Embracing Mercury Retrograde

by Marlan Warren


I have decided to celebrate the end of every Mercury Retrograde. And might I suggest you do the same?

What is “Mercury retrograde”?

Astrologers say the planet Mercury rules communication and transportation. They call a planet “retrograde” when it gives the illusion that it’s moving backward through the zodiac. Mercury’s retrograde can negatively affect attempts to communicate or travel; appointments; contracts; mail; and Internet. It’s said to be the worst time to sign a contract, start a love affair or new job. It lasts three weeks. More or less.

Mercury Retrograde (MR) happens approximately every three months, three or four times a year. In 2009, we got hit four times. This year, we have only three to look forward to.

When I first left home, I moved into a Boston house with some astrologers. From time to time, they’d call out, “Mercury is retrograde! Nobody can communicate!” I saw them as Cosmic Chicken Littles.  I thought they were a scream.

I started paying attention after my father died at the end of ’84 during an MR. His heart acted up during a trip in an RV with his wife, and he passed away days later in a Florida hospital.  I woke up to a Voice Mail from my brother saying, “Dad’s brain waves have stopped.” Dad’s siblings noted it was “inconvenient” to have a funeral so close to Christmas, and put it off till January. I was in L.A., editing the last film project I had to do, getting ready for finals at USC.  I heard later that Dad’s sister attended a December memorial service that my stepmom hosted, and took the Rabbi aside, asking him not to “say anything Jewish” because the friends attending were Gentiles.

I have only two words for them: “Mercury Retrograde.”

To travel or not to travel?

My friends who travel refuse to put much stock into my Cosmic Chicken Little warnings. “Well, I have to go,” they say. “So I’m going.” Afterward, they laugh as they give details of what went wrong. Usually nothing major. Lost luggage. Delayed flights. A basic pain in the Cosmic-Keester. But do-able.


What’s the past got to do with it?

Since MR is about the illusion of backward movement, it stands to reason that some may encounter issues from their past that need urgent cleaning up, or old boyfriends who need to have lunch with you so they can confess they are gay.

Astrologers say that since clutter falls into “the past" category, you can make the best use of this time by preparing for the end of MR by cleaning out closets, reorganizing, jumping on the board, getting ready for the dive.


My own private Mercury Retrograde

More frustrating than the transit, for me, is the “gag order” not to talk about it in front of Joe Q. Public. If we could agree it’s Mercury Retro and talk about it, laugh about it, wouldn’t there be fewer people hanging up on each other, wondering why the bus is so delayed, etc.?

Here’s a page from my last Merc Retro, which I bore with the knowledge that it was merely Though-I-walk-through-the-Valley-of-the-Shadow Time.   

My estranged brother’s BFF (Best Friend Forever) DEFINED “BFF” calls me from another state. We haven’t talked in two years. He’s in touch with my bro and it’s the next best thing to connecting to my sibling. 

I find out that an old friend has died of cancer and attend the memorial service.  

My new roommate goes ballistic and I have to move in one day. My stuff goes into storage.

I end up temporarily living in a friend’s artist studio with no bathroom or kitchen. Another friend lives in the building and I use her facilities.

My friends indicate that I’ve hit rock bottom. A case manager gives me “Homeless” status. I have been unemployed for months. I apply for 24 jobs in three weeks, get two interviews. But no job. No surprise.

My BFF undergoes surgery on the last day of Mercury Retro. Later, she tells me that the worst was the 3.5 hour delay in the waiting room. The good news? She’s okay. Not everything is dire during this tightrope time.

I can’t go to a major art opening that I’ve been invited to, because the hosts now realize they need me to babysit for them.

My case manager advises me that since I no longer pay rent, my food stamps will be cut $24.00. Plus, I now have to attend a “Job Club” four hours a day for the next two weeks to “learn how to interview” and “write a resume.” Even though I already attend a Work Sources program. The Job Club offers to expunge my criminal record if I have one, and take care of traffic tickets, if I have any. 

On the last day of Mercury Retrograde, I gave up stress the way Catholics give up chocolate for Lent. I took myself out on a holiday with the meager cash I had in my pocket and the bus tokens offered by welfare, and had the loveliest Vacation from Mercury Retrograde. This is what I did:

Took the Gold Line train from Union Station to South Pasadena. 

Visited my friends who run a sushi bar and had an exquisite lunch on the house.

Shopped a thrift shop for hours, changing my mind about what I might buy. Ended up buying dollar gifts for my friends who have helped me.

Came “home” feeling refreshed and peaceful. Got ready to see a friend who was picking me up.

Got my head slammed by his car door when it swung forward as I was getting into his car. The edge cut the top of my ear. There was blood, some fainting. My friend whose bathroom I use happened to pull up in her car. Bleeding stopped after an hour, no stitches needed.

My friend with the car door and I are both Reiki practitioners. We were able to use this hands-on healing technique after the incident, and I felt better. But during the session, his tenant called in the midst of an allergic reaction to her new medication. And so on…

The next day, my friend Jim Terr (a brilliant Santa Fe satirist) suggested I change the name to “Mercury Bump-Yo-Haid.”


Like Saul falling from his horse and striking his head, I ended up with a concussion and an epiphany. The epiphany was that the world might make a tad more sense and people might get along better, if we could:

1.  Accept Mercury Retrograde as part of life, the way we accept time passing and babies birthing. Acceptance of MR means seeing that it has an end. Granted, this phase can have long lasting effects that seem never to go away. (e.g., Dubya was first elected during an MR--remember hanging chads?).

Still, how much less frustrating communication and transportation obstacles would seem if we could laugh and say, “Computers are down today. Mercury’s Retrograde.” And then take action to improve the situation, knowing that it might take a while.

2.  Embrace Mercury Retrograde. It’s the friction that polishes you. When it’s over, you’ll hardly recall what happened. Like taking a siesta and returning to work.

Endure its obstacles and celebrate its ending.


Marlan Warren is a Los Angeles writer/filmmaker. She is the author of the novel Naked Roadmaps for the Sexually Challenged, producer/writer of the documentary Reunion, and a photojournalist. She is currently raising money to complete her film project about Nobel Prize nominee Yuri Kochiyama, based on her play Bits of Paradise. Check out her blog http://losangelesnowthen.blogspot.com. Author's Note: Mercury will go retro April 18, 2010. 

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