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Would You Flunk Feng Shui

It’s pronounced fung schway, and it’s the study of how our surroundings influence our sense of well-being. A feng shui expert entering home or office is instantly alert to the energy in the rooms, to the way the placement of furniture and the use of walls and corners can change a mood.

Eager to win kudos for our offices at San Diego Magazine, which are a source of pride to the staff, we invited feng shui guru Anne Meridien to wander our halls and deliver an opinion. Alas, we did not gather as many plaudits as expected.

The first-floor lobby of our downtown high-rise, she senses immediately, lacks an important element. In any arrangement of space, she tells us, five elements should be represented: fire, water, earth, metal and wood. And all in balance. The swank entrance to our building lacks fire.

No surprise. It’s a bank lobby. Warmth, we concede, might be in short supply. But wait until she sees our offices on the second floor. Surely such a vital, throbbing environment, birthplace on a monthly basis to an exciting magazine, will radiate warmth.
Yes, things look a little better up here, agrees Meridien. She takes favorable note of a large reproduction of our July 1996 cover on display in the reception area, along with numerous award plaques. The blue-and-red cover is artist Peter Max’s sprightly rendition of the American flag. “There’s some fire,” says Meridien with relief.

And she admires a lovely glass side-table on the left wall. Solid glass—legs, top, every part made of swimmingly green glass, as if carved from a block of ice. “And here’s water,” she says happily.

But she surveys the executive editor’s office (mine) with more reserve. Desk faces in the right direction, yes. But the lighting is too bright, and the corners of the room are all wrong. The far right corner, which should represent love and romance, is bare. Just a bulletin board with messy slips of paper pinned to it.

“Do you really need that?” she asks.

“Well, that’s how I know what’s going into the next magazine,” I say.

Couldn’t I have covered the board with an interesting fabric? Gray is so sterile. And the far left corner, dedicated in feng shui terms to prosperity, is stacked with empty cartons and bubble wrap. “You should put something there that represents prosperity,” she says. “That is the corner for wealth.”

“Like what would I put there? A safe? A stack of Wall Street Journals?”

“No, it doesn’t have to be financial. Something you treasure. Greenery—or pictures of your children. Whatever means prosperity to you.”

I forgive myself, because now and then I send a birthday package to one of my treasured kids, using one of those cartons. And you can never have too much bubble wrap.

But other corners are similarly unendowed. My “creativity wall,” between the “romance” corner and my “helpful” area, is sadly empty. The single charming feature in my office is a vertical red column (enclosing heating ducts) that sports a very colorful poster signed by Peter Max. Ah, that’s good. That creates energy. It wins on two scores: The roundness provides relief from all the straight lines of desks and file cabinets. And the brick-red is definitely fire.

But alas, all that energy produced by the poster is floating out an enormous glass window to the hall. Energy needs to be conserved. I must place a distraction in front of the window—a lamp, perhaps, or a bowl of fruit.

A dish of potpourri would be helpful, too, to add an aromatic touch. And I might want to keep a radio playing softly.
I explain I can’t write with the radio on. Interruptions by telephone and visitors are distraction enough. But I promise to search my cupboards at home for appropriate accessories, and we move on to the managing editor’s office.

At the entrance to his office, there is a dull, thud-like pause. The room is small and crowded. The large window to the hall has been three-quarters covered by a giant reproduction of the cover of San Diego Magazine’s earliest issue, a 1948 edition. It is the largest piece of fiberboard the managing editor could find to keep passersby from staring at him while he works.
Surprisingly, the board is okay. It’s red-orange. It’s big and bold. In addition, it blocks any outflow of precious energy.
But what else do we see in this very cluttered room?

“Your managing editor shows signs of defensiveness,” concludes Meridien. She points to a huge bunch of dead roses—four months dead. A relic of some distant celebration. “Very defensive,” she says. A joke fake arm reaches whimsically out of an antique typewriter. Also defensive. And a boxing nun puppet spars with an imaginary partner on the bookshelf. Something wrong here.

“Couldn’t he just have a weird sense of humor?” I ask.

“Yes, possibly. But what is he hiding? The clutter of books and papers is another indication of defensiveness. People surround themselves with clutter when they want to escape attention,” she says.

When I relate this analysis to the managing editor the next day, he is astounded. And yes, defensive. Especially about the clutter.
“What about when we just want to get some work done?” he barks.

“Hey, I’m just telling you what all the feng shui people would say about you,” I counter.

“Didn’t she like anything?”

“Not much about your office. But she loved the publisher’s office. The beige linen sofa. That’s earth. The round glass table instead of a desk gets two points: one for roundness and one for glass (water). The uncluttered look. The photos of family neatly arranged on a back wall—probably the prosperity wall. The lovely view.”

Well, who wouldn’t love the publisher’s office? It’s easily twice the size of anybody else’s, and his custom-made furniture took months to arrive.

And Meridien loved our art department. Big and airy, with top-of-the-line graphics equipment everywhere. Neat, uncluttered surfaces (it was just past deadline and everything had been put away). Interesting illustrations on the walls. A lively, amiable area.
So the art department passed the sensitivity test. And so did the top guy’s office. My office didn’t exactly flunk feng shui, but close. Peter Max saved me.

But it’s a wonder the managing editor can exist in that ugly, jarring space. He really needs to reconsider his surroundings. Meridien will come back and help him, if he’d like, since that’s what she does as a feng shui expert.

“I can go into a corporate office and sense what’s wrong,” she says. “When I do a redesign, productivity goes up significantly.”
I’ve left Meridien’s number—259-4455 —on the managing editor’s desk. But it will probably be swallowed up by the clutter.
So the art department passed the sensitivity test. And so did the top guy’s office. My office didn’t exactly flunk feng shui, but close. Peter Max saved me.

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