I – we – are all victims of mass shootings in the United States of America.

This piece has been written over the span of two years, although I don’t necessarily count days, months, or years as significant markers of time anymore. This has been written between articles, with each turn of the media news cycle, and with each passing announcement that another mass shooting has taken place in the United States of America.

It began with Isla Vista, then carried over to Charleston, then to Umpqua. I have developed an almost-callous emotional routine with each shooting. I open up my Google News aggregator as I am drinking a cup of coffee. I read through the hot-take, mildly inaccurate live news developments. Refresh, refresh, refresh. I feel a sequential surge of emotions – first sadness, followed by anger, proceeded by helplessness. I feel compelled to write because it is the only sense of control I have over the situation. Quick fingers on the keyboard give way to emotional fatigue. I cannot continue writing. I stop.

And then a very fucked up, uncontrollable thought slithers into my mind: Maybe, I think. Maybe, I’ll finish my thoughts after the next mass shooting.

The next mass shooting. Can you blame me for anticipating such an event – an event as American and as inevitable as war, misappropriated taxes, and prolonged (natural) death? It is no longer a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen, how big it will be and if, this time, it will be me. I want to be so terribly wrong, but Umpqua turns into San Bernardino, then UCLA, and then, yesterday, Orlando. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The last three high profile mass shootings – the aforementioned San Bernardino, UCLA, and Orlando – have been particularly visceral experiences because I have deeply identified with the victims. I am the young California state employee attending a budget-conscious Christmas Party. I am the Vietnamese American woman who did not die amid the ravishes of the Vietnam War, but by a bullet on the land that was supposed to protect her. I am the girl at a raucous, queer dance party where I can flirt, and dance, and laugh in the safety of my community – supposedly.

Each conversation with my parents – both survivors of war, witnesses of sanctioned violence – comes with a warning of simply being. Be careful at the movies, or walking with your girlfriend, or as you work. I take the time to reassure my parents that I’ll be fine, although my version of “fine” has become an exercise of cognitive dissonance – simultaneously trying to be aware of my surroundings, but not giving into the media narrative of who I should be fearful of.

I worry about you working in higher education, my sister once said to me, referring to the countless acts of gun-related violence on college campuses across the nation. I’ll joke that, ironically enough, university systems are typically devoid of clear processes and simple decision-making mechanisms save one glaring exception. Should a gun appear, there’s a precise order: you run, you hide, you fight.

I imagine some iteration of these conversations taking place in countless phone calls, cities, and languages across the nation. Be careful if you’re black or if you’re brown. Watch yourself if you work for the Navy or if you work for a school. You’re not safe if you have small children or if you’re a student. Always be aware of the emergency exits if you’re at the mall or at the movies. Be prepared for the next mass shooting if you live in the United States of America.

A shooting eventually begets the media circus, which begets the social media circus. In a matter of days, I will hear the name of the shooter, the name of the victims, and then the name of every congressman I should call to do something I know they won’t do. The swell of hashtag condolences will crescendo and then fade into ideological clashes of who is responsible. We never come to the answer. Numbing and distraction sets in until the next group of people must run, hide, or fight. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Refresh, refresh, refresh.

The more we settle for this cycle – of caring more about our inanimate objects and settling for ethereal prayers – the more we become victims of ourselves. I am ready to break this cycle – to move beyond the motions of sadness, anger, disillusionment, and fear. This is where we begin so that we do not end up where we started.

I don’t want to write this piece anymore.

I am watching the Women’s World Cup and Beyond.

As you may have witnessed, yesterday the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) won their third World Cup. I am proudly a part of the generation who came of age when the 1999 USWNT survived an excruciating set of penalty kicks to cinch its second World Cup Title. I was ten, but I remember it all – Michelle Aker’s hair; Mia Hamm’s dry-fit uniform shirts that, like every other clothing item in the 90s, was way too big for her; and, of course, the Brandi Chastain kick and subsequent shirt ripping heard around the world.

Yesterday, the dream of the 90s was alive (not too far from Portland) in Vancouver. By now, you’ve probably watched the endless vines of all five USWNT goals. You’ve probably marveled at Carli Lloyd’s sick hat-trick at the 16 minute mark, resulting in the second best sports-related Wikipedia page edit ever* when her position of “Midfielder” became “President of the United States.”

And yes, you’ve probably already read the subsequent, very justified outrage from outlets like Jezebel describing the jarring disparity in pay between male athletes and female athletes. The argument goes like this: The 2015 Women’s World Cup Final posted the largest television ratings of any World Cup game but women still get paid substantially less than men to play the game. Cue the ridicule of the FIFA World Cup Champions (not even the men’s World Cup Champion because the male game is normative!) being paid 35 million relative to the paltry women’s purse of 2 million dollars. Much of the analysis seems to insinuate that we should pay female athletes more, like, right now.

Well, hold up platonic girlfriends. Let’s back it up. Look, I’m a sports-watching feminist who spent my morning run pretending I was Carli Lloyd while listening to Ricky Martin’s La Copa De La Vida and the NBC Olympics theme on repeat (literally). But, we’re heading into some simplistic, Dubya-esque territory if we think that equitable pay alone will resolve our collective attitude around women’s sports. The issue of equitable pay for women in sports is a band-aid to the bigger issues we consistently fail to address – how we watch sports and foster sustainable viewership for our female athletes.

Pro-Tip 1: Let’s be More Than Just Fairweather Female Sports Fans

For all the discussions about how popular the final game of the Women’s World Cup was, let’s also keep in mind the circumstances – it was a final round, taking place on a holiday weekend, with the odds heavily in favor the Americans, featuring teams that we both fought against and allied with during World War II (England, Germany, and Japan). It’s the bait of bandwagoners, the stuff memes are made of.

What has not been discussed is how, aside from World Cup Tournaments, women’s soccer leagues have had a difficult time gaining traction in the United States. Little millennial girls like myself may have rushed to Mervyn’s for a pair of Umbro soccer shorts and a black sports bra we had yet to grow into, but since 1999 there have been three attempts to establish a women’s professional soccer league – the Women’s United Soccer Association (which folded after two seasons), the Women’s Professional Soccer League (which folded after five seasons), and currently the National Women’s Soccer League (founded in 2013, still in action). The culprits of league demise is a vicious cycle of low attendance and a subsequently resource-strapped league.

In many ways, the first step to increasing a female athlete’s salary is for all of us to show up to games slathered in the most obnoxious body and face paints from start to finish – not just when Carli Lloyd hits three goals in less than 15 minutes during the biggest show in women’s sports, but when her team, the Houston Dash, are in town to kick it (pun intended). The same can be said about the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), whose season is vastly truncated compared to their male counterparts. But, how can I complain about length when even a die-hard basketball fan like myself has yet to attend a WNBA game?

Pro-Tip 2: Let’s Change the Way We Think About Sports

If you think about what is generally considered the most interesting parts of games, much of it has to do with physical might – the home run in baseball, the hail mary pass in football, the slam dunk in basketball, the off-the-block-world-record –breaking-six-second flash of the men’s 100 meter dash. Defense wins games, but it’s fucking boring and oohhh, look at Blake Griffin do a 360 layup!

The argument has been oft-posed is that women’s sports is vastly less interesting (and therefore less popular) because women are slower, weaker, and it’s not a dunk, Brittney Griner, until you mindlessly do it over an entire gospel choir and a Kia. In this line of argumentation, women’s sports is a failed institution because the intent of sports is to showcase the strongest, the fastest, and the most powerful.

Even if women are generally slower and weaker than men (at this juncture of history at least), one of the failings of this logic is that power, strength, and speed alone is enough to win a game. If this were true, Colin Kaepernick would be the superior quarterback to his dough-ier brethren, Tom Brady and ROTFLMAO at that sentiment. Arguably, much of sports is about strategy, intelligence, and technical skill – a chess match-like series of adjustments that you can’t necessarily see. And, strength itself isn’t inherently entertaining. In a sport such as tennis, the men’s and women’s competitions are equally popular despite the slower serve speeds of female tennis players. With slower serve speeds, women rally more, creating a game just as entertaining as watching one dude serve at 100 miles per hour while the other dude stands there as dumbfounded as Rick Perry during a presidential debate.

In other words, let’s change the idea that sports is just all Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger, says the Olympic motto) and amend that with “I’m also smarter, bitches.”**

For those of us who aren’t professional football players, gymnasts, golfers, or ice skaters, our translators of sports nuance and technique are adept television color commentators. In sports commentary, there are two types of commentators: the play-by-play, black-and-white announcer and the color commentator who adds layers to the viewing experience by contributing analysis, background information, historical context, and a breakdown of strategic decisions. The latter contributes “colorful” flourishes that can really add depth to the sports watching experience.

If you ever want an example of how great color commentary adds appreciation to the game watching experience, think of every Olympic ice skating program you’ve ever watched. You’ll probably hear Scott Hamilton’s voice and his commentary on a supposedly mundane twist of an ice skater’s foot – pointing out that this skater probably took 5 years to learn that shit and was worked like a Romanian gymnast until it was painfully perfected, so yeah that move is fucking hard. I couldn’t see it, but now I know.

Great commentary and women’s sports go hand-in-hand in showing us what we don’t see, what weshould appreciate, and emphasizes the often incredible historical circumstances these women are operating in. Take, for instance, the oft-mentioned 5-4 penalty kick shoot out in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. I would advise watching the entire 15-minute clip embedded below if you enjoy tingly nostalgic feelings running through your body, but if you’re strapped for time, pay attention to the comment made at the 8:31 mark.

It’s all about placement, says the commentator about saves in the women’s soccer game. Female goal keepers are not athletic enough to make saves on the far right or left netting. But, that is what makes the save from Briana Scurry so incredible – she’s not depending solely on speed, but rather a reading of the opposing player’s placement.

Pro-Tip 3: Let’s Talk About Women’s Sports Publicly

Each morning on my daily commute, I flip between NPR, yelling at inept drivers, and 95.7 The Game – a San Francisco-based sports radio channel that I love, love, love. I listened for about two hours today on my day off – it was less than 12 hours after the World Cup win and not a single mention of the win. The talk of the town was the sixth straight loss by the Giants. Are you kidding me? Six straight losses overshadowed one huge global win for the United States.

During the day, I flip through the aggregate sports news site Bleacher Report occasionally for the day’s stream of sports happenings. We are less than 24 hours removed from the World Cup win and here’s the top news for BR:

World Cup

That’s right – DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul aren’t BFF and didn’t sign HAGS in their yearbooks, so Jordan peaced out.  Really? The USWNT wins the World Cup and it is second to the literally fourtharticle written about how Chris Paul didn’t high-five DeAndre Jordan enough – seriously, that’s what all these articles are about.

On my feed for the Grantland Sports podcast by ESPN, there was a podcast created on Thursday, July 2 specifically about the impending trades during NBA Free Agency, but absolutely nothing yet on the Women’s World Cup. The sight of a bunch of rotund white men sitting by their phones and faxing contracts to one another to fill out their rosters is more exciting to the general population than the Women’s World Cup win.

In sports, money is tied to advertisers, who anticipate viewership, which is often directly correlated to media coverage. It may not be in this sequence of connections, but media coverage matters significantly. But, it’s men that consistently call-in to their favorite sports shows on the radio, thereby dictating what is talked about. It’s men that write a majority of what is published in sports media. It’s mostly men that do the interviews, that write in the comments section of Bleacher Report articles, that host the podcasts and the radio shows.

Let’s go to the games, but let’s also do what women do exceptionally well – talk about sports like it’s a bottomless mimosa brunch on a Sunday morning of a three-day weekend and one of your girlfriends just got dumped. Talk so that others will listen, engage, and will feel compelled to watch.

On a slightly related note, I’d really like to put a moratorium on a rather stupid statement used far too frequently in sports media and fandom: “[Insert shitty player here] plays like a girl” i.e. “Dwight Howard plays like a girl.” The statement is, in the words of George Orwell, a dying metaphor that has “lost all evocative power and…[is] used to save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” After all, how can playing like a girl mean playing horribly when we have women like Serena Williams and Mone Davis? That’s just lazy writing.

 Pro-Tip 4: Let’s Play Sports.

There’s no better way to love sports more than playing them. I follow professional basketball from the day of the NBA Draft, through the regular season, and into the deep, deep playoff runs because I love the game. It’s a love that I’ve had since the age of five – deepened with my first regulation sized leather basketball, to all those adolescent summer hours spent in my garage teaching myself to spin a basketball on my index finger, to my first team game in middle school where felt the scratchy mesh of a maroon and white jersey against my skin.

I love the hollowed out way a basketball sounds when it hits a wood floor. I love the constant feeling of heat during a game – the sweat dripping down your face as you stand by the sidelines, the air conditioner hitting you with one last spurt of air as anxiously stand waiting for the time to enter the game. I love the screeching sounds of frantic rubber soles looking for a space in the lane or an open stretch of court for the perfect, nothing but net jumper.

I love all of these things and feel so intimately tied to them that I always feel, though I’m not very good anymore, that I’m a part of the game, constantly on a team with other women, fighting for the win. And I write about my personal experiences not to say that I have an authority over the subject, but because I know other women who have also spent their formative years entrenched in the glorious, painful, and wonderful world of organized sports. Let’s*** play so that we can cheer, and watch, and comment, and be represented and show that our love of the game is not lesser because of our gender.  Let’s play and participate because that’s one of many factors that will sustain women’s sports and open the door to equitable pay.

Editor’s Notes:

*The best sports-related Wikipedia page edit ever is when LA Laker’s coach Bryon’s Scott’s page described him as a “retired American basketball player and the worst coach of all time.”

**Not sure how to translate that into Greek. Sorry, kids.

***The second person plural call to action in this piece is a call to both men and women. 

I am fine dining.

A few weeks ago, I turned 28 the way I typically do:  On a cold January morning, with some acknowledgement of my birth by acquaintances and cousins three times removed on Facebook, and the recipient of a few Emoji-laden, non-sensical text messages from my endearing mother.  This was the age I had been waiting for – the age that my family fortuneteller predicted would be the beginning of the “good life.”  And, let me tell you, the accuracy of my fortuneteller is indisputable despite his offices being housed in mildly dilapidated strip mall, wedged between “Precis Hair Salon” and “St. Elmo’s Lounge N Club.”  He had predicted milestones throughout my early 20s, so I excitedly anticipated the day I turned 28.

The first day of my 28th year was rather uneventful, which was to be expected.  A lesson I’ve learned in getting older is that my personal growth has never been the product of radical, overnight change.  I’ve made plenty of failed midnight promises to change my life (usually while nursing a hangover and the shame of having consumed half a bag of stale semi-sweet chocolate chips).  Instead, I’ve realized that I evolve incrementally, with no conscious awareness of my growth until some unexpected moment.  Two years ago, I found myself cooking with two-buck chuck instead of drinking it.  A year ago, I was able to help my father financially – finally (and slowly) paying him back for all the years he worked to help me.

The second and third days of my 28th year passed with little fanfare.  And then, on the fourth day of my 28th year, I had somehow ended up with my long-term lesbian partner at a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco.

Venturing beyond 2-dollar sign Yelp-land is a very significant development for me.  As a child, my idea of eating out was inhaling a Sourdough Jack and a box of chili cheese curly fries amid the aroma of lard and Windex at the nearest Jack-in-the-Box.  This was a delicacy I could only indulge in only if I received straight-As on my report card, which reinforced my identity as the local chubby Vietnamese nerd.  My other formative experiences with dining out are the number of Vietnamese restaurants my parents frequented.  Like most authentic, cheap Vietnamese restaurants, you pay for the bowl of incredible pho, but not for the overworked, disinterested waiter, or the feeling of eating quickly because the number of Vietnamese people awaiting a table has exponentially increased, or the cacophony of crying babies, crashing dishes, and endless Celine Dion songs.  In sum, I’m used to eating a bunch of shit, being treated like shit, and paying shit while listening to the third rotation of “The Power of Love” – and I’m perfectly fine with that.

So, here I am in this new, wonderful world of waiters who actually treat you like you have feelings.  It’s fucking weird.  They talk to you about the menu and ask you about your preferred flavor profile despite your only knowing two flavors – things that taste good and things that taste bad.  They explain to you that sturgeon is a fish and not the occupation you had failed to become thereby destroying your mother’s dreams.  They fold your cloth (!!) napkins while your lesbian partner goes to the bathroom despite the logic that she will just unfurl the napkin again.  They ask you how you’re enjoying your meal.

The waiter-patron conversation piece is perhaps the most interesting and difficult part of a fine dining experience.  You have to talk to the waiter just enough because they’re serving you food.  They determine just how much water you get, how many pats of butter you get to smear all over those sad unbuttered rolls, and how awkward the two or so hours of waiter-patron chit-chat will be.  But, you don’t want have excessive conversation while your mouth is full of sturgeon (??).  In order to help me assess the appropriate amount of conversation needed in a fine dining experience, I have drawn the following spectrum of acceptable communication chart, which I hope you will find helpful:


Another interesting anomaly about fine dining is the number counterintuitive relationships between food prices and factors such as size.  In a normal situation, a logical assumption would be that the more you pay, the bigger your food portions will be.  In a peculiar situation, such as fine dining, there are a number of irregular, illogical, inverse relationships:

  • As menu prices increase, the food portions become smaller.
  • As menu prices increase, the food appears to become rawer or at least not cooked on a flame.
  • Although the food is less cooked and smaller in portion, the number of utensils that are available to use increase.
  • As menu prices increase, the food becomes less like the thing in itself and more conceptual and esoteric (i.e. not getting an actual duck, but rather a “duck mousse”).
  • The more conceptual the food becomes, the less I understand what the hell is going on or what I am eating.

To emphasize how illogical I think all of this is, I’ve taken the liberty to draw five superfluous graphs that basically just reiterate the biased generalizations I just made:


After all was done – the regulated chit-chat, the consumption of the best (and perhaps only) not-duck, and the suppression of eating like the carnivorous Neanderthal that I am – my partner received the bill.  She was recovering from a terrible fever, endured a bout of overwhelming fatigue, listened to and participated in my endless observations about fine dining, and had picked up the inordinately expensive tab. I had once thought the “good life” awaiting me was to be able to afford lavish meals and to finally be a part of a fine dining-like world, shedding away my working-class perceptions about life and leisure.  Yet, that sudden, magical realization of growth and the “good life” did not occur the moment we walked into that restaurant.  It happened as we walked out.  How wonderful, I thought, to have turned 28 with the person I love – and more wonderful to be fine with the way I experienced life in the past and fine that it informs the way I see life now.  Perhaps it was leaving the restaurant, or not needing to play a part anymore, or just being bemused by the experience, but as we left all was calm, all was fine, all was “good.”