Monterey County Weekly

All In Her Head

She didn't choose anorexia. I know that now, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch her starve herself, and fade away into nothing.

It's like a nightmare where you see the boogeyman and you know it's going to kill her so you warn her, but she can't see it, so she doesn't believe you, and then she dies.

But anorexia's a slow suicide. And although anorexia accounts for more deaths than any other type of mental illness, she says she's okay, she says she's healthy. Her brain has shrunk and she's losing her cognitive skills.

She's says she's not like other anorexics. She's in denial. She's moody and angry and depressed a lot of the time. She thinks her mind and body are just fine. But her heart has shrunk, too, and its resting rate has fallen to 49 beats per minute (60 to 80 beats per minute is considered healthy) and she's seen doctors for problems with her kidneys, stomach and other organs.

When she's sleeping, her heart rate will fall well below the "critical" rate of 45 beats per minute, and she may not wake up again.

It's difficult not to feel angry with her because she's hurting herself and all of the people who love her. But she's not just a skinny, stubborn, vain girl who won't eat. She's sick, with a mental illness, and she didn't choose this any more than someone chooses cancer.

A few days after Christmas, she is hospitalized. She's in treatment now, although most of the time she doesn't want to be there and she insists she can get better on her own. I try to tell her that no one looks forward to chemo, either. I don't know if she hears me or not. There are millions of other women – and men – like her in the US, walking skeletons, dying to be thin.

"Why won't she just eat the sandwich?" asks Dr. Cecily FitzGerald, an emergency physician who also treats patients with eating disorders. "She can no more eat that sandwich than you can eat that shoe.

"It's important to stress that it's not about the food, because parents, spouses, loved ones – they always feel it's just about the food. It's really not about the food."

The National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders says the problem has reached epidemic levels in America, and affects everyone – young and old, rich and poor, women and men of all races and ethnicities. Their statistics say seven million women and one million men are sick with an eating disorder. More than 85 percent of victims report the onset of their illness by age 20.

There are still a lot of misunderstandings about the disease, however, even among health professionals. Treatment is hard to find – few states have adequate programs or services to combat anorexia nervosa and bulimia – and it's also very expensive.

Inpatient treatment can cost about $30,000 a month, and outpatient treatment, including therapy and medical monitoring, can reach $100,000 per year or more.

"The treatment should be multi-disciplinary," FitzGerald says. "Therapy, a nutritionist, and a physician. Those are the minimum requirements – you can add to that physical therapy or art therapy. You can add as much as you see fit. But the bare-bones is the therapist/psychologist, a physician and a nutritionist."

Anorexia – as all eating disorders – is a complex disease. There's not one single, simple cause, although new research has revealed that anorexia and bulimia are inherited conditions – one needs to have a genetic predisposition for them.

"But that doesn't mean that everybody who has that gene does have, or will develop, an eating disorder," says Kirstin Lyon, a marriage and family therapist in Carmel Valley who is also a certified eating disorder specialist.

So-called environmental factors can also trigger, and worsen, the disease: our society's obsession with thinness, puberty, dieting, going away to college, a traumatic world event or a more personal one, like a breakup.

"There are usually about 10 other reasons why people get eating disorders," Lyon says, "and they all come together: control issues, perfection issues, also addiction. When all these things come together, it forms this way of coping. It's not about the food."

While most people who develop anorexia do so when they hit puberty, both Lyon and FitzGerald say they see patients of all ages. They say they treat 10 girls for every one boy.

First, it looks like body dissatisfaction. "I want to go on a diet," Lyon quotes her patients. "Or food pickiness – I want to be a vegetarian."

Sometimes it's even encouraged – "dieting and exercising are good for you; thin is beautiful," or so we are told every day.

"We live in a culture where we look at anorexically thin models and call that normal, call that attractive," FitzGerald  says. "We have lost our high level of suspicion for someone who is at low weight."

By the time the disease is discovered, much damage has already been done. Hair falls out. Skin turns orange, or yellow. Teeth and gums erode. Menstruation stops. Bones become weak and brittle. The heart, kidney, liver, stomach and other organs become seriously damaged and start to shut down. The brain shrinks.

And those are only the physical repercussions. Words don't adequately describe what the disease does to her self-esteem, how badly it damages her relationships and how much it hurts the people who love her.

"Weight restoration will return most everything to normal," FitzGerald says.

About one third of anorexics recover, Lyon says. Another third may relapse and remain symptomatic. The final third are chronic.

"Their life expectancy is shorter, or they will die," Lyon says.

The ones who recover can't do it overnight. It usually takes between two and nine years. Both Lyon and FitzGerald had eating disorders. Both recovered, and want to help other people become well.

"There were so many times when I didn't want to go [to treatment]," Lyon says, "but I just had faith that things can change. If they can for me, they can for anybody."

And both Lyon and Fitzgerald rail against the unrealistic body images on TV, in magazines and on the runways.

"It's very important for all of us – parents, teachers, men and women – to be accepting of our bodies," FitzGerald says. "I think this whole obesity epidemic is really dangerous; the amount of press that obesity is getting is leading to so much press for diets and it's such a dangerous, dangerous place to go. People need to eat what they want, when they want, and stop when they are satisfied."

It's also extremely important for parents to model body acceptance for their kids, she says. "Then they aren't so susceptible to the media, to diets. It's important for parents to point out all the ways that our culture gets women to be unhappy with themselves. Don't say, 'Do these jeans make me look fat?' or, 'I can't have dessert; it will go straight to my hips.' It's that kind of stuff that children just can't hear. They need to know that they don't need thin thighs or a flat stomach to love their body."

FitzGerald talks to her daughter about airbrushing; in fact, the two have made a game out of it.

"We go through magazines and pick out where we think the model has been airbrushed. You take a woman who is already beautiful, and even the model can't achieve this level of perfection.

"Parents, teachers, babysitters, sisters, we need to all stand up and say, 'We are happy with ourselves, our bodies, the way they are.'"

I hope she makes it to that point, and someday, will be able to say she's happy with her body and really mean it. She's begun to take the first steps, at least. But right now she's angry much of the time. She's angry at her doctors and her parents because they are forcing her to eat and attend therapy sessions. I hope someday she will be able to realize that they saved her life.

My Fantasy Island

My stranded-on-a-desert-island survival kit contains sunscreen, toothpaste, mascara, my hair dryer and a lifetime subscription to Vogue. And tequila and a bottle of margarita mix.

And George Clooney's stranded on the island with me. And we have a cook, and a personal trainer. And a nice condo – beats finding shelter in a dark and damp cave.

I'm hopeful that this island has a good library, and a gym, and hell, my survival kit might as well include a laptop computer with a wireless Internet connection so that George and I can order out for dinner, when we can't stomach another wild boar, or yellowtail, or mango or whatever else our chef likes to prepare.

Of course, I'll be skinny – hello, stranded on an island here – and tan, but my skin would never look weathered, and I'll never develop skin cancer, or gray hair, or even hairy legs. I'm not sure where I will plug in my hair dryer, but I'm quite positive that I will always look really, really, ridiculously hot.

We'll be happy, on this island, George and I.

Okay, so my fantasy more closely resembles an exclusive resort in Bora Bora than a desert island – or even "Gilligan's Island," for that matter. But I'm no "Survivor" wannabe, and thankfully, neither is ABC's new hit series "Lost."

The show's premise may sound familiar: 48 characters are stranded on a remote Pacific island, and not all of them will make it through the entire season. Except on this show, the losers aren't voted off by a jury of their peers; they are picked off by a scary, possibly prehistoric monster that lives in the jungle.

And while the pilot episode's horrifying plane crash may look realistic – "hyper-real," creator J.J. Abrams called it – the inventive plot twists, the nail-biting suspense, the smart writing and the nuanced character development assure the viewer that "Lost" is most definitely not a new reality show.

The series begins when a man named Jack (Matthew Fox) wakes up in a Bamboo forest and realizes that his plane has gone down and, miraculously, he and 47 of his fellow passengers have survived with no more than a few scrapes and bruises. He's dazed and he needs stitches himself, but people need help, so Jack heads back to the scene of the crash where he organizes rescue efforts, examines other passenger's wounds, and searches the wreckage for food, water and medical supplies.

Jack's got his own secrets – as do all of the survivors – but all his fellow castaways see is Jack the heroic surgeon; he's chiseled and decisive and he almost immediately becomes their reluctant leader.

While viewers eventually learn more about the ill-fated passengers in a series of flashbacks, most of the survivors are complete strangers to one another. Some cling to the hope that they will soon be rescued, and remain on the beach, while others reason that it's safer to set up camp in the jungle, near fresh water and sheltered from the beating sun – out of sight of a passing plane or ship.

Many seize the opportunity for a fresh start. Nobody knows who they were before the crash; they can be anyone they want to be on this deserted island. But this also poses a threat to the struggling group. They don't know who to trust and, of course, looks can be deceiving. The band of strangers must learn to work together if they are to survive.

There's level-headed Kate, (Evangeline Lilly), who soon becomes Eve to Jack's Adam. She's pretty and smart but, as the viewers learn early on, she's a criminal. In flashbacks, we see a U.S. Marshall on the plane sitting beside a handcuffed Kate. What did she do?

Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) is a faded rock star and heroin junkie. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) is a strong, handsome Middle Eastern male, between the ages of 18 and 35, which makes him an immediate target of racial profiling by some survivors. We learn later that he's also a former military communications officer in the Iraqi Republican Guard.

Sawyer (Josh Holloway), a rogueish-yet-cute redneck, accuses Sayid of being a terrorist and crashing the plane. But it's Sawyer who seems to be the dangerous one. Most of the others assume Sawyer was the bad guy on the plane; he's prone to violence, and no one trusts him.

Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim) are a traditional Korean couple who isolate themselves from the group. But wife Sun has a secret – she took English lessons back in Korea and had planned to leave her husband and escape to America. Instead, she boarded a plane with her husband.

Single dad Michael (Harold Perrineau) recently gained custody of his nine-year-old son, Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), after the death of his ex-wife. The father and son are strangers to each other.

Locke (Terry O'Quinn) is a mysterious older man – the only one who has actually seen the noisy beastie that is terrorizing the survivors. He says he's seen the soul of the island and it's magical.

And then there's Malibu Barbie brother-and-sister team Boone (Ian Somerhalder) and Shannon (Maggie Grace), who gives herself a pedicure while the others are struggling amid the fiery debris, and happily finds her bikini in the wreckage.

Of course, the themes are readily apparent – man versus man, man versus beast, man versus nature. Which is the greater threat: the harsh island or the spooky monster in the jungle? Or is it one of their companions? One is forced to wonder: will this unlikely group succeed in establishing some type of desert-island civilization, or will it spiral into "Lord of the Flies"-style chaos?

At times, it's unclear what is real and what only exists inside the survivors' heads. Even the scary beastie – perhaps it's only the incarnation of their own fears and personal demons.

Happily, the show has made it out of the forest, so to speak. About 18 million viewers tuned in to the Sept. 22 premiere, making the thriller ABC's most-watched drama debut in nine years. Subsequent episodes attracted between 16 million and 18 million viewers (blame playoff baseball for the dips), and the show's Nov. 3 episode helped ABC secure a ratings win for the night. About 18.6 million viewers watched "Lost" – up 2 million from the week before. In the age of reality TV, it's refreshing to see a show with real actors and real writers winning the network ratings wars.

And unlike reality stuck-on-an-island TV shows, the characters on "Lost" are good looking. So when they're running around, scantily clad, in the sun and surf, we don't cringe. Instead of fat, naked Richard (from "Survivor"), we get to look at a shirtless Matthew Fox – who fits into my tropical island fantasy quite well.

War Is a Family Affair

My little brother Nathan was deployed on Feb. 15 -- the day millions of people gathered in cities across the globe to protest military action in Iraq; the day before my mother's birthday.

Nath used to be a hyper little kid who always wore shorts, cowboy boots and a buzz cut. He danced the part of a duck in a ballet recital when he was 4. He was a punk in high school who played the drums in a band and wore his hair bleached and long, over his ears, like Kurt Cobain. The he became an English major -- he graduated from the University of Oregon last year. Somewhere during his college years, he lost his nose ring and found George W. Bush.

Now he's engaged to his college sweetheart, Lindsey Wolcott. His hair's shaved off again. And he's a member of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry of the Oregon Army National Guard.

My brother's 22. To me, he's still a kid. He's not old enough to fight a war. The President hasn't officially called for military action against Iraq yet, but I think we're already at war. My family's countdown to war started on a Friday night in February, a week before Valentine's Day. My brother got a call on his cell phone.

"We went out to dinner at Applebee's," remembers Lindsey, Nath's fiancée. "Stupid guy told me at Applebee's. He said, 'Oh my gosh, I have some bad news,' and I just started crying in the middle of Applebee's in front of everyone."

I asked her if she knew what the news would be. "Yeah. I could tell."

I found out the following Sunday. I was sitting on the couch, wearing flannel PJs, drinking my morning coffee. I checked my email and found an automated note from The Oregonian -- a message from my dad -- telling me to check out a page on OregonLive.com. My dad's weird. He's a lawyer and a brilliant orator with a funny, dry sense of humor. But sometimes, with personal stuff, electronic communication comes easier to him than talk.

I opened the email. It was a canned message. "Dear Jessica: Dad thought you might be interested in this item from OregonLive.com." I clicked on the link before I read my dad's attached note. "In the largest call-up of an Oregon National Guard unit since World War II, about 670 soldiers of the 162nd Infantry Regiment were told to mobilize Friday," the story began.

I clicked back to the email and read the part that's supposed to make it sound like a personal note. "Dad says: Still don't know if Nate's among these. He'll find out tomorrow."

I burst into slobbery tears. At that moment, I saw faces in the front window. My friends Lou and Rachelle walked in. They were laughing and smiling. We had planned to spend the day at the beach. Their faces changed when they saw me looking like I'd just found out that my brother was going to war.

Around 5 p.m. my dad called and said that Nathan wasn't going anywhere yet. "But this is the military and that can change any minute," he said. Dad was right.

At 11:30 Sunday night the phone rang. My husband Tom and I were sleeping. I hate late-night phone calls. Except for an occasional drunk call from friends or siblings, they're never about anything good. Tom got out of bed and walked to the kitchen to answer the phone, because I'm blind without my glasses and because we both knew why the phone was ringing.

It was my dad. He sounded oddly cheerful. My mom was asleep. My dad said Nathan would ship out on Thursday. Of the 162nd Infantry, only 35 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion would be deployed. Nate was one of the lucky 35. The other 700 soldiers, he said, were "undeployable."

I didn't sleep that night. I tried to think about Nath wearing a gas mask and a chemical suit, gunning down Iraqis, but the dissonance was too great. He was so homesick for Lindsey and our family after he left for basic training last summer. And that was just South Carolina. Nath's old room in my parent's house is still decorated with Pearl Jam and Nirvana posters. His collection of Pound Puppies sit on a shelf. An old Winnie the Pooh lamp stands near his bed. A few days before he found out that he would be deployed, I asked him if he felt afraid. He said no, and joked, "I'll bring you back an ear. I'll bring you back Saddam's ear."

He's trying to be macho and tough. That's not Nath.

At first I felt terrified, but the fear paralyzed me. So I got angry. Somehow that seemed more productive. I yelled into my pillow, cursing George W. Bush. Last summer, while Jenna Bush interned at a Hollywood entertainment agency and hung out with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, my brother learned hand-to-hand combat. I know he bought the ticket. No one forced him to enlist. We all told him that his timing was tragic. But even today he says if he could go back to last March, he'd still sign up.

Still, I wondered how Congress could agree to put my brother in the line of fire. This 107th Congress includes only one member who has a child in the enlisted ranks of the military. A handful have children who are officers. How can our elected representatives agree to send troops into harm's way without knowing what horrible chemical and biological agents are out there? I'm afraid Nath will get hurt. I don't believe this is an irrational fear. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served in the first Gulf War are now ill with Gulf War disease. Many veterans with symptoms like fatigue, memory loss, joint pain and paralysis say their mystery sickness stems from exposure to neurotoxins in Iraq. They worry the next group of soldiers will face a similar affliction.

A report by the Government Accounting Office in 2002 found that the military had purchased almost 800,000 defective chemical and biological warfare suits. As of July, 250,000 defective suits were still in the military's active stockpile. Even Administration hawks concede that if Saddam decides to unleash a chemical or biological attack on American forces, the loss of life would be massive.

And then I thought about the joyful little kid who used to climb up doorjambs and who wanted to name our miniature Schnauzer puppy Cuddles. I wondered if he had grown up. Monday night I was on a plane to Oregon.

Top Gun

If anything bad happens to my brother, I will blame Tom Cruise. Nath decided to enlist one night after watching the movie "Top Gun." I don't think his first instincts were noble or patriotic -- those came later. Before Sept. 11, he says, he had never thought about joining the military. But one night in March '02, when Nath was three months away from graduating, knee-deep in student loans, not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, my brother decided he was meant to be Maverick. The life of a Navy pilot sounded glamorous, and the military's offer to pay off his student debt was a relief. The next day Nathan drove to the Navy recruiting office in Eugene.

"I can't pinpoint it," he says. "I don't have a reason. I woke up one day and decided I was going to do it."

"It was really random," Lindsey says.

What did he say? "He said, 'I want to join the Navy.'"

And what did you say to him? "'Okay, sailor.' At first, it was just so random that I thought, oh, this will be fun. He kept telling me we were going to live in Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor. So I was excited at first."

Were you worried at all that he would have to go to war? "I remember we talked about it. I remember asking him if it would be likely. He said no." Lindsey says she's not worried. Not yet. Not until she finds out what Nate's mission will be.

"But I don't know if it's different for me because my dad went to war," she says. "He fought in Vietnam. He talks about it all the time. He loves it. I think it's the pride. My dad, he flew..."

"Hueys. The medevac chopper," Nath interrupts.

"He picked up dead bodies after battles, which I think would be scary," Lindsey says. "He got a big award, the Distinguished Flying Cross. And he is just so proud. He tells me everyday, 'I'm so proud of Nate and I know you're proud of him, too.'"

But are you more proud or scared? "Well, I'm sad he's going to leave, but I'm proud of him," Lindsey says.

She's less selfish than I am. I decide to try to talk him out of it. After he decided to enlist, Lindsey drove with my brother to the Navy recruiting office. He was one test question away from becoming a Navy pilot. Instead, he ended up in infantry -- a sawgunner (his job is to fire a squat automatic weapon) in the Oregon National Guard. "It will be fun," he told me last summer, before he left for basic training. "Like camping two weekends a month except that we get to hang out of helicopters and shoot guns."

Plus, it's the National Guard. So maybe he would be paid to stand around in an airport holding a rifle or looking through car trunks. Wrong again. There are now more than 150,000 reservists and National Guard members mobilized, conducting homeland security missions and preparing for war with Iraq, more than at any time since Sept. 11. On Thursday, Feb. 13, Nath went into lockdown. He had tickets to a basketball game that night.

Shipping Out

Nath left for Fort Carson, Colorado on Feb. 15 for training before he is shipped overseas. He's staying in an old hospital with heat and electricity but no hot water. The night that his battalion arrived, they unpacked their bags and then were told to pack them again. They were issued their weapons and then turned them back in. He got his anthrax inoculation and the first of six smallpox shots. He says the anthrax left a big red bump, and the smallpox itches like hell. Nath's battalion will spend the upcoming weeks shooting their weapons, preparing for nuclear, chemical and biological attacks and learning how to fight in an urban environment.

Sometime this month they'll prepare to ship out for "no more than 365 days." He doesn't know where they will be sent, or what the mission will be yet, but they've spent considerable time learning how to behave properly in an Arab country, and they've listened to lectures and seen pictures of what will happen to them should they be kidnapped by terrorists. One guy in the slide show had his kneecaps sawed off. Another was repeatedly set on fire and extinguished. Both died.

"If terrorists catch you," Nath says, "you can count on dying the most miserable, painful death imaginable. I'm not leaving the base."

Or my brother's infantry battalion may be sent to Turkey to guard an airfield or a missile base. He says it could be quite boring, so he's packing a Gameboy, a CD player and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He wears a silver cross on his dog tags that my parents gave him before he left for basic training. Now he also wears a crucifix my mother-in-law gave to him, and carries another one that belonged to my grandfather in his pocket.

Nath will miss a Bon Jovi concert and a planned vacation to Mexico. He'll miss Lindsey's MAT graduation and her birthday. He'll miss my sister's wedding on July 4.

I'm biased, but I think my family is special. We're very devoted to each other. My sister Suzanne lives in San Jose; when her wedding dress arrived, my mom and dad flew down for her first fitting. When my baby sister, Karen, who was 15 when she got pregnant, decided to keep her baby, my very traditional, very Catholic family rejoiced. On Valentine's Day, Karen's boyfriend Chris -- baby Elizabeth's father -- proposed. Of course, we all came home to say goodbye to Nath. On a Tuesday night, we had our last family dinner together. We ate lasagna and drank wine, and I recorded the whole thing.

My dad makes a toast "to a successful campaign, or whatever it's called." My mom makes a toast to "coming back in two weeks." My sister Suzanne says "Hasta la vista."

I ask Nath if he's scared. He says no. "There's nothing to be scared about." But Lindsey says he's lying.

You're not scared of dying? "No."

You're not scared of killing people? "No."

Do you think about killing people? "No."

Then what do you think about? "Separation."

He says he would enlist all over again. Lindsey says he's rude. I ask him why and he says he doesn't know.

"I don't know," he says. "It sucks that you have to leave -- that's the worst part, by far -- but there's a much bigger picture to it all. You're out there with people you support. And you're out there working for each other. And for the good of the nation. So it's a big deal, really. See, there's a difference between reality and idealism. That's what it is, you know? Everybody wants there to be world peace. I don't have a question in my mind about that. Everybody wants everybody to get along but that's not a reality. Everybody is always going to have different views. Everybody is not always going to get along. And once you realize that, you realize ... it's just not a reality."

So why should you be the one to fix it? "Because somebody has to."

It doesn't matter what I say.

Freedom, Fighting and Family

My brother thinks we're fighting for freedom. My dad thinks we have a moral duty to oust Saddam.

"The United States and a number of other countries have recognized that there is a murderer at large and have insisted that we must not simply stand idly by and do nothing while he plans yet other murders," my dad wrote in a guest opinion for the local daily back home, the Statesman Journal. "Today we see war protesters, but would they seriously argue that Hitler should have been left alone? Wouldn't a strong military stand, at least by 1938, have avoided the Holocaust and ultimately World War II?"

I agree that Saddam is a barbaric dictator, but please, he's not Hitler. And I don't think any of these are the reasons that my brother is being sent overseas. War should only be a final resort and I don't think we've exhausted the other options yet.

I didn't tell Nath any of this. He was leaving in two days and I didn't want to fight. It seemed useless to talk to my brother. I believe a unilateral, pre-emptive attack against Iraq is unjustifiable. That it will be a horrible, bloody fight. It's highly unlikely that Iraqis will welcome American troops with open arms as these foreign invaders try to take Baghdad. If accounts of weapons and laboratories hidden under hospitals and in crowded residential neighborhoods are true, it's likely that the U.S. will respond by heavily bombing these urban areas. Iraqi civilian casualties will be high. Thousands of American lives are at stake. The risk is too great.

I knew none of this would matter to him. I'm proud of my brother, and I admire his courage and his conviction. But I don't understand it. And I think it's naïve. I know he -- like the other 180,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf -- is doing a job and I support and appreciate him. It's the Commander-in-Chief I have a problem with.

On this tape, I can hear my niece, Elizabeth, who is now almost 3, singing an operatic version of Jingle Bells, her favorite song, and playing the piano in the background. I can picture the scene. After her impromptu recital, she put on an Army hat that belonged to her teddy bear -- Uncle Nay Nay bear, she calls it. Uncle Nate taught her how to salute and say, "Drop and give me 20." After a few tries, she got it.

Earlier in the day, our family portraits arrived. We sat for a photo session over Thanksgiving, at a historical park in Salem. My two grandmothers were there, along with my mom's sister and brother-in-law who live in Boston, the four of us kids, my husband, their fiancées, and 2-year-old Elizabeth. My mom probably ordered dozens of prints of everyone and one big 24x30 picture of the six of us to hang above the couch. She doesn't have a frame yet, but she put it on the wall anyway. We're sitting under gold-colored leaves, and we're all smiling big, toothy grins except for Nath who never opens his lips.

"It's beautiful," my mom says, folding her hands, staring up at the picture. "It's all I wanted."

I said goodbye early Thursday morning. I woke up at about 5 a.m. when I heard Lindsey's car pulling out of the driveway. She had to go home to Portland, to student-teach. Nath wouldn't leave for another hour, but I couldn't sleep.

I remembered when we were little and we had snuck out of the backyard to run away. I don't remember why. Nathan started crying because if we ran away, he wouldn't have a mom anymore.

"Don't worry," I said -- his brave, 7-year-old sister. "I'll be your mom." We never made it very far. We never packed enough.

At 6 a.m. my mom came in to wake me up. She asked me how long I'd been awake. "I don't think any of us got much sleep last night," she said. I started crying and she rubbed my head. "Be strong for Nate," she said. We all congregated in the kitchen in our pajamas, and watched Nate, wearing his fatigues, carry his bags out to his new truck. He bought it five days ago. He's mostly driven it to and from the Army headquarters in Eugene. My dad looked so tired, his eyes sad and lined, and his thin hair falling in his face.

My mom kept busy, orchestrating the deployment, moving between the truck, the kitchen and the coffee pot. Karen stared at the floor. Suzanne had flown back to San Jose the previous afternoon. Nath went down to the basement one last time and came up carrying his address book. "Alright, let's go," he said. He came over to hug me and I couldn't be strong. Neither could he.

After Nath walked out the door, Karen and I went into the front room and opened the blinds like we used to do every morning when my dad would leave before dawn to drive to work. Karen and I were smaller then, but we still fit between the end table and the window. Nath's truck drove down the hill, and we waved through the glass. He didn't see us.

Jessica Lyons is a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Monterey, California.

Limited Tolerance

To hear Rob Hicks tell it, you can't swing a cat around the US Army's Defense Language Institute (DLI) without hitting a gay soldier.

"On my hall of 14, I knew nine men that were gay," says the 28-year-old Korean language student, who was discharged from the Army in October after a late-night barracks inspection found him in his boyfriend's room. "In my class of 27, seven of them were gay -- and those were just people I knew in my company who I had close contact with."

Maybe "gaydar" is adding a few percentage points to Hicks's evaluation of the gay-to-straight ratio at the Presidio, but if so, he's not alone in his assessment. Collin Smith (not his real name), a first-year Russian language student at the Monterey, California military graduate school, concurs.

"I've only met maybe four or five hundred people here, and of that, maybe 120 were gay or bi," Smith figures. "Surprisingly enough, it's very prevalent in the military."

At DLI, where some 3,000 men and women from various branches of the service, are studying 19 foreign languages in intensive training programs, the Army discharged nine students last month because of their homosexuality. That's in spite of what former student Alastair Gamble describes as a very gay-friendly culture there. Gamble, 24, was more than halfway through the school's Arabic program when he and Hicks were discovered in his barracks last April. He received his discharge in the summer and now lives with Hicks in Beltsville, Maryland.

"There are a lot of gay soldiers and airmen and seamen at DLI," Gamble says. "I don't know if they're represented more than in any other given unit. But certainly there are more who are out. You're dealing with people who are typically older, more mature, more intelligent, so you get higher degrees of tolerance, and within that, people who are more open about their sexuality."

Hicks agrees that DLI is exceptionally tolerant. "When I was pulled from class for this, the person who had to give me the message was a Marine sergeant who'd been in for six or seven years. He knew a long time before I was kicked out, and he never even blinked. And he was a Marine. We actually saw him at Disneyland when we went to see Alastair's aunt."

None of this comes as a surprise to Chris Lewis, who is gay and served in the Navy from 1982 to 1986. He says that's how it's always been. He recalls the situation aboard his ship, the Mobile, which he says was nicknamed "The HoMobile." "I had 331 people on the ship I was on," he says. "Of the 331, a good 40 were gay and everybody knew it. There were some flaming queens. The whole admin ops was gay. You'd go in there and it was like -- pardon me, but a bunch of women. Cologne, chewing gum, they'd be laughing and talking, the whole thing."

"Everybody" might have known those sailors were gay, just as "everybody" might have known that Hicks and Gamble were a couple even before they were caught. But proof of homosexual activity is still enough to get a person kicked out of the U.S. military. The military's policy toward homosexuals has enjoyed an uncomfortable moment in the spotlight since the story broke last month about the nine discharged students, six of whom were studying Arabic. Two of the nine, Hicks and Gamble, were caught by their superiors. The other seven, all acting independently, voluntarily declared their homosexuality to their commanding officers and got their walking papers soon afterward.

In a time when soldiers fluent in Arabic are considered vital to national security, the Army's decision to expel Arabic students because they are gay has been attacked as absurd. The story has also called attention to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which allows the military to look the other way unless presented with irrefutable evidence of a soldier's homosexuality. (In Gamble's and Hicks's case, the evidence wasn't the fact that they were in the same room at 3:30 a.m., but rather that the inspectors found photographs of them together in affectionate poses.)

While it seemed, before last month, that "don't ask, don't tell" was a relatively permissive stance, it now seems like an antiquated piece of moral legislation. Especially since, as these present and former soldiers maintain, most fellow soldiers and officers don't really care if their cohorts are gay. "They didn't care then and they don't care now," Lewis says bluntly. Hicks and Gamble agree, which is why they have a hard time believing that the other seven servicemen and women were being harassed at DLI.

According to Steve Ralls of the Servicemen's Legal Defense Network, those men and women found the environment at DLI to be hostile toward gays, so they went to their commanding officers and declared their homosexuality, knowing it would result in their discharges.

"Like a lot of service members who go into the service believing that 'don't ask, don't tell' is as simple as 'don't ask, don't tell,' they then realized it required them to be dishonest 24 hours a day," Ralls says. "These service members realized that if they were going to put their lives on the line for their nation, then they should have the same rights and respect as their heterosexual colleagues."

Gamble snorts at this. He thinks they were using the policy to get a world-class education and then skip out on their duty to the armed forces, where the pay is lower and the work more dangerous than in the private sector. "When they're handing you a year and a half of unbelievable training, people say at the end of this training, 'Wow, I have this fantastic education and fantastic ability to speak the language and oh, by the way, I'm gay now,'" says Gamble. "You'll find people often come out at the end of training -- conveniently."

Hicks says one of the discharged men, who was in his Korean classes, angered his commanding officer by making his declaration. "His platoon sergeant was my platoon sergeant," Hicks says. "She was upset, very upset, that he pulled that. But there was nothing she could do. She had to report it."

The other discharged service members could not be reached for comment. The Defense Language Institute deferred all calls from the media to the Department of Defense. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Cassella gave the official position toward homosexuals as this: "First of all, a service member's sexuality is a personal and private matter. We conduct extensive training to eliminate harassment of all types. We expect all our service members to be treated with dignity and respect." Cassella would not speak to individual discharges, but he did say that "commanders have a good deal of latitude. But we do expect them to apply the policy in a manner that is fair and consistent."

For the fiscal year ending in September 2001, a total of 1,227 service members were discharged from the US military on the grounds that they were homosexuals. The argument against allowing gays in the military has traditionally been that the presence of a gay man or lesbian would upset "unit cohesion" -- the ability of soldiers to bond and think and react as one. But even conservative service members don't view their gay counterparts as different, Hicks says.

He tells the story of a fundamentalist Christian classmate who frequently disagreed with him in class. "We were not on very good terms," says Hicks. "But he came up to me while all this was happening and he said, 'I don't agree with what you're doing, but I think it's really rotten what [the Army is] doing. If I had a choice between you and 75 percent of the rest of the company to be in a foxhole with, I would pick you.'" "You remember what Barry Goldwater said," says Lewis, paraphrasing the Arizona conservative. "He said, 'We said they had to shoot straight, not be straight.'"

Traci Rae Hukill is associate editor of the Monterey County Coast Weekly.

Insecurity Complex

Leave it to Sen. Robert Byrd, the last of the old-school senatorial orators, to put it best. In a tirade that won him an arched eyebrow from the New York Times -- a sure sign that he was onto something -- the senator from West Virginia, now serving his 50th year in Congress, uncorked all the ire he'd been saving up since the latest sumo-sized version of the homeland security bill had hit his desk with a crash two days earlier, leaving scarcely any time to examine it in detail before the scheduled vote.

"How is it that the Bush administration's No. 1 priority has evolved into a plan to create a giant, huge bureaucracy?" he demanded on the Senate floor on Nov. 19, just before 90 of his colleagues gave the nod to the bill. "How is it that the Congress bought into the belief that to take a plethora of federal agencies and departments and shuffle them around would make us safer from future terrorist attacks?"

Everything about the bill offended Byrd's sensibilities--its size (484 pages), its haste ("Our poor staffs were up most of the night studying it. They know some of the things that are in there, but they don't know all of them"), and its last-minute inclusion of provisions benefiting private corporations in general and a presidential alma mater in particular.

Most of all, Byrd took umbrage at the bill's subject: the creation of an enormous cabinet-level bureaucracy gathering under its awkward roofline 22 wildly divergent agencies, 170,000 civil servants and $37 billion worth of goods and services, making it the third-largest department in the government; only the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans' Affairs are bigger.

"Never have I seen such a monstrous piece of legislation sent to this body... this is a hoax. This is a hoax. To tell the American people they are going to be safer when we pass this is to hoax," Byrd fumed. "We ought to tell people the truth."

The truth is that no one expects the Department of Homeland Security to be very good at securing anything, except funding, for quite some time.

In July the General Accounting Office, the government's internal watchdog, cautioned that "the potential exists for an uncoordinated approach to homeland security that may lead to duplication of efforts or gaps in coverage, misallocation of resources, and inadequate monitoring of expenditures."

Tom Ridge, the president's nominee for secretary of the new department, has acknowledged that launching it will be a nightmare. And anyone nervously hoping that Homeland Security gets it together in time to prevent terrorist attacks in the event of a messy war in the Middle East need only read about the difficulties of getting the agencies' computers linked up to know that won't happen.

But the Department of Homeland Security is so far pretty good at one thing: transforming the character of the agencies under its roof by funding massive increases for military and security operations, while other services remain in a holding pattern. It's a hawk's dream project -- a blank slate, generous funding for intelligence and defense, and an ever-present threat to ensure a long life.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the case of the new department's two largest bodies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Coast Guard.

Enforcement Mentality INS

The second-biggest agency to be folded into the new Department of Homeland Security is the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Currently the INS resides within the Department of Justice, where its two branches -- enforcement and services -- coexist somewhat unhappily, one charged with barring entry to the U.S., the other with facilitating it. On March 1, these two branches will escape their troubled marriage and move into separate quarters in the Homeland Security building.

Once the INS is dissolved, the Bush administration will be left to reshape the way in which the nation deals with immigrants. It already seems clear that the two branches are not going to be treated as "equally important," as the Homeland Security bill's text states they should be. The enforcement branch, its $4 billion-plus budget in tow, is destined for the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security.

Not only will it be a heavy hitter within that bureau, but it will be one of the heaviest on a team of heavy hitters; the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security far outguns all the other six major divisions within Homeland Security when it comes to money ($16 billion) and employees (105,000). This is an outfit that will have Secretary Tom Ridge's rapt attention.

The services branch of the INS, on the other hand, will take its relatively puny $1.5 billion budget and set up shop as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It will be competing with the mammoth Border and Transportation Security division for funding and attention, and it's hard not to think that the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services will be at a disadvantage in this game. On the organizational chart, it hovers off to the side, a vestigial tail of a government office by comparison to the other robust divisions. It doesn't even get its own undersecretary.

This intrinsic inequality worries Jeanne Butterfield, executive director for the American Immigrant Lawyers Association.

"We have advocated for a long time for the separation of services and enforcement functions of INS, but we always wanted them to be in the same agency so the nuances and interpretations of policy would be consistent," she says.

"What I fear will happen is that the enforcement mentality to keep everyone out will predominate, and the little citizenship bureau is going to be subject to whatever legal interpretations and policy come out of the enforcement side."

Every indication points to the favored status of the enforcement branch. Since September 2001 the INS's budget has grown from $4.8 billion to $6.3 billion, a 31 percent increase. Virtually all the extra money has gone to border enforcement and inspections. Through the ensuing two budget cycles, funding for immigration services has remained stagnant at about $1.4 billion, while enforcement programs gained more than $1 billion to land at $3.9 billion this year. In addition, most of a third category of new programs falling under the heading "support and administration" -- which total nearly $200 million for 2003 -- are aimed at increasing security.

In 2003, enforcement will receive a $790 million increase over 2002. Services will receive $50 million. And of the 2,200 new positions approved for the INS next year, not one will be in the citizenship bureau -- despite a two-year-old mandate to speed up the naturalization process.

All of this adds up to a fundamental shift in philosophy: The policing half of the agency, pumped full of money and employees, is bulking up like a football player in training, while the clerkish services division is shunted aside and told to make do with what it already has. It's a case of enlargement of the enforcement gland.

Though it will easily escape detection by most American citizens, this shift will be very obvious to those trying to enter the country for legitimate purposes. The process of getting approved to work or study in the United States is about to become not just a wearying bureaucratic exercise but a vaguely hostile one. Though the State Department will still be responsible for issuing visas through its consular offices abroad, it's the Department of Homeland Security that will formulate policy on who gets those visas. And Homeland Security officers will be stationed at the major visa-issuing posts to oversee the process (in Saudi Arabia, they will be reviewing the actual visa applications). As if that's not intimidating enough, the government will track students' course of study throughout their stay.

Here's a taste of the new flavor of immigration policy: Starting Jan. 10, 2003, men of a certain age from a select group of 12 nations, most of them Gulf states, will have to be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned before they are allowed to enter the US. Even those who are already here must go to an INS office by that date to submit to the terms of "special registration."

This posture is anathema to the country's founding principles, says Katherine Newell Biernan, staff attorney for immigrants' rights at the National Asian Pacific-American Legal Consortium.

"Our position when this debate first began was that it would be a bad idea to put INS in Homeland Security because all immigration would be viewed through the lens of terrorism," she says. "That's neither good for our national security nor true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants."

A Different Coast Guard

In her statement about the Homeland Security bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer announced that she would support it, then proceeded to recite all the things she didn't like about it. Among them was the future of the Coast Guard.

"The Department of Homeland Security is largely about protection and enforcement," Boxer said. "When vital services for the people of this country -- such as FEMA disaster assistance and the Coast Guard's search and rescue role -- are thrown into an agency whose mission and purpose is primarily enforcement, I fear that these much-needed services will suffer."

The Coast Guard says they won't.

"As far as changes going into the Department of Homeland Security, there shouldn't be many changes," says Lt. Commander Jeff Carter of the Coast Guard. "The same job we're doing today we'll be doing tomorrow. The president has committed to taking us intact."

But a GAO report issued last week notes that in the immediate aftermath of September 11, non-homeland security Coast Guard functions have already seen a precipitous decline in man-hours. At first, law enforcement relating to drug interdiction, migrant interdiction and fisheries protection took the biggest hit, with man-hours dropping by nearly half as vessels and crews were used to patrol harbors instead.

Since then, law enforcement has generally rebounded; "However," the GAO authors write, "during our visits at individual Coast Guard sites, we were provided many examples showing that as of mid-2002, expanded security responsibilities were still affecting levels of effort for [non-security] missions."

The Coast Guard, though considered a branch of the military, has been part of the Department of Transportation since 1967. It fell under the Treasury Department for 177 years before that. Thanks to its civilian-friendly duties -- search and rescue, marine life protection, ice-breaking -- it has always been more lovable than the other branches of the military.

Come March 1, it will leave the Department of Transportation behind and become the largest single agency (43,000 employees and a $7.2 billion budget) within the Department of Homeland Security. And it will be a different Coast Guard.

The change in priorities over the last two budget cycles is marked. The 2001 Budget in Brief (released in September 2000 for the coming year) identifies seven main threats to American's maritime safety and security. The first is depletion of fish and other resources. The second is violations of laws that protect the environment. Terrorism is last on the list.

The Coast Guard is fond of reminding the public that homeland security has been one of its missions all along. That's true. But until the fall of 2001, homeland security fell under the rubric of the Marine Safety and Security program, along with managing vessel traffic and enforcing the rules of navigation. In 2001, Marine Safety and Security's operating expenses were $440 million.

Following September 11, however, the homeland security element was extracted from the Marine Safety program, put on steroids and rechristened Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security. This year, that department alone will account for $1 billion, or 22 percent of the Coast Guard's operating expenses budget.

The Coast Guard has used its post-September 11 windfall to assemble four of six planned "maritime SWAT teams," as a spokesman described them -- 100-person rapid-deployment teams of high-speed boats that fit into the belly of a C-130, in case they're needed overseas. And with passage two weeks ago of a seaport security bill, the Coast Guard's jurisdiction just quadrupled -- from three miles offshore to 12.

At the same time, the Coast Guard's environmental missions are getting smaller pieces of the pie than before.

Marine Environmental Protection (which deals with oil spills and other pollution hazards) got 11 percent of the Coast Guard's resources in 2001. This year it receives 8 percent. Living Marine Resources, the law enforcement program that protects against overfishing of dwindling fish species, made up 18 percent of the 2001 budget; this year it's 11 percent, $20 million less than two years ago.

Because the Coast Guard's total budget has leaped from $5 billion in 2001 to $7.2 billion in 2003, the dollar figures for non-homeland security programs have remained more or less constant. But the Coast Guard is currently in the eye of a public that doesn't want to lose its search and rescue services. The question is: What will funding for search and rescue, fisheries enforcement and marine environmental patrols be in five years, after the scrutiny has subsided and the Department of Homeland Security is just another bureaucracy?

Super Secret Service

Critics have leveled their protests at the Department of Homeland Security for a number of reasons: It duplicates the intelligence analysis that currently takes place at the CIA and the FBI, and in so doing wastes money and lays the ground for turf battles with those agencies; it severely undercuts employees' rights to collective bargaining, not just during emergencies but at all times; and it strictly limits the press's right to information pertaining to private companies, such as telecommunications corporations, that run parts of the "critical infrastructure."

As Byrd's speech attests, even the process of passing the bill was odious to many. After the Senate Governmental Affairs committee fashioned its own proposal, then reached a compromise with President Bush's version in the summer -- a lengthy bipartisan process -- various amendments began cropping up. The version that passed, called the Thompson amendment, differs from the bipartisan version in that it contained all of the controversial matters detailed above. Produced a scant two days before the scheduled vote, it was not subject to committee hearings.

Most of the commentary and outrage have swirled around particulars of the bill or how it came to be. More difficult to ascertain, though -- and maybe more important -- is how the government entities in the new Department of Homeland Security will mutate under its aegis.

The department draws a bewildering array of agencies together: INS, Customs, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Inspections division, two FBI offices, Health and Human Services' chem/bio/nuclear response team, part of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and a smattering of other intelligence, research and emergency preparedness offices. Though it will probably be years hence, their cultures and missions will eventually blend into a new creature, with its own trademark culture and mission: to be ever-vigilant to threat. In the end, that inexorable process may be the most insidious of all.

Traci Rae Hukill is associate editor of the Monterey County Coast Weekly.

Sister Inferior

According to the New Testament, women disciples followed Jesus and listened to his teachings, shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. Jesus raised one woman from the dead and saved another-a woman dragged out of her lover's bed-from death by stoning. Women accompanied Jesus to his death, standing at the foot of the cross, anointing and burying his body, discovering the empty tomb, and finally witnessing his resurrection before his male apostles did.

When I was growing up in St. Joseph's Parish and parochial school in Oregon, my mother taught CCD classes to high school and college kids. She served as a Eucharistic minister, feeding the Body and Blood of Christ to her fellow parishioners at mass and coffee and donuts to them afterwards in the church's cafeteria. She could minister to the young, the sick and the hungry. But she couldn't perform the sacraments or lead the flock.

I believe Jesus was a feminist. I'm still waiting for the Catholic Church to realize this. Now the church is acknowledging the transgressions of some of its priests, even confessing and asking for forgiveness. Maybe sexism will follow suit, and women will break through the church's ancient stained-glass ceiling.

Or maybe the priest-shortage problem-only tangentially related to the current troubles-will become so dire that the church will have to ordain women.

The first nun I try to interview to discuss these questions laughs at me, says she won't talk to me and tells me to call a priest. (I'm back in fourth grade, stinging from Sister Susan's infamous ear-lobe pinch, and from the guilt of saying something I wasn't supposed to say.)

Several more women won't return my phone calls or talk to me on the record without prior approval from the Diocese spokesman, a priest. One kind Sister wants to meet, but she's leaving town and won't return until after my deadline.

The one woman who is able to talk to me is a laywoman, Martina O'Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of Monterey County, a non-profit agency that serves the poor and homeless who are facing eviction, utility shutoff, or who need money for rent or food. Catholic Charities also provides counseling and immigration services within the Diocese of Monterey's four-county area-Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo. O'Sullivan's also a wife, a mother and a lifelong Catholic.

Sitting in her tidy office in Seaside, O'Sullivan proudly shows off a framed picture of her three grown daughters. She prefaces many of her statements with "I'm not a theologian; I'm just giving you this Catholic woman's perspective."

O'Sullivan believes women should be ordained, although she wouldn't want to be a priest herself. She's more satisfied living her faith at the helm of her social justice ministry than she would be at the head of the institutional church.

And while she's saddened and horrified by the sex-abuse crisis, she believes that a deeper spirituality will emerge from its ashes.

"I think what this crisis is doing is indeed offering us a chance to look at what is happening right now within the institutional church, and for the leaders of the church to say, 'Look, there have been mistakes here, but let's face those mistakes openly and make decisions about doing things differently,'" O'Sullivan says. "But I don't know that the institutional church will connect, for instance, involving a stronger role for women in the church with this crisis. It's going to take many years. It may take another something like Vatican II."

And although many organizations, such as Women's Ordination Conference and Catholic Network for Women's Equality, continue their call for ending the traditional, all-male, celibate priesthood, O'Sullivan, 54, doesn't foresee any women priests in her lifetime.

"Although clearly you've got precedents for there being a larger role for women in the Catholic Church," she says, pointing out that women have been disciples, prophets and founding sisters of religious communities. "But the church is not unlike what society has been, in that if you look at the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, it says all men were created equal.

"I guess what we can't lose sight of is that the basis of our faith, the basis of my faith, doesn't lie in the men that are in the leadership of the institutional church or in the parishes. The real basis of my faith lies in the truth of what I believe about Jesus and God.

"The roles of men and women in the church have not been equal. That is a truth. But are you going to let that stop you from using the gift that God has given you?"

O'Sullivan hasn't. She follows Jesus' teachings of inclusion. She feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and shelters the homeless, regardless of their skin color, religious affiliation or gender. She works for justice and equality in spite of the current sex-abuse scandal and the age-old disparity between the brothers and sisters in the Church.

And that gives me hope.

Jesus Was a Feminist

According to the New Testament, women disciples followed Jesus and listened to his teachings, shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. Jesus raised one woman from the dead and saved another -- a woman dragged out of her lover's bed -- from death by stoning.

Women accompanied Jesus to his death, standing at the foot of the cross, anointing and burying his body, discovering the empty tomb and finally witnessing his resurrection before his male apostles did.

When I was growing up in St. Joseph's Parish and parochial school in Oregon, my mother taught CCD classes to high school and college kids. She served as a Eucharistic minister, feeding the Body and Blood of Christ to her fellow parishioners at mass and coffee and donuts to them afterward in the church's cafeteria. She could minister to the young, the sick and the hungry. But she couldn't perform the sacraments or lead the flock.

I believe Jesus was a feminist. I'm still waiting for the Catholic Church to realize this. Now the church is acknowledging the transgressions of some of its priests, even confessing and asking for forgiveness. Maybe sexism will follow suit, and women will break through the church's ancient stained-glass ceiling. Or maybe the priest-shortage problem -- only tangentially related to the current troubles -- will become so dire that the church will have to ordain women.

The first nun I try to interview to discuss these questions laughs at me, says she won't talk to me and tells me to call a priest. (I'm back in fourth grade, stinging from Sister Susan's infamous ear-lobe pinch, and from the guilt of saying something I wasn't supposed to say.)

Several more women won't return my phone calls or talk to me on the record without prior approval from the Diocese spokesman, a priest. One kind Sister wants to meet, but she's leaving town and won't return until after my deadline.

The one woman who is able to talk to me is a laywoman, Martina O'Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of Monterey County, a non-profit agency that serves the poor and homeless who are facing eviction, utility shutoff, or who need money for rent or food. O'Sullivan is also a wife, a mother and a lifelong Catholic.

Sitting in her tidy office, O'Sullivan proudly shows off a framed picture of her three grown daughters. She prefaces many of her statements with "I'm not a theologian; I'm just giving you this Catholic woman's perspective."

O'Sullivan believes women should be ordained, although she wouldn't want to be a priest herself. She's more satisfied living her faith at the helm of her social justice ministry than she would be at the head of the institutional church.

And while she's saddened and horrified by the sex-abuse crisis, she believes that a deeper spirituality will emerge from its ashes.

"I think what this crisis is doing is indeed offering us a chance to look at what is happening right now within the institutional church, and for the leaders of the church to say, 'Look, there have been mistakes here, but let's face those mistakes openly and make decisions about doing things differently,'" O'Sullivan says. "But I don't know that the institutional church will connect, for instance, involving a stronger role for women in the church with this crisis. It's going to take many years. It may take another something like Vatican II."

And although many organizations, such as Women's Ordination Conference and Catholic Network for Women's Equality, continue their call for ending the traditional, all-male, celibate priesthood, O'Sullivan, 54, doesn't foresee any women priests in her lifetime.

"Although clearly you've got precedents for there being a larger role for women in the Catholic Church," she says, pointing out that women have been disciples, prophets and founding sisters of religious communities. "But the church is not unlike what society has been, in that if you look at the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, it says all men were created equal.

"I guess what we can't lose sight of is that the basis of our faith, the basis of my faith, doesn't lie in the men that are in the leadership of the institutional church or in the parishes. The real basis of my faith lies in the truth of what I believe about Jesus and God.

"The roles of men and women in the church have not been equal. That is a truth. But are you going to let that stop you from using the gift that God has given you?"

O'Sullivan hasn't. She follows Jesus' teachings of inclusion. She feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and shelters the homeless, regardless of their skin color, religious affiliation or gender. She works for justice and equality in spite of the current sex-abuse scandal and the age-old disparity between the brothers and sisters in the Church.

And that gives me hope.

Jessica Lyons is a staff writer at Coast Weekly.

Modern Masters and Old-School Monsters

Is it a conspiracy or just a coincidence that both Saul Bellow and Philip Roth have chosen for the protagonist of their latest novels an aging humanities scholar enamored of the ancient Greeks? Bellow's Abe Ravelstein, a philosophy professor famously modeled on the author's friend Allan Bloom, grounds his thinking in Plato and Aristotle; Roth's Coleman Silk, an African-American passing for Jewish who teaches classics, is devoted to Homer and the tragedians. Both men find in the works of these dead white males a combination of values, wisdom and insight into the human condition that transcends time and place.

The other thing these novels have in common is a first-person narrator who closely resembles the author and who functions in the story mainly as a witness. Bellow's Chick in Ravelstein is a moderately successful writer who has encouraged his friend to set down his educational ideas in a book that inexplicably becomes a bestseller and makes its author, Ravelstein, rich enough to afford the material luxuries he likes to lavish on himself. Chick holds Ravelstein in awe as a kind of mentor--even though Ravelstein is the younger man--and is urged by the vain and bombastic Ravelstein (who, as it happens, is dying of AIDS) to write a memoir of him when he's gone.

Roth's familiar Nathan Zuckerman in The Human Stain is, like his creator, a well-known novelist who jealously guards his privacy yet whose life and work are disrupted by Silk, who entreats him to write the story of the disgraced professor's downfall after being unjustly accused of racism. Where Chick is a rather passive character, claiming merely to record "piecemeal" the larger-than-life antics of his pal Ravelstein, Zuckerman the irrepressible novelist is drawn so deeply into Silk's story that he becomes an investigator who imaginatively reconstructs events he could not have witnessed. Roth makes it clear to the reader that his book is fiction, which gives him license to excavate the imaginary facts in search of deeper truths.

By contrast, it's unclear whether the author of Ravelstein is fully aware of the unreliability of his own narrator. Chick/Bellow so adores and admires Ravelstein/Bloom that his affectionate account reveals not only a brilliant teacher and colorful individual but an obnoxious, slovenly, intellectually arrogant, cruel, overbearing, egomaniacal blowhard. More ironic still, as argued persuasively by Louis Menand in the New York Review, the real subject of Bellow's book may not be Bloom at all but the author's most recent former wife, a gorgeous Romanian mathematician portrayed here as a high-powered physicist named Vela, against whom he takes literary revenge with a scathingly nasty if superficial portrait.

Following that line of speculation I would go further to suggest that the wry equanimity of tone that pervades his prose is a reflection of Bellow's contentment with his fifth and latest wife--named Rosamund in Ravelstein--a bright but blandly angelic young woman less than half his age who, in the novel as in life, is devoted to taking care of him in his twilight years. It's as if Bellow, having survived into his mid-80s with his stylistic and intellectual gifts intact, can't quite believe how lucky he is to be living his final chapters in such sweet company.

Roth on the other hand, at 67 a generation younger than Bellow, shows no sign of mellowing with age. If anything, his fierce engagement with the issues of our time, and of all time--freedom, identity, justice, betrayal, hypocrisy, integrity, family--is more intense than ever in The Human Stain. The creator of the comic masterpiece Portnoy's Complaint has in recent years taken that manic energy and turned it toward the darker reaches of contemporary history for the sake of exploring, in maximalist terms, profoundly vexing questions: What is the nature of the human soul? Why must the good suffer? How do the most intelligent people still manage to deceive themselves? How does history inevitably invade and change our supposedly private lives? Roth's vision may be tragic, but the passion, anger, exasperation, wit and curiosity that fuel his sentences make this latest book, like the five that preceded it in the 1990s, yet another invigorating and consciousness-shaking performance.

In a recent interview, Roth cited Bellow's great 1954 novel The Adventures of Augie March as one of his early inspirational examples of "verbal freedom, imaginative freedom," a liberating model of the individual voice that every writer aspires to. In The Human Stain, the theme of freedom, of creative individuality, also occupies a central place: Coleman Silk, a physically and intellectually gifted light-skinned black man, decides, like so many Americans before him in fact and fiction, to reinvent himself. Having ruthlessly rejected his own mother, Silk sets out on the Nietzschean/Emersonian path to become what he is, and succeeds, only to be brought down, some 50 years on, by "the stranglehold of history that is one's own time." Like the ruined king in Oedipus at Colonus, Silk's dignity and heroism reside (as Zuckerman imagines it) in the consciousness of his conduct amid "the terrifyingly provisional nature of everything" that conspires to destroy him. Roth offers no catharsis, no resolution, no "closure," only a pained awareness of ambiguity and grief.

By inventing rather than accepting a received identity, Silk takes on a lifelong secret that is a private burden, but a burden that empowers him to move freely in a society otherwise closed to most individuals of his "group." In unraveling Silk's story, Zuckerman/Roth reveals the slipperiness of fixed notions of identity and at the same time explores not only Silk's secret but the shadowy zones in the souls of his other main characters as well--especially Coleman's much younger lover, Faunia Farley, a supposedly illiterate, much-abused, long-suffering, hard-luck, tough-minded woman who, despite her dreadful life, forcefully rejects the role of victim.

In the probing portrayal of Faunia we see the dramatic difference between Roth's and Bellow's respective interest in women: where Bellow is content to describe from a bemused distance his female characters in Ravelstein, Roth in The Human Stain attempts to enter the minds of his--even the unsympathetic academic villain, Delphine Roux--and examine the workings of their psyches from their own point of view. Faunia is a complex and compelling character with a power and wholeness one might not expect from an external description of her situation. Roth brings her alive in all her contradictory subjectivity.

The human stain is itself a resonant metaphor, first cited by Faunia in reference to a tamed crow. It alludes to the taint that people leave on everything they touch, and to the indelible marks of identity we bear despite our every effort to erase them, and to the imperfections of our messy lives that may have their roots in the biblical curse of the knowledge of good and evil, and finally to the incriminating spots on Monica Lewinsky's dress, "the smoking come" of a president whose human weakness and public persecution provide the atmospheric backdrop for the terrible tale of Coleman Silk.

As in his previous novel, I Married a Communist, Roth is indicting the moral corruption of a social order that, in its hypocritical piety, demands the ritual sacrifice of anyone who won't abide the tyranny of mass thought. He resists all ideology, struggling instead with human unknowableness--another kind of stain--the enduring mystery of who we are and what makes us act as we do. Roth is no optimist and is therefore long-shot Nobel Prize material: his work unsettles more than it uplifts. But like Bellow, who won that honor in 1976 and is the acknowledged dean of American letters, Roth is a monster among fiction writers who may in time cast an even longer shadow.

High Anxiety

Your head hurts, your back aches, and the scratchy feeling in your throat indicates there's a cold coming on. You're still running behind on the same projects you were running behind on last month, if you don't sit down to pay the bills tonight they're all going to be late, but it's your daughter's open house so you have to be there. Put it all together and it's enough to make you want to go to bed, pull the blankets over your head and put the world on hold.And if you don't do something soon, you may be forced to do exactly that.If you're lucky, you'll be laid out temporarily by a cold or the flu. If you're not so lucky, you'll be staring at the inside of a coffin lid.Increasingly, researchers have been tying physical health to mental health -- the better you feel, the better you are. If you're feeling stressed -- overwhelmed, overworked and underloved -- even the hardiest body is more susceptible to all the little, and not-so-little, ailments that come along.There are some estimates, in fact, that 70-80 percent of all visits to the doctor are directly or indirectly stress related.Clearly, we'd be a healthier, happier society if we could just get rid of the things that have us worked up in knots. But in a society that's doing nothing but speed up, there are inevitably increasing demands on our time and our resources. So what's to do?A growing number of people are turning to mind/body health practitioners who make it their business to relieve stress. What used to be defined as "alternative" therapies are becoming more and more mainstream.The Root of All Evil?In many situations, stress is a good thing. It's at the core of the "fight or flight" reflex that allowed our ancestors to make decisions about whether to do battle with the big-fanged monster they just found sunning itself on the savannah or to get the hell out of the neighborhood. A mellow cavedude could very quickly become a dead cavedude.Basically, stress is a body reaction that increases heart and breathing rates while pupils dilate, dumps adrenaline into the system, floods the bloodstream with sugar and fat to provide the fuel for quick energy, and tenses muscles. Then the brain has to figure out what to do with this hyper-alert, ready-for-action machine. Take the caveman for example:He walks into the clearing and sees the monster. His body immediately reacts, then his brain kicks in to assess the situation. "Oh, wow, man! The monster's asleep -- I can run over, stab it with my pointy stick and the girls will go ape over my new monster-skin cape." Or, "Holy mastodon turds! That monster's staring right at me! Feet don't fail me now!"With his body at the ready, our caveman is able to respond to the instructions given by his brain.In such physical situations, stress is still a good thing. If you're speeding to work on the highway and a big rig suddenly changes into your lane, you want your body instantly prepped to take action -- whether it's changing lanes or slamming on the brakes.Physically, stress is a relatively simple reaction that helps a person resolve relatively short-term problems. You kill the monster or you escape, then you take a nap and your body returns to its normal state.But in today's increasingly complex world, the problems that confront us on a daily basis are neither simple nor are they short-term.Your boss doesn't like you, and you think she's just looking for any reason to fire you. Every time she walks past your desk, your body warps into stress mode. But you can neither physically fight nor flee because you still have to pay the rent and put food on the table. There's no resolution to the problem and this monster walks past you five times a day, five days a week. Even when you're not at the office, you know the same situation will exist when you walk through the door tomorrow morning. There's neither relief nor release from this kind of stress and it's beginning to take its toll -- not just on individuals, but also on society at large.The numbers about stress are startling. According to the American Institute of Stress:* 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress.* 75-90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints or disorders.* Stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis and suicide.* An estimated 1 million workers are absent on an average workday because of stress-related complaints. Stress is said to be responsible for more than half of the 550,000,000 workdays lost annually because of absenteeism.* Nearly half of all American workers suffer from symptoms of burnout, a disabling reaction to stress on the job.And it's a situation that seems to be getting worse. As the world speeds up, real income goes down for many people and expectations (from job performance to cosmetic appearances) rise, people are appar- ently feeling less and less adequate to kill or escape the monsters that confront them. In 1996, Prevention Magazine found that 73 percent of adults feel "great stress" on a weekly basis -- that's nearly a 20 percent increase from 1983, when the magazine found that 55 percent of the adult population indicated they felt regularly stressed. And the National Center for Health Statistics in 1991 found that 46 percent of the population felt "highly stressed;" in 1985, the figure was a mere 20 percent.Of course, here in the U.S., we don't take our illnesses lying down. When we can afford it, we run to the doctor and take rainbows of little pills. By the middle of the 1990s, we were spending $1.6 billion on anti-anxiety medications.But those pills didn't stop the body count from growing. Of all the major killer-diseases, stress has been most closely linked to cardiovascular disease. While there are physical components connected to heart disease (some of which, such as diet and smoking, are themselves stress-related), stress has an intrinsically deleterious effect on the heart and blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease kills about 1 million people per year -- approximately 52 percent of deaths from all causes.With numbers like these, it's becoming impossible to ignore the high cost of stress to society at large. But, without wholesale changes in the way we structure society and do business, what's to be done?Making ChoicesMillions of us elect to do nothing about the levels of stress in our lives or how we choose to manage it. At best, we narcotize ourselves with nicotine, alcohol and other drugs, or we find ways -- television, computers, video games, eating, magazines -- to distract ourselves from the causes of our stress. And, although any of these might provide temporary relief, they may ultimately increase the levels of stress that we feel.Stress becomes debilitating when we feel powerless to overcome a problem. By employing short-term solutions to avoid or mask the bigger problem, we're putting ourselves in a situation where we're at risk of spiraling deeper into the heart of despair. Drugs can be addictive -- creating more obstacles that we feel helpless to address; the media barrages us with a host of problems worldwide over which we have little power; overindulgence in food can lead to health problems and poor self image. Ultimately the short-term solutions may themselves turn into problems that we can't overcome, further undermining our ability to confront other challenges we face.Joy Colangelo, supervisor of occupational therapy at a California hospital, teaches stress management to members of the hospital staff and at workshops. She says the hospital offers considerable support to its employees, especially during predictable times of stress -- such as when a new technology is introduced, or when a new patient is introduced on a particular floor.Colangelo says typical indicators that a department is under stress are an increase in activity but a decrease in productivity, a lack of prioritization, a decrease in cooperation, and an increase in blaming others.She says that although people generally are capable of addressing issues in both their personal and work lives, they sometimes don't quite know where to begin. In particularly entrenched cases, Colangelo says it's important to start at the beginning, with the little things."I teach that you have to start with making good, easy choices. Then you might be able to make some choices about yourself that might need fixing. Practice on objects in your home, then on other people, and then on yourself."One of the beginning exercises that Colangelo suggests is for a person to select a particular shelf in their home, and begin by evaluating each object on that shelf. Do I really like this trinket? How much do I want to keep this picture? By getting rid of the things that have no meaning, a person learns a lesson about control and decision-making, a lesson that can then be transferred to interpersonal relations. Do I really need to talk with that person? Do I want to talk with him about that?Empowered from there, a person may be able to turn their attention to the bigger problems they confront. People who feel powerless may never even attempt to slay the monsters that confront them. But once they are convinced they have some degree of power, they may decide they can defend themselves from and overcome the daily sources of stress in their life.And just as there are many sources responsible for the creation of stress, there are many methods being employed to reduce stress levels.Changing PrescriptionsThe grimoire of treatments for stress management ranges from prescription drugs to aromatherapy, acupuncture and massage. On the one hand, pills such as Prozac and Valium (the most prescribed drug in the U.S.), treat stress and its close relative, depression, as a chemical problem.On the face of it, both drugs seem to treat the symptoms of stress, rather than the problem itself, but there's a deeper intent behind their use. If, the theory goes, the symptoms can be neutralized long enough, the person suffering from depression can gain enough time and relief from the symptoms to work on the source of the problem. This can be a costly approach, involving not only the use of medications but of a psychologist and psychiatrist to help the patient work through problems.The high cost of this approach to improving mental health has lead some insurance companies to consider paying for alternative, less-expensive treatments. Twenty years ago, it would have been nearly impossible to find an insurance company to reimburse a client for getting needled by an acupuncturist or rubbed by a massage therapist. Today, insurers such as Blue Cross have decided it may be cheaper to promote mental health and reduce stress before it forces a person into the hospital or the arms of pedigreed health professional.Through its Healthy Extensions program, Blue Cross provides "alternative medicine and wellness resources" for its members. In addition to providing reduced-cost physical checkups and memberships with some fitness centers, it also offers a list of "health and wellness practitioners." Included in that group are hypnotherapists, yoga instructors, and massage therapists.If the insurance business is beginning to warm up to the idea of relaxation as a way to prevent more serious problems from occurring, the general public is boiling over with enthusiasm.Brian Day, general manager of Blackthorne Pools and Spas, a company that's been installing hot tubs for 25 years, says business is booming."Over the last two years, there's been an increase of almost 35 percent," says Day. "The year before that it was about 20 percent. Over the last three years, especially, it's been record-breaking year after record-breaking year after record-breaking year."Massage therapists also report a tremendous upsurge in the number of new clients they're seeing. According to Linda Lundy, a 23-year veteran in the field, about a third of her current appointments are made with clients who have never before been massaged.It's obvious that people have begun to take relaxation seriously.Go With the FlowFor thousands of years, a basic building block of Eastern medical philosophy has been the flow of energy (qi or chi) throughout the body. When someone is ill, it reflects a blockage of energy somewhere in the person's body. These blockages may be caused by either physical injury or mental processes. Staying well, and healing, is the art of keeping the energy channels running free throughout the body clear.In acupuncture and certain deep-tissue forms of massage, elaborate maps of energy points -- meridians -- have been identified, and skilled practitioners are able, with the prick of a needle or the application of pressure, to clear blockages from the energy channels. With energy flowing normally, the body is better able to heal itself.David Fuess, an acupuncturist and teacher of yoga, tai chi and meditation, sees an intrinsic link between stress and the flow of energy."I see stress in terms of constriction. When you're stressed all different parts of your body are constricted -- your cojones, your stomach, your brain, your face. And every time you have constriction you impede the flow of qi. That can be translated as you get less blood or oxygen to the brain, but I see it in terms of qi."Similarly, meditation works to relax both the body and the brain so that energy may flow more cleanly throughout. Whether it's yoga or transcendental meditation, the goal is to achieve a state in mind and body integrated through the flow of energy in a state of relaxation."It's a given fact that the body is energy," says Fuess, "so the idea is you want to find out how the energies in your body work and how you can affect them. Yoga means union. It can mean union of yourself with god or it can mean union of your right brain with your left brain. It has to do with the balanced free flow of qi."Related to energy flow, is massage, perhaps the most accessible method for mellowing-out. Similar to acupuncture, a practitioner releases tension by applying pressure at various points of the body. And similar to meditation, the hands-on treatment offers a time when people are encouraged to let their brains slip away while they get back inside their relaxing bodies. Long a staple treatment for athletes, the growth in the number of spas and people practicing massage speaks to its growing popularity with people in all walks of life.According to Lundy, massage works on a couple of different levels. On the one hand, there's a mechanically measurable effect on the body. The lymph system is cleansed, endorphins are released, muscles are relaxed, and deep breathing increases the flow of oxygen to the brain.But something else happens, too. "There's something about a caring touch that talks to the soul as well as the body," says Lundy. "That's what we always emphasize around massage, that there is this special ingredient beyond the mechanical. "We spend more time with the patient than a doctor or a nurse. We get more information about the whole person -- their psychology, what's going in their life. Did their mother just die? Did they just lose their job? We're a little bit of a nurse/doctor, psychologist, surrogate wife, etc. We fill a lot of roles. Massage has the quality of just its function and the quality of the person administering it. It just cannot be duplicated by drugs or mechanical devices."Do Your Own ThingUltimately, of course, individuals must make the choice for how they want to manage their own stress. For each person, there's probably a unique combination of meditation, medication and massage that will cure what ails them. And, for the most part, once introduced to the array of possibilities, each individual will know what works best for them.Diana Case, a licensed psychologist, counsels patients about stress management. She says finding effective treatment is a function not only of person's given situation, but also of the person him or herself. Some people are generally less prone to stress than others, the things that provoke a stress reaction differ from person to person, and the ways we've been conditioned to handle stressful situations determine how we are affected. She says because the causes of stress are so variable, and because we are such complex animals, there is no single way to manage stress that will work for all people."I feel there are hundreds and thousands of ways to handle stress," says Case. "Although I am not spiritual, there are people who find spiritual ways work. I try to work on helping people develop their own stress management technique."But, before a person can develop ways to cope with the stress, it's important to be able to identify the onslaught of stress. In a handout that Case uses, she identifies 27 common signs of stress, including "lack of concentration; feeling pressured or keyed up; loss of zest for living; strong urge to cry, run or hide; tightness in chest; too little or too much sleep; accident proneness; and general fatigue or low energy."In another handout, Case lists more than 20 ways to cope with stress, including breathing exercises, meditation, massage and soothing music or sounds.Once someone learns a few basic techniques for reducing stress, it becomes possible for them to activate those techniques whenever a problematic situation arises. Instead of being overwhelmed by that initial rush of feelings, a person may choose, quite literally, to take a deep breath and shrug it off.In the end, it's probably immaterial which technique a person uses to manage the inevitable stress that affects our lives. But what is becoming increasingly obvious is that that if you don't voluntarily figure out some way to slough off tension, your body might not make the healthiest decisions about how to handle the overload.And if that happens, you might never make it to that open house.

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