I'm back.

And I can now let you in on why I needed a break.

Mercury was in retrograde.

I knew you'd understand.

A planet is in retrograde when its movement across our sky appears to be going in reverse of its normal path. This apparent shift in trajectory can be disconcerting and troubling to the observer. It happens with Mercury three to four times each year. And it happens with earthlings at least that many times each week.

I leave it to street corner astronomers to explain the phenomenon, but astrologers (and yes, I did just this week learn the difference between the two) will tell you of myriad quandaries that manifest during this cosmic confluence.

According to those in the know, while Mercury — “the universal trickster” — is in retrograde, you can expect electrical equipment and machinery to self-destruct, software crashes, traffic jams, lost emails, your 8-track player to chew up your favorite Mac Davis album, missed appointments and flights, and bad haircuts.

It is the star-watcher’s answer to Murphy's Law.

In the span of six weeks, the following otherwise dependable devices around my home decided it was time to collectively occupy Malfunction Town: home computer, laptop, washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, toaster, garage door, the rear passenger window of my wife's Saturn, the little squirty things on the hood of my truck that wash the windshield. And my iPhone has been curiously slow.

Not to mention, my trusty barbershop in Toluca Lake went out of business.

I was at Sear's shopping for appliances so often, the sales associates fought over whose house I would go to for Christmas.

While the actual dates of this latest retrograde phase were only from Nov. 24 to Dec. 14, there is said to be a period of transition before and after in which Mercury's antics may still occur. So I'm using that to cover pretty much all of 2010 and '11 and at least the first few months of '12.

Now, I normally don't buy into this zodiac stuff. But you have to admit, this is all too strange and fluky. It also helps to explain the less-than-stellar box-office performance of “The Muppets,” Kim Kardashian's surprising divorce, Rick Perry and Herman Cain's memory lapses, Newt's rise in the polls and the inability of Congress to reach consensus on a balanced budget, the payroll tax or the color of the sky.

Coincidence? I think not.

Other notable historical events that took place during retrograde periods: The Bush-Gore election (See? It wasn't Karl Rove messing with voting machines after all.), Game 1 of the 1988 World Series (luckily it was the Oakland A's who took the brunt on that one), the Industrial Revolution (just the first half, though), my ouster from the 7th grade spelling bee on the first word, Nicolas Cage's career since 2003. And disco.

Armchair and Internet stargazers will also tell you that during this time of “revision” (a more pleasant term than “personal chaos”), one should buckle down and go with the flow. Treat it as a time to watch situations unfold around you and gather information. Let the windstorms pass, then pick up the pieces.

I'm not going to say that a two-month sabbatical has cured me from the usual afflictions. I'm still as lazy, confused, uninspired and short-tempered as ever. While off, I didn't write the great American novel, I didn't volunteer to help the needy, lose 10 pounds or advance past level 7-15 of Angry Birds.

But I did learn something: To survive life with some semblance of sanity, from time to time you have to let it pass you by. Not often, but on occasion, it helps to let the chaos of the world run its course while you sit back and watch the awkward dance from an uncomfortable, accusing bench at the wall of the junior high gym.

Sometimes it’s good to be idle and refuse to take part in the folly of man.

So, I’m back. Like it or not. Tune in next week when I'll either regale you with too much detail about the odd things my dogs eat and reproduce to the wonderment of my family, or rant about something topical but not so relevant that I saw on Facebook.

Mercury is back on track, and a new year is upon us. Let's see if we can't do better with this one.

PATRICK CANEDAY writes. ’Nuf said. Friend him on Facebook. Contact him at patrickcaneday@gmail.com. Read more at www.patrickcaneday.com.