Real Chaos Astrology, vol. 5: Strong Like Bull

I won’t lie. I am afraid of Taurus.

When late April rolls around, the first thing I think about is the fact that the sign starts with Hitler’s birthday. Then there’s Saddam Hussein. And then there’s Pol Pot. And Robert Oppenheimer. And Vladimir Lenin. And Billy Joel.

It’s not that Taurus is evil. But as the list above demonstrates, there is something, an undeniable and intimidating something, about Taurus. It boils down to this: when Taurus gets an idée fixe, it is not just stuck, it’s hammered in and bolted down, usually to a Panzer which they will then use to roll over everything in their path. When Taurus embraces a position, it goes deep. Deep down into the bone. Often, sadly, someone else’s.

Of course, there is an upside: Taurus is reliable. Taurus is persistent. Taurus is (usually) loyal. Taurus is often unpretentious and disarmingly ignorant of their own charms. Taurus, despite the fact that they are often reserved and unflashy, despite the innate conservatism that may fool you into thinking they’re uptight or boring, has a delightfully earthy appreciation for life’s pleasures in all their funk and salt. I had a youthful romance with a Taurus, a beautiful German Taurus with eyes of blaugrun, per the passport, and the equanimity with which this Taurus took pleasure in the world and all its bounties and beauties was intoxicating. It seemed possible, and even likely, that we would never leave each other, that we would keep on being nineteen and twenty-one and spring would be eternal, that my Taurus would forever teach me a lesson about the loveliness of the physical world (Earth Day is in Taurus, don’t forget) that I would be happy to keep on learning.

But back Taurus into a corner (or take an underhanded detour toward an age-inappropriate Leo, as the case may be) and the tank will come out, Taurus digs in their heels, Taurus becomes, as I read once in a terrifyingly accurate horoscope, transfixed by rage and nothing you say or do can change that, and you might just want to be on a different continent when that happens because even then the waves of obduracy and ire will be so powerful that the sky will turn dark and the flowers wilt and the world will turn terrifying.

I guess that’s why they call it the blues.

Here is the thing I forget about Taurus: Taurus, at its best, is capable of handling life far more deftly and sensitively than you might imagine. Taurus can work a lump of raw material into a honed and beautiful point, when given the proper motive and opportunity. Sure, sometimes things can get a little complicated because the world does not always facilitate or reward Taurus’s tenacious hammering away at that point, but at least Taurus isn’t a show-off. That would be Aries, those adorable baby blowhards, or Aquarius, the seeker ideologue who doesn’t know when to shut up.

Taurus has no problem shutting up. Taurus is usually out back in the workshop hammering quietly away, and when Taurus is skilled, the craftsmanship of their point can be amazing. When Taurus is skilled not only at their craft but at being human — when they are working out of true devotion to a cause, when the switch of compassion flips inside them — their work can be the most solid, the most true, the longest-lasting, the most humane, the funniest, and the most subtly and indelibly observant about what is great and terrible about us humans.

Shakespeare was a Taurus, and he’s not the most quoted writer in the English language for nothing. I cried last week re-reading the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V, then cracked up during Henry’s courtship scene with Katherine of France. You remember. The one where he asks her if she can love him and she says “I cannot tell” in her bad English and he’s all “CAN ANY OF YOUR NEIGHBORS TELL, KATE? I’LL ASK THEM,” all disarming and exasperated and flirtatious and businesslike at once. Is it any wonder she ends up saying yes? Is there anyone else but the Bull who could stand at the Four Corners of those emotions with a foot planted firmly in each?

No. There is not. Gemini thinks it can, but Gemini is full of shit. Flip-flopping is not polyvalence, Gemini. Learn it. I say that with love. It’s Taurus who can convince you that the nexus of pragmatism and desire is exactly where you need to be, precisely because during all that not expecting it you were doing, they were crafting something amazing. It’s Taurus, on whose finely-crafted point can be balanced all the vagaries of human experience, that has this superpower. People forget it when they’re dealing with baby Bulls who haven’t learned what truly motivates them. People deny it when they’re dealing with the obduracy that made all those Taurean dictators and criminals. But that obduracy is what makes Taurus able to endure the unendurable and, more, to share it with us.

That steadiness is what makes Taurus able to transform us at the most elemental level. It’s what makes Taurus able to take and embody an ethical position to a level that is both radical and molecular, to not only uphold, but to invent, the highest standards. And those of us who think ourselves more agile than our Taurus friends are the ones most dumbfounded by their magic.

Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018. 224pp, fiction.

Joshua Whitehead’s novel, Jonny Appleseed, coming out in Taurus, in 2018, works this kind of magic. Whitehead’s first book, a collection of poems called full metal indigiqueer narrated by “a cybernetic virus that is agender, asexual, asexed because ‘queerness’ is not a word we know,” made waves not only for being “fiercely intelligent” but for the accountability it demands and exemplifies both within and without the text, notably responding to a Lambda Literary Awards Transgender Shortlist spot by withdrawing because Whitehead, a two-spirit person, felt that “to be a trans woman, and furthermore to be an Indigenous trans woman, is a fight I do not know, cannot know, and do not seek to further violate and delimit.” (Whitehead went on to talk about whether it’s possible for traditional indigenous genders to fit under the colonial constructs of the Western gender binary and transgenderness, and whether it’s better to wait until Lambda adds a category where two-spirit writers can belong without compromise. -Ed.)

Neither Lambda nor the larger culture requires a poet to live the “I” they are writing, and yet the position Whitehead takes is an eloquent statement about the responsibility of writing, and not appropriating, other experiences and lives. Jonny Appleseed, as if in complement to the shifting and intangible quicksilver of Whitehead’s first book, grounds (and grinds) into the experience of being a two-spirit NDN “glitter princess,” questioning and shifting around gender and its illusions (“When I think of masculinity, I think of femininity”), but Jonny’s story is more about the winnowed-down choices that he and his family and friends from the rez confront, and the costs (and causes) of those limits.

Jonny and his friends, notably his best friend/semi-out lover Tias and Tias’s girlfriend Jordan, have “a propensity for drinking too much and dancing too fiercely,” and much of this story reads like a catalogue of the problems of being young, frustrated, and unwilling to compromise your identity despite its being the source of many of your miseries, whether it’s violence and exploitation from within or without the rez, whether it’s getting along, getting over, or getting out. As the novel begins, Jonny is living in Winnipeg in a shitty apartment, scraping a living as a cybersex worker, but Winnipeg seems like a wan counterpart to the rez and its memories, particularly of his kokum (grandmother), his mother, and the formative moments of adolescent passion and love in his developing friendship/romance with Tias. It is on the rez and in Jonny’s childhood, in memory, that the book spends its most powerful moments, the grubby reality of current life in the city a lens from which to view it, long for it, and lament it.

Whitehead’s Jonny is both protagonist and narrator, a likeable and opportunist young feeler with a dearth of literary curiosity (Tias is the reader of the bunch) and a contrasting knack for perfect phrase. Of his clients, through which he cycles with ever-growing rapidity and abrasion in order to get together the money to go back to the rez for his grieving mom, he notes, “when they call me what they call me it only helps me to know I’ve found a home in my self.” What they call him is “whore.” Yet this remark, “I’ve found a home in my self,” like so many uttered by the apparently incurious Jonny, has the power to haunt a reader for the perfection not only of its execution but of its observation. Say it again: “I’ve found a home in my self.” Don’t forget the space before “self:” there is nothing here to be taken for granted.

Jonny’s world is rundown ugly, from bathtub ring to hangover soup, and his persona is polyester glitter and cheap fake fur, but at the core he is motivated by love, and his love for his kokum, his mother, Tias, and even Jordan, the girl who in many ways could be his romantic rival, is full of the acceptance and persistence of a much older person. He may refer to Emily Dickinson as “a dreary old white lady” (confidential to JW: that one rang a little false, and she will never be old), but his thoughts are just as transcendent of his station, and yet just as pertinent to its traps and trappings, and not entirely in disagreement with her sentiments. Jonny accepts the inaccessibility of Tias and his whole heart in much the same way Dickinson declaims, in poem #640, “I cannot live with you — / it would be Life — / and Life is over there — / Behind the Shelf.”

Jonny’s own life seems left on a shelf in his mother’s house on the rez, a dense ball of history and memory whose trails of smoke we follow to it. And yet, the contrast of urban exile is necessary for the story Jonny tells, of loss, of love, of belonging. There is no greater sense of rightness than in this description of postcoital slumber: “We fell asleep like buttons in button holes.” It is impossible not to root for Jonny and Tias to somehow find a way to be more together, more fully a unit. But Jonny is more wise than we, and he has spent a life learning that some things are impossible. None of the big things, like transforming the self, casting spells and illusions, morphing into anyone’s fantasy or desire. But most of the little ones, like hanging on to home.

This is the paradox that Taurus knows: to love, to believe absolutely, and yet to accept that everything has an ending. This is the gift of Jonny Appleseed, to know that what you love will kill you, “if you love it too dearly,” and yet find the strength to love it just enough. And to accept the limits of our homes, in our selves, because “if I don’t feel me — well, then no one ever would.”

Or, as Whitehead remarks in the afterword: “If we animate our pain, it becomes something we can make love to.”

Happy birthday, Taurus. Stay strong.

Taurus, we adore you.
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