I have only two rules in my composition classroom: choose topics that are relevant and use research that is revelatory. For many writing instructors, the last half of March and the first half of April is devoted to getting students invested in a topic, prepared to compose drafts, and committed to editing and revising.
None of this goes well if there is no personal investment. Basically, I have to convince students to choose topics they need to write about.
The week of March 12th, Ashley, a student of mine who had been struggling academically, comes to me with her paper topic. She wants to argue that the science of astrology is real. Typically, a topic like this would have given me pause.
In the past I would have cautioned her that research might be more difficult to find; I would have warned her that creating arguments without strong evidence would require much more work and skill; I would have warned her that the paper might not work. But I didn’t.
I didn’t feel comfortable giving Ashley advice because I wasn’t so sure I was in any position to do so.
Getting a divorce can make you feel this way. The clarity that comes after your cheating, abusive husband spends three months arguing over a china cabinet and a television, pretty much ensures that you recognize that you must have been a damned idiot to marry such an asshole.
So I told Ashley “Yes, please write this paper and please convince me; I need something to believe in.” And she did just that.
On April 10th, Ashley amazed us all. Her presentation was nothing like I expected: Her arguments were logical and critical; her data was believable and analytical; her sources were credible and impressive. But what made her presentation unforgettable: she used her classmates as evidence. She gave us a list of typical descriptors of each sign. Next, she asked us to look up the sign of someone with whom we were angry or frustrated with.
After reading the traits, a few students admitted that there were similarities between the astrological personality traits and that of their person. She then asked us to look at the sign of someone we had a crush on, or someone she said: we would like to hook up with (sigh). The similarities or accuracy meant she got several more believers and more excitement.
Then, she asked us to look at our own. I had never seen so many students in awe. Finally, without revealing my birth month to anyone, including Ashley, she asked students to pick which sign I was. All of my students got it right: I was a Virgo.
Finding a Safe Space in Astrology During Divorce
Three days later on April 13th, my divorce decree was granted- exactly ten years after I said: “I do.” The irony of getting divorced on the very day I married was not lost on me-neither was the fact that it was Friday, April 13th.
Numbers and astrology had never factored into my decision making. Even though my parents were rather optimistic. My father often quoted J.P. Morgan “Millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do.”
My mother’s beliefs seemed to be half a belief in mother nature and the other in numerology. She feared threes: she warned that death occurs in threes. She said beware of a full moon- mothers and widows are made. She embraced storms; she cautioned that lightening leads to love. I dismissed my parents’ beliefs as quickly as I did their insistence that honey and vinegar could cure almost anything. (double sigh)
On Tuesday morning the 17th, while waiting to be dismissed from jury duty, I read my horoscope. It predicted: “This month will be a time of life in which change and transformation should take place. Despite being painful, embrace this notion: out with the old, in with the new.” I laughed aloud as I thought back to last Friday when I became a divorcee.
This was a welcome change, but what was not was the death of my longest, most devoted companion: my 13-year-old yellow lab Maggie. She finally lost her battle with diabetes and kidney failure.
After a day of grieving, I returned to work/life. When I return home that evening, I find that my cat of 19 years had passed away most likely from a stroke. At this point, my belief in Astrology was overcome with my hate for Astrology. On April 20th, I go to school to learn that one of my most favorite students of all time had taken his life at 4:20 that very morning.
Astrology has been condemned, debated, criticized, and debased by the scientific community for hundreds of years.
It has also been encouraged, researched, predicted, and praised by the scientific community- namely Dr. Percy Seymour, a noted astronomer and astrophysicist, Seymour’s reputation as a scholar of science is unmatched. I will not attempt to explain Dr. Seymour’s research on how the movement of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets interferes with the Earth’s magnetic field, nor what this has to do with expectant mothers and their offspring’s budding brains (personalities), but I can tell you that he was not alone in his beliefs.
Other very noted scientists are also believers in astrology: Hippocrates, Sir Isaac Newton, Einstein, Carl Jung, Louis Pasteur…just to name a few.
Astrology is actually based in math- specifically quantum physics. One of the major principles in astrology is this: “That which is above is the same as that which is below.” To physicists this translates to what applies to the very large (the solar system) applies to the very small (the atom).
The same laws apply to both. In smaller more mathematical terms, human beings are like a “fractal” of the universe, each cell in our body is like a “fractal” (DNA) of our entire body, the atom is like a fractal of each cell, and so on, ad infinitum. As a writing teacher, even I can follow this logic. It seems to me that Astrology argues that the stars can lead to a better understanding of our minds, specifically concentrating on connections.
I don’t know for sure if Astrology is a science.
The line between what is real and what is not is blurred for me. I do believe in nature, medicine, and the psyche. I do believe that Hippocrates was right about the intersection between the body and the universe; I only have to consider the cold sore I feel tingly on my lip and the seasonal affective disorder that makes me blue.
At Ashley’s graduation, I asked her why she wanted to write about Astrology. Her response shocked me: “My mom told me that I was the result of a rape, that the man I thought was my real dad, was really my stepdad, and that my biological father is dying and wants to meet me. I needed to find something that made sense.”
Astrology might just be what some of us look to when the world just doesn’t make sense, when things change too drastically, and when we feel like we are powerless against future inevitabilities. If nothing else, at least Astrology leaves us a safe space to contemplate ourselves and the universe.
In times of great strife, within a world that reverberates with senseless violence and pain, anything that brings careful and thoughtful self-reflection only makes sense to me.