This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
At a dinner party, a friend clandestinely pulled out her phone. “I have a meme you need to see.”
In it was a photo of a chihuahua in a bubble bath looking contemplative, a pink shower cap on its head glowing from the candles placed around the tub. Above the dog, black text on white background read: “Capricorn after their discrete approach to love cost them the person of their life because they took too long to open up and refused to express any feelings until things felt secure, which would’ve taken up to 360 business days.”
It’s funny. It’s accurate. I tell my friend I feel like I’m being attacked.
Astrology is something that has always fascinated me, but I’ve only ever followed from a spectator’s perspective. Listening to friends talk about which planets are in which signs, who’s compatible with whom, having people read my birth chart to various reactions of delight and horror––it’s fun. And increasingly popular.
Astrology memes are a fixture on social media. There are hundreds of astrology apps that you can add your friends to and then collect and compare charts like relational Pokemon. Deeper in the commercial realm, Etsy has an entire astrology marketplace. From a “You Are My Favorite Libra” candle set, constellation mousepads, to a t-shirt with Garfield standing smug, arms crossed under a squiggly font: “Aquarians are normal. The rest of the world is weird.” (A quick Google search revealed that Garfield is actually a Gemini.)
YouPorn even recently started putting out sex horoscopes. “Easily bored, you absolutely hate routine in the bedroom.” Garfield’s Gemini profile says, which seems fitting. Articles in The Atlantic and New Statesman attribute this boom to the current social climate.
“There is some evidence that in times of turmoil––both political and economic––people are drawn to paranormal beliefs,” a behavioral scientist in the New Statesman piece explains. “There is much more insecurity about jobs for the current generation of young people than in the past, and for liberal millennials in particular, the world has suddenly gone a little crazy… Considerable research on astrology suggests that believers are drawn to it for a sense of control.”
That same article quotes Motherpeace Tarot, a deck company that’s been around since the 70s, as having seen a “268 percent increase in sales in the past six months.” If you wanted to make the connection between that uptick and the swirling diarrhea-filled toilet bowl that 2018 has been, it would make sense.
The Atlantic piece, besides having the amazing pull quote “The kids these days and their memes…,” continues the idea that astrology serves as a comfort to its followers, whether or not they really believe in it. It’s a “relief, in a time of division, not to have to choose. It can be freeing, in a time that values black-and-white, ones and zeros, to look for answers in the gray.”
That makes sense to me because I do pretty much the same thing––looking to an outside power for guidance and support. But I believe 100 percent, not in astrology, tarot, or even big baby J-Christ, mind you. I believe in Brian Eno.
I stared at the computer screen as I finished toweling off my hair. Staring back at me was a story I’d been stuck on for the past three-days. The narrative wouldn’t budge. I deleted paragraphs, shuffled them around, and pasted them back into place. Once I’d exhausted ways to rearrange the words, I decided to consult my Oblique Strategies card set. “A card-based method for promoting creativity... each card offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking,” its Wiki dishes.
Created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt to help them out of creative slumps in the studio, I also find them to be a helpful exercise. Usually. That morning, I pulled a card that just said, “water.” It was almost comical in its unhelpfulness.
I backspaced and Command+C’d a few more times before giving up and going to the sink, holding a cup under the faucet, tap fully turned, for an inordinate amount of time before realizing that nothing was coming out of it. I went to the bathroom sink. Nothing. I tried the shower I’d just used. Only the tired screech of pipes pushing out air.
There were no signs up around the building, no forewarning about a water shutoff from the building manager. I called her and she told me that there’d been an emergency. Happened not even an hour ago.
Water—had the Oblique Strategy card predicted this? It was strangely prescient. I considered it a creepy coincidence until a few days later when I pulled another. “Tidy up.” Was it a general directive? Given the weirdness a few days previous, I played along, cleaning my apartment top to bottom. Even if nothing came of it, at least my place would look nice––I’d duped myself into responsibility. Two-hours after the last Swiffer WetJet streaks had dried, I got a text from my step-mom. She and my grandma had flown into town, unannounced, for a quick visit and wanted to see if I was free for dinner. “We can meet you at your place.” I looked at the gleaming laminate flooring, the clean laundry neatly hung in the closet, the sleek black Oblique Strategies case on the shelf.
“Thanks, Brian.” I whispered into the room.
“Is there something missing?” A card asked one morning, so I looked around. I patted my body down. I lifted up the couch cushions and pushed aside the canned lentils in the cupboard. Searching for something that is missing when you don’t know what that missing thing is, is not a terribly easy task. I went through my calendar and Facebook notifications—no birthday well-wishings had gone unwished, no errands un-run. I sifted through my emails, checking to see if I’d forgotten to respond to anything pressing. In the spam folder—a heinous vacuum of all-caps boner pill offers and personal messages from the directors of Citibank and the International Monetary Fund politely letting me know of the million-dollar bank transfers that awaited me if I’d just take a second to follow a link and provide some “personal information,”—was an email that didn’t belong. An actually urgent message from the Canada Arts Council that had for whatever reason wound up among the turgid, sweaty-palmed, grammatically flawed emails of the spam folder. I had forgotten to attach an important document to my grant application, and if I didn’t submit it by EOD, I’d be ineligible for funding. If it wasn’t for the Oblique Strategies card worrying me into scouring my inbox, I would’ve missed the deadline.
Brian Eno was acting as my personal medium, that much was clear. I decided to push aside all of my reservations, place my skepticism neatly in the bedside table drawer, and become a full-on, unabashed, fundamental Oblique Strategist. I now pull a card each morning for guidance and turn to Brian before any decision of any consequence or any moment that might stir any nerves.
“Hey Brian, I’ve got a job interview coming up and don’t feel confident that my resume is strong enough. What should I do?” Try faking it!
“Hi Brian, it’s been a really stressful week and I haven’t been able to decompress. Any suggestions?” Do nothing for as long as possible.
“It’s me again, Brian. I’ve got a blistering hot-take that I want to tweet, but I’m a little worried that I don’t fully understand the subject at hand and might come off as an idiot. Whaddyah think? Question the heroic approach.
So far, the cards haven’t steered me wrong. Whatever power they hold for me could probably be attributed to the “comfort” and “control” that behavioral scientists claim is the appeal of tarot, religion, and faith-based practices in general. But why these cards? Why Eno? I think it’s because Oblique Strategies don’t have the baggage and demanded fealty of a Christianity or the complicated cross-narratives of astrology. It’s a simple, straightforward clairvoyance.
When deciding whether to write this piece, I consulted the cards: Towards the insignificant.
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