Ask astrologer Nick Dagan Best what school of astrology he practices and he will answer: “Astrology.”
His pointed, slightly sardonic response is echoed in his list of must-read books for beginning astrologers. When I requested recommendations for our interview, he offered, right at the number 1 spot: “The ephemeris — any version.” Because, as he explained: “It is the combined biography of billions of souls.”
And Nick oughta know. He has a reputation within the astro community for being a ‘human ephemeris’. Though, as he told me when we met for some libations and philosophizing recently, “I still don’t have Mercury and the Moon entirely down pat yet.” (“Jesus, I’m still trying to recall what sign Mars is transiting right now,” I thought to myself.)
Name an event from history and Best will tell you where Saturn and Jupiter were positioned and if Venus or Mars were retrograde or not on that date. This happened throughout the evening as we discussed the birth charts and defining moments (and the retrogrades that accompanied them) of Miles Davis, Alfred Hitchcock and J. Edgar Hoover. Dotted throughout with tidbits about the history of the United States and the planet Uranus (the subject of his new book) and the revelation that Joni Mitchell always referred to her favorite white Mercedes as her “baby” and, of course, where the planets were the night her “baby” was stolen.
As our conversation continued — always with ready examples on hand from his nearby laptop — I’d a sense that I was sitting within a holographic force field of astrology’s awe-inspiring chronologic annals. Complimenting Best’s unique grasp of Big Time is his database of over 30,000 event horoscopes — all of which cross-reference historical moments and history makers.
I asked Best how his acute sense of time informs his counseling skills. He explained that he always considers the client’s entire lifespan when studying his or her horoscope. Not that he trades in death predictions, but foremost in his mind is that we’re only on earth for a limited duration of time, and that means we’re each unpacking our lives within a particular arc. A span that informs his analysis of short- and long-term transits and progressions (which he always considers together), regardless a client’s focus on current quandaries.
Best published his first book last year, a graphic novel title URANU.S.A.:Astrology Looks at the First Planet and Nation of the New World. I attempted several times during the evening, like a three-year-old, to properly pronounce the title but then gave up and just referred to it “as your book about Uranus and the history of the United States.”
UranU.S.A.’s presentation, from its comic book-like front and back covers, to what’s contained within, is a literal representation of Best’s own horoscope. A Leo with lots of Leo and Virgo. Translated: A one-of-a-kind book that’s filled with fascinating data, presented in a whimsical way that makes learning fun.
If you’ve an academic’s approach to understanding how astrology and history intertwine (especially with a wildcard planet like Uranus as the central character), this is your book. My only complaint? My ancient eyes balk at white type printed on black backgrounds — true, it gives a dramatic impact to the colorful presentation of data, but my Jupiter in Virgo has to have something to bitch about.
Mary Plumb‘s recent review in The Mountain Astrologer describes the book’s allure well:
“The author is a creative astrologer. He is keen on investigating repeating cycles, and he notices overlapping patterns and planetary events that are ‘co-present’ with each other.” She notes that the book is, “well laid-out — there is a two-page spread for each event, with the historical record on the left side and the horoscope and astrological data on the right. This is a quite effective way to transmit information.”
And I will echo that last sentiment. In the age of Web 2.0, where Instagram rules (pictures, pictures, images, images), Best’s book is a frontrunner for what I’m certain is to be a new style of presenting research. Too, when he notes: “Uranus by transit tends to pervert the values associated with a given sign,” you’re going to want to follow him further down the rabbit hole to see how his analysis supports that claim.
Our interview took place over email and like my meeting with Nick, I found it beguiling and incredibly informative. Enjoy. Read more
The transition from summer heat to autumn cool. The light shifts and slants and when Scorpio approaches, regardless the hemisphere you reside in — well, the soul goes orange and crimson — a rich Tibetan red.
Critters rustle around slowly now. There’s lots of deer about, walking right in the middle of the road and then, once spotted, jumping to disappear into thick blackberry vines (I don’t know how the vicious thorns don’t tear their hides).
Oh, and spiders are everywhere on the island now. Their geometric webs drooping with dew in the morning and looking like outer space sigils throughout the sunny days.
This is one of my longer mixes because what I’ve been listening to lately isn’t easy to compress into one category-mood and so the train has gone and on and on — an omnibus of contrasting colors. But the general tenor is melancholic percolation with periodic bursts of rhythm that require body movement — walking, shuffling, meandering and occasionally dancing.
The title of this mix is taken from Vanessa Daou‘s homage to poet/novelist Erica Jong, the song of which is included here. Daou actually transformed Jong’s poem into a dance track. The words tell you about how solitude marks time’s passage: Living in a house/near the Black Forest/without any clocks/she’s begun/to listen to the walls.
Some of these songs are blatantly out of place within the heavy load of electronic, glitch and hip hop. But then that’s the fun of doing mixes like this: How to cram disparate sonics together so you experience it as music, free from your bias and preference for genre (gag.)
So there’s Bette Midler‘s Drinking Again because I can’t get enough of the line: “Having a few.” Because you know the narrator isn’t.
And also Van Morrison‘s Fair Play from his finest excursion into stream of consciousness love poetry and immersion into Scotland and Oscar Wilde and Thoreau from his undervalued Veedon Fleece.
And I’ve been listening to a lot of the fuzzy, echoey Jesus and Mary Chain-infused shoegazy stuff from Sweden’s Radio Dept. I wish they would release something new soon. The description shoegazing must remain invigorated!
Anyway, enjoy all of this. Expose yourself for fuck’s sake. Get out of a rut. If moved you must share. Music is the one tonic that’s applicable to all and holds many secrets, that’s why very few of these songs are heard on the radio or Pandora or anywhere else where music is treated like a commodity and not as an un-categorizable art.
And yet, though we strain
against the deadening grip
of daily necessity,
I sense there is this mystery:
All life is being lived.
Who is living it then?
Is it the things themselves,
or something waiting inside them,
like an unplayed melody in a flute?
Is it the winds blowing over the waters?
Is it the branches that signal to each other?
Is it flowers
interweaving their fragrances
or streets, as they wind through time?
–Rainer Maria Rilke
“Real seriousness in regard to writing is one of two absolute necessities.
The other, unfortunately, is talent.” –Ernest Hemingway
The internet has fostered the madcap idea that — given the collapse of print publishing and the world of editors and agents — everyone should be writing. Something.
Or recording music.
Or painting. Drawing. Doodling.
But — uh oh — so many can’t.
Years ago the author Toni Morrison exclaimed to whomever (whoever?) was listening that everyone in the world had a book inside of him (or her) that was just waiting to be written. Uhm, checkmate! Another author, the gadfly Fran Liebowitz, interrupted Ms. Morrison and said: “This may be true, but please don’t write it.”
I agree. There is nothing more heartbreaking than when an amateur following what she thinks is her muse discovers that it’s simply the ominous groan of a foghorn declaring: “Danger! Treacherous rocks ahead. Think of your mortgage.”
One of the most egregious areas of online self-publishing are astrology blogs and YouTube videos. Holy Shit! Here we discover why the masses consider astrology disposable and relegated to the back pages of Cosmopolitan magazine.
I’m amazed when I consider my career and what was required to first learn astrology and then become a good astrologer. Where did my stamina to attempt writing come from? It was a surprise. The one skill doesn’t necessarily confirm the other. One might read a chart but can’t write about it worth a damn.
So, over time I discovered that I had a knack for writing about astrology too. The keyword is knack — and, well, unfortunately knack-ness is not something that can be taught. Grammar and speling (forget about it) and The Elements of Style can be mastered, but not the inherent nature of a knack. Slippery as a glowing fish.
Mega-million bestseller Stephen King puts it like this — which includes the “good news” and the “bad news”:
“…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”
The catch with the above statement is that the self-broadcasting ease of the internet has all but destroyed the necessities of hard work, dedication, and timely help. In fact the internet fosters the very conditions that hatch bad writers. Roger H. Garrison, author of How a Writer Works, describes those wayward wannabes as folks who fall victim to the “tides of phony, posturing, pretentious, tired, imprecise slovenly language, which both suffocate and corrupt the mind.”
Coupled with what I call knack (and others might call inherent talent) — and this is crucial — one must have the interest of the reader uppermost. To care about the reader and the investment of her time, this is golden. When I care about my reader I’m forced to be a better writer.
So the knack, and this sort of ‘reader empathy’ can not be taught. I’m sorry. As my mom would often say, just before pissing off my father: “There, I said it.”
If you fancy yourself an astrologer and a writer please learn how to write economically and always consider what you are conjuring in the reader’s mind that deflates or inspires his interest in astrology. Think how quickly, easily your writer’s thread can unravel into the warning signs of pre-dementia due to the nature of your subject — an occupational hazard for sure.
What’s greater, Pebble or Pond?
What can be known? The Unknown.
My true self runs toward a Hill
More! O More! visible.
Now I adore my life
With the Bird, the abiding Leaf,
With the Fish, the questing Snail,
And the Eye altering All;
And I dance with William Blake
For love, for Love’s sake;
And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.
— Theodore Roethke