Illustration by Taylor Dow

Communication Breakdown

Mercury retrograde is upon us, meaning muddled messages and revisitation.

“And the past came down

in large flakes, irregular snow, much

of it coughed from my throat …”

—Tara Hardy, “Large Flakes”

Relationships: How do they work? What’s your work to do and what’s the other person’s responsibility? Ugh. As the week opens, a full moon in Gemini is still beaming down gleams of bumpy realizations about our one-on-one communication patterns. The full moon is nudging us to face past issues we may have buried so we can actively choose healthier partnership dynamics. And speaking of the past and communication: Here comes a Mercury retrograde!


Back up your data, because Mercury is switching directions and turning retrograde on Monday the 19th. Maybe you’ve heard rumors that Mercury retrograde is a time when everyone and everything goes bonkers—so is it best to just bunker down on your couch until the mayhem ends? Not exactly.

First, Mercury’s retrograde (backward motion) is only an optical illusion to us on Earth, one that happens about four times a year for three weeks at a time (plus two weeks of wackiness before and after the retrograde). But its effects are very real. Though a backward-moving Mercury is blamed for any and all havoc that irks us, the retrograde really only influences the realms that Planet Mercury rules: communication, travel, personal belongings, and messages.

Ever since December 1, when Mercury entered its “pre-retrograde shadow zone,” you’ve probably noticed cell phones acting funky and computers getting finicky. Our tech troubles and typos will pick up steam starting on the 19th. Because this particular retrograde is happening in an Earth sign (Capricorn), we can anticipate physical things breaking. Goodbye, car transmission! So long, favorite mug!


Since Mercury’s in charge of messages delivered (by text, e-mail, mouth, Facebook, etc.), during a Mercury retrograde our words are often misinterpreted; other people’s messages get muddled too. Ask for clarification if you’re unsure. Double-check your documents for spelling mistakes and correct addresses before sending them. Retrograde Mercury makes the brain foggy and the tongue tied, so details are ultra-slippery and it’s hard to find the right word. You might misplace your keys or accidentally lock them inside your car. You may have to reschedule plans … frequently.

But Planet Mercury isn’t a sadistic villain out to ruin us. Our grand plan can’t always propel ahead at full speed without reflection or reconsideration. Retrograde-related hiccups and obstacles challenge us to re-evaluate the way we’ve always done something—pressure us to find innovative ways of better expressing ourselves or to rethink how we think. Sometimes an annoying detour leads you to discover a secret shortcut.

Generally, Mercury retrograde is not a good time for signing a contract, launching a new website, publishing a book, or purchasing things with moving parts. (If you must: Keep. Your. Receipts.). Start nothing new if you can help it. However, a Mercury retrograde isn’t a horrible time for everything. It’s actually very useful for re- verbs: revise, revisit, reshape, reconsider, repair. Have some dusty rough drafts lying around? Mine those relics for jewels! Edit your poems. Reread your journals. Now’s a beautiful time to tinker with things you started earlier but put aside. Interview family members about the past; clean out a drawer and find stuff you thought you lost.


Mercury retrograde can bring back past situations, conversations, projects, or people for our review, so we can gain closure or further illumination. Sometimes we need to apologize or admit how our past behavior negatively affected someone else. Sometimes confronting our ghosts makes us aware of how much we’ve grown since the old days. You may dream about old friends, hear news about former co-workers, or bump into an ex in the cereal aisle. Also note: Break-ups that happen during a Mercury retrograde are usually revised or repaired later; tears in unions now aren’t necessarily permanent. Be grateful for Mercury’s weird retro wisdom.


Wednesday the 14th is an emotionally touchy day that will also give us new ideas about how to resolve a problem from last week. Thursday the 15th offers the chance for huge breakthroughs, but the process won’t be painless. On Friday the 16th you may feel a bit untethered, confused, and floaty. On Monday the 19th Mercury begins its retrograde motion and Mars enters Pisces until January 27. Mars in Pisces creates a tendency for passive-aggressive, martyr-like responses to conflict. Watch your attitude.

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