Feng Shui & The Teenager


I’ve been reading about feng shui for the family — a Chinese system for bringing harmony into a building — and it has shed new light on the ups and downs of my 55-year-long life. (I’m 56 if you figure age in the Chinese way, by including a year for womb time. Because those months were spent nauseating and kicking my dear mother, I prefer not to count them. But otherwise, I am totally on board with Chinese philosophy.)

The basic premise of feng shui is that if you build your house right and arrange your furniture right, positive energy (chi) will flow around you and your loved ones and you’ll be as happy as a trout in a sparkling brook. There are diagrams and hundreds of do’s and don’ts.

Giving our house the once-over, I’m finding a few things aren’t up to code.

First, the staircase is in a direct line with the front door. This is like rolling out the red carpet for evil spirits.

Second, the door to daughter Marie’s room swings in and tangles with a closet door that won’t stay shut. These are called “arguing doors” and they are not harmonious.

Third, the master bed­room is decorated with mementos of world travel and college pranks — such as an African spear and my mom’s old sorority paddle. More disharmony.

Fourth, daughter Wendy says her room is haunted. (It’s at the top of the stairs.)

But the room I occupied as a teenager was worse, according to feng shui principles. That’s because my dad had to walk through it to use the bathroom, which meant a flow of negative energy (sha) at least twice a day. Dad was a hard worker who was justifiably disappointed in his slacker son, and his passage through my room was like a bitter wind of vexation and unspoken criticism.



Some classic feng shui “cures” are bells, live plants and anything red or green either in a bad part of the room or in a sector of the room that corresponds to particular aspects of your life.

Although unschooled in feng shui, I had made up my own “cure.” I hung up huge, colorful movie posters that I’d gotten from a friend who worked at a drive-in theater. But all too often I’d find my stepmother standing in the doorway, smoking a Camel and frowning at the posters. She emitted disapproval and second-hand smoke. The sha floated in so voluminously that I wanted to crawl along the floor to breathe.

Some classic feng shui “cures” are bells, live plants and anything red or green either in a bad part of the room or in a sector of the room that corresponds to particular aspects of your life.

Aquariums are proven cures, and I had one on my desk. But it was a negative presence (despite its green color) because it contained two pale, blind cave fish that someone had given to me. They were ugly and creepy, and I soon tired of cleaning their tank and feeding them. They had to find their own sustenance in water that got thicker each year. I think the stagnant fish tank was parked in the sector of the room governing academic achievement.

Although my room lacked chi and my relationship with my parents wasn’t very good, my love life was showing signs of potential. The right way to nurture it would’ve been to place a potted fern in the southwest corner of the room. But my approach was more direct. One memorable Saturday afternoon I brought my girlfriend up to my room.

But a knock on the door soon after she arrived and my dad’s angry voice told me I’d failed again to steal a kiss. Even then, I knew you don’t get anywhere in life by offending your ancestors, especially when one of them is threatening to break your door down. The real cure turned out to be moving out, growing up, and learning common courtesy.

Sadly, no culture will let you compute your age by leaving out the teenage years.



RICK EPSTEIN works for a chain of newspapers when not orchestrating the comings and goings of his children.



CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as Virginia Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings.