Archive | March 2015

The Better Halves are 100% + 100%=300%

The music of the Better Halves makes a body soar!

The music of the Better Halves makes a body soar!

Chrissie and Jimmy doing a gig at BB Rovers on 3/21/2015

Jimmy & Chrissie Natoli, as The Better Halves, have many accolades and awards around their belts: Jimmy Natoli: Finalist at the Hallettsville Songwriter Serenade Competition, 2011,2012; his song “Uncle Joe” featured on NPRs Cartalk, 2007; Kerrville Folk Festival Regional Ballad Tree Performer, 2006. Chrissie Natoli: Honorable Mention Woody Guthrie Songwriting Contest, 2012; Honorable Mention in ASG Song Contest, 2012; a Prairie Home Companion Duet Contest, Finalist with Avenue Elle. The Better Halves: Nominated for Best Vocal Duo of 2011 for the Texas Music Awards.

I had the awesome chance to meet with Chrissie & Jimmy Natoli at Chrissie’s Acupuncture office at 2000 Southern Oaks in South Austin. Originally I met them at a show they were performing in Austin. I was instantly drawn to their energy and positivism, and was grateful that our relationship led to this interview.

Jimmy is originally from Long Island in New York—he’s been in Texas for about twenty years. He began playing guitar when he was eleven years old. Chrissie’s home state is Pennsylvania; she went to Penn State, and later moved to Texas. Chrissie has a fifteen year old son as well.

Chrissie & Jimmy met when Jimmy was playing at a gig at a Farmer’s Market; he would invite other musicians to join him, playing an hour-long set, and one time he invited Chrissie to perform. From there, their relationship grew and keeps growing.

When asked how they decided on their name The Better Halves,” it was sort of like choosing a baby’s name,” said Chrissie; they kept thinking and processing, and eventually chose the name The Better Halves because something about this name gave Chrissie a feeling of ‘rightness in her spirit.’ As The Better Halves, both accomplished musicians, they each mutually excel one another.

I asked, “Do you feel a new consciousness, that includes the Arts, may come about in the future? How do the Arts help to raise consciousness?” Chrissie suggested that the world-wide impact of Digital Technology plays an increasing role as a part of this consciousness. Artists can now have global contacts, so social media has brought together a community of humans who are passionate about art along with countless other people. She also feels, though, that the spontaneous combustion of the Internet has an outcome of digesting a mass of information. It sometimes happens that someone from somewhere hears their music, and makes comments. Yet, as Jimmy expressed, no one is sure, as an artist, if a neighbor who lives down the block will see or catch them on Google or Facebook. The explosion of Digital Technology will change the way we do relationships. Much of this is here already, but we don’t yet have clear maps for this virginal territory.

Both Jimmy & Chrissie believe that Music & the Arts are an integral part of holistic healing. Jimmy related a story of a friend of his who had cancer, and eventually died. As his friend was nearing death, Jimmy sang a song to him that he had written, because they used to play together when Jimmy first learned he had cancer. Once he went to visit his sick friend, and afterwards, a nurse told his friend that his pain & anxiety were high & erratic. But when Jimmy sang his song, his mood and physical effects briefly all leveled out. Shortly after this experience, his friend died. Could it be that Jimmy’s music helped him to peacefully prepare for death?

All of us are familiar with a diverse list of holistic methods now available, from Health Care to Mental Health services; research studies are demonstrating the connection between alternative therapies and brain chemistry. Artistic creativity has the ability to help us build new brains, change neural pathways, and systemically affects our sense of wellness, often infusing over into other dimensions of our lives.

There is also a spirituality factor in this creative process. Jimmy told the story of how his music is his connection to something beyond himself, and is a very meditative & contemplative process. Additionally, he says that other artists, mainly musicians, are his spiritual community, even as Buddhists have their sangha’s (communities).

Both of The Better Halves pointed to one experience that was so powerful in regards to creativity affecting mental health issues that it changed how they looked at life. They facilitated a six-week course whose participants were beginning to have memory problems possibly leading to Alzheimer ’s disease. They used music, discussion, storytelling & writing, and the participants began to see that they did have a collection of stories, and began writing, and over time they began to love it. Jimmy said it gave genuine empowerment to him, and was thankful to facilitate the course.

The Better Halves make 300% more music than Texas June Bugs!

Contact Information for The Better Halves:
Email to Chrissie:
Phone: (512) 773-2605
Check out The Better Halves every Saturday at the Barton Creek Farmer’s Market!
__________________________________________________________________________© Christopher Bear-Beam September 3, 2014

Law Enforcement “up in arms” about disability law for mentally ill

With increasing frequency & intensity, law enforcement officers are murdering persons of color at alarming rates, and many departments are now “militarized” thanks to the Feds. The DOD gives away military-readiness gear & weapons to many police departments. What kind of message does this send to those communities of color in varied jurisdictions?

“The bottom line is this.. Police are out of control and when it comes to Black people they are even more so..Today the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement released a Report on Extrajudicial Killings …Its pretty detailed and extensive.. It shows that since Jan 1 2012, they have documented 110 Black people being killed. That amounts to one Black person being killed by police every 40 hours.. Since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin police and shot and killed over 80 Black people..This is outrageous and unacceptable..” (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, July 9, 2012).

The ADA is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary for when the law was first passed. It protects anyone with a Mental Illness diagnosis. An anonymous attorney said that ADA applies to everyone whatever the social context in which any kind of violence or erratic behavior takes place. This law applies to each person with any kind of disability.

From my personal experience & engagement with the Austin Police Department, I was an attendee at one of the APD’s Diversity Committee meetings; I proposed that it was my view that officers needed much more training in gaining Cultural Competency skill-building for the department. I presented a model patterned after The Center for the Healing in Houston, Texas ( that uses a dialogue model, and self-reflexively learns about the many types of racism. I suppose at that time they weren’t ready for it.

Just think about the amount of community members that officers encounter each day. They need human relation’s skills as well as cultural competency skills, and they also need a saavy about those with Mental Illness–if this is missing, departments will collude in perpetuating stigmatizm of Mentally Ill persons.

Often, when you mention training, especially to those in leadership, you hear, “Hell, our budget is already stretched beyond belief–and you expect us to pay for training that is even questionable in some of our minds. We just can’t do that.” Of course, the other side of this perception is that if officers don’t receive competent and evidence-based training and employ it, there will be more people shot & killed due to their disability–Mental Illness–not to mention lawsuits, etc. At the end of the day, it will most likely be more expensive.

In incidents of the killing or wounding of a Mentally Ill person who is aggressive & violent, many officers say they go into an instinctual response. This is an excuse simply for not knowing how to handle the person or situation, and not having the skills needed in the situation. Don’t forget–instinctual responses won’t cut it because there’s a person, perhaps completely innocent, who is a person with a Mental Health disability. There are many solutions that are compassionate, empathic, and can be learned, even with our often biased social conditioning.

One suggestion would be to train one individual or a team of people in cultural competency skills; this person (s) would be an incredible resource to the department, and if possible could be called to an incident where officers perceive that they’re dealing with a Mentally Ill person. I also realize that nothing is cut and dried in an officer’s work, they must be flexible, and do the best they can with what they know. Life is always fluid change is constant.

I believe that a major shortcoming is the leadership in municipal government and in the force itself. Unfortunately, this also fits into the scheme of the new police militarization process. It’s my observation, however, that there is an increasing stress on the streets, and officers & departments must remember they aren’t above or outside the law, in this case, ADA. Just as everyone who is disabled in any way is protected by ADA, paradoxically, law enforcement professionals using instinctual (perhaps biased) reactions must also step up to the plate and realize they, too, are protected by the laws of the land. Just because they’re police officers doesn’t offer “wiggle room” on disability laws.

In summation, I think that training in cultural competency skills, is an absolute must. We live in a nation now that is rapidly approaching the time when European Americans will no longer be a majority in the nation. Prisons have become the largest medical facilities in the nation. No matter what you may think about this, it’s a practical aspect of a new consciousness that people need, in order to educate themselves–we need a new map for a new territory.

copywrite by Christopher Bear-Beam March 23, 2015

ADA Celebrates Twenty-five Years

The ADA’s Road to Freedom bus was parked outside the Texas State Museum this morning; buses like these are headed out all over the country this year to various venues.  In many ways, the ADA perhaps hasn’t received the kinds of recognition and public awareness of how the ADA is the lynchpin of awareness of people with disabilities.  In fact, in this author’s opinion, it’s one of the foundations of Civil Rights; it’s a good time to reflect on the Civil Rights era; if you’ve seen the movie Selma, it can refuel your work & activism in Civil Rights.

VSA of Texas has played a key part in community awareness of the Arts and people with disabilities.   Many participants in VSA’s services have physical & psychological disabilities.  This author has Bipolar & PTSD and has participated as a volunteer and contract facilitator for one of its major programs Open Minds, Open Doors—class participants learn how to write their own stories, perform them, and work as a group practicing and meeting for homework.  Those class members who want to, can volunteer to be an advocate for people with disabilities.

VSA staff has also trained other service providers in varied skills of how the Arts can be used in training those with intellectual, physical or psychiatric disabilities.

One other program was evident today: it’s called Body Shift.  (Check them out at, and  Body Shift  is where folks gather to move, dance, and in general do Art that grooves with music and flare. The dance team that performed today on the plaza of The Texas State Museum (finding times of intermittent rain outside).   Performers in the group were: Susie Angel, Linda Farwell, Kathey Ferland, Amy Latzinger, Silva Laukkanen, Juan Munoz, Tonya Winters, and Tonya Winters.  Accompanying by the music of Having the Compass & Dragon Fly Across Ancient Sky. 

As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passing of ADA has reminded us, that the protection of our human & civil rights is one of our most valuable tasks at hand.  It fully supports the kinds of work with which VSA is presently engaged.

©Christopher Bear-Beam March 3, 2015