It wasn’t odd to return from school and find the couch against a different wall. Paintings in our home were hung and changed with the regularity of underwear, and large, handsome cabinets were dragged in to house an ever-growing china collection. As an artist, my mother could pull off the eclectic. Concerning the styling of our home, guests didn’t have to look farther than the front door, which was painted purple and emblazoned with the words “Cest la vie.”
However, a period of great change took place when I was in middle school. Strange words were being thrown around, the likes of which I’d never heard before. It started with chi, or rather, transforming straight chi into curing chi. Before my sister and I had time to mull this over, we learned that our staircase and kitchen was located in the wrong place. There were poison arrows to contend with in the living room, and wind chimes to be hung in the bathroom. From what we could gather, our mother had been possessed by a gay ninja.
Like all of my mother’s interests, feng shui became a priority in making ours a happy home. Not much explanation was given, aside from the fact that our home would continue to work against us if immediate action wasn’t taken. My sister and I took it in stride, keeping our bedroom doors closed until the chi ran its course.
A recent trip to the library raked up these memories. Like always, I scoured the new arrivals, but one book in particular caught my eye. The author was pictured on the front, wearing a silk cheetah jacket, bright red lipstick, and the type of gold chain preferred by Halloween pimps. She was in fact a respected feng shui expert, and as I flipped through the pages, some the phrases brought me back. I checked the book out, figuring it might be interesting to try and figure out just what the hell my mother had been talking about.
My apartment in Düsseldorf is a small one bedroom place with parquet floors. There is a rack for shoes in the foyer, and above this is a carved Thai bird mask that, as the saleswoman put it, “scare evil spirit.” Entering the living room, there is a hand-painted Chinese table that came from a furniture store in Suzhou, the teakwood carvings I found at the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok, and a red and white Oriental rug which was made in Ghana, but bought on sale at a department store here in Germany.
There are two large windows in the living room. One of them faces the kitchen, and the other faces the front door. Our bedroom is situated between the living room and bathroom, which is tucked away in a windowless interior corner of the apartment.
This is what someone might see as they enter the apartment. I used to see this too, but not any more. The thing about learning something new is that once it’s there, you can’t unlearn it. I’ve always pictured information like canned vegetables – you can forget about them, even take them for granted, but they still takes up space in the pantry. Upon inventory, I realized that what I’ve been stocking up on recently isn’t exactly applicable to daily life: Ankara is the capital of Turkey. Gift is the German word for poison. This might be useful for someone who goes to quiz night or accepts candy from strangers, but that person just isn’t me anymore.
I also wasn’t the type of person that incorporated feng shui into my life. At least, I didn’t used to be. But it did happen, and with surprising quickness. It started with a few pages a night while Takayo watched a catty reality show on the couch next to me. It featured rich and powerful women who – against better judgment – surrounded themselves with social adversaries and vast quantities of strong drink. Though arguments sometimes took to the streets, the inside of these homes revealed a serenity its owners just couldn’t quite seem to absorb. And like a headlock, those carefully decorated rooms appeared to wrap around and embrace its occupants, no matter how much of their hair had been ripped out. Because we didn’t have a mansion yet, I figured that I could feng shui our apartment in a snap.
I walk through our home, studying the items Takayo and I had collected throughout our travels. The objects themselves had not changed, but my perception of them, in relation to energy flow, had.
The bedroom was completely out of whack. As soon as I walked in I noticed daggers, or books, flying toward me, cutting into my good luck. To solve this, I pushed the shelf to the other sided of the room so that it did not face the bed, which, I noticed, was also facing an inauspicious direction. I turned it around and backed the headboard against a solid wall to “support a sense of security.” There was a lot of clutter under the bed, so I boxed it up (along with some items on the shelf including a riot-squad gas mask), and brought it down to the storage room.
Things were looking better, but it wasn’t there yet. The yin components, calmness and quiet, should prevail in a bedroom, but we were getting an awful lot of yang energy from the lamppost across the street. Because I didn’t have the power tools to install a curtain rod, I simply covered the window with tin foil and taped it into place.
When I was finished with the bedroom, I stood in the doorway. The author might have called this a “quantum leap of improvement,” but I had too much momentum to stop now. I proceeded to the front door, where I encountered a whole new batch of problems. The entry way was too dark and didn’t promote happy energy. As for the bird mask, it was supposed to go over the doorway, but there wasn’t enough room. A poison arrow greeted me from the edge of the Chinese table, so I covered it with a Balinese silk shawl.
Past the poison arrow, I noticed something worse: The front door faced the window directly, so all of our chi energy had been flying right out the window. I had been keeping a basil plant in front of the window, which corrected the problem to an extent, but I made a pesto sauce for dinner two nights ago, so now we were back to square one.
And that seemed to be the main problem I encountered with feng shui. You can’t make all the changes at once, and even if you try, something is always overlooked. The book claims that items such as wind chimes can help correct “stagnant” chi, but there comes a point where you just can’t go further. The feng shui faux pas in our apartment seem obvious to me, but of course, fretting over such things defeats the purpose.
I’ve come to grips with the window, but that doesn’t mean it’s not on my Shit List. Not by a long shot. One of my favorite quotes from the book says:
“If you are not fated to become a big tycoon, feng shui may make you rich, but not seriously wealthy! And if your home enjoys good feng shui you will find yourself becoming more busy.”
So long as I don’t confuse the words busy and compulsive, this whole feng shui thing might actually be lucrative. A Tiffany chandelier in the foyer would certainly attract good luck chi, and a Van Gogh would enhance the happy energy of the front door. Of course, this wouldn’t be a magic cure-all for all of my problems, but it would be a step in the right direction.