ANY GOOD ASTROLOGER knows not to begin business ventures during a Mercury retrograde period, such as the one we are currently experiencing (May 15 to June 8). But I just couldn't contain myself.

MERCURY RETROGRADE gets so much press because it happens a few times a year, for about 3 weeks at a time—and because it really does affect the way all Mercury-related phenomena go down. Mercury is the planet that rules, among other things, communications & transportation. Oftentimes during Merc-retro, messages get garbled, bills that have been sent don't make it to their proper destinations, or tires get flat.

When a planet goes retrograde, it appears to us to be traveling backwards (even though it really isn't). The astrology we commonly practice is Earth-centered, which makes sense since our lives are also centered here. But the planets circle the Sun, of course. So, on occasion, due to differences in their orbits, planets will seem to move in reverse.

It's like when you're driving on a freeway faster than the car next to you. He looks like he's moving backwards, but he's just motoring along—in a forward motion—a little more slowly than you. Astrologers interpret retrogrades as shifting the behavior of a planet's regular character to a more introverted, inhibited, or sometimes confused way. So buckle up for safety.

For instance, since this particular Merc-retro began: (1) My cell phone started shutting itself off in the middle of calls, (2) My internet connection stopped working for about a day and then fixed itself, and (3) The ATM swallowed an important check I deposited without crediting my account. And this, all in the first week.

Incidentally, all these annoyances worked themselves out in the end. Which highlights an important point: Mercury retrograde doesn't usually deliver disasters, just inconveniences. If you prepare yourself for things to flow a little less smoothly during this time, then you won't be as bugged.

Sometimes you can't postpone important business—like getting going on—during Mercury retrograde. But you can make sure to read the fine print on all documents (maybe even twice) and go out of your way to avoid misunderstandings by being an extra-patient listener and a super-clear communicator. Merc-retro is a great time to slow down your life's forward movements, withdraw a bit, and put some extra thought into what you're working on. Do some planning, organizing, or rearranging.

This particular retrograde has Mercury retracing its steps in its ruling Gemini, the sign of those rascally twins whose flitting social wordsmithing is sometimes misread as two-facedness. There will be at least two new sides to every story. Add those to all that contradictory jibberish we've heard since last summer, and it makes for some shallow arguments and wars of wit. Listen to all viewpoints, and think before you speak. You don't have to have an answer, so don't pretend you do. Hold tight, and think on it.

This Merc-retro in Gemini coincides with the final peak of the Saturn-Pluto opposition, the principal dominating astrological factor affecting us since August 2001. Saturn and Pluto, two planetary heavyweights, have been countering each other, putting stress on outdated rigid social structures in order to transform our beliefs and values. You know what I'm talking about. At the end of this month, we finally move all the way through this painful configuration.

We were all forced to change how we act about what we believe as a result of the last nine months' events, but incorporating these changes into our lives has been disorienting and emotionally rocky. After months of feeling like we're in the middle of "it," we are finally ready to move on to the next "something new." But first, for the next couple weeks, we might get even a little more confused as new events propel us further along. The major changes finally become real—and stay real—at the other end of three eclipses with new lives for us. These eclipses occur on May 26, June 10 & June 24. More on these later.