The Feng Shui Psychic

Shari Clemens design aesthetic is about what you cant see with your eyeballs

That she was in the pay of my wife, colleagues or friends; that she had been tipped-off to my call; that she had surveilled my office, my home and my distant relatives, including my father, my dead great-uncle, friends and colleagues; that she had mastered "cold reading," the art of hearing hints about me in my questions about her.

Every explanation I created was more cumbersome than Clemens' own (she reads "energy") and, so, violates what philosophers of science call Occam's razor, after the Englishman William of Occam (1284-1347): simple explanations are best.


Clemens is an interior designer and a psychic—both subjects that lie well outside the Baltimore Catechismand Apollo space project I grew up with. (See Roman numeral I above.)

Clemens was born 49 years ago in the oil fields of New Mexico. She moved to Dallas, studied architecture, married, had children, divorced and fell into a pit of depression, a black hole of claustrophobic self-hatred. She wandered through psychiatry, waited for healing to come courtesy of Pfizer or some other pharmaceutical miracle worker, all in vain: the meds availed her nothing. A skeptic, she nevertheless caved into her mother's request that she see a psychic healer. Three days she lay beneath the healer's hands, not really caring whether she lived.

And on the third day, she rose again—you'll pardon the Biblical allusion—to find herself standing on a Dallas street corner. Clemens woke up—or, to use the passive voice, was awakened. Clemens says she suddenly knew there was something beyond the merely concrete, glass and noise of the city, something deeper and more resonant, like a tap root of pure thought that anchored her in a city she couldn't see. "A dam was broken," she says. It was 1994.

"I went through a series of my own healing, hearing voices," she says. She recalls the most articulate of these voices told her repeatedly, "Sell it all."

The "it," she understood, was everything she owned.

"It was like Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams," she says. "'Sell it all. Sell it all. Sell it all.' And I did sell it all, right away. Just jumped off the abyss and then thought, 'Well, now what the hell do I do?'"

Clemens cleanses
Photo by OCW staff

Today she knows that voice brought her the first of many powerful revelations: that each powerful emotional event generates its own nuclear reaction, releasing energy that is absorbed by the things around the event, even lingering in the very air, waiting for someone unsuspecting like you or me or Shari Clemens herself to stumble into it and feel vaguely—or even profoundly—ill.

Clemens says her post-divorce emotional dip was the result of the bad energy stored in the things around her—furniture and keepsakes from her troubled childhood and from a difficult marriage. "I couldn't get well because I was still living with all this hand-me-down furniture," she says. "There was a lot of bad energy trapped in these things."

Looking back, Clemens says, she can see that it was always thus: "Even as a young child, I hated antique stores. Now I know why: I felt the good with the bad in everything around me."

So, Clemens sold everything she owned, the good with the bad, and answered the next question—"Now what the hell do I do?"—by visiting Seattle and deciding to stay there. She attended a feng shui workshop conducted by a monk and, within weeks, was hosting classes of her own.


Feng shui is an ancient a-aesthetic aesthetic, the central premise of which is that the placement of objects in space—on your desk, in a room, in a housing tract or even a city—affects the flow of "energy." It is an a-aesthetic because its central design concern is not your eyeball, but some kind of internal gyroscope with which we're all equipped; "energy" rides in quotes because, well, what the hell is it?

"Feng" is Chinese for wind; "shui" is "water." I've been told "energy" is like water (to the extent that it flows), like electricity (because it energizes), like wind (because it gusts and bends around objects). It's like the feeling you get when you fall powerfully in love or experience real terror. Once, an American businessman in Hong Kong told me his multistory office building had been gutted and redesigned at a cost of many millions of dollars. The reason: an archway in a building across the street would "suck"—his word—many millions of dollars more from his company. Did he believe this? "That's not important," he told me. "What's important is that my Chinese customers do." On another occasion, I called a feng shui practitioner in Hong Kong. He looked at an Orange County map I faxed him and told me that all of Orange County—its mountains and roads, cities and ocean—were oriented toward material gain and spiritual loss. Wow! Had he been here? I asked. "Only now," he said, "only in my mind."

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