"I knew a guy once who had all his back taxes stored under his bed," she continues solemnly. "He had a lot of difficulty moving forward with his life."
Right, I say, nothing under the bed.
Further, Reiko would like to see things in pairs in here: pictures, for example, and a table on each side of the bed, with lamps to top them. A vertical beam that is pointing straight at us causes her to raise a delicate eyebrow.
"That's a poison arrow," she says, alarmingly. "Not so great for health. Cover it." Cover it? A massive steel beam wrapped in 75-year-old plaster? Relax, she tells me. A plant will do, or hanging fabric. Got it: Buy a huge plant, I note. Reiko, a politic young woman whose sense of tact is as sophisticated as her sense of style, sits down suddenly.
"Listen," she says gently, "feng shui can set up a space to attract whatever it is you want to attract, but you need to tell the space what it is you want. Until that's clear for you, you can't tell the space what to do."
Right, I say again. Tell the space what I want. What do I want?
"Call me with your questions," she says as she leaves, "I want to know what happens."
Nothing happens, not for a month. It's February, a time of icy inertia. Outside the apartment, I have two dates, setups from before Christmas. Nice men, but I am distracted, even agitated, during these evenings, and nothing clicks.
One morning in March, I shake myself a bit and clear the boxes and such out from under my bed. That evening, with my daughter's help, I move things in and out of my bedroom. We bring side tables in to flank the bed, and another lamp, and a little painting of two peaches (pairs, get it?). We hang photographs in pairs, and artwork by my daughter. "Gosh, Mom," she says. "It finally looks like someone lives here."
The next day, I buy a seven-foot-tall ficus tree, in an enormous earthenware pot, for hundreds of dollars. (I email Reiko later, to tell her that I now can't afford to buy a rug or cover my windows. She seems happy I've taken care of the poison arrow.) The elderly West Indian man at the plant store is unconvinced of my suitability as a plant steward.
"Ficus are very hard to take care of," he keeps saying, shaking his head. "They want lots of light, lots of humidity. Not good in a New York apartment."Well, why, I want to ask, do you sell them, then? Instead, I promise I will water weekly and mist constantly. I can see he doesn't believe me.
At home that night, the ficus throws shadows like birds on my walls. In the morning, I wake up and think I'm in the Islands.
Reiko has suggested a mirror in my living room, where I work, and a bigger desk. "The mirror suggests possibilities," she explains, "and extends space. A desk's size has the same effect on your work as a goldfish bowl has on a goldfish: The goldfish will grow in proportion to the bowl." I find a crumbling gilt mirror upstate, paint it white, and hang it over my desk. The desk I keep. I think my work goldfish is big enough.
That weekend, a friend meets someone at a party who knows a single guy and—how random is this?—my friend and this someone exchange my and this single man's email addresses. A few days later, a flurry of emails from the stranger arrives: tiny semaphore greetings that are nonetheless literate, funny, and charming. I meet their author for coffee. More emails follow. "I'll call you tomorrow," reads one, rather portentously. I think, "Well, that's nice," but I never hear from the guy after that.
A divorced friend, blissful in a new relationship, suggests I look in another state. (Her bedroom would make Reiko beam, as it's an interior room in a loft—carpeted, windowless, and full of pairs of things: little tables, lamps, and photographs.) "There are too many women in New York," my friend says. "The ratios are not in your favor." She is not helping the situation, either, as she has just fixed up her children's 25-year-old babysitter with one of her own discards.
I make a note to start saving for a bedroom rug and proper shades. Another friend is captivated by the janitor who works in the studio space where she paints. Do I want to meet him? Er, no. As a housewarming present, she gives me a huge blue canvas swimming with female forms. The central one seems both Madonna and child. My daughter and I love it. Before we go to sleep that night, we sit for a while in front of it, just looking.
A month later, Reiko sends me an email: "As for dating, do you know what you want? A written intention about relationships placed in a bedside table is a powerful magnet." I open a notebook, and stare at the lined pages.
Having failed to articulate my intention about relationships, I move the couch in the living room. "The concept of feng shui is about the flow of chi," Reiko told me. "It's abundance, the life force, all that good stuff. You want it to flow easily into and through your home." The couch had its back to the entrance of the room, like a road block. My daughter comes home from school, takes one look at the couch in its new spot against a wall, and bursts into tears. Possibly, there's been a bit too much change in our house.
The next week, Reiko asks, "What do you really want from your home?" I think for moment. "Only that it be a happy, safe place," I finally answer. That I not be a bower bird, scrounging for silver paper to weave into my nest, attracting God-knows-what.
"Given all that," says Reiko, "you'll want to be doing things that make you feel protected: covering the windows in your bedroom, finding a soft rug, a door for the bedroom area. You know," she continues, "once you feel safe, there's not that feeling of holding your hands before your face. You'll feel more receptive to things, more at ease. When you're open, things happen. So I'm not so concerned about your neighbor's hall."
Which is a good thing, because my neighbor has told me she's never moving.
As a not-so-newly divorced woman with an eight-and-a-half-year-old daughter, I have lately developed a habit of grilling married couples with the same intensity and awed fascination that I imagine Charles Darwin felt for his Galapagoan critters: What magical beasts are these, and how did they come to be?
I begin the year by interviewing two particularly interesting—even confounding—specimens for a weekly newspaper column I write about New Yorkers and their dwellings: Reiko Gomez, an interior designer who practices feng shui, and her husband, Peter Kaplan, a trader and financial advisor. Six years into their marriage, they are clearly so deliriously happy with one another, despite the fact that they live and work in the same 800-square-foot apartment and are chalk and cheese in their personalities. He's wired up till next Tuesday, while she's a serene ashram veteran who has built hospitals in India.
"In high school, I was the guy in the leather jacket smoking in the hall," Peter tells me, "and Reiko was the prom queen, all sparkly with her good works." Predictably, they'd detested one another at first sight, and then fallen madly in love.
While allowing for the mysterious calculus of love, I can't help but wonder about Reiko's voodoo decorating and its role in their happy union. I know she completely redid her old apartment the week before she met Peter—jettisoning every single piece of furniture, including the bed she'd shared with an old boyfriend. "Energy is held by big upholstered pieces," she explains. "If you're sleeping on a mattress you've shared with an ex, there's both a symbolic and an energetic reason to get rid of it." Why Your Ex Should Stay In Your Past