Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Letter from California-February 2, 2004

Every family has compatibility issues. From Hollywood to Myrtle Beach and everywhere in between, we all stop sometimes and ask questions about how our personalities affect the way we interact with the people in our house. It’s natural.

But when was the last time you asked how compatible you were with the house itself? That’s the key question, and here in California, there are people that can help you with that. Is your life energy draining away because the front door of your house is in a direct line with your back door? Do you fail to build up enough life energy because your hallways are long and straight? Is your bedroom positioned in such a way that you are staring into the mouth of a dragon? If you haven’t checked on the energy flows in your house lately, how do you know that your house isn’t what’s causing Junior’s As and Bs to turn into Cs and Ds? Didn’t get that promotion you expected? Maybe it’s because your head faces north while you sleep. Pointing south gives you good dreams and good energy for the next day. Or, wait, maybe it is north after all. I forget.

Obviously, I’m not the one you want helping you with such matters. It’s called Feng Shui (pronounced “fung shway”) and it’s the ancient Chinese art of channeling energy for prosperity and happiness. This practice has existed for thousands of years and is a traditional part of Chinese design and décor, but suddenly it’s everywhere. In fact, there are dozens or perhaps even hundreds of people in Los Angeles that make a living as Feng Shui consultants. They come to your home, tell you how to change it to make the energies flow better and present you with a bill. I found one named Sheila Wright, who lives here in Los Angeles. For a mere $150 an hour (minimum 2 hours), she’ll come out and tell me what parts of my house are causing me not to be able to lose that last 10 pounds (I’m guessing the general area around the refrigerator) and which parts are causing me confusion and distress (my theory: TV room during broadcasts of Star Search).

Then I read the fine print. She usually needs 3 to 4 hours in your home and then another 3 to 4 hours to write up her recommendations. That could come to $1200, and then I’d actually have to put the changes she suggested into place. I’m not saying she wouldn’t make some good recommendations, but it is a bit of a leap of faith. That’s why I thought it was interesting when State Assemblyman (yes, he’s from San Francisco) Leland Yee proposed legislation that would make it a requirement that local building codes allowed homeowners to put Feng Shui into practice. It turns out that some building codes actually make it impossible to keep yourself out of the Dragon’s mouth or downright doom you to have your chi energy sucked away like the last sweet drops of a Mango smoothie on a hot summer day. Need a south-facing door to help the buildup of positive energy as you walk through the house? The building code might not allow it.

Yee’s proposal is actually quite simple: any public buildings should be built in such a way that Feng Shui could be implemented. He’s quick to point out that it’s not going to require that Feng Shui be put in place, just that it should be ‘accommodated’. Hmmm. Local laws make it impossible for buildings to be built the way the designers would like so we need a law to say that these same laws should make it possible to make Feng Shui based changes. Maybe it’s not as simple as I initially thought. After all, if such a thing were law, couldn’t pretty much anything be chalked up to Feng Shui? Yes, I need to add a wet bar and gaming area to my office because the chi energy of work has to be balanced against the water element of a martini at around quitting time and a game of 9-ball.

I’m sure it doesn’t really work like that, but it’s not an exact science either. Recently a TV show did an expose of Feng Shui consultants and brought two of them at separate times into the same room. Each consultant made completely different recommendations and gave equally elaborate, and silly-sounding, explanations for why the sofa should face the ocean or the carpet should be purple rather than mauve.

When you get right down to it, Yee’s proposal, he admits, has less to do with actual results than the idea that Feng Shui is a “cultural expression” that should be allowed. Who can disagree with that? The traditional Chinese eye for design has a huge influence on the California of today. California, more than any place in the western world, mixes the traditions of the Far East with its Western traditions and the outcome is pretty spectacular. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco’s Chinatown for example, I think you’d agree. Not only that, but if there are ways to improve buildings that come from Feng Shui, let’s use them.

Still, making a law about it seems unnecessary. Try as I might, I can’t figure out what would actually change if the law went into place. Maybe nothing at all. On the other hand, it might prove expensive and troublesome, as the State Building Commission says. “We’re strapped for resources right now,” said Stan Nishimura, the Commission’s Executive Director. Oh, yeah, that pesky budget crisis Schwarzenegger’s been telling us about. You can understand why Nishimura would be hesitant to accept a law so open to interpretation. “We know nothing about Feng Shui,” he also added.

I know how you feel, Stan. Still, I wonder if I should call Ms. Wright and get her to do the project. After all, Feng Shui leads to serenity, calm and relaxation. I could definitely use that.

On the other hand, I could just take the money and put in a hot tub.


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