Wheel in the Sky
For today's consideration, I offer an essay I wrote in a memoir elective class in 2012. I really loved this piece so much at the time, but I was concentrating in fiction, so it never found a home. Except my best friend's fridge. For some reason it hung on my best friend's fridge for years.
I should be transparent about the fact that I, especially in my feistier years of being a shittier person, have talked a lot of trash on memoir as a genre. I probably had some noble lines about living a life worthy of remark or the parallels between the rise of memoir and the narcissistic playgrounds of social media. Perhaps I could stand by that attitude if I had ever been someone who wasn't writing blogs and essays in my spare time, as self-involved and self-important as the next guy, but the truth of the matter is simply that I was being a dick because I had encountered too many memoirs I didn't like. If I wanted to avoid being a hypocrite, my only valid criticism was that it was easier to write about things one has observed or experienced than it was to make things up entirely, but it would be ridiculous to imply fiction writers are actually making things up. I'm likely wrong across the board here.
To the point of relative effort required, this essay, despite being one of my favorite bits of writing from a decade ago, was very lazy. My research was entirely specific and personal, which I suppose is the whole point of memoir but a terrible go at being informative about the zodiac. I based each section on my impressions of people I knew belonging to that sign and vague ideas of what the signs represented. I didn't have anything beyond a casual magazine flipper's knowledge of astrology, and I didn't hang out with anyone who did. In fact, I even said in the essay that I didn't know any Capricorns because I didn't bother doing the math to discover my own writing partner was a Capricorn. My interest in divination, magic, and knowledge in general was restricted to areas in which I felt I had some agency and with which I could immediately interact. Where anything was when I or anyone else was born seemed fixed, irrelevant, and pointed in the wrong direction. All raven and no ram.
Now I get to read this with a decade's hindsight. I still wouldn't call myself much of an expert in astrology, but I know enough to see where I was off and where I stumbled onto the mark with my interpretations. I get to see where, as a person, my understanding of the people within this essay has shifted, improved, diminished. It's fun to see what I said about signs that would later become far more important in my life or associated with very different people. For instance, I was absolutely glowing about Sagittarius, and, years after writing, I ended up meeting and marrying one and making chosen family out of another. On the other hand, I was pretty harsh on Scorpios, and I have really come to love a few of them. There are so many new people, both new to me and new to the world, who I would factor in if I wrote this essay today. But I didn't. So I will grit my teeth and accept the final line on Pisces, even as my eyes roll all the way out of my head.
Aries, firstborn, not oldest but permanently new, demanding attention, whatever. We throw tantrums. We snort and stomp our feet on the ground until we get our way. I’ll be honest; I don’t know many of the other rams. Perhaps we all stand at the center of everything with our backs to each other, in an unknown pact to do a thousand different things that only amount to staying standing at the center, at the top of the pile of rocks if you will.
I spend a lot of time near my alma mater, distantly monitoring the goings on of the West Chester Golden Rams. They make sweatpants that say “Ram This” on the ass, and they sell them at the student union. They put up a bronze statue of a ram the size of a buffalo in front of the Old Library in my last semester there. Most of my classes were in the Old Library. Something about the architecture and mustiness lends itself to the work of anthropology, a field so ridiculous in its attempts to compartmentalize the obvious that it must bind its esotericism and audacity in dusty bookshelves. The things learned in the Old Library are things that need to be guarded by bronze ram statues in the interest of thriving beyond their years of usefulness, like astrology has.
Strength. Is that what you’re supposed to be? That’s what you are, nothing but endurance. However you get through it, you do. You see red. You snort and stomp your feet on the ground. You taught me to do it, to lower my head and power forward regardless of what sharp objects are directly in my path.
Remember, Mother Bull, when we drove to Tom Petty’s house in Encino? In Encino, we saw the royal blue and gilded moon and sun and star gate, and there was no question. Tom Petty lived on the other side of that gate, and sitting in the car, we were probably further from him than we had been sitting in our seats at so many concerts, but you were so happy. I felt bad when I finally drove you away, but I didn’t want any trouble. That’s the thing about rams with bulls. We’re so used to lowering our heads and powering forward; we don’t get in each other’s way. That’s why it’s so unsettling when you act less like a bull and more like a mother. There’s no mother in the zodiac.
My father was a Gemini. Two people at once. Give me anyone who’s two people at once. Tell me they’ll act one way and then another. I’ll love it. I’ll love it. I’ll cater to it. I’ll soak up all the good and become as quiet as a mouse when things are bad. There is no mouse in the zodiac. A person has to learn that behavior somewhere else, has to learn how to make endless excuses and pretend that Hyde is just Jekyll waking up on the wrong side of the bed.
You are airy, aren’t you? Hard to pin down. Looking in your eyes, it’s like they go in and out of focus, issues with depth perception, issues of depth and perception.
Gemini, your insides and outsides never touch. You need someone to touch both, but you may resent them for it.
Crab. Cancer. –oma. Oh my, Cancer. You have a way with claws, I’ll give you that. You have a way of pinching that feels forever but never breaks the skin.
So many of them. Why is everybody born in late July? People must like to fuck in October, dressing up as other people and staving off the coming dark of winter. People like to make little lions who will reflect their own images in the face of the sun.
My moon sign is Leo. That means, the inside of me, not the external things, not the obvious things. That makes sense. Rams and lions aren’t so very different, are they? That is, I don’t think I leave much to be pondered. I don’t think my sun and moon are very far apart. My days and nights certainly are not. The lion doesn’t chase the ram. The ram advances to meet it.
I almost began to think it was impossible for a Virgo to be anything but a woman, but people are born everyday. You cannot reserve a month for one gender. Mostly, though, the Virgo is no man. She is the epitome of female sex, toting the irony of maidenhood around and always biting her lip. She always has red hair. She always finds a way for me to be completely intertwined with her life. She never acts the way she’s supposed to. She is reckless, in one way or another. She is beautiful. She is innocent in one way or another. I believe the Virgo needs to be reassessed and defined for a new generation. There are no real women in the zodiac, and there are no real virgins in the world.
I don’t know you to be balanced, those scales of yours on the level. Perhaps they are, and it’s just a shifting weight under the surface that moves you back and forth and keeps you swaying ever so slightly all the time. Your scales may be lungs full of air.
As soon as the ultrasound technician announces, “Congratulations, it’s a scorpion,” impending doom sets in, but that’s ridiculous. Who takes these things seriously? No one. Perhaps people should. Scorpio, you’re volatile. You may need a reason, but when you sting, you sting to kill. You suck us in with a mystery, and we probably don’t get to the bottom of it before it’s over. But you’re a good lay. Fuck a scorpion; it’ll make your night, maybe make it good enough not to mind the way the poison burns once its in your veins.
I fucked a scorpion. Or two. More recently you. You don’t believe in these things. That’s too bad; if you did, you might have a better excuse for being a jerk.
It makes it easier. Scorpio, you make it easier by disappearing underneath a rock or wherever it is you disappear. You make it easier with your exoskeleton so no one ever has to know about the rest.
You are out there. You’re right around the sign that does not exist, the thirteenth one they try to cram in every once in a while, thus terrifying those of us who thought we could know so much about a person based on something so little as a birthday. You catch the excess, the outliers, the ones who don’t belong. Your mind is somewhere very far away. You don’t even pretend to be with us.
Maybe it’s because you’re born into the winter that you are different. It would be unbelievably hard to adjust to the cold after all that time floating, alone and warm in a womb. It would be easier to separate yourself and keep the important things in space. The things you see, Sagittarius, they’re hard for the rest of us to see. I know and believe, Sagittarius, in you and what you see and all the free and boundless love you have and all the weight of the earth that you shrug off of your shoulders. The rest of us will take it up if you keep making the space for hope, making space for all the ghosts that don’t fit into the zodiac.
I don’t know you at all, Capricorn. I hear good things, though, very good things. Like you may seem boring or distant or Type A, but you have your head on straight. You’ve got it together. Maybe I should meet someone like you.
You might think it’s strange that you’re an air sign and not a water sign, but you only bear the water. You are what the sky is to the clouds. We are in your element, your age. There is something about you that I can’t grasp. You never say more than you should, and so I always wonder if there’s more beneath the surface. You’re like the Buddha mind.
I went to an Aquarian wedding, and I danced with a scorpion, and I danced with a crab, and I drank with lions and maidens and fish with scales, but it was the Aquarius, the calm Aquarius I loved most dearly that night because suddenly I saw that all that practicality and poise was the best way to protect the softer things inside, not hidden, just safe.
Here we are at the last spoke on the wheel, the lastborn, the one with the most time to ripen. It hurts me, Pisces, it does. I see you, and all I can think is dirty, your double fish looking more like a sex act than a constellation. But you would never think that way because you are so mature, so much better than me, all the way on the other side of the track better than me. You never get carried away. You have half naked rams share your bed, and you never get carried away. You kee