part of my column series in my local paper, The Ipswich Chronicle.
Photo Credit: Broo_am (Andy B) via Compfight cc

Reading the Winter Away

winter bookAs midwinter envelops us in its cold and desolate embrace, I am finding it more and more challenging to keep my focus on the tasks at hand. I don’t know if it is the endless stretches of gray sky, the ever present threat of the flu, or the meteorologists’ tiresome banter about the polar vortex, but I am exhausted.

Hibernation is starting to look like a good plan. But, alas, we humans don’t have the option of curling up in some out-of-the-way corner and napping until spring.

If I cannot have the bliss of winter oblivion, what I would like most in the world right now is a few days of uninterrupted, guilt-free couch time. Instead of a cozy cave or tree trunk, I’d make a den of blankets and pillows. I’d stock my larder with tea and honey and biscuits, light a fire, and make sure I had an endless supply of good books.

When I was a kid, I often lost days between the covers of a good book. With no other pressing concerns to distract me, I surrendered willingly to the story and let the real world slip quietly out of the room.

Our living room was dominated by a monstrous sofa that was upholstered in a deep gold velour that could only have existed in the seventies. This beast could swallow you whole, drawing you deep into the crevices between its quicksand cushions, but I didn’t care. As long as I had a book to keep me company, I was content to disappear for hours at a time.

I read wintry adventures that let me experience the magic and majesty of the season without risking frostbite or even cold toes. I read summer stories that immersed me in the smell of cherry blossoms and the sound of babbling brooks. I read about battles and romances, mysteries and discoveries, admirable heroes and dastardly villains.

I read the midwinter blues away, banishing the frigid, bleak days from my mind one page at a time.

Now that I am a grown-up with a daughter of my own, I have plenty of responsibilities gnawing ceaselessly at each hour of my day. Afternoons curled up with a good book have become endangered nearly to the point of becoming myth, but – like a monster hunter who has caught a glimpse of Big Foot – I’m not giving up on proving their existence.

And I know just the bait that will lure my quarry into the open.

Recapturing the feeling of falling into another world comes easier when the world in question is a familiar one filled with old friends. So, I have put aside my grown-up books in favor of the stories that cast such a lingering spell on my youth.

I have pulled some old favorites from my bookshelves and borrowed others from the library. The house already feels a little warmer and seems a little brighter as a result of this reunion.

Winnie-the-Pooh was the first to arrive, along with all his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood. Bilbo Baggins showed up shortly afterwards with an anxious look about him and an appetite that belied his domestic nature. The peculiar yet charming creatures from Moominland trooped in together, led by Moomintroll and ready for all kinds of adventure and philosophical wonderings.

Lesser known characters are beginning to come forward as well – the maiden turned doe (or, was it doe turned maiden?) from James Thurber’s The White Deer; Tangle and Mossy from George MacDonald’s beautiful fairytale, The Golden Key; and Jerold from Jane Yolen’s snowy masterpiece, The Wild Hunt.

As each guest arrives, I feel more and more at ease beneath the weight of the season’s chilly mantle. The days may pass slowly and my duties may be many, but as I find a moment here and there to commune with my old friends, I suddenly feel less like sleeping through the rest of winter. After all, I have to find out how the story ends.

 

This piece originally appeared as a column in The Ipswich Chronicle

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