In which a single mom, Penelope Green, consults a feng shui expert about her home’s romantic energy.
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.”
Having recently moved, old mattress and all, into an apartment in the East Village, I’m curious about what sort of a prescription Reiko might give for my new habitat. I’m struggling with notions of home and hearth, hoping to provide a sustaining version of both for my daughter and myself. Also, I’ve just begun to noodle on the idea of dating.
Perhaps, with Reiko’s assistance, I can make like a bower bird (to continue the natural history metaphors), and decorate my nest with something shiny to attract a mate.
As any Chinese restaurateur or Hollywood mogul knows, feng shui is Chinese medicine for the home. Simply put, the placement of your stuff—and the walls around it—are loaded with energetic meaning, some of it good, some of it quite gnarly. (The title of a popular book on the subject says it all: Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life.)
Reiko arrives at my apartment one Friday afternoon with her lo pan, a compass that functions sort of like a sextant does for a celestial navigator. Its readings help feng shui practitioners arrive at an equation that is the energetic blueprint or diagnosis for you and your home. From the lo pan, Reiko gleans all sorts of useful stuff, such as the facts that my daughter and I are already sleeping in the proper direction for our birthdates (good) and that the ideal spot for me from a relationship standpoint is in my neighbor’s front hall (bad).
“Honestly,” a friend snorts later, “do you really believe that stuff?” Do I believe it? Let me just say that, given the landscape of my relationships with the opposite sex, it certainly makes a heck of a lot of sense that the real estate that supports romance would belong to someone else.
But Reiko isn’t daunted. No matter, she says, there are other areas that might be ramped up. My bedroom, for example. It is sparsely furnished, with nearly bare walls and a gritty sisal rug, its dark-wood bed dressed in the plain white clothes it acquired two apartments ago, when I slept in the living room—my daughter had the sole bedroom—and I was trying to make the bed as couch-like, public, and unfussy as possible.