Welcome to Week Two of retrograde madness: Mercury, Venus, and Uranus are all retrograde, joining the already retrograde cast of characters—Saturn, Neptune, and Pluto. I don’t know about you, but my internet connection hasn’t worked properly since Mercury Retrograde began on August 23. With Mercury retrograde until September 15, and because there are six planets moving “backward” instead of “forward,” I’ve decided to just accept it all. My shifting attitude toward this really intense retrograde situation and my lack of power over any of it feels akin to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s theory of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Those stages don’t necessarily happen in that perfect order, but because I have enough information to know that I cannot control this retro-wave, I’ve decided to level off at the acceptance stage—accepting that the internet won’t work consistently, which means details will be lost, frustrations will ensue, and a thousand other things are going to be dealt with in their time rather than mine.
Those readers facing an actual death of a loved one or friend may think I am being disrespectful in applying Kübler-Ross’s stages here, but I’m not. I think there are plenty of people who only experience the fullness of life through cyberspace and the various devices that keep them connected, whether to stay in touch with friends, participate in gaming groups, or to explore the many multiverses of human interest on display across billions of websites.
I first encountered computer grief, or what I would now name retrograde mourning, a decade ago. Here’s what I wrote then:
I had never lost a computer before and as it sank in, I began to realize that I had really lost my most trusted companion. It's a staggering realization to know that you're closer to a machine than to some of your friends. My computer was like a dog I didn’t have to walk or a cat without the litter. And I know I'm not alone in my misplaced attachment. I spent hours at the Apple Store—the temple of my familiar on 67th and Broadway—watching others and noticing their deep attachment to devices, their attachment equal to my own. I've never had a hard drive wiped—an extreme action that necessitated an extreme reaction.
When my computer was handed back to me, I saw the sorrow and pity in the messenger's eyes: here are the ashes of the dead. And I saw others with the same bewildered denial that I was feeling, grappling with the reality of such a loss.
And it was a loss: poems, pictures, thousands of astrology charts, tables, research, seventeen years of columns, three complete courses created for Hunter College, a complete collection of essays on love waiting to be edited, a Master’s thesis, and all the research that went into it; over six thousand tunes in the music library and recorded readings for the last three years, at least a thousand archived files, and mail—oh the saved mail—notes and bits of this and that—pictures and calendars: maps of the last years, all gone. All backed up on Time Machine—but there was a glitch in the migration process and the hard drive was wiped before the migration was complete, the external hard drive stuttering and stopping at thirty-eight minutes into the process, disconnecting itself and complaining about being ejected improperly.
Seven tries later, a friend was trying to ask me a question about user names and all I could do was pump the air like a deranged backup singer, hands extended in a frenzied imitation of the Supremes singing “Stop in the Name of Love,” only I was saying, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Which promptly became “I can’t understand what you’re saying” because my brain cells were popping with panic and despair as my digital life was passing away before my eyes. I’d done everything right, and still it was wrong.
The next morning at Apple they were quite kind to me. I returned the new computer: this is not an Apple; this is a lemon. There is something wrong with it. The migration application is corrupted. “Migration application” makes it sound as if a flock of birds was moving from one nest to another, but it is an arduous journey, as arduous as it is for the robins who fly south for the winter or the barn swallows who return to Mexico; some die along the way, some get frozen, some lose their tracking devices and get lost; mine died.
As I sat there for the next several hours, I watched my fellow worshipers, so worried about their phones, pads, and pods, each person handing over a loved one, the one who holds all the knowledge—the secrets, really. And I don’t mean the passwords. We pour our heads and hearts into these machines and become completely dependent on them.
As I lay on my bed exhausted from the loss of brain cells, I thought about the miasma of the bardo that exists between crashing external hard drives and the ritual of the Genius Bar; completely certain that I had lost everything, I knew I was dead. It wasn’t just my computer that had died. It was me. I had died. Done. No four thousand charts, no writing, no music—just like that old Van Morrison album, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. A fresh start was all that awaited me. But as it turned out, mine was a transmigration; all was not lost—the external hard drive made it past thirty-nine minutes. My digital love was returned to me, but something wasn’t quite right. The operating system was different. Things looked odd, the sounds had changed, the mail didn’t work the same way; it wasn’t as responsive to my touch as it once was.
I wrote about the idea of having grief rooms at Apple stores and other places that service computers, rooms where you could go and grieve for your lost digital love. After all, there is no body to touch, nothing to hold onto, no funeral rites, no memorial. It just doesn’t seem right to toss your beloved into the recycling bin. Most of us just put the old model on a shelf—and let it trigger remembrances of springs past. Now I know there is a real need for such a place in our cyber universe—a place for denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. (Apple would do well to train its priestesses and priests in the wisdom of Kübler-Ross.) It must be an excruciating job to stand there all day handling computer problems, pretending to not see the emotional attachment. Our devices are just machines, after all, but they are so much more than that. I also finally understand why we fear robots so much. And why robots eventually rebel under the weight of all that need.
I can only wonder how AI will respond to Mercury Retrograde, or any retrograde.
Regardless of six retrogrades, the planets are busy this week and you’ll want to use the hustle and bustle of a Mars/Pluto trine to get things done. Mars moved into Libra on Sunday, August 27, continuing a trine to Pluto that began on August 16, was exact on August 24, and ends on September 2. This positive alliance is best known for its sheer strength and big ambitions; try to direct its force toward projects that require extraordinary effort.
A Full Moon tonight in Pisces is sure to unsettle emotional bodies (as if they needed another reason to be on alert) so be prepared for strong feelings, yours or others’, and the need to express them. It might be wise to dial down your intensity before you unleash an emotional catharsis; try not to allow a fevered pitch of feelings to overwhelm you. It’s just a Full Moon and by tomorrow, it will be behind us. The bad news is that Saturn is conjunct the Moon in Pisces, which could turn some of those emotions bitter with judgment—which means the feelings may linger. Try not to use them as an excuse to wag a judgmental finger or make overly stern accusations.
It's a tough week, but it is possible to make it through if you can keep your head and refrain from singing a victim’s lament. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself longing for rituals to ease the pain of this long retrograde phase—or you can just jump to acceptance. Acceptance might make handling things easier, and besides, bargaining with a modem really doesn’t work—and neither does anger. So do your best to keep your cool without repressing or suppressing feelings that need to see the light of day. And most importantly, be aware that we are all in this together and because of that we need to treat each other with respect. Screaming at others while pointing fingers of blame doesn’t really do much good. Remembering our interconnectedness will eventually yield positive results.