E1: A Journey of Locational Independence

14 min read

(This is Season 1, Episode 1 of Momentum. The content deals with adult themes.)

Day 20
September 20, 2010
South Bend, Washington

1,650 miles to Mexico

Return of the Magi

you’ve never had your chart read?” Kelly nearly spat out his oatmeal. “Leo! He’s never had his chart read. He doesn’t know his Chiron from his Ceres. His Ratu from his Ketu. He’s never had his mind blown by the fantastic powers of astrology. Dear God! Or, as the Hindus say, dear infinite expressions of the divine in myriad forms, both animate and inanimate! Have you even lived?”

Jordan laughed for what felt like the first time in months. “Are you offering?”

Kelly shrugged. “I mean, only if you want me to.”

Jordan agreed. Leo*, Kelly’s fourteen-and-a-half-year-old son, darted into their tent. He returned with an iPad, which he laid on the picnic table in front of his father. Kelly cracked his knuckles and adjusted his glasses.

“Alright. Give me the goods. Date, time, and place.”

Jordan hesitated. Then he dictated the data on his birth certificate.

A circular chart appeared on the screen, divided into twelve like an extra-large pizza. Foreign symbols were scattered across the pie like chili flakes. Kelly explained that those symbols represented the sun, the moon, and the other heavenly bodies. “What you’re looking at here is an astronomically accurate map of the sky as it appeared over your mom’s bed at the moment you entered this world.” He adjusted his glasses. “Pretty cool, right?”

“And this is supposed to show me my future?” Jordan asked skeptically.

“No, even better. This here is meant to give you a deeper understanding of the archetypal currents flowing deeply within you. It’s not just your future. It’s the destiny of your soul.”

Jordan was trying really, really, really hard not to roll his eyes. He didn’t care about the archetypal-whatevers. He didn’t even believe in a soul.

Jordan wanted one thing and one thing only. He wanted someone to tell him how to get back together with his ex-girlfriend, Sally. He’d been trying to crack that nut for at least twenty days. But logic hadn’t been working. At all. So he wondered what it might be like to flirt with destiny.

It started with a reality TV show

You have the sun in Scorpio,” Kelly began, “Scorpio is the archetype of the alchemist. Just like an alchemist, your life’s purpose is transforming the lead of the lower self into the gold of the higher self by letting go and exploring the intensity of your passion. On the dark side, Scorpios can be intense and obsessive-compulsive and super over-the-top. But the good side of being a Scorpio is that you have connections with what the ancients called the underworld. We call it the unconscious. It’s where all the buried treasure lies.”

“Cool,” said Jordan.

Leo looked on calmly from his perch atop the handlebars of his upright bicycle. He’d seen his father’s shtick before.

“Your moon is in the sign of Cancer. And your rising sign is… also in Cancer. Hey, Leo! He has Cancer rising like you! A fellow crab. The sign of the great healer!” He turned back toward Jordan. “When Leo was born, it was Gemini rising, and I was telling Tina—that’s his mom— Push, so that his moon in Gemini will be under the ascendant! And she was like, Shut up about astrology! And then he came out with Cancer rising, I was like, Woohoo, I got a healer!”

Leo was beaming. The September sun was making his auburn hair glow.

Jordan had no clue what Kelly was talking about.

“Scorpio and Cancer are both water signs. And water is the element of imagination and emotion and feeling. So when you have that much water, there’s just a deep empathy and a deep compassion that goes with being you. So when you have Cancer rising, your Ph.D. in life is compassion through unconditional love. I mean, that’s what you said you were about yesterday. You were like, I’m about love! That’s because you have Cancer rising. Jesus had Cancer rising, actually.”

“Nice,” said Jordan. It was the first time in his life that he’d been compared to a Messiah, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Kelly continued his rambling, free association of Jordan’s chart. Neptune this, Mercury that. Jordan had already decided that he didn’t believe this astrological bullshit.

But this conversation with Kelly and Leo was just about as long as he’d had with anyone in the past three weeks. When he left Vancouver at the beginning of September, he’d allowed himself to cling to a firefly of hope, convincing himself that the worst was behind him. But the three weeks of walking across Washington State had been a living hell, and he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t let himself quit. The problem was Sally. He’d decided that the only way to get back together with her was to walk to Mexico without her.

It didn’t make any sense to anyone else. It hardly made sense to him. What he really needed were some things a little more nuanced: Hope.

“Now, Mars is your masculine sign. A man defines his masculine essence by his Mars position.”

“My masculine ess…” Jordan’s voice broke. “What does that mean?”

“Your Mars shows you your desire. It’s a cool word, desire. It comes from the Latin, de sidere. It means of the stars. It makes you ask: What’s your guiding star? What do you want most?” Jordan swallowed harshly. “As a man, that’s your masculine essence. For you, Mars is in Sagittarius—the sign of the traveler, explorer, seeker, philosopher. Sagittarius is the sign of the high, the rush of the experience. Just being in the zone, being at the edge. It gives you supreme confidence. It makes you into sports. Mars is your sexual drive too, and since it’s in Sagittarius, a fire sign, you know, it just burns.” Kelly made a show of raising his eyebrows. “Hubba hubba. Now your Venus is your feminine side. And it looks like it’s in…”

“Wait a second. My feminine side?” Jordan crossed his arms across his chest defensively.

“Don’t get so touchy. Feminine doesn’t have to mean gender. According to the ancients, we are all a multitude of energies and identities flowing together as part of the same great river. We can all be different things at different times.” Kelly pointed at the screen. “Over here, you’ve got your fiery Mars. You’re like Indiana Jones—the scholar on the great adventure. But over here, your feminine side is in Virgo. When you’ve got your feminine in Virgo, it’s not like being the belle of the ball. Virgo’s the sign of humility—not humiliation, that’s the dark side. Venus in Virgo is like Cinderella, left at home, cleaning up the slop. She wants to be with her sisters and Prince Charming, but she’s got to learn to value the Earth, the roots, the groundedness of existence. She’s got to learn that humility is the real beauty.”

“Cool,” said Jordan. He had no idea what Kelly was talking about.

“In a man’s chart, you’re always attracted to your Venus. And your Venus is conjunct Jupiter, the planet of travelers, explorers, and philosophers. It’s going to make you very attractive to foreign women. So when you see that pure sacred priestess Cinderella energy and it’s got a foreign traveling explorer vibe, your inner Indiana Jones is going to be like, Let’s go to the library, honey!”

Kelly and Leo burst out laughing. Jordan faked a smile just so he could feel included.

Jordan had met Kelly and Leo the previous night, at a campground in Washington State, one hundred twenty miles southwest of Seattle. He was drawn to the two of them immediately. Unlike most of the people he’d met in the downtrodden resource towns across Washington—communities decimated by the 2008 financial crisis—Kelly had a lightness of spirit. He seemed free. Jordan had envied Kelly—and despised him immediately.

But then Kelly had invited Jordan to sit down at their campsite picnic table, just as the sun was dropping beneath the edge of the rainclouds. After three days of almost constant rain, the late afternoon sunshine was suddenly brilliant. Kelly wanted to tell Jordan his Story, and Jordan desperately wanted to listen to someone else besides the same old voices in his own head.

Jordan was glad he decided to listen. Kelly’s Story was a doozy.

Last year, Kelly had explained, he’d been living in North Carolina with his second wife, Christina, and Leo, when he received an unexpected phone call from Los Angeles. The voice on the other line explained that she was calling from the prime time reality TV show, Wife Swap, and they wanted Kelly to star in an episode.

Kelly hung up the phone. But the producer called back and convinced him that she wasn’t joking. She thought that Kelly and Christina would be perfect.

The producer explained the premise of the show. Each episode starred two couples who came from contrasting backgrounds. They “swapped” partners for two weeks—”It wasn’t sexual,” Kelly insisted—and invited the cameras to delight in the contrasts.

It was easy to understand why the producers chose Kelly and Christina. They were supreme characters. Of the two, Christina was more mainstream: she was a vegan massage therapist who loved to dance and had a habit of conversing with the house plants. Kelly was further out there.

“I wrote my first sci-fi book when I was twenty-three,” he told Jordan, just as the purple sunset was illuminating the clouds. “It’s the story of a young elven ranger who sets out on a quest to save his people from a mad renegade necromancer.” Necromancer? Jordan thought. Kelly kept steamrolling. “This dark wizard attempts to launch an alien invasion from another world to get revenge on his former mentor who banished him. The hero’s name was”—Kelly made the sound of trumpets—”Leo Castlestrong! So naturally, when I had my son a few years later, I named him”—trumpets again—”Leo Castlestrong! Can you believe it? I actually dreamed my son into life!”

Kelly and Christina were matched with a steak-eating, horse-riding couple from Texas who barely knew how to pronounce democrat. Christina went to Texas; the Texan wife flew up to North Carolina, where she tried to make sense of Kelly’s creative life. He didn’t really work. He mostly played board games and delivered astrological readings to his clients over Skype.

The episode went just about the way you’d expect.

Kelly’s episode of the TV show Wife Swap.

But the real drama was happening off-screen. After the cameras were gone, Christina returned from Texas and announced that she wanted a separation.

Kelly struggled to make sense of the breakup, though he’d gained a new perspective with time.

“Saturn had just come up on my Venus. And what is Saturn?” He looked at Jordan expectantly.

“Uh, the sixth planet from the sun?”

“No! Well, yes. But in astrological terms, Saturn is all about breaking connections, getting serious, and facing your karma. And it was right on the planet of love! Then I thought back to the last time that Saturn made a tough angle to my Venus, and that was fourteen years ago, back when I split with Tina, Leo’s mom. So I was like, Wow, every time Saturn gets to Venus, it’s time for a major ending of a relationship? I was like, Oh, there’s timing to these things? Of course, there is! Duh! I’m an astrologer!

Kelly’s mom lived in Boulder, Colorado. He moved home to give Christina some space, hoping that she’d change her mind. She didn’t. In the spring, she called to say she wanted a divorce. Kelly was crushed. Well into his mid-thirties, facing divorce for the second time, Kelly needed more than a new beginning—more than a miracle, even. “I needed a Journey of Locational Independence!”

“A journey of locational independence?” Jordan repeated.

“That’s right! A Journey of Locational Independence.”

Carried by a divine burst of creative energy, Kelly reached out to a woman who he’d once met at an astrology conference. They chatted over the phone a few times before consulting their charts and deciding that the timing for a relationship was propitious.

“She was one of your people!” he exclaimed.

“She was Jewish?”

“No!” Father and son had burst out laughing. “She was from Canada.”

Kelly could have scrounged together a little money and caught a flight to Canada the next day. But he knew that healing was the point. The woman lived fifteen hundred miles north of Boulder, in the Canadian Rockies. Kelly decided to travel there by bicycle. There were at least three problems with this plan. Kelly was overweight, couldn’t afford good gear, and the only bike he had lying around was the mountain bike he used to ride as a teenager. But he was convinced that his destiny was calling. So he gave his bicycle the name Magellan and decided to skip the expensive saddlebags used by most long-distance cyclists, carrying his gear in a backpack instead.

“Big mistake. I almost died when I was climbing over the Rockies. It was the Long Dark Night of my Soul! Every pedal stroke reminded me of all the mistakes I had made with Christina.” He paused and looked at Jordan seriously. “I died on that mountain. Then someone else was born in my place. My soul cried with tears of joy as I glided down into Idaho.”

Jordan had briefly wondered whether anyone else’s soul had ever cried tears of joys while gliding into Idaho, but he let the quibble go. He was too enthralled by Kelly’s Story.

Arriving in British Columbia, Kelly set up his tent near the small lakeside town where he was sure his destiny was waiting. She came to him that night beneath a thunder and lightning storm. “When we made love in my tent, it was like Zeus himself was blessing our union!” But within days, Kelly had lost the favor of the gods. His fateful romance with destiny had fizzled. He was fitter, stronger, and now nearly broke. He was a traveler without a destination.

“That’s when my idea crystallized,” he said.

“The journey of locational independence?”

“That’s right! A Journey of Locational Independence. Forget a boring life of paying bills, mortgages, stuffing your house with useless things, and working for some boss you hate! Instead, let’s gorge ourselves on the wisdom of the road! Travel at our speed, do what we want. Follow our own Rules. Rule Number One: No More Than One Season in Any Given Place. Okay, maximum two. Six months and poof, we’re off again. A rolling stone collects no moss. We’re shooting around the country like dynamic Mercury on his winged shoes. Isn’t that right, son?”

“Yes.” Fourteen-and-a-half-year-old Leo was as placid as his father was exuberant. Kelly reached over to tussle Leo’s hair. “That’s because of the Cancer rising.”

Halfway to Seattle, Kelly called his first wife, Tina, and somehow talked Leo’s mother into pulling their son out of school so he could travel by bicycle with his dad.

“I finally realized what I was really looking for,” Kelly beamed. “My soulmate isn’t a partner. My soulmate is my son!”

Father and son had just reunited a few days before they met Jordan. As soon as Leo arrived, Kelly liquidated his bank accounts to buy the essentials: a new bike, an iPad, and a set of saddlebags.

Saturn returns

Suddenly, Kelly jabbed a finger at the screen.

“Look! Your Saturn is at four degrees Libra.” He pointed up to the sky. “Right now, Saturn is also at four degrees Libra! Do you know what this means?” Jordan shook his head. “It means you’re having your Saturn return.” Kelly slapped Jordan’s back like a doctor in the delivery room. “Welcome to your Saturn return!”

For a moment, Jordan felt fuzzy. Wait a second. “What’s a Saturn return?”

Kelly looked incredulous. “Didn’t you study anything important in school?”

“I studied business.”

“Oh.” He glanced at Leo. “May Zeus have mercy on his soul. Okay, you know the planet Saturn, right? The one with the rings? The one squeezed between Jupiter and Uranus.”

“Is that a euphemism?”

“Very funny. Saturn takes about twenty-nine-and-a-half Earth years to orbit the sun.”

“Ten thousand, seven hundred and fifty-nine Earth days,” said Leo. “With an average orbit speed of six miles per second.”

“His Uranus is in Virgo. Makes him very detail-oriented. Anyway, after twenty-nine-and-a-half years—or ten thousand, seven hundred and fifty-nine Earth days—Saturn returns to the same place in its sky that it was in when we were born. And when it gets back to the start again…”

“It’s a big deal,” said Leo.

“It’s more than a big deal.” Kelly looked at Jordan meaningfully. “It’s a rite of passage.”

“The Saturn return is something that everybody’s got to go through,” he continued. “It happens again at fifty-eight, but that’s when you’re moving into the cycle of the wise elder. This one, the one when you’re twenty-nine-and-a-half, is the end of the time in your life when you’re young and just making mistakes and learning from your experiences. You’re just kind of dreaming your life into being. Well, at twenty-nine-and-a-half, Saturn is telling you: it’s time. It’s time to get serious about what you’re about. It’s time to do your duty to society. It’s time to get busy with the re-visioning and reorienting of your life so you can move towards greater maturity and actually do your great work in the world.”

Jordan was pretty sure that Kelly was telling him that it was time to grow up.

“Not just grow up, but transform! See, Saturn represents structure, and it also represents responsibility. So a Saturn returns are about shifts in that outer structure that come from shifts in inner responsibility. On the outside, that might mean relationship changes, relocations, job changes, or children coming into or leaving the nest. But all these outer changes are really reflections of the inner state of maturity that’s shifting within you and saying, These old responsibilities ain’t working anymore. It’s time for a new slate. And that’s what’s happening to you right now.”

Jordan opened his mouth to make a wisecrack. Suddenly, he realized that he was on the verge of tears.

“And look where it’s happening.” Kelly pointed at the bottom of the pie chart. “It’s in your fourth house. The fourth house is about emotion and roots and softness. It’s the family energy. Saturn is the opposite of that energy. It’s about self-discipline and authority. So whenever Saturn comes to the bottom of the chart, the message is clear. Saturn is telling you, It’s time to get serious. It’s time to go down into the heart with discipline and get rid of all the emotional distractions and irrational fears that are blocking you. It’s time”—Kelly made the sound of trumpets again—”to slay the dragon.”

“What’s the dragon?” Jordan rasped.

“It might be the work that you need to be doing right now. It might be dealing with old family patterns, like relationships with authority figures in your family and father energy that maybe put too much pressure and weight on you. Now you’re like, I’m on my own authority. I don’t really need to be controlled by that crap anymore. Fourteen years from now, when Saturn’s at the top of your chart, that’s the moment of doing your great work for humanity. But it all starts right here at the bottom of the chart. That’s where you build your foundation. Saturn is the planet of crystallization, and it’s the fourth house of foundations. So, ultimately, you’re crystallizing a new foundation. That’s what’s happening on your walk.”

He put the iPad on the picnic table and looked at Jordan meaningfully. “You know, your own inner teaching probably precipitated this journey, because Jupiter is the planet of journeys and Saturn’s like, There’s a serious journey you need to go on! And it’s got a melancholy tone to it. But if you follow it, it will help you go through the grief and find joy. You’re going to turn the grief into joy day-by-day, step-by-step. There’s a poem by my favorite poet, David Whyte, where he says…” Kelly closed his eyes and quoted the poem by heart:

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

He opened his eyes and burst into wild laughter. “Most people throw the coin in the well and say, I need a new relationship or new car. Who throws the coin and says, I need a deep relationship with the eternal being that crafted the universe despite the pain I have to go through? That’s the coin you’re throwing, my man. I’m throwing the same coin too. You and me, we’re like, We want something deep!”

Jordan bit his lip to fight back the tears. He didn’t know what to say.

“Anyway, there’s also a nature healer in you, because you have Chiron in Taurus, so there’s a whole massage therapy kind of acupuncture, those alternative arts, there’s a powerful healing current coming through here….”

An audacious goal

Waving goodbye to Kelly and Leo, Jordan watched as father and son glided off down the coastal highway. As he walked south along the northbound shoulder—facing into traffic—he could feel the subtle difference in his posture, the new sense of purpose in his steps. Jordan still didn’t believe in astrology. But he was suddenly willing to see his situation from a new perspective. That felt like major progress after everything.

Turning the grief into joy, day-by-day, step-by-step. My Saturn return. Slaying the dragon.

Hope carried him downhill.

The sun was out. The clouds were high. It was a beautiful day in early autumn, beautiful enough for Jordan to ignore the roar of passing engines. He walked joyfully for a mile or two. But inevitably, his thoughts turned back to Sally.

When it was time for a break, he dodged into the forest by the side of the road, where he was secluded from passing traffic. He unzipped his backpack and, pushing his harmonica to the side, found a delicately folded paper napkin. He unfolded the napkin and read what was written on it:

Goal: Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People

1. Travel somewhere interesting
2. Collect people’s stories.
3. Travel somewhere else. Share the first stories with these new people.
4. Collect new stories.
5. Repeat.

He brought the napkin to his nose. It still had the slightest hint of Sally’s fragrance. At least, that’s what he thought. She hadn’t touched it in months.

He folded the napkin delicately and returned it to his pack. Then, after a swig of water, he buckled the backpack at his waist and across his chest, continuing south, seeking his destiny.