Sunday, December 27, 2009


There are jokes that circulate through a society that most people don’t want to hear. They are cruel, or mindlessly unpleasant, or concern themselves with dead babies or Helen Keller or chickens that may or may not have crossed the road.

For example: How did Helen Keller’s parents punish her when she was bad?

They rearranged the furniture.

This is either proof of a sick society—that such a thing could even be thought of in the first place, let alone shared (in any number of joke books and Internet sites)—or, if you’d care to be less negative for just a fraction of a second, perhaps Helen’s parents were believers in feng shui and were just trying to figure out how to bring good luck to their home.

Moving the couch away from the wall, or certain potted plants to particular compass points, might improve the flow of energy, or ch’i. Sure, Helen might stumble about for a few days, but that would be a small price to pay for the universe to smile upon the Kellers and bring forth a beneficial life force. A small price, indeed, unless your name was Helen.

For thousands of years the art of placement has been followed by many people. None of those people lived in this country, because it was a superstition unique to a foreign land. It didn’t arrive in the good ol’ U. S. of A. until someone figured out how it could be marketed and sold to a group of New Agers who had tired of shamanic chants, aura photography, pyramid hats, and ear candling.

Folks jumped at the opportunity, because rearranging the furniture seemed a lot less dangerous than holding a burning candle to their ear. This feng shui business would improve their dwelling or workspace and create maximum harmony with the spiritual forces believed to influence all places.

That’s great, I suppose, if you believe in ghosts. Or making wishes on falling stars. Or planning for the great hereafter. As Artie Johnson used to say to Ruth Buzzi on TV’s Laugh-In, “Do you believe in the hereafter?”

“Of course I do,” she’d respond, quiveringly.

“Then you know what I’m here after!” He’d lunge toward her, and she’d smack him with her purse. Feminism in action. I think Ruth Buzzi has excellent ch’i. And she probably never trips over her own furniture.

It makes perfect sense to arrange the items of your home and office in a harmonious manner. If your feng shui consultant (yes, they exist) advises you to set up your living room so that you can see someone entering the room from any seated position, go ahead and do it. At the very least it will allow you to greet your visitors. Likewise, sitting with your back to your office door is silly from a practical standpoint. Who are you avoiding, besides your ch’i?

After that, you should fire your feng shui consultant, even if she is fully certified (yes, that exists as well, and is available through a Distance Learning program for only $1000, though I shudder to give you any further information for fear of advertising their silly business). If one feng shui consultant will tell you that you shouldn’t hang a mirror at the end of your foyer for fear of reflecting positive energy out of your house, and another will tell you that you definitely should hang a mirror at the end of your foyer to reflect out bad vibes, then who is right?

This is the ch’i version of determining if your glass is half full or half empty. It’s all attitude, baby. If I live in fear of my beer mug being half empty, then I no doubt think that negative energy is always following me into the house. Mirror up. If, on the other hand, I know the mug is half full (and not only that, there are still six or seven beers still in the fridge), everything is right with the world. Mirror down.

Like all superstitious beliefs, feng shui suffers from its own vagaries. Beyond where the ottoman goes, practitioners want to insure your fertility with the proper color scheme in your bedroom and to build your wealth by placing a blue rug at your front door and to help you achieve business success by fixing that broken desk drawer. Because everyone knows that no one ever got pregnant sleeping in a dirt brown room.

When the rules can’t be nailed down, you know it is most likely dishonest puffery. Despite the number of times you might hang a melting candle over your ear, bad things will still happen to you. It is called the human condition. If I trip over the furniture in the middle of the night, maybe it was placed in such a manner that evil forces are seeking to harm me. Or maybe it is the wrong color.

Or maybe, just maybe, I had too many half full mugs of beer before calling it a night.

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