Category Archives: Practical feng shui

Perspective: blind men “see” the pachyderm

Perspective: n.  point of view; subjective evaluation of relative significance; frame of reference.

Pachyderm: n. elephant. from the Greek pakhudermos – thick-skinned. Also the symbol for the GOP.

In various versions of this ancient parable from India, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side, the tail, the leg, the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt, and learn they are in complete disagreement. We understand then that reality may be viewed differently depending upon one’s perspective, and that what seems an absolute truth may only be partially true.

[I’ve written about this story and the word “perspective” before – four years ago as we were getting to know Sarah Palin…]

One of my feng shui clients is a mediator who often deals with warring families. She had one large blank wall in her office for which I had recommended some piece of art that gave her clients a sense of the work they were doing together – perhaps something implying peaceful solutions, the light at the end of the tunnel, problem solving…

Her brilliant idea was to commission a piece of art that illustrated the story of the blind men and the elephant, visually conveying how it’s possible to “see” a problem from one (limited) point of view, and also recognize that other points of view could be equally legitimate.  She found a skillful quilter, Rosie Rhine, who translated the story to fabric:

quiltstory

The story of the blind men and the elephant is extremely flexible. A few months ago New Yorker cartoonist Tom Cheney used it to depict the sorry state of our economy, perhaps from the points of view of different economists, political players or suffering citizens:

perspective

Piano paralysis

Piano:  n. a musical instrument having steel wire strings that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard

Paralysis: n. loss of the ability to move a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act

Our piano

Our piano

[Cross-posted from Getting to Less…]

The piano is a dying fixture in the American home.  So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000.  Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.

People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet,  and flip pancakes.

This is very bad news for me.

I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.

A few months later I bought a too-big home  because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.

Right.

First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.

Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.

Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of  it and call it my bed.

There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present  ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total).  She taught singing for 70 years with it,  playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub.  My two sisters and I  shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.

After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.

Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention  the deep pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems to be over.

He and I need to have a little talk about the piano’s future…

Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…

The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.

In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture.  ….

In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.”   [ouch!]

…   Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.

“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”

And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?

In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …

Priorities… I’m moving on, getting to less

Priority: n. something meriting attention before competing alternatives

365 Words Beginning with P is winding down. Not because of a paucity of peachy P-words – indeed the peerless pantheon of P words is scarcely pricked.

My purpose – nay, my priority – was to prod my procrastinating pea-brain into a practice of producing pontifications on a daily basis until I had proffered at least 365 of them, thus proving to myself that I could write regularly.  This is #377. Who knew vocabulary could be so much fun!

(To those whose interest in 365pwords was more literary than political, I apologize for all the Palin posts last fall. It’s not my fault her name began with P.  I thank god she’s not our vice-president — pity those poor people in Alaska.)

What I’m saying is my priorities have shifted and I must move on. Literally. To a much smaller home, with much less stuff.

But I’ve caught blogging fever, and my new blog, Getting to Less, is shaping up nicely.  If you’re at all interested in getting to less in your own life, or you just want to keep me company on the journey, please please c’mon over.  And bring your own downsizing tips and (mis) adventures.

Pitching your possessions has got to be more fun than pulling your own teeth, right?

I’ll be back here occasionally when a P-word just screams to be written about. Meanwhile, join me over at Getting to Less.

Perspective: it could be worse!

Perspective: n. a mental view or outlook

I need to lighten up. I’m trying to let go of enough possessions that I can sell this place and move into something more manageable. The current boat anchor I’m trying to offload for a decent price is a humongous executive desk – so far no luck.

mcguire-desk

Speaking of boat anchors…

boat-anchor

A friend read my post about the humongous desk I’m still trying to sell and commiserated over the stunning rate at which the value of material possessions declines.  Here’s her sad story:

I bought a Split Cal King Adjustable Tempurpedic bed four years ago for over $6600 because I was having a LOT of back issues and didn’t want to wake Larry when I got up and down in the middle of the night. Hated it from the get-go but the company would not take it back because the very expensive bases were special ordered. This despite my having a witness who was with me when I bought it and heard the guy say we could return it.

Last month I took pix, put it on Craig’s list, got a couple of nibbles, but more questions than I cared to deal with. The bottom line was either have Macy’s take it away when they delivered the new mattress we just bought or give it away.

I gave it to my cleaning lady who split it, one for each child’s room.

I’m my own cleaning lady, so that donation strategy won’t work, but I’m going to give selling it another go this weekend on Craigslist. Wish me luck.  It’s become my boat anchor – a symbol of all that holds me down.

[A version of this is cross-posted over at my new blog, Getting to Less.]

Possessed by possessions: P-post #366!

Possessed: adj. influenced or controlled by something (as an evil spirit, a passion, or an idea)

Possession: n. something owned, occupied, or controlled; property

With this morning’s post I have proffered and probed 365 words beginning with P.  365 P-words may seem like a plethora, but really it’s a paltry potpourri; I’ve barely penetrated the pregnant possibilities P-words provide.

You could say I’ve been possessed by P. Although I will continue to post here, it won’t be so regularly because I have a pressing priority: dealing with my Possessions.

I’ve got to get rid of about half my stuff so I can sell this house and move to a smaller place.  But, I’m not going away.  I’ve started another WordPress blog – on downsizing, cataloging the process of Getting to Less.

I hope that some of you will join me over at Getting to Less. Advice, moral support and tips from your own experience always welcome. Maybe you’ve got ideas about selling art? antiques? Dealing with boxes of photos, big honking scrapbooks.  Aaaagh.

The blog is a bit sparse so far… I’ve edited and moved over about 20 former P-posts that seemed on topic (so if you read a post that seems strangely familiar; it is – like I’m using this post title but the content is different).

Soon the material will be All New!

Perfume, bye-bye!

Perfume: n. a substance that emits a pleasant odor; a fluid preparation of natural essences or synthetics and a fixative used for scenting; fragrance

joyThis is embarrassing. I just tossed two bottles of perfume that have sat on my bureau or bathroom counter for decades.

I haven’t worn perfume in decades. (Except for the fabulous essential oil fragrances my son created – and just discontinued – at Jimmyjane.)

The bottle of Joy has been with me since the boat trip I took across the Atlantic (Quebec to Le Havre) right after college. A dashing member of the German crew gave it to me as a momento of our brief but torrid shipboard romance. (My name is Joy and that was a very popular and expensive fragrance at the time).

As you might imagine, the fragrance in the bottles bore no resemblance to what the perfumiers originally bottled.  So why did I not discard them years ago???

Well – they were gifts with special memories attached. They were small. And you never know… I just might want to wear a dab some time….

This morning the veil fell from my eyes. I emptied the bottles down the sink and put the empties into the recycle bin.

It felt like a major victory.

Woo-woo postscript from yoga class later in the morning. Our teacher has two little baskets from which we can draw random words on which to focus in class – one contains round river rocks and the other contains cards (with words in English and Sanskrit). You can use the words as areas to focus your intention for the class, if you want.   From the middle of the pile in each basket I drew (not peeking) a rock that said “Joy” and a card that said “Joy.”   The dharma talk at the beginning of class centered on vairagya, learning to let go of attachments.  Oh yeah.

Proxy post: PMS

Proxy: n. a person authorized to act for another
Post: n. a blog entry, like this.

My computer is on the fritz again, causing me shit fits – it’s a Windows boot issue, and though most of my data is backed up, the two files I’m presently working on are NOT and one I have to reconstruct by tomorrow. So….

I’m resorting to using a post sent to me by fengshuibyfishgirl
, a fellow WordPress blogger and feng shui practitioner. She is my proxy today while I hyperventilate and hurl dog turds and bad language at my computer.

She sends these definitions of PMS:

10  Things PMS Stands For:

1.  Pass My Shotgun
2.  Psychotic Mood Shift
3.  Perpetual Munching Spree
4.  Puffy Mid-Section
5.  People Make me Sick
6.  Provide Me Sweets
7.  Pardon My Sobbing
8.  Pimples May Surface
9.  Pass My Sweatpants
10.  Pitiful Mood Syndrome

I’ll take 2 aspirin and feel better in the morning. Grrrrrrr.

Pressure to pare down

Pressure: n. the burden of physical or mental distress; the constraint of circumstance; the weight of social or economic imposition; the application of force to something by something else in direct contact with it.

Pare: v. to trim off an outside, excess, or irregular part of; to diminish or reduce

Because I haven’t posted in a week you may think that I’m moving prematurely into slow blogging.

But no. I’ve just come to the realization that I can no longer afford to think about down-sizing. I need to DO down-sizing. Which means putting time and effort into planning, divesting, tossing…

Which means that instead of thinking about P words, I’ve been inventorying my stuff in preparation for the Great Divestiture.

Really, there’s no way I can go looking for some cute little shoebox until I sell the home I have – my beloved home.

To buy something, even a shoebox, would be silly when it could take months to sell my place in this challenging real estate market. And who wants to be paying for two places?

I’ve made myself a fine Excel spreadsheet on which I’m listing all my stuff, including measurements (will it fit in my shoebox?), and whether it’s a keeper, a give-away, a “store it in case the kids ever have real homes AND want Grandma’s embroidered antimacassar” , a “will it sell on eBay?” or “could I just dump it?”

I started with the easiest space – the guest bath. How much can a guest bathroom hold? I asked myself. Turns out quite a bit: a nice little rug, an antique commode, three pieces of art, and a very very very old Greek water jug. Sigh.

None I want to part with. And I’m just getting started.

I

Pillows for the persnickety

Pillow: n. a support for the head of a reclining person; esp. one consisting of a cloth bag filled with feathers, down, sponge rubber, or plastic fiber

Persnickety: adj. fussy about small details

People can be very persnickety about their pillows. As well they should be.  Pillows can make or break a good night’s sleep.  I’m often shocked, when I do a feng shui consultation, by how many people hate their mattresses or their pillows….

Hello???

Pillow choices are very personal. Some like them plump and turgid – and even prefer to prop themselves on more than one at a time. Most hotel rooms and relative’s guest rooms seem equipped with these:

down-pillows

You can try to pummel them into submission, but they bounce right back.

memory-foam-pillow

Then there’s the memory foam pillow that remembers how big your left ear is:

And the special cervical pillow to keep your neck properly angled:

cervical_traction_pillow

And pillows made of gel, filled with water, five feet long to snuggle with lengthwise…. you name it, there’s a pillow for you.

I prefer a pillow that is totally malleable: I punch it and scrunch it into a wadge to support my head when I lie on my side; press it down to a slender edge when I want to sleep on my stomach; or roll it into a sausage under my neck if I want to gaze up at the ceiling:

image177

But Friday when I was at the Asian Art museum in San Francisco I saw the be-all and end-all pillow. From the Song dynasty about a thousand years ago, it’s made of porcelain. The descriptive placard said that once you get used to it, it’s really very comfortable.  Sure.

chinese-ceramic-pillow

PowerPoint prowess pays off

PowerPoint: n. a presentation program that is part of Microsoft Office, which can be used to put an audience to sleep — or can inform and inspire.

Prowess: n. extraordinary ability

Pay off: v. to reward for hard work

I recently taught a two-hour feng shui class for a group of feng shui novices, and if I say so myself, it was RAD!

I had used slides in PowerPoint once before to illustrate a feng shui talk, so I knew how effective pictures could be. However I was still struggling with an A/V inferiority complex that developed in high school watching geeky male classmates run the Rube Goldberg contraption known as a movie projector.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet read Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen, which is an absolute MUST resource for any would-be presenters.

First, out went any slides with bullet points. Then out went slides with more than a few words, unless it was a succinct quotation. That left me with….

Almost nothing.

I started over. This was my process (h/t to Garr Reynolds):

  • Get a stack of Post-It sticky notes and a big white board.
  • List all the points you want to get across – one per sticky note, and then  figure out what visual images would convey them even more effectively than words.
  • Gather lots and lots and lots of pictures – from your own camera, scanned from magazines, found on Google Images and Flickr. Note each one on a sticky.
  • Look also for images that are extreme examples (what not to do, before & after, stumbling blocks, etc.) to emphasize your point or defuse fears.
  • Shuffle the notes on the white board till they make some sense.
  • Import the pictures into PowerPoint using the totally blank slide as your template, so the pictures are full-screen (means your pix must be in landscape format).
  • Shuffle them around in the Slide Sorter View until they tell the story in a way that flows most naturally.
  • Now you can add some text floating in front of some of the pictures or on transition slides.

Here are a few examples of images I found:

To illustrate what a feng shui consultant does when she/he comes to your house – conveying both the fresh eyes which can see your home more clearly AND addressing the fear many potential clients have that she’ll be some sort of critical witch:

eyeballs1

Or these three slides, which illustrate the dilemma of clutter. First the extreme possibility that you could be buried alive by it:

cluttercartoon

Then, the inertia we feel when viewing the clutter-clearing task ahead:

boulder1

My audience laughed hysterically at this boulder – recognizing themselves.

And then I encouraged them with the concept of momentum… what happens once you get started tossing crap:

domino-effect

I’d say it took a solid 40 hours to put together 150 slides for a two-hour talk, and a lot of creative thought while I was half-asleep. But it was totally worth it.