Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sample Sunday

Excerpt from my novel Confessions of an Aging American Playboy for "Sample Sunday"

I landed in Rockport again shortly before 9/11. After eighteen years in Hawaii, I’d had my fill of isolation, surfers, Japanese greed, and native hostility. I returned to Massachusetts with a woman I’d lived with for five years but didn’t love to take a job I hated. Shortly after we arrived, she dumped me––for a woman. Just goes to show I’ll never understand chicks.

It didn’t take me long to locate Dee Dee. One evening after work I climbed three flights of narrow steps to her garret studio with its paint-splattered floors, exposed beams, and precious north-facing view of the ocean. Frames of all sizes and paintings in various stages of completion cluttered the small room. An old baker’s rack held pads of paper, canvases, baskets overflowing with tubes of paint, and jars stuffed with brushes. Even though it was still a couple hours until sunset, a spotlight illuminated a small platform in one corner of the studio.

Dee Dee was cleaning brushes in the sink with her back to me when I entered. Without turning around she ordered, “Strip and take the stand.”

I chuckled. “I’m afraid my modeling days are over.”

She spun around and stared at me a while before she spoke. “Well, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting twenty-nine years for you.”

Her short blonde hair stuck up in spikes, like a sunburst around her head. Her blue eyes were still too big for her face. She wore a man’s white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows and a pair of ragged jeans, both of them so covered with paint it looked like she’d had a run-in with Jackson Pollock. Yellow and orange splotches dappled her left cheek. Her fingernails were green. She looked adorable.

“You don’t seem glad to see me,” I said. “You’re not still mad at me after all this time, are you?”

Dee Dee sighed and wiped her hands on her jeans. She opened a cabinet above the sink, took out a bottle of cheap Chianti and two glasses, and handed them to me. While she cleared a place for us to sit, I poured the wine.

“I’d hoped when you came back you’d be fat and bald,” she said uncharitably.

“Yeah, well, I’ve put on a few pounds and my golden locks have gone completely white, as you can see.”

“Damn it, Max, you’re still the handsomest man I’ve ever known.” She didn’t make it sound like a compliment.

I flashed her one of my best smiles. “You turned out pretty cute yourself, Squirt.”

“Oh please. I’m forty years old, for chrissake. Don’t call me Squirt.”

“Whoops. Sorry. I guess you are all grown up at that.” I winked and she blushed.

She gulped her wine and held out her glass for a refill. “What brings you to our fair isle again after all this time?”

“Work. I got transferred to the New England office.”

“Still keeping the skies safe?”

I nodded. “I’m not in the tower anymore, though, I’m the boss man now. Between you and me, it sucks. I’d rather be back on the radar scope directing planes––at least I’d feel I was doing something constructive.”

“So fill me in on your life.”

“You want the complete version or the abridged one?”

“High-concept it for me,” she said. “Otherwise we’ll be here for another twenty-nine years.”

“San Francisco, Honolulu. No wife, no kids.”

“And your brother?”

“He died. Fourteen years ago.”

“I’m sorry. He lived a lot longer than you expected, though.”

“Yeah.” I shrugged. Even after all this time, I still hadn’t come to grips with his death. “How ’bout you?”

“Three marriages, three divorces. No kids either––at least I got that part right.”

“This part looks pretty good too.” I gestured at the artwork on the walls of the studio. “You’ve got talent.”

“I guess. It keeps me alive anyway.”

I thought she meant she earned a living painting. Later I came to understand that she meant it literally. Art was her solace and her salvation, the only reason she hadn’t killed herself a dozen times in the past dozen years.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How Can Feng Shui Help You?

If you happen to be in the Kerrville, TX area on Wednesday, March 22, 2012, and want to learn more about feng shui, please stop by Unity Church on Lois Street at noon. I'll be talking about the ancient art of feng shui and how it can help you.

When the entertainment giant Disney built a 310-acre, $3.5 billion theme park in Hong Kong, they consulted with a feng shui master to make sure everything from the opening date to the positions of the park’s doorways were correct. Designed to be “the most harmonious place on earth,” Hong Kong Disneyland is even sited in a location that’s considered fortunate according to feng shui.

Feng shui’s principles were a consideration for internationally renowned architect I. M. Pei, too, when he designed the Bank of China’s tower in Hong Kong. Real estate tycoon Donald Trump says he uses feng shui “because it makes me money.”

In recent years, many celebrities including Oprah and Spielberg, have discovered the benefits of feng shui. So have some of the world’s largest corporations––Coca-Cola, Sony, Shell, Proctor and Gamble among them––who used it to boost profits, reduce employee turnover, and increase harmony within their companies.

If some of the richest and most famous people on the planet are turning to this ancient philosophy to enhance their success, there must be something to it. Shouldn’t you find out if feng shui can help you, too?

What, Exactly, Is Feng Shui Anyway?

Feng shui (pronounced fung shway) has been practiced in the East for more than two thousand years. Rooted in the Chinese spiritual tradition Taoism and the teachings of Confucius, it literally means “wind” and “water.” The goal is to direct chi––the vital energy that the Chinese believe animates all life on earth––through your environment so that its movement resembles a gently flowing stream or a pleasant breeze.

That’s a very simple explanation for a complex and multi-layered system, which contains many diverse schools of thought and a wide range of practices, both practical and mystical. But underlying all of feng shui is a single, fundamental objective: to create harmony and balance in our environments and, by extension, in our lives. Properly utilized, feng shui lets us attract what the Chinese call the Three Great Blessings: health, wealth, and happiness.

Also known as the art of placement, feng shui gives us a formula for designing, arranging, organizing, and maintaining our homes and workplaces so they nurture us. Few environments are inherently ideal, but virtually all can be improved. Feng shui practitioners accomplish this by applying a variety of physical and psychological “cures,” which I’ll discuss more fully in chapter 3 and in Part Two. (In my earlier books 10-Minute Feng Shui, 10-Minute Clutter Control, and 10-Minute Clutter Control Room by Room, I also offer hundreds of simple feng shui cures you can do yourself to improve every area of your life.)

You don’t have to be a master in this ancient art to experience its effects. To begin, all you need to do is pay attention to your feelings when you enter a space you’ve never been in before. A building that has “good feng shui” will make you feel welcome, comfortable, safe, at peace. One with “bad feng shui” will stir up all sorts of unpleasant feelings––uneasiness, agitation, lethargy, apprehension, or discomfort.

As you learn more about feng shui, you’ll start to notice even subtle disturbances in the homes, offices, and retail environments you frequent. You’ll also start to see how to rectify those problems. “Once you begin to apply feng shui principles, you’ll be able to flow smoothly with the river of life, rather than having to swim against the current,” says New York feng shui consultant Benjamin Huntington.

Why Feng Shui Works

If you’ve ever studied the psychology of dreams, you know that the house is a symbol for your life. It’s no surprise, then, that your physical home speaks volumes about you and serves as a mirror that reflects back images of the many facets of your daily existence. A feng shui master can look at your home and immediately see which parts of your life are operating smoothly as well as those that are causing you problems.

The Chinese believe that all life is interconnected––our environments influence us and we influence our environments. It’s easy to understand how our environments affect us. We’ve all experienced the sense of serenity that comes from walking in a peaceful park or along the ocean. And, we’ve all witnessed the impact humans have had on our natural landscapes. Feng shui, however, looks more closely at this interplay by examining every detail of our living and work spaces and their relationship to our daily lives.

Each section of your home or workplace represents a part of your life. The condition of the various sectors, as well as the colors, furnishings, architectural elements, even what’s in the closets will influence your health, career, relationships, family interactions, etc. In chapter 2, I’ll discuss this in more detail and show you how to analyze the different parts of your immediate, personal environment.

Although the practice of feng shui involves ancient Chinese spirituality and some esoteric concepts, much of it is simply good, practical interior design. Long before most Westerners had even heard about feng shui, many successful designers were already using it subconsciously––because it makes sense. Here’s an example. If you walked into an office and the person you’d come to see was sitting at her desk with her back to you, both of you could experience discomfort. You might feel unwelcome and the person at the desk might be startled by your presence. Feng shui recommends positioning a desk so that the person seated at it faces the entrance.

Feng shui also incorporates such fields as aromatherapy and the psychology of color––all with the intention of creating harmony and balance. As this ancient art continues to expand in the West, its practitioners will undoubtedly bring other ideas, philosophies, and disciplines into the mix and increase feng shui’s effectiveness in our modern world.

(Excerpted from my book 10-Minute Feng Shui Room by Room)