Can You Feng Shui Your Way To Love?


Move your stuff, change your love life? One writer sets out to redecorate.

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.Though we were married then, my daughter's father traveled so much I can barely remember him ever sleeping on it. Come to think of it, the mattress and bed pre-date him, and have not played host to too much drama. Do I get to keep it? (I like my mattress; it's relatively thin, in contrast to the pneumatic, fat mattresses that are standard these days and for which I'd have to buy new sheets.) Reiko says she'll think about it. She finds the room a bit sterile, though. "It's also very exposed, isn't it?" she says. How To Make Your Master Bedroom A Sacred Space

It is set on a corner overlooking Second Avenue and 11th Street, with windows facing west, over St. Mark's in the Bowery Church, and north, from where the churning, south-moving river of traffic that is Second Avenue seems to pour its entire contents into the room. Today, like every cloudless day, it is also ablaze with afternoon sun. That's good, right?

Reiko hesitates. "From an energetic perspective, this room could be good for romance," she says. "It is certainly charged energetically." She'd like to see it as more of a cocoon, however, with soft things underfoot (rather than the punitive prickle of sisal) and blackout shades on those windows. "What's this?" she asks, peering under the bed at the boot boxes, old picture frames, and radiator cover that I've (cleverly) stored there. "That's no good," she says, shaking her head. "That's stuck energy."

"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. What Not To Do On A Blind Date

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.