I wasn't born a skeptic – I grew into it. As a grade-school child, I devoured the horoscopes tucked away in the newspaper every morning, eager to learn just what life and/or the stars had in store for me (after, of course, first investigating what Calvin and Hobbes were up to, and what non-sequitur Gary Larson's cows might be uttering that day).
I didn't understand much of the astrological jargon that accompanied my foretold fate, but perhaps my laziness to bone up on the zodiac calendar was just the natural Capricorn in me. Either way, I was a horoscope devotee. Until, that is, my ninth birthday.
That day – one cold Jan. 12, for anyone interested in sending me presents going forward; address them to The Globe and keep in mind that I prefer 10-year Scotch, nothing less – I opened the horoscope for "those with birthdays today," and discovered a line alluding that all my hopes and dreams would be fulfilled. Fantastic!
My dream that day? To receive a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, every nine-year-old's object of desire. My real present? I can't recall, but definitely not that video game. And thus a rusty dagger to the innocent heart of my childhood. Liars! With that, I was an instant horoscope denier.
As I got older, my resolve only strengthened. Weren't horoscopes written in such vague terms that anybody could read anything into it? Isn't there no fate but what we make? And, by the way, who was accrediting these fortune-tellers? Was there any sort of system of checks and balances – surely the stars were not telling the exact same things to Rob Brezsny as they were Terry Nazon? And if so, why would the world need more than one person to decode these signs?
All good questions, all of which I allowed to simmer in a stew of pre-teen rage, until, well, I stopped caring.
But with a new year looming, and my editors eager for a hardcore skeptic's look at the industry, I decided to go on a brief apology tour. I would spend the second-last week of December analyzing my daily horoscope and contemplating what others had predicted last December for "my year ahead." Would the results, as the Internet is fond of saying, surprise me?
My first experience in shaking the skepticism threw me for a loop. According to Sally Brompton, the syndicated astrologer whose work appears in The Globe, my 2015 was supposed to include reassessments of "long-term ambitions." Could I, Brompton asked, see myself "doing the same job 20 years from now, or even 10 or five years?" She encouraged me to "be brave" and "move with the times" – and predicted that a shift would happen around the time of April's lunar eclipse.
Alright, point to you, Ms. Brompton: This past April, I did indeed change jobs – it was the hardest decision I've made in the past few years, and one that I hope will dictate the rest of my career for the next five or 10 or 20 years, sure.
But show me a year where someone doesn't make some sort of employment decision, big or small, right? Surely the rest of my week, my day to day, could not be so easily foretold.
So I looked to the work of Rob Brezsny, who has offered horoscopes for the past 28 years, and was once praised by Utne Reader as the only one breathing "new life into the tabloid mummy of zodiac advice columns." His prose confounded me. "Turn your imagination into an ebullient laboratory where the somethings you create out of nothings are tinctured with the secret light you see in your dreams of invisible fire," he wrote last week.
Oh, okay! I tried decoding this a bit, but couldn't quite switch on my ebullient laboratory, no matter how hard I tried.
Georgia Nicols, another syndicated astrologer whose work appears in The National Post, advised me that "work-related travel was likely" last Tuesday – I mean, technically she was right, as I did travel to the office and back home, but the rest of her star-based advice was weak. Dec. 26, for instance, was supposed to be "a good day for business:" perhaps she assumed I ran a store offering Boxing Day deals, but instead, I merely spent the day in a quasi food coma.
Okay, I decided it was back to Brompton. At least her advice didn't need a zodiac decoder ring. But last week, on Dec. 22, she advised me to "focus all your energy in a single direction," yet just two days later she dispatched that, "Everything that needs to happen will happen when the time is right." So I had to be ambitious but also laissez-faire? Sally Brompton, you are tearing me apart!
Nothing seemed to make sense. The advice, or at least what I could glean, was contradictory. The predictions, so much as they were, was arbitrary and bordering on madness. I went into this experiment as a skeptic, but like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe, at least a little bit. I made one last shot, and reached past the stars – which is to say, I visited a flesh-and-blood psychic.
I had always wondered went on behind the neon sign-lit storefront of my local psychic, in a quiet corner of northwest Toronto, and now I had a great excuse to find out. I walked in, was greeted by a warm woman in her late 30s, and offered a palm reading for $20.
I laid out my hands, and she traced my life line, peppering her analysis with leading questions and conversation intended to draw out my biography. It was smooth, it was quick, and it was completely off the mark. Had I just purchased a car? No. Was my relationship new, or was there a second, longer romance in my past? No. Was I looking to go on a series of exciting trips for work? No, sorry, though that sounds nice.
After her line of poking and prodding failed, she offered me a series of platitudes regarding my "unlocked potential," and how it was critical that I expand my horizons, post-haste.
That sounds like good advice for anyone, but could she not tell me something more personal, that you couldn't get from any random palm off the street? What I recently went through or what precisely lay ahead? What I should look out for? What the stars, or the fates, or my own damn hands had in store for me? Possibly, yeah – a three-day spiritual re-evaluation should do the trick. Normally $180.
"But for you, and with holiday pricing? One-hundred and fifty."
It was, apparently, my destiny.