Saturday, April 24, 2021

Texas notes: Salut

     Friday morning I had to head downtown, so I thought to save time by having a Soylent for breakfast. Soylent is basically Ensure for young people. Then I read this report from Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey, which resonated even more personally than most.

     Ambience is everything. An ex once told me “your life can be a French movie if you want it to be.” That was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. I like to stage my home with Amelie’s eye (— vases full of unwieldy, bright wildflowers, Debussy, Peter Sarstedt ( or Vocalo Radio playing softly in the background, lamps that cast tawny shadows on wooden walls. Carefully chosen art that brings you straight into other dimensions— some have symbols of ancient archetypal knowing, another is bright and energizing and will sweep you away to a Chinese sunset if you let it. There are various flutes resting on shelves and a music stand with swirling and sophisticated bass and treble clefs boldly stamped upon sheet music.
     Art, music, certain aromas and other forms of beauty open our minds, soothe our souls, and bring us into moments of sublime peace. Good art should not be relegated to museums. There’s no reason for bad art to be out there at all. Why are we forced to gaze upon flat and boring prints from generic mega-stores when we sit in a waiting room? Why do we have so many unattractive places all around us? Je ne sais pas.
     Why do hospitals, for example, have garish fluorescent lights that make even a healthy person look gray and sickly? As if the cold concrete structures weren’t bad enough, they have to torture us further. I’m convinced that there is a special breed of designer with a knack for choosing furniture and paint colors that won “World’s Worst” somewhere along the way.
     The food is usually pretty disgusting too, and does not scream nourishment. Who ever decided that Ensure was a good idea? Ah yes. The same marketers that pepper our environment with horrid signage outside of strips of malls.  Better yet? Just go inside and find some cheap plastic garbage that we buy for $1 and eventually toss into landfills.
     After decades of working in hospitals I still cringe at the sight of a can of Ensure. It doesn’t take an Ivy League educated person to tell you there have to be better options. I turned to my trusty pal Google: “Supplemental nutrition shakes contain more than just healthy ingredients. ‘You may be getting more sugar than any of the other ingredients,’ says Stacey Nelson, a dietitian from Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.”
     This is America. ( We do so many things that seem obviously wrong, yet the powers that be are 100% committed to maintaining the status quo, no matter how broken it is.
     We are stuck in ruts around how to take care of our most vulnerable members. Many school systems are broken beyond repair, yet we keep chugging along, printing outdated textbooks. We squeeze the creativity out of our brightest and best young minds with time-outs rather than the time-ins they are craving. We are obsessed with medicating kids rather than finding creative ways to engage them and help them succeed. If they are living in households where their parents are vegging out to bad TV and no one is helping them cultivate their own inner beauty, how are they expected to show up at school with the grace, curiosity and self discipline teachers desire? Are the teachers numb too? Sometimes.
     We also do the opposite of what should be happening with those slipping into dementia. This article reminds me of the fact that we can do things better. “We have shown that it is a useful tool for arguing that segregation, in the form of care homes, of people living with dementia is a human rights violation. This article provides a basis on which to engage policymakers and dementia care stakeholders in reconsidering ‘self-evident’ and taken-for-granted structural conditions of aged care systems and material aspects of the residential aged care facility built environment that shape the lives of people with dementia.” (
     Once again, with a move coming up in 7 days and a lot on my mind, I have gone on about something I didn’t intend to write about. My original topic was going to be the Salons of better days gone by. Poetry readings under a spotlight in the desert. Talented musicians bringing their gifts to us. Playing, dancing, singing. I will share those stories another time.
     Here is some unsolicited advice I do my best to take for myself. Remember to place objects of beauty all around you. They don’t have to be expensive. An oil painting from Goodwill will suffice. Diffuse tangerine and lavender into your space, or spray lavender mist around the room and on your pillows. Fill your place with plants. Talk to them. They will thrive and you will too. Notice the sounds around you. Notice how what you are listening to and watching makes you feel. Infuse each day with silence. As I write this I hear the ticking of my analog clock and slow raindrops beating on the roof. Savor moments more often. Chew and taste your food. Walk more slowly, talk more slowly. Be mindful, and little by little, as you hone yourself you’ll see that this world is actually pretty wonderful. And there’s always hope that certain things will get better.


  1. I'm baffled as to why schools even issue printed books to their students anymore.
    Why not give each child a Kindle & load all their textbooks on it?
    Then they wouldn't need to carry all those heavy books in a backpack around.
    Yes it will be more expensive at first & there are going to be some lost or broken every year.
    But it will also mean that the textbooks can be updated regularly at little cost.
    Any other required reading can be added to the Kindle at little cost, instead of the kids having to go out & buy every single book.
    And if they don't want Kindles, because they don't want to give Amazon money, then give them inexpensive tablet computers, with the books as .pdfs.

    1. Many schools use digital textbooks now. For all their advantages, tablets have downsides that some parents are rebelling against. The Washington Post examined the use of tablets in the classroom last year:

    2. Caren - your column reminded me of an essay I read many years ago by the Zen monk D T Suzuki called The Artist of Life. In it he suggested that, while we can't all be artists, we can all be artists of life. He described a path to essentially making your life a dynamic journey of artistry, with your body and mind as the means of expression. The essay had a provide effect on how I view the voyage of life. Thanks for the lovely observations.

    3. Thank you for introducing me to D T Suzuki.

    4. clark st. I guess you haven't heard everyone doesn't have the resources to provide kindles to every student and internet access is not available to everyone . especially poor people.

    5. The Kindles would be cheaper than the textbooks & only the school needs internet access to load the books onto the Kindles.

  2. That's an interesting idea. I looked it up and seems that pros and cons are widely discussed.


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