feng shui

Video Vednesday: Woo-woo feng shui voodoo


I've spoken before of how and why I enjoy fooling around with feng shui. For me, it's one part voodoo, six parts Really Fun Way to Clean and Organize Your House.

Anyway, I've probably spent the most time cleaning and organizing and feng shui-ing the two corners opposite one another in the far corners of the bagua, Prosperity and Helpful People & Travel. The former, everyone goes for first, for obvious reasons, which were the same ones did: "Money? Count me in!" And yeah, within two weeks of feng shui-ing the crap out of my Prosperity corner, two checks that producers had been sitting on for months, $10K each!, showed up in my mailbox. So, you know, maybe.

But really, the main reason I do those corners is because they are my kitchen and bathroom, respectively, and they get fiiiilthy. (And because, hey! More money!)

Some details possibly worth noting:

  • The book I reference is Karen Rauch Carter's excellent (albeit very, very corny) Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life, which I reviewed on the blog, and which I recommend all the time, especially for people going through some horrible life b.s. that have to process. It's therapeutic and game-like at the same time, cleaning and decluttering and moving all that stuff around. (And the "fixes" are called "cures".)
  • The names are written on slips of red paper because it's supposedly "activating." Again, who knows? But the acts of intentionally shopping for red paper, cutting it into strips, etc. focuses attention. You could also use a red pen on white paper. I've done that, too.
  • The iPhone app I reference and use during the video is called Downtime. It's awesome and it's free. Just remember to turn off the sound if you're using it while you give a presentation. I had one hilarious experience with me and the Tarzan yell from They Might Be Giants' cover of "Istanbul, Not Constantinople." Fortunately, it was in front of a group of actors, not heads of state. (What? You don't present in front of heads of state?)
  • Per the comments from last time, I did wear a scoop-necked shirt and brush on some eyebrows. But really, that's all the dolling-up I can muster these days. Sorry.
  • Also, I'm sorry about the sound. It's assy, I know; haven't figured that out yet. I think the mic on the display might just be too sucky to use. It's a shame: I love the Apple LED, and it is so much more energy efficient, it's startling (there was a noticeable drop in my utility bill the month after I got it), but the audio components blow. If you are an audio-head and have suggestions, I'm all ears. So to speak.
  • I'm not sorry about calling it "Video Vednesday" again. For some reason, it reminds me of my dear, departed gramps, who taught me how to do crazy cartoon accents. I think he'd get a kick out of it, so for now, it stays.

I hope you find this enjoyable and/or useful. Again, as I work out the kinks with these, I am actively soliciting feedback: good, bad or mixed. Fire away!


Book review: Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life


My favorite example of the conceivably-possible, magical woo-woo powers of feng shui has to do with two checks for $10,000 each and my kitchen, which, according to the Black Hat school of feng shui* (as differentiated from the compass school) is my prosperity corner.

It was the summer of consternation for me: a devastating breakup, the role of a lifetime and, though I didn't know it yet, the onset of Crohn's disease. I was miserable and looking for distraction; somehow or other, during one of my many forays down the self-help aisle at my local bookstore, I discovered Karen Rauch Carter's Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life.

Serendipitously, the heartbreak had already spurred me to begin what all (good) feng shui experts agree is the first step to chi'd-up house: throwing shit out and cleaning what's left from stem to stern. Earlier that summer, I'd bought a mini-steam cleaner and started cleaning my filthy carpet on my hands and knees in obsessive, 12" squares. When my back threatened to give out, I dismantled every jalousie window in my place (curse you, 1950s designers!) and cleaned not only the glass slats themselves but the hardware, with Q-Tips. Lots and lots of Q-Tips.

I wouldn't suggest going that far (unless you're as OCD as me and whoever invented Q-Tips), but it bears stressing: clean first. And throw a bunch of stuff out. Otherwise, like layering perfume on top of stank, you stand to compound any confusion that already exists.

Once you've got things relatively clean and clear, you can start having some fun with stuff: moving things around, sprucing up, adding "cures" where you feel like they're warranted. A red ribbon tied discreetly around a pipe, to prevent good fortune from going down the drain, a candle (fire element) to bolster my Fame and Reputation bagua, a slip of yellow construction paper behind a bookcase in my Health area. Carter's position on applying feng shui to one's life is that the process should be fun and joyful, not serious and scary, and all of her advice, including cures (to correct shitty shui) and admonitions (to pay particular attention to this or that) is served up in a light, breezy tone. Occasionally, too breezy for me, she veers into cornball territory every so often. But she is charming and authentic and lovely, so we forgive her that.

We also love that Rauch does not advocate breaking the bank to get some money flowing back into yours. The book has lots of suggestions for moving stuff from one part of your house to another, or just rearranging things in the room. The only things I actually bought for my feng shui adventure were some lengths of inexpensive red ribbon (that good-fortune-down-the-drain thing did kind of freak me out) and lavender contact paper. My Prosperity/Abundance corner is square in my kitchen, plus I'd never put down my own contact paper in the drawers when I moved in, so, you know, ew. It was time.

I've told the story at least a hundred times, often just before giving away yet another copy of Rauch's book to another friend in need of lover, cash, luck or just diversion: within two weeks of starting my Feng Shui that Kitchen! project, two gigantic residual checks, for $10,000 each, floated into my agent's office on the same day. My agents had been leaning on the producers, since they keep track of this sort of thing, but something finally broke in that 14-day stretch.

Magic or happenstance? Honestly, I didn't care. I had a clean and lovely kitchen, a ginormous deposit in the bank and the satisfaction of participating in a little white voodoo. It's hard even for a woo-woo-friendly soul like me to say, "Oh, sure! I sprinkled fairy dust around my apartment and Chinese leprechauns showed up at the door with a pot of gold."

On the other hand, I do know that what I turn my attention to tends to flourish and what I ignore becomes a static, sticky mess. And that when I create room for something, it does tend to show up. So who knows?

Ultimately, I see feng shui, and especially Move Your Stuff's user-friendly, no-pressure serving-up of it, as a great framework from which to initiate change. In the book's first chapter, Rauch quotes physicist and feng shui-er Barry Gordon as saying that feng shui is "'the intelligent use of intention through environmental metaphor." He goes on then at length about quantum mechanics and a lot of other stuff that makes my head hurt, but the money graf is this:

Every thing, even the sticky front door that doesn't open all the way, has meaning. Every thing, every action is intentional, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious. Feng shui brings the unconscious in our environment back into consciousness. That brings the beliefs and feelings back into consciousness. Then we have choice and can create our universe consciously.

First, attention. Then action.

Then checks in the mail, perfect health and a handsome man to play ukulele in your goofy video.


Image by Muffet via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

*Here's a pretty reasonable description of the various schools from a page without too many doo-dads on it. Amazing how many feng shui pages have crappy feng shui themselves.

You. Here. Now.


When something, or something close to the something, happens a few times, it's a good idea to sit up and take note*.

While catching up on my reading, a sense of the familiar washed over me when I spied a gem of an item from Gretchen Rubin, the Happiness Project curatrix, about using the finite to explore the infinite. She didn't phrase it that way: her post is about the fourth vow of the Cistercian monk, which, not to put too fine a point on it, is to stay put.

She talks about it from the perspective of a married person, because she is one, but I've been thinking a lot about this lately from the perspective of (a), someone bound by my own circumstances, which are a combination of love and rent control and high housing costs; and (b), of a person bound by a dog I love dearly, which requires a certain amount of daily care including, according to the whisperer, at least one (and preferably two) long daily walks.

My place, you see, does not accommodate dogs. By which I mean should I get busted with a dog on the premises, I would likely be tossed out of my rent controlled apartment on my communist ass, 10-year good tenancy be damned. So in order to be with Arnie, and The BF, because neither of us feels right leaving the highly social and infernally sweet Arnie quite literally by his lonesome, I must needs be at Arnie's, which...well, which is problematic for a whole hornet's nest of problems. Let's just leave it at "it's a five-and-a-half-mile drive each way", making it less than ideally convenient or green, and leave it at that.

Were money no object, my "problem" (in quotation marks because let's face it, as problems go, it ain't much these days) would be solved immediately: purchase a small property across the reservoir, a spot both quiet and private, relative to my current circumstances, where I could both be on my own and be with The BF and Arnie when I felt like being with them but not at The BF's. But money is very much an object these days for many of us, and housing prices here in L.A., while falling fast, are falling from a rich-people-only high that will have to fall much further** than they have thus far before yours truly can buy in.

In the meantime, if you think yours truly would move out of a rent-controlled apartment which she's occupied for almost 10 years, you have been smoking something that ain't Camels.

A few other folks close to me are going through the same thing right now; there are probably a lot of us in L.A. going through this exact thing. There is more anger and fear among the general population, and the general population is getting more and more tightly packed into less and less space as people lose jobs and move in with one another. (I've been seeing it happen for a while in my neighborhood; based on our increase in population density, it was clear at least a year and a half ago that the economy was in the shitter.) We are stuck, and we are crammed into spaces next to where other people are stuck, and it all ends up being something that rhymes with "stuck", take your choice.

One thing in particular is getting me through this, and that is a foundational principle of feng shui, variously known as the art of placement, wind-water, or "that woowoo bullshit" depending on who you ask. And that is this:

If you desire a change to something new, do everything in your power to make your peace with where you are now.

As I described it to one intimate, this means quite literally (in feng shui, anyway), that if you want to move to a nicer/bigger/awesomer space, get the one you're in ship-shape first. They say it in the feng shui book. Well, this one, anyway, which is my favorite. And the crazy thing is that sometimes what happens isn't what you expect will happen, sometimes something really cool will happen in a totally different area of your life that has nothing to do with what you're working on in cleaning up your damned living space, but something will happen. I don't know how or why, it just will. Plus your house (or apartment, or yurt, or what have you** will also end up all spiffy. And so, as the kids said at some point in distant time, it's all good.

Hawk-eyed readers will note that I did not stay in my marriage, so what the hell am I doing yammering about fixing up what you've got? To which I would humbly and respectfully reply, trust me, I feng shui'd the shit out of that relationship before I opted out. And I'll never know whether I can credit the work I did while in it, but as I was moving out of it and for some time after, I had the crazy kind of buy-a-lotto-ticket-stat luck that you idly and wistfully dream of from the depths of your personal hell.

So I sit in my place, and I work on my stuff, pulling on a thread of an idea, decluttering and cleaning surface by surface, mending and patching and making better rather than making do. And for my poor, aging, neglected body, I'm hooping 10 minutes by 10 minutes, and plotting my return to the SCD that carried me out of Crohn's and into health.

And I work in hateful QuickBooks...and then I don't...and then I do. And I get to Inbox Zero...and then I don't...and then I do.

I like to think that with each circle around the mountain, I run into the same problem at a slightly higher elevation, as Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist's Way.

But through all of it, no matter how bad it gets sometimes, and it does, even in between great days, and sometimes smack in the middle of the best of all days, I stay here, now, or if I wander, I put the puppy on the mat and start again.

Where are you now? Where do you want to go? And how can you be here now to get yourself somewhere else?



*And by "take notice," that can mean quite literally to make an actual note, especially if time and engagements prohibit you from deeper examination in the moment. On the piece of paper you always have on you, with the writing implement you always carry, make a note at the moment something has occurred to you as being like two other things, because three times is the charm, and, without getting too ominous on your ass, the fourth might be the time you don't get a do-over. In this case, as I was conveniently parked in front of the computer, I just used that as a giant (and very expensive) notepad.

**Yes? I got it right?

***A phrase my friend, Carly, who has made a lot of BIG juju happen with the feng shui, uses, and which I fully intend to start using because it is cool. And whatnot. Which is also cool.

Image by bobmarley753 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Cleaning My Damned Apartment, Day 3: "Feng Shui for Skeptics, or Why All My Dustcloths Are Purple"

purple neon I have an affinity for skeptics, or they for me. Odd, because while I've never been religious, I'm no atheist. To the consternation of many thinking people who otherwise dig my shit, I believe firmly in many things for which there is no scientific basis, like reincarnation, ESP and all that crap they talked about in the What the Bleep? movie.

What always baffled me was the vehement opposition to anything that had even the faintest whiff of woo-woo. Me? Whatever works. As my former shrink-slash-astrologer used to say, "listen to it all, keep what resonates, discard the rest." Also, The Real Deal should be accessible for nothing or next to it; beware of elaborate systems that require gear, excessive literature not available at the public library or an expensive guru to navigate.

Take, for example, feng shui. There is much opportunistic hooey and hoopla surrounding it, but the fundamental principles behind feng shui are pretty sound and absolutely free: place your furniture to facilate ease and comfort. Don't buy a lot of crap you don't need. Take care of your things. Keep the place clean.

And mostly, pay attention!

Like most good-guy practices, feng shui works (I think) because it helps you to focus your attention. When I was sad and blue after my last big break up four years ago, I stumbled upon this great book about feng shui and used the system it laid out in its pages to systematically de-clutter and clean my apartment. (And no, I didn't buy the book at first; I checked it out from the library. Then I bought a used copy on half.com.)

It didn't cure my pain, that took time. It didn't give me any voodoo to get him back (thank GOD). What it did was, in a time when I was focused on my loss and my pain and how little I had, practicing feng shui helped me to turn my attention to the abundance of riches I already possessed: an apartment filled with light that cheered me every morning. An almost embarrassing wealth of 'stuff', much of which I ended up passing along to others. A mother lode of friends and loved ones (a few of the baguas focus on this in different ways).

Oh, and when I scoured my kitchen (prosperity bagua) until it sparkled? I'm sure it was coincidence, but within two weeks, two checks for $10,000 that the producers had been sitting on came in. Two. With penalty fees.

That money got me through my five-month rehab after the Crohn's onset, when I couldn't work. But the lessons of feng shui have gotten me through more and more. When I feel my attention wandering, I return to the book, and select a bagua to spruce up. I'll take a purple dustcloth, purple being the color of prosperity, and run it over my dusty TV, my neglected desktop, my beautiful collection of world globes. It's a lot of what this 21-day 'salute' is about: focusing my attention on what I already have, instead of making myself crazy with what I don't.

Since then, I've bought and given away at least a dozen copies of the book, new and used, from various booksellers. I give them as gifts when someone moves into a new place; I give them as gifts when someone's going through a funky time and needs a li'l help, here.

And because I'm sure some curious reader of communicatrix.com could use a little excellent ch'i flowing through his or her life, I am going to pass along my current, personal copy of Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life, with all of the good mojo (a.k.a. "communicatrix chi") it contains, to someone who has yet to enjoy its perky, American take on ancient Chinese secrets. All I ask is that you leave a comment or email me with the area of your life you're looking to put your attention towards and why.

And that if some of that flowing chi brings stupendous good fortune to the tune of $10,000 checks, that you drop me a line to let me know...

xxx c

Photo by Idle Type via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Feng shui linkie-loos:

wikipedia Karen Rauch Carter on baguas