After my mother died, I went through the things in my childhood bedroom. I was going to be home for awhile, and I didn’t have much to do, except feel pain. So, I rummaged around a bit.
I found the cassette tape my mom gave me on my 18th birthday. It was an audio recording of my natal astrological reading from a famous astrologist in San Francisco, delivered shortly after I was born on 12/29/1985.
My parents still owned a cassette player in 2012 so I was able to listen to the 90-minute recording. The personality it described struck me as on the nose; some of the glories and challenges she foretold I had indeed faced in my 27 years on Earth. I decided to see if I could find Jessica, the astrologist. Google prevailed; and I got her email off an old website that looked like one of the ruins of Geocities. I shot her a message to see if she was still around and offering readings.
48 hours later, I was climbing the stairs to Jessica’s flat in San Francicso. The walls were painted a deep, almost black, blue, and everything felt old and poorly insulated. After living in the Midwest and East Coast, it always bugs me how drafty San Francisco buildings are. Shivering, I entered her domain.
Jessica had agreed on short notice to give me a ‘transit reading.’ She explained that she did not predict things that would happen; she could only clarify what she saw in my chart in terms of the astrological signs. This would serve as an update of the natal chart I’d been given at birth.
Jessica was old and thin in that way I respect —when people don’t allow themselves to get fat and slovenly with age. She was lean and punctual and got right to the point. “Ginger tea?” she asked, while pouring.
“Oh my,” she said. “This is intense.” My chart showed an explosion of seven planets splayed back-back across the first houses of my chart. Each one signifying major life events: drama, emotion, joy, tragedy! She said she’d never seen so much action in the first part of someone’s life — all these planets wreaking havoc on my person and timeline.
The planet Pluto reigned prominently and ominously over the entire chart. Pluto — the ruler of Life and Death in Astrology — one serious motherfucker who doesn’t play around. “Your life faces huge questions, whether you like it or not,” Jessica said. She explained that Pluto influenced me from the time I was born, amplifying every other sign on my chart in it’s stark black or white vision of Life or Death. Paired with the dutiful nature of my Capricorn sun sign, this would equal a life of hard work, huge emotions, and import.
Before dealing with the planets, she highlighted my rising sign: Scorpio. “For you, life must be experienced intensely and totally,” Jessica said. “You’re easily hurt by others, vindictive when hurt, fight for any position you believe in, and extremely sensitive.” I furrowed my brow and thought of the thousands of vengeful narratives I’d created in my head when wronged. “Also, you’re fanatical,” she added, destroying my confidence completely.
“Oh, but you’re a performer!” she cried, turning the chart to highlight my moon sign in Leo in my tenth house (which is basically how the world sees you and how you present yourself to the world). I learned that I’m a showboating performer who never wants to look bad…uh, check, please! It explains my need to be onstage, loud and proud. It also means the more insecure I am, the more I want to be the center of attention, refueled by other’s love and approval. I thought of how my mom fed right into that drain; telling me I was perfect for my every accomplishment.
“Now, the planets.” Up first on the solar system of my chart: Neptune. “You see ideals and want only an ideal outcome. Unless you lower your expectations, you will never be satisfied.” Hamilton hadn’t come out yet; otherwise, I may have heard a certain lyric float through my mind.
Second: Venus. “You can touch and see and feel the violet-hued majesty of life; something few people will ever experience,” explained Jessica. Images of epic moments in my life flash by: Burning man, 2011, when I climbed a pyramid of baseballs fused to baseball bats, a giant British Flag draped across my body and torquing in the wind, and reached the top where an aria singer painted blue head-to-toe (like the alien diva from The Fifth Element) belted a Mozart sonata into a dust storm as a crowd cheered, “You win Burning Man” to us both from a hundred feet below - one epic moment amongst countless ones. “It is a blessing and a curse,” Jessica said, “because you are always comparing everything to the perfection you’ve tasted a couple of times. Nothing can live up to it, and it’s not sustainable, but you know it’s possible.” In my head, I heard the voice of Gandalf from The Lord of The Rings say, “And there, young master Markle, lies your doom.”
Third: Uranus — like Venus, a planet that speaks to radical new ideas and the pursuit of life and growth. This is immediately compounded by:
Fourth: Mercury, representing an inquisitive thirst to touch and feel every aspect and topic of life. “Insatiable,” she says, refilling the cup of ginger tea I had already downed.
Fifth: Saturn — there to blow up the picture even more. We’ve all heard of “Saturn’s Return.” It’s that phase around age 27–30 when you face the demons you need to surmount to become a grown-up. Well, the planet Saturn himself is sitting right on the cusp of my Saturn return, just waiting to make an especially violent episode of my life, which he did, as I saw when we reached Pluto, just around the astrological corner.
Next Sixth: Mars — the workhorse. Unstoppable, driven energy that does not allow me to sit still. “Beware,” Jessica says, “Mars energy can give you power and the strength to follow through where others fail, but it will trample on anything delicate inside of you; it will never be satiated, and it will rule you if you do not rule it.”
Seventh: Pluto —sitting directly over my Saturn return in actual physical timeline (according to the stars and the dates of calendar) — in fact, literally coinciding within days of the date my mother died…which to make matters even more unbelievable, was on my actual day of birth, December 29th, two hours before the time I was born. Life and Death. Boom and Bam. Ouch.
I tried to recover from this last revelation. Jessica sensed my limit and lightened her tone. “Jupiter, last on your chart,” she said, as spiritedly as she could, “Fair-minded and objective, you’ve got extraordinary skills at organization and administration. You can create great things.” It seemed to sum up the dichotomy of me: someone who builds theaters from scratch and then quits to take a solo trip to find myself in Bali. And “fair-minded” made me think of the noun that rules my mind the most: Justice — I am fiercly committed to outcomes being as fair as possible (though objectively, I think I’m pretty subjective — perhaps because of my Scoripo rising sign, I tend to think I’m not being treated fairly by almost anyone…especially the Beast herself known as Life).
I left, thanking Jessica and wondering if I’d ever see her again. Much of what she told me rang true. I played the scenarios in my head of, “Well, this chart could apply to anyone,” but it felt like my story.
Her reading for me boiled down to my relationship with the potential in things. I always love the beginning of an improv scene. I’ve never not been excited by the start of something where you don’t know how it’s going to end. It’s pure possibility! Inevitably, I almost always regret something not going perfectly along the way, but I always relish the chance to start anew. But every event in retrospect in my life has seemed dramatically Epic or Septic, with little room in-between except for feelings of meloncholy. I wrote my first one man show Sparkle Hour and literally the theme song of the show was “Live Epic!” For awhile, I was on bipolar meds. For better or worse, I decided to get off them in Bali.
I got an email from Jessica the day after the session, with the audio recording attached (cassette tapes not being in fashion anymore). Perhaps Jessica was aware of how heavy the session had been, and she signed off her email, “Philip, you grow when you have the freedom to do things in new ways — this brings out your natural inventiveness. Change is your friend.”
My mom’s death, as sudden and traumatic and unfair as it felt, resulted in a lot of positive change in my life. It kickstarted my heart. I quit the job that was dragging my heart down in Chicago. I moved to New York City where I launched a training center and theatre I loved. I got Star, my beautiful lab. I met new best friends in the Big Apple. And now, I’m in a new chapter of my life — having just stepped down from running The Annoyance NY to commit to being a full-time artist and teacher. The thrill of starting over is re-invigerating and renewing, and I am grateful to take the time to reflect. There is potential in everything. We grow old, I think, when we stagnate and keep repeating ourselves.
So, I’m grateful for the little and big failures and deaths I encounter everyday, and the chance to wake up and learn from them and start over, and hopefully find more peace floating in the middle of things without judging them as Bad or Good.
I’m in San Francisco right now to celebrate Thanksgiving with my father, and it turns out Jessica is still offering readings. Perhaps, I’ll hit her up.