Libra, 49

Anatomical Man, Les Très Riches Heures du duc ...
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When the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars. Then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars.

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, The Age of Aquarius…. Aquarius! Aquarius!

(Aquarius, Hair)

I just hit 49.  It sounds like a lucky number.  7 is its square root.  It is a mere one year before the mortal male equinox of 50 – a life moment that is generally followed by the purchase of a sport’s car, a pointless fling with someone in the personal training industry or a kidney stone. These gray temple birthdays are generally a time where I just want to be left alone to eat five Clark bars sitting by myself in the closet.

As a younger man, I sought to find meaning in everything and was desperate to unlock the mysteries of life – and my brother’s piggy bank safe where he kept his loose change.  My mother was a classic mid-70’s, new age Californian who believed that cosmic law superseded dogmatic religious doctrine.  My father, on the other hand, was a huge fan of dogma. He felt that authoritarian religion was the glue that held together the family, the community and society. If we had lived in the 12th century, we would have rose to the call of Pope Gregory VIII and his band of crusaders to take the stuffing out of  Saladin.  While we were in Jerusalem fighting for the Holy Father, my mother, most likely would have been stoned, burned or drowned as a witch – simply for her insubordinate fascination with the sacred and profane.

Her preoccupation with new age spirituality resulted in a library of coffee table books on the paranormal, psychic pets, vortexes, and Native American mythology, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Astrology.  We were encouraged to employ such ground breaking devices such as the Bio Mate, a calibrated series of dials that could track one’s biorhythms and in doing so, better understand your invisible meridians that moved like radioactive sine waves through your body. On our 21st birthday, my mother paid for each son to see a famous psychic to have our auras read.

Astrology was very popular in the 70s.  It seemed everyone knew “his or her sign” in the Age of Aquarius.  I was born Libra, Cancer rising.  The “rising”, known as the ascendant, was explained to me to be the astrological sign that was emerging in the east at the time that I was born.  The ascendant is the initial impression one might make in a first encounter.  One’s ascendant is your veneer to the world.  Years later, an astrologer would show me my birth chart replete with its Conjunctions, Opposites, Squares, Trines, Sextiles, Semi-Squares, Sesqui-Quadrates, Semi-Sextiles, Quintiles, Bi-Quintiles and Inconjunctions.  It was harder to grasp than my college Statistics course.

Secretly, I did not buy into this celestial gobbledygook but it really seemed to resonate with my primary target: new age girls. Being so fluent in these strange sciences and dark arts gave me confidence like I was secretly wearing the coolest psychedelic shirt at a Dead show. It was my destiny to wait until the moon was in the seventh house and then I would find a Virgo with whom I would mate.  In reality, I loathed the sign of Virgo because it sounded like Virgil – which was the name of our neighbor who mowed his lawn shirtless each Sunday revealing more hair on his back than our entire family had on its heads.  I decided instead that I wanted a Gemini, maybe two – since they normally travel in pairs.

I could not reconcile my Mom’s Bay Area spirituality with my father’s rigid Southern Cal religious Christianity. I sort of played on both teams – depending on the circumstances. My mom had equipped me well to disguise myself as a new age chameleon.  While, it resulted in some memorable liaisons, I did not meet any sane individuals.  Eventually, I grew weary of the Stevie Nicks knock-off who believed she was a Welsh witch. I gagged on the fruit and granola sprite that swore that she could talk to her dead grandmother.  I longed for a more traditional partner whose religious order did not include running naked through redwoods at night.   Like the prodigal son, I staggered back to traditional Christianity. But, to this day, out of habit, I always check my horoscope.

I remain a classical Libra. Librans are a creative lot and look strong at first glance but we are essentially fragile spirits.  We are the equivalent to that knock off antique furniture you buy at Pier One or The Bombay Company.  We look so good in the store but once assembled, we can’t stop wobbling or handle much pressure.

We are an “air” sign.  Astrological insiders know that each sign is comprised of one of the four elements.  It could also mean that we are airheads.  We value freedom – of thought, expression and movement – which explains why most Libran men prefer to wear boxer shorts.

We are diplomats, aesthetes and easy-going ne’er do wells who prefer justice, balance and a good piece of cherry pie. We despise loud people and find smoking a huge turn-off.  We like long walks on the beach and oops, wait, I am sounding like a former playmate of the month.  Where was I?

Our Achilles heel is our vanity.  The fact that my wife and I both love the same person seems to support this theory.  I am told we Librans can be unreliable, superficial and indecisive.  This explains why friends have repeatedly encouraged me to run for public office.

I am told our “ruling planet” is Venus.  I am uncertain what a ruling planet does but I assume it involves some form of disapproval.  To have “Venus in Libra” suggests you are intimate, adore the attention of others, passionate, naturally compromising and always in search of a harmonious, good time.  This explains the behavior of several Librans: Bill Clinton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bill Wilson (Founder of AA), Genghis Khan, John Lennon, Princess Grace and HP Lovecraft.  Boy, I would kill to attend that dinner party.

Librans are politically independent – except once a year when Venus is aligned with Mars. On this night, we have an uncontrollable urge to eat a quart of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and vote for William Howard Taft for President. Fortunately, Taft is dead – all 300lbs of him, but we still long for more full figured politicians.

Other famous Libras include Evel Knieval – which explains every bad choice I ever made in college.  As you survey the list of Mr. and Mrs. Librans – you unearth myriad writers, actors, poets, activists, educators, politicians and only one Nazi.  Alas, you find only two Presidents.  It seems the law of averages would suggest we should have at least twice as many heads of state.  Perhaps we were writing poetry in Math class instead of being like the Taurus tool in the front row that kept raising his sycophantic hoof for attention.

Some websites advise you on how to attract a Libran woman.  They are sensual and visceral creatures.   You are most likely to meet one at a Mother’s Natural Food store, a Grateful Dead concert or in France. Traffic stopping Parisian Librans include Catherine Denueve and Bridget Bardot.

According to Zodiac Signs “Environment is important for the Libran woman.  Make sure the first date is somewhere classy and elegant with posh surroundings, such as lunch at an elegant bistro. (Immediately following lunch) walk along the tree lined pathways of a ravine in the summertime with the flowers blooming.  She will feel at peace and love it.  Give her compliments and tell her how much she is appreciated. She may reply bashfully but with each compliments, the radiant glow inside her will shine brighter and brighter. She may need a few days away from you.  But don’t despair, she is merely pressing the reset button on the relationship. Be dramatically romantic by tucking sweet love notes into her pocket. Pick her flowers and watch old films. These things bring great joy to the Libra woman and they make her feel special”.

You know, come to think of it, forget it.  This is way, way too much work.  Find a tree-lined ravine with wild flowers?  Love notes? Are you kidding me? What if you live in Cleveland?

My advice is to those who have grown weary of e Harmony and and want to attempt celestial matchmaking – is go in search of another sign.  I actually hear Aquarians are cheap dates and do not mind washing other people’s underwear.  Obviously, if you can find those Gemini twins, that would be, well – – a spiritual experience.

The Mythology of Us

Inuit family, 1930
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I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge — myth is more potent than history — dreams are more powerful than facts — hope always triumphs over experience — laughter is the cure for grief — love is stronger than death.– Robert Fulghum

In Farley Mowatt’s Never Cry Wolf, a young wildlife biologist named Tyler is dispatched by the Canadian Wildlife Service to investigate whether the Arctic Wolf is to blame for the decline of the great caribou herds in the Alaskan wilderness.   Tyler’s adventure is a life altering journey through a looking glass where every preconceived notion of survival is cast aside by the harsh and cunning of the wild.  With the help of some local Inuit, the young biologist becomes one with the savage landscape and in doing so, he discovers that the arctic wolf, Canus Lupis Arctos, is not the indiscriminate killer of caribou but in fact, is culling the herds of its sicker and weaker members — all but ensuring the herd’s  survival.   In the vast emptiness of an Arctic twilight where  the summer breathes but a few endless nights of day, Tyler discovers the power of Inuit mythology.

As the acrid smoke of a burning fire creates broken shafts of light inside the makeshift Inuit shelter, a tribal elder recounts to some younger members of his Inuit tribe how the wolf came into existence.  In the form of native myth, the ancient sage, Ootek, shares with Tyler and the Inuit children how Mother Earth first created the People and then realized she must provide food to sustain them. In her infinite wisdom, she reached into an ebony hole in the ice and pulled out the Tuktu (caribou) to feed the Inuit people.

“Soon the tuktu had multiplied to such a level that food became scarce and over-population created a generation of sick and weak animals.  Their decline threatened the very existence of the People. The great Mother once again reached into the black hole of ice and pulled out the amarok (Arctic wolf) to whom the task fell to thin the overpopulated herds of the sick and weak thus ensuring a stronger generation so that the People might thrive. “

Ootek smiles a toothless grin and nods his head.   Tyler watches these lessons being handed down – worn gifts of insight wrapped in a timeless skin of mythology.  At that moment, he eases backwards, arms folded behind his head – pondering the brightest stars struggle through a permanent summer twilight. Beams of smoke and light escapes from a thousand seams bewteen the roof of broken pine boughs and caribou antlers. Tyler finally comes to understand through Ootek’s ancient mythology that Arctic wilderness is a last Garden of Eden, ingeniously balanced with each supporting actor playing a vital role in the symbiotic dance for survival.  Everything is here for a reason.  In the end, Ootek the old one, comes to accept Tyler as one of his own, teaching him the mythology and traditions that serve as guideposts for survival.  In Inuit society as in the life of the wolf pack,  there is no such thing as an orphan.

As the campfires of our own summers are now dwindling to tangerine glows, we reflect on the time  we spend trying to recapture the power of simple things – a gathering of our own tribe and perhaps the retelling of our own stories. These allegories offer lessons and foundations for our children.  For most, our memory of youthful stories and early American mythology has been erased. We have lost our all powerful talisman – a rabbit’s foot, a shark’s tooth or a ten banded Diamondback snake’s rattle.  Myths are no longer handed down and perpetuated.  As a society, we no longer wonder how we came to be and instead focus on what is yet to come.  Faith and wonder have been supplanted by anxious impatience for instant resolution.  In taming and deconstructing the natural world, we have marginalized the virtues of mythology as a way of understanding how we fit into this vast endless continuum of humanity.

Today’s tribal family no longer lives among multiple generations.  Our children do not enjoy as much access to or the patience to rest at the feet of an elderly relative who is eager to paint a picture with the patinaed colors of the past. With so much “reality” barraging us every day, there is no room left our own mythology.

We have moved up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs  – – migrating from basic needs of shelter, immediate family, and stories that served as framework for living  — to a more permanent and material state of perpetual want.  Many families no longer dine together, spend time in the same room, or express curiosity about their own unique history.  The “snobbery of chronology”, as CS Lewis shared, is believing that we are superior to all that came before us because we have the benefit of hindsight. As a society, we seem to be moving away from our own mythology of self reliance, sacrifice, generosity, naive optimism and independence to a place where we are more cyncially defined by what we have today.  It seems success is our most celebrated virtue and that virtue itself is viewed as an almost orthodox sentiment.

Writer Umberto Eco once mused, “ In the United States there’s a Puritan ethic and a mythology of success. He who is successful is good. In Latin countries and in Catholic countries, a successful person is a sinner.”  Eco’s European view is borne from a very different life experience and a complex notion of how values, wants, needs, desires and expectations are reconciled when man by definition is meant to suffer in order to achieve wisdom and humility.  As Americans, we are a mass of contradictions.  We are modern families – fractured and yet, still hanging together by the threads of our own potential.   Yet, many of us have forgotten our own narratives.

The “mythology of us ” is a melange of truth and fiction, hyperbole and stranger than fiction parables of people, places and things. Some of us came to America as immigrants.  Others  rose out of religious persecution or abandoned lives in an effort to give their children a better opportunity for a new start.

I look for occasions to impart these stories to my children.  As they grow older they consider their own heritage and the mythology of their ancestors as trite and dated allegories that serve little purpose.  Yet, on the right evening I can still entice them with a wartime story of their British great-grandfather digging victims of a V-1 rocket attack out of a bomb shelter in London or a distant ancestor whose Ohio home was part of the miraculous and dangerous Underground Railroad.  They have learned of a mongrel heritage of confederates, saints, villains, nobility and cutthroats.  Our own mythology rises out of tragedy and often chronicles individuals who had the misfortune of being born in a time where they were overwhelmed by circumstances.  They were first generation Irish, German, French and English immigrants.  They were soldiers killed fighting for the English army with General Gordon at Omdurman.  Some died of fever and others endured physical and mental hardships. A famous uncle was the only cavalry officer killed as he rode with Jeb Stuart around the flanks of the egotistical Union General George McClellan.  A painting depicting the tragic  “The Death of Lt. William Latane” C.S.A hangs in the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia.

The kids get quiet as I paint a canvas of restless Irishman wearing Union indigo as he clutches his glistening bayonet staring across a frozen December battlefield at Fredericksburg.  There was once a Chicago inventor and entrepreneur.  Dan Canary ran a taxi service recognized for its unique color – bright canary yellow.  Years later, he would protest that John Hertz had stolen his idea of the Canary cab – launching the iconic Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company. Dan never won his case against Hertz and in the process, lost his first wife, leaving him widowed  with eight children.  Ever the resourceful man, he successfully met and married a considerably younger woman through a mail order bride firm. They had three more girls – one of which was my grand mother, Ruth Farr Canary.

Whether we were once Huguenots escaping religious persecution or indentured souls willing to risk everything for a new start – we have evolved from the DNA of stronger ancestors – – individuals who endured, suffered, refused to acquiesce and searched the horizon line for a better way forward.

These fireside moments are the times I cherish as I plant seeds of our history and leaven in healthy doses of our own mythology –  a bloated myth of how my father walked miles to school through snow in urban Chicago or how a mischievious uncle almost swam in a Florida alligator pond on a drunken dare.   I work  these moments to weave the sacred and profane together in an endless book of virtues in hopes that these seeds might one day germinate in a time of crisis or decision.

When I think of the attributes I want my children to exhibit when they finally released into the unforgiving wilderness of man, I wonder what have I done this week, this month or this year to plant those seeds of character and virtue – generously fertilizing these life lessons with myths, stories and the history of us.

Our personal and American mythology is a wonderful story of survival, noble deeds, redemption, human frailty and the progression from self to selfless. It is only through telling our stories again and again that we might transfer knowledge, courage and confidence to our children. Like the Inuit, these fables are intended to symbolically relate the physical laws of man and nature to remind them of their our potential as individuals and as a nation.  Our greatness has not been completely stripped, overdrawn, sold, stolen or spent.  It is here – waiting to be rediscovered in new places to be excavated, mined and processed into the virtues of patience, hardwork and courage to change.

Perhaps the mountain that looms ahead won’t seem so steep if our children come to understand the myths, legends and folklore of those that climbed before them. Whether it is coming to see our natural world as a living, breathing entity or realizing the impossible is a self imposed limitation, our mythology can teach an entire generation to reverse our self destructive course and speak up over the voices of the false prophets and political charlatans.

We need our mythology to survive. Robert Redford recently warned a small audience that time is running out, “I believe in mythology. I guess I share Joseph Campbell’s notion that a culture or society without mythology will eventually disappear and ( some might argue) we’re close to that already.