Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Halloween Edition

Greetings blog readers! On behalf of all of us here at VSA Texas, we would like to wish you a happy (and spooky) Halloween! Here are some of our fondest Halloween memories:

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays! First of all because CANDY!! I love candy and I rate all of my holidays based on the opportunity for candy intake. So that puts Halloween at the top of the list. I also love dressing up for Halloween! I am a big procrastinator on getting a costume together. Last year I was making a mask out of a recycled cereal box an hour before the party started. This year, I am sure I will pull something together before the big day.

My best Halloween memories are of dressing up and going out to Halloween parties with Milton. As a big lover of anything silly, he really enjoyed coming up with a wacky idea and then I would get creative on putting it together on a budget. This was not always easy since Milton was over 6 feet tall and the outfits at the local thrift store never fit that well. But that one time he was Frankenstein, the suit being too short at the ankles and wrists really worked out to be an advantage. Here are some photos of our Halloween fun:
Milton and April dressed up as Aliens (but mistaken for bees)
Milton dressed up as Joey Ramone and April dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood
April dressed up as a Zebra and Milton dressed up as Buckethead

One year I dressed up as a care bear and this amazing photo (below) was born. As my aunt tells me I was crying "probably because your mom cut your bangs crooked. Seriously. You were little, tired, jonesing for candy and a tad bit overwhelmed. You wanted to get the show on the road already."
Janelle as pouty care bear beside Godzilla, the devil, and a bat, all carrying plastic pumpkins for candy

I hate to kill the mood of this blog, but Halloween is hands-down my least favorite holiday. Really, my issue lies with the costumes, be it picking a costume that everyone else has already picked out, lacking the resources or craftiness to piece together my own, choosing a costume I should have known would offend everybody (dressing up as a disabled Vietnam vet = terrible idea), or not being able to realize a costume that is actually comfortable to wear. That said, there have been a few Halloweens where I was proud of my costume and one where I even won a costume contest, when I dressed up as a box of Chinese take-out and gave out fortunes I made in my first ever wheelchair costume (comfortable? not so much). Below is a picture of another fond costume memory: myself and my friends Rachel, Kat, and Bry posing for a photo at a haunted mansion themed dance in high school. I believe the ladies are dressed up as a hippie, a fairy, and a vampire; I am dressed up as a bum sporting a classic fedora and an upside-down sign reading, "To Scotland."
Eric and three friends posing in their costumes before a haunted mansion backdrop at the high school dance

Recalling memories of Halloweens and trick-or-treating is rather sketchy. I remember I liked the candy but not having to work for it. When we lived at Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn, I remember going to the apartments of people my parents knew, and there were always homemade candy apples, popcorn balls, brownies, sometimes fruit or chocolate covered raisins, but not much in the way of candy bars. My brother and I usually wore makeshift costumes from my mother’s closet since there weren’t any costume stores and carried brown paper bags for the treats. Still I didn’t like trick-or-treating because I felt like I was begging for food from strangers. So I quit going out and made my brother share his loot.

My fondest memories are of my dad when we moved to Austin. He loved greeting the kids and commenting on their costumes. He set a big planter shaped like a cauldron in the bay window at the front of the house, put dry ice in it, and placed a corpse hanging from a noose above the cauldron. Of course all the lights were turned off, and it made for quite a show. Today I enjoy going around the neighborhood where my niece lives with my great nephew in his homemade costume and watching the outdoor parties where kids and parents alike have really decorated their yards.

Here’s a picture of the costume I might wear this year, if I decide to roam the neighborhood:
Count Orlok, the vampire from Nosferatu

Halloween has never been a big deal for me. My mother was Canadian, so she thought the idea of dressing up in a costume and going door to door to beg for candy was just a ridiculous idea. So I only went trick-or-treating once in my life – that I can remember. My brothers and I did go to the Halloween party at our school one year. I wore my mother’s dark blue wool army nurse's cape, which dragged behind me on the floor because I was around 7 years old. I won a silver dollar. I don’t think any candy was involved.

So, fast forward a few years. I am living in New York City and I have met my wonderfully crazy friend Janet, who is all over holidays of any kind, and Halloween ranks right up there. We are going to our company’s Halloween party and she insists that we dress up. So, I give her the lead and just go along for the ride. She took my father’s formal dress tailcoat from the 1930s and covered it with glittered fruit cut from oranges, bananas, limes, and lemons. She created antennae from orange Styrofoam balls to affix to the top hat, and glittered red satin sashes with our names. So this is the picture: top hats with antennae, black tail coat covered with colorful fruit, a red sequin scarf for a very short skirt, and a glittered sash.. Voila! FiFi and FruFru, the Manhattan Fruit Flies! And yes, we won the costume contest.

Now, onward to Austin. My friend Beverly asks me to help her greet the trick-or-treaters every year. She always does it up nice. I dress in black, with spider webs in my hair, and wear the frog feet I got from my friend Ann. I put the candy in a big cast iron pot with dry ice, so smoke rises up. I reach into this pot to get the candy. A nice effect! Bev is cooking stew, so the kids are afraid we are going to eat them, thanks to a little acting on my part. On the porch sit several mannequins, dressed realistically, with dark shadows and eerie music. Four middle school boys come to the door and physically jump back when I slowly open the door. After getting their candy they slowly back away from the door and then turn and run down her driveway. I heard one say, “ I wasn’t scary at all.” HA!

Finally, the frog feet played another prominent role a few years later. I went with a friend and her 4-year-old boy to Boo at the Zoo at the Austin Zoo, wearing my frog feet because becoming an amphibian at Halloween just seems right somehow. So we arrive at the store/cashier and are waiting for the train ride to begin. I sit on the couch and lean by head back. Something is not right. I turn my head to the right and am eye-to-eye with a large iguana, who was perched on the back of the couch. Yep, eye-to-eye we communed, and I could tell that he approved of my feet. Just saying.

Happy Halloween everyone. Be safe out there, have fun, don’t get sick on candy, and above all, celebrate your inner amphibian!

What are your fondest Halloween memories? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mama's Got a Brand New Bed (For Now)

Yes, it’s true. I bought a bed for work. My name is Nicole Cortichiato, and I have narcolepsy. It’s a sleep disorder where my sleep schedule is different than yours. Way different, trust me.

Napping is medicine to me. I need a nap every 2-3 hours to function. It doesn’t alleviate all the symptoms, but it helps tremendously and my boss Celia provides me with that accommodation.

I need to sleep like you need to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, finding a bed to sleep on at a moment's notice isn’t easy. Often I’ve had to sleep in a coworker's car while at work, or if I'm out in public, find a coffee shop with a couch. Sometimes, if I’m alert enough, I’ll even walk into a business with a comfortable chair and tell the employee I need to sit down for 30 minutes, say I have narcolepsy or just that I have a medical condition, and hope they will be kind enough to let me rest there.

Fun fact! There are also horses, goats, and dogs that have narcolepsy. See below:

I know... when it’s a dog or other animal, we feel way more empathetic. That poor, poor puppy. Look at what he has to go through. :(

Anyway, I’m not writing to get your sympathy. I’m writing to tell you about my brand new bed. Why did I get a new bed? Well, the old one was this pathetic lawn chair with no lower back support and a screw missing. Not to mention it was three rounds in the boxing ring to find a comfortable sleeping position!

So, I found two different businesses that make a portable blow-up bed (Outdoor Junkie and Akface). A portable bed I can carry around with me and fold up into a purse? Awesome! Naturally I bought one from each company (one to keep with me and one to stay at work). Now if they could just sell it in a vending machine... Then I would really be in heaven.
Me in the midst of a work nap on a new bright blue bed.
Remember: no nap is complete without a blanket and Teddy. Yes, this is a medical condition.
The beds arrived AND I slept like a baby for two weeks! But then... one day I fell back trying to sit on one, and I hit my head pretty hard on a bookshelf. Ever try getting on an inner tube in the water? These beds are just like that, only there is no water. So, after my little accident, I decided to sleep on the couch in Room 101, which is sometimes available but definitely not a permanent solution for space reasons. For now, I guess I will keep the beds for when the couch isn’t an option, and maybe I need to look for a helmet to go with the blow-up beds:
Me in a motorcycle helmet. Somehow the lawn chair doesn’t seem so bad now.
So if you think a nap would do you some good at work – you know, to increase productivity – then I fully support your decision to get a bed and take naps at work. My suggestion though would be to get a giant bean bag chair or some other safer option. And if you have any suggestions for my plight, please send them my way, because mama could always use a brand new bed.

If you want to learn more about narcolepsy, you can find more information here:

Happy Napping!


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why We Need to See Characters with Autism on TV

One of the most frustrating things about parenting a child on the Autism spectrum is explaining to people how a spectrum works. Autism is one of those things where people have one experience with it and apply that to each and every kid that they come across. I suppose it is human nature to lump things into categories; I just never thought it would apply to my kid.

Most movies and television shows that portray a character on the spectrum give them some sort of “talent.” This has led to more people than you want to know about asking me point blank “So, what’s your son’s THING? I heard all kids with autism have that, right?” How I longed for years to see something that took away the ‘magic’ from kids on the spectrum and showed the day-to-day life.

Then, Parenthood got really popular on television and I had an entirely new thing to bitch about.
Max Braverman, a character on the popular television show Parenthood played by Max Burkholder, struggles with transitioning when a trip he was supposed to go on did not go as he had planned and begins to throw things around the room. His mother Kristina, played by the actress Monica Potter, stands by and attempts to help Max calm down.

I used to find myself incredibly annoyed at people coming up to me and saying “That kid on that show reminds me so much of your son! They are like the same person!” Then I would watch the show and want to punch a wall because what I was seeing was different from what I knew my child to be. It felt like such a disconnect and all I could think was “They have the same haircut and they are both on the spectrum. That’s it. Now stop talking to me and trying to make me watch that show.”

After years of staying angry at anyone who tried to compare my kid to one on television, it dawned on me that I was looking at things all wrong. I started to see the similarities – the trouble adjusting when things did not go exactly as planned, getting up in the morning, switching from one task to another. I started seeing what other people saw. I realized that my kid and the kid on that show didn’t have to be exactly the same for it to translate.

From Parenthood: Max sits on his bed cleaning the lens on his camera while his father Adam,
played by actor Peter Krause, stands beside him talking.

People NEED to see things on television or in movies in order to understand them better. It doesn’t matter if my kid and the kid on that show are the same, to the person watching, it’s about a connection to another perspective. If even one single similarity exists between the two, then it is a success. That’s one of the greatest things about visual storytelling; people feel connected to it. They feel like it’s part of their own life and maybe they understand my life a little more. And that is a wonderful thing.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Adventures in Choreography

(All photos by Camille Wheeler)

To be perfectly honest the making of this dance was a first for me. It was so full of energy and rich with possibility that the hairs on my arm stand up when I think about it. You’d think with that kind of inspiration this blog post would be a piece of cake. However, I have spent the last couple of weeks playing ping pong with my thoughts trying to make sense of it all. Then it hit me! In 1997, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a column entitled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.” The piece became so well known that Australian film director Baz Luhrmann used the essay to create his hit song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).” Besides being a clever piece of writing and a personal manifesto I try to live by, the words: “Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own. Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room. Read the directions even if you don't follow them.” perfectly describe how I feel about what Silva and I casually call Together and Apart.
“Encountering Balance.” Silva and I find a moment of balance as we sit side by side on the bus stop bench while holding hands. My crutch dangles from my arm as we pull away from each other. We are together and apart.
From studio to pavement and everywhere in between Together and Apart reminded me that dance is fun and that the panic I feel when I try to make work is all in my mind. What else did you notice, you ask? Well, I’ve done a lot of work outdoors but this is the first time I have gone from place to place. As improvisers, we are taught to connect with ourselves first and then relate to our environment. With this work, I had to dare myself to move differently. There was so much to take in! I had to process it all before I could see where I fit. I discovered I could use all my senses. While I found it challenging to push beyond just using my eyes and skin for inspiration, it was so freeing. In fact, right before we called it quits, Silva and I were dancing on a sand-kissed concrete courtyard. I will never forget how that sand vibrated throughout my body or how the sound felt as it cascaded over my eardrums. It was like the sidewalk was saying, “May I have this dance.” Now I understand what dance teachers mean when they say things like, “The floor is your dance partner too.” It was beautiful.
“Hello sand! Shall we dance?” Our dance becomes a trio as Silva and I find ourselves doling with the sand that has blown across a concrete court yard. We stand facing each other, about 2 feet apart. Silva strikes a modified warrior pose as she lounges forward. Her chest is low to the ground as one leg bends in front of her and the other extends behind. She stretches her arms out wide to either side. She is looking down as if she is going to kiss the sidewalk. I respond by bending both knees and crouching as low as I can while extending a crutch out in front me. I am looking down like a bull ready to take on her matador.
Tell me more, you say? Your wish is my command. Unlike other on-site pieces I’ve been in, we never rehearsed in the space for this piece. It was a true adventure. Eat your heart out Dora the Explorer! Before you trade in your ballet tickets for safari tickets, let me tell you what I think made our adventure possible. First, the score or movement “rules” for this piece were short, simple and sweet. If our movement was any more complex, I’m pretty sure our adventure would have turned into a disaster. Second, we had no official audience. As with any performance, whether in a studio; on a stage; or somewhere in the community an audience is a given. Basic expectations have been set before you take your seat. The performers are “on” way before the curtain rises. But, like a polka dot on a striped shirt, Together and Apart dared to be different. I never felt like I was performing! You’d think our matching outfits would have been a dead giveaway. Yet, I was stunned when barely a head turned as shoppers passed at Wheatsville Co-op. Plus; I’m always hyperaware of cameras during a performance. However, with Camille and Rey it was different. They were adventurers too. This experience would not have been the same without them. For those of you who have ever taken an Elements class or attended a DanceAbility training it was “One Mover, One Watcher” at its finest ☺  Silva and I had the freedom to focus on our relationship. I’m so glad we had each other’s backs because for the first time ever the risk taker in me didn’t mind taking a back seat. I was happy when Silva started climbing tables and lying on the ground because it helped me conserve my strength for the journey ahead. And, believe me I needed all the energy I could get. I have never been more present and more authentic in my life. I felt awesome! By the way, we did build a little bit of an audience. By the end of the day, people were definitely wondering if they should cross our path.
“Peek-a-boo. I see you.” Silva and I see each other in a whole new way as we sit side by side on a bus. Our torsos twist toward each other and our eyes meet. We take a moment to acknowledge one another through the finger telescopes we made with our hands.
But, wait there’s more. The bus, there’s no way I’m ever going to forget dancing on a bus! Seriously friends, this is tombstone material. It was thrilling to feel the motion of the bus as it moved forward. I loved how the up and down movement of its shocks and struts affected the quality of my movement. The space was so concentrated you could feel a pin drop through the sound of steel and motor oil. Truly a fantastic lesson in how gravity moves through the body, pure fun. Again, I felt like the bus was dancing with me. I felt like a sponge again. I had to take in before I could make a move. I felt completely taken care of. The best part was hearing the bus driver tell us how much he enjoyed our dance and that he hoped his driving was okay. He played a dual role of audience member and performer. I have always wanted to make a piece that explored this concept. I finally got my chance. Capital Metro you haven’t seen the last of me.
“Movement meets inertia.” As we sit side by side on the bus, our arms swing out in front of us as they complete a spiral that came from above. The palms of our hands grow wider as they face the floor. Our fingers grow longer as they pull away from each other. We are waving goodbye to the old and welcoming the new. It’s time for a new dimension of on-site choreography.
Well friends, I’m just about out of words. But, before I sign off let me leave you with this: GET OUT THERE AND EXPLORE THE WORLD AROUND YOU. Be a sponge and soak in the inspiration. Then, move the furniture in your living room, introduce yourself to the nearest sidewalk, or star in your own personal dance party during your next commute (remember safety first, of course ☺) Just get out there and move! Your environment is waiting and it wants to dance.

With love and gratitude,

Click here to see Rey Barrera's video of the Together and Apart performance!