Category Archives: Writing

The Others

I’m still processing the election results. I’m still in mourning. I hear the calls for unity and graciousness in defeat and to keep moving forward, to keep fighting the good fight. And I promise you I will get there.

But for now I am bone-weary, on the literal verge of tears or nausea – or both – every second of the day. Anything could tip the balance; everything will. A text or several from my dearly beloveds checking in on me and on each other; a corporate lamenting with acquaintances the shock of it all; a wordless, heavy-sighed hug.

The best way for me to digest this is to write. I need to shout into the void why this particular election and outcome felt deeply personal, and deeply wounding. I want you to understand.

I am a woman of color. And let me be very clear in qualifying those labels: I am a woman, but a dual-income middle class one. A real-life, SUV-driving, church-volunteering soccer mom, raised in a loving, secure home with plenty to eat, drink, and wear. My husband and I work hard at decent jobs every day to earn our livelihood; we live responsibly, ethically, charitably, BUT we both received a leg up from the word go, standing on the shoulders of our hard-working, white-collar, college-educated parents.

I was taught by my parents that my femaleness was not a hindrance or an obstacle to overcome; it was merely biology.

And my color has always been a source of cultural pride and ancient rooted heritage. Outside the walls of my home, I was a person of a different ethnicity, but one that was more a curiosity than a danger, one less threatening and less threatened. As a woman of color, I somehow ended up with a corner-store privilege other women and people of color only hope for.

But here is where I need you to hear me. If not to understand, then at least to know. To acknowledge my story, even if you don’t care to buy it.

Growing up in Alabama, I learned pretty quickly all about my Otherness. Every year each school had to take a census based on gender, age, ethnicity, even household income. And every year I checked a box literally labeled, “Other.” I was not White; I was not Black. For years, those were the only choices I was given before having to label myself, “Other.” It was a small thing but damaging nonetheless, particularly to a young girl just trying to fit in somewhere.

As an Asian, I was called many things, out of ignorance or jest or both. A very short list of the more creative nicknames about my brown skin, given to me by my white friends: Kiwi; Wheat Bread; Ethnic Kim. One classmate in fifth grade refused to call me anything other than Connie Chung. She wasn’t the only famous woman of color I was compared to, not because I mirrored their success or talent, but solely based on my approximate resemblance to them. There was also Kristi Yamaguchi, Margaret Cho, Mulan. Not one of these women are Filipina.

One particularly heartbreaking reminder of my Otherness came when a boy I went on a blind date with turned down a second one because I wasn’t white and his mom would flip out. His hard pass didn’t break my heart; his racism did. Surely he was just not interested, but to use racism as a valid reason in this century?

Ever since junior high, my loud, outgoing personality attracted this same wry observation more times than I can count: aren’t you Asian women supposed to be quiet/meek/submissive?

To this person of color the lesson was clear: I don’t behave the way I should; alternately, lighten up, it’s just a joke.

My father taught me from an early age to work hard and right and bold, to fight for every inch, and to deserve every inch I won. Not just because hard work is something to be admired, but because there are plenty of people who can’t wait to watch us fail. Because there is very little room for error when you’re a minority.

As a person of color navigating a very white south, I learned to laugh at the jokes and to make some myself, to thicken my brown skin, to stay alert to and aware of my Otherness, lest I forget I don’t really belong here.

As a woman, I have fought the same battles nearly every woman in this country has fought, regardless of color or station or class. I have never been sexually assaulted (thank you, Jesus), but I have been sexually harassed. I have been catcalled. I have been pressured or guilted into catering to a man’s will, physical or otherwise; I have been dismissed or name-called when I would not. I was told, presumably complimented, by a male coworker, when I was eight months pregnant (and married), he would still definitely, “hit that.” I have been told, as a young girl figuring out what exactly to do with my body, “modest is hottest,” and to not be a “stumbling block” for my “brothers in Christ.” That my femininity and virginity were my greatest attributes, my most honorable offerings to the world of men.

Hear this: this is a daily reality for women everywhere. Every woman knows what it feels like for a man to determine her worth, every woman knows what it feels like to lose a piece of herself, her spot, her value at the rough hands of male privilege.

Hillary Clinton’s emotional concession speech is a speech we women know well. It’s the same speech we have given ourselves and our daughters time and time again, loss after heart-wrenching loss. Her speech was all of us taking it on the chin while knowing our work and worth was not quite enough, may never quite be enough, played out on the grandest stage.

Outside the warm walls of my home and family, I was taught this world is not built to be kind to women, and every battle will be hard-fought and barely-won, in constant danger of slipping from our fingers if we so much as breathe too heavily.

To this woman the lesson was clear: I don’t own my own inconvenient body; alternately, who am I to want to take up equal space in this world?

This week my country scrutinized a more qualified, more experienced career politician who just happened to be a woman, and gave her job to a man whose entire career and campaign were built on exploiting and bullying the marginalized, the minority, the perceived weak. My country saw a politician whose missteps overshadowed the good, hard work she had accomplished and found her less electable than a man with no political experience and buckets of gross misjudgment, the very embodiment of white male privilege who spoke and behaved from that privileged place irresponsibly, condescendingly, hatefully toward women, people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, the disabled…in other words, toward us the Others.

Half – HALF – of my voting neighbors and fellow Americans weighed their options and decided this man was preferable to that woman. A flawed woman blamed for everything from her appearance to her husband’s infidelity, but a woman more qualified, more compassionate, more experienced, more proven.

To this Other the lesson is clear: today, in 2016, we are not meant to feel safe in our own skin.

Alternately?

We will always be the Others.

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The Day I Tore

Prologue:
I was born into a soccer-loving family. I grew up on the soccer fields, first as a spectator at my brother’s games, and then as a player: small and clumsy but fast and fearless.

It took a few years – I was not naturally gifted like my brother – but I started making the cuts. First, in sixth grade onto our YMCA’s first-year premier team, then in seventh grade as one of three girls on the coed junior high team, then in eighth grade on a travel team that won tournaments across the southeast. (The coach of that team was the highest-ranked coach in the state and moved on to coaching a professional indoor team the following season.)

By my senior year in high school, I was selected as one of three female All-State student-athletes representing my school in the sport of soccer. (There was a banquet and everything.)

My soccer-related injuries in all those years were: numerous face balls, a broken toe or two, sore ankles and knees, and six tight stitches just below my knee from running into a metal bench on a water break. (A cute senior on the boys’ soccer team wrapped my leg in his white tee-shirt to staunch the bleeding. Someone should probably make a rom-com about this.)

I worked hard to become the player I wanted to be, a fast right midfielder with the full 90 minutes of endurance in me and a strong kick to set up goal after goal. Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.

I love and have loved this game my whole life.

Chapter One and Only:
I picked the game back up in my twenties, joining an adult league with some co-workers, mostly to get back into shape and fall back in love with the game. A few weeks into the season I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, so I quit.

Nearly seven years later, I joined the same league again, different team, higher age bracket, worse shape, but still crazy about the game. I had grown antsy on the sidelines all over again watching my kids play, wishing I could be out there running the midfield and setting up the offense.

My first game in almost a decade went all right, all things considered – for the first twenty minutes. By then I was ready for an inhaler (I don’t have asthma), and to just go home and cry myself to loser sleep (even though my team had won).

The second game, however, went a little differently.

My endurance was still a joke, but the strategy of the game was starting to come back to me. I still had my speed (for an EXPLOSIVE ten seconds or so), and I knew where to play to space and managed to get a few decent touches in. (Guys, I am 100% bragging right now.)

About thirty minutes into the first half, one of our strikers dropped the ball back to me. It looked like it had a weird spin on it, so I backed off to let it bounce. I was wide open, and a quick glance up the field showed lots of open space for our front guys to make a fast break, if only I could get a good kick past their defense.

So I stepped off the pass to line up my kick. I was near the sideline, so when I stepped backward on my left leg and heard a loud pop, I thought I had accidentally stepped on some ice near someone’s water bottle or cooler. Cleats on crushed ice, that was the sound I heard in my head and that still makes my skin crawl.

For a split second, I turned around to apologize or excuse myself, but then immediately felt the fire racing up my left leg. I fell to the ground, wondering what the H just happened. I couldn’t process it. Did I pull something? Did I step on something? Did my ankle guard crack somehow? What was that popping sound?

Turns out it was me, the popping sound loud enough that nearby players heard it, wondering if I had stepped on a rock or somehow knocked my cleats together. It was a sudden pain, an intensity I had never, ever felt before, like someone had lit me on fire from the bottom of my heel to the top of my calf. Two teammates had to carry me off the field, and I nearly burst into tears when someone tried to pull off my cleat.

They finally got my cleat and my sock and my shin guard off, and I remember apologizing profusely because I hadn’t gotten a pedicure in MONTHS. Someone stuck my foot in a cooler full of ice, someone else’s sweet kid offered me his seat and ran to fill my water bottle back up, everyone was kind and attentive and assured me when I apologized over and over in embarrassment.

By the end of the game, I still couldn’t bear any weight on my left foot, but the pain had subsided. Teammates, opponents, neighbors, my husband and kiddos – it was a collective effort to get me to the car and then home, certain ice and rest and painkillers would do the trick.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I went to the doctor that I found out my Achilles’ tendon had ruptured in two, and the sickening pop that still nauseates me every time I think about it is precisely what that sounds like, and the fire shooting up my leg was the tendon ends unraveling as they came apart. (You’re welcome.)

There were some speculations, of course, sideline diagnostics, some WebMD site-trolling, but I figured it didn’t hurt badly enough or long enough to be anything serious. And I wasn’t playing NEARLY hard enough to tear something. PUH-LEASE. This is weekend soccer with a bunch of over-30-year-olds.

GUYS. Did you know weekend athletes over the age of 30 are EXACTLY the people who will tear their Achilles’ tendon?

Epilogue, In Pictures:

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Youthful Innocence


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Wizened Reality


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Friends Tell It Like It Is


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FAT FOOT


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It Has A Name

The Beginning.
(Of a 10ish-week road to recovery, a road that probably doesn’t lead back to the soccer fields any time soon.)

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A Song for the Redeemed, Part 2

Disclaimers: My real-life friends get on to me for refusing to talk about my writing in person. My husband doesn’t even know what this story is about because I refuse to tell him what I’m writing. My patient, patient editors have not signed off on this piece yet because I feel bad bugging them to read my junk. Everything and everyone you are about to read about are figments of my imagination. For Part 1, click here.

*     *     *     *     *

Ciana couldn’t tell you what it was exactly that drew her into their tight circle. She should have just kept walking.

But she had never seen him before, and his voice carried through the air and his eyes flashed with intelligence and conviction, and it didn’t hurt that he was beautiful. Scientifically speaking, Ciana corrected herself, as science has theorized that beauty is just symmetry, which is just nature’s way of attracting.

And Ciana — by nature’s design — could not help but appreciate the symmetry of his face.

She drifted closer, catching the cusps of his words and the way his deep voice enveloped each one. Closer still, and she heard the slightest rasp as his timbre rose, sandpaper smoothing over each syllable. One more step and she was on the fringe of this circle, and he noticed her, finally, though his speech remained seamless.

Ciana wanted to unseat him as thoroughly as he had her, but did not know how.

So she listened to him speak. She swallowed his every word. And when he bowed his head, and his circle of friends or followers imitated him, she boldly stared.

And then he looked up and lifted his hands and the crowd dispersed and his eyes never left hers.

“Hello,” he said, an invitation.

Ciana fell apart when that one word hit her in the very center of her chest, so she turned quickly and away.

But she had listened and had swallowed his every word.

###

“Hello.”

It was the same word, spoken the same way, and it froze the blood in Ciana’s veins.

Carefully, she looked up from her textbook and into the symmetrically fashioned eyes of the man she had run away from last week.

Was it just last week?

Every afternoon Ciana had crossed that particular lawn on her way to class she had looked for him, and every afternoon when she did not find him, it felt like its own small eternity.

Without breaking eye contact, he sat across the table from her. Ciana couldn’t have looked away if she had tried.

“I was hoping to run into you again,” he said, and the ice inside her skin slowly began to melt. “I’m Ben.” He reached a hand across the space between them, and she shook it quickly, uncertainly.

“I’m Ciana.”

Ben smiled, then glanced at the textbook before her. His smile faltered at the unfamiliar symbols lining the open page.

“What in God’s name is that?” He leaned to get a closer look, but Ciana instinctively sat back, increasing the distance between them. She tucked the book beneath her binder to hide it from further scrutiny. Ciana wished she could do the same.

“Set-theoretic topology.” A blush bit into her scalp. She folded up her notes and dropped her things back into her bag.

“That looks…fascinating,” Ben said. “So are you done then? Do you have time to grab a cup of coffee with me?”

Ciana hesitated. Ben smiled wide, the symmetry shattered by a dimple in one cheek, nearly camouflaged by the dusty brown scruff coating the hills and lines of his jaw. Ciana wondered if this half-grown beard was intent or laziness. Whatever it was, it hid that dimple like a secret, and Ciana always found intrigue in the secrets.

“I have an hour before my next class.” The words tripped out of her mouth before she had a chance to reconsider.

And in that hour, Ciana learned that Ben drank his coffee black and bitter. That he absentmindedly rolled the plastic stirrer between two fingers as he listened with purpose. That the rest of him sat in stillness and ease while Ciana tapped out a rhythm against the table corner, dug her fingernails into the rim of her styrofoam cup, and crossed her legs at the knee, the ankle, and sometimes in between.

“Thanks for the coffee, but I’ve got to go,” she said one hour later. As she stood, the level of reluctance to leave rose with her.

“It was great talking with you,” Ben said, following her. He pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket. “Can I call you sometime?”

The flood of reluctance whooshed out of the bottom of her feet, replaced by a lightness.

And Ciana, a girl who fumbles with social graces and tastes the depths of her own darkness, gave her phone number to Ben, a boy who fiddles with straws and consumes the blackness with nothing sweet to temper it.

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A Song for the Redeemed, Part 1

Disclaimers: I started before today. I totally broke the rules of NaNoWriMo. I still plan on writing 50,000 words in thirty days even though I gave myself a head start. Everything you are about to read is fiction.  I take my writing more seriously than I take myself. I didn’t run the entire 25 minutes this morning because my daughter pooped in her pants.

*     *     *     *     *

She had survived.

If there was anything anyone could say with any sense of certainty about Ciana Reese, it was that she had survived.

And no one could take that away from her.

No one, that is, but Ciana.

And that was what she was afraid of.

Who knows how long it took for those scars on her wrist to heal? She had pressed harder and harder, deeper and longer, until she had blacked out. And in that blackness, she never really knew how far she had gone or how far she had left to go.

Though the skin eventually scabbed over, thin layers knitting themselves back together from the inside out, Ciana couldn’t say how many days it had taken for the dead and broken cells to be replaced. Sometime between when it happened and when she first noticed the white lines plagiarizing her blue veins, her body closed itself up, and without her permission.

Ciana hadn’t tried again. Not because she was afraid of the pain. In fact, the pain had been the most welcome part. The pain was the proof of this nineteen-year-old theorem.

Ciana hadn’t tried again because Ciana was afraid to fail.

“What do you think you are doing?”

There was no shock in her mother’s voice, only boredom, so Ciana didn’t even bother to look up.

“What. Are. You. Doing?”

Every syllable was punctuated with the truth that, though she asked, she could not have cared less.

“I’m giving myself a tattoo,” Ciana said, matching her tone. She felt her mother’s eyes on her, wondering if it was worth it. If she was worth it.

“If it gets infected, I am not taking you to the doctor,” was her mother’s reply.

“Yup,” was Ciana’s.

She had seen a prison documentary once, about how inmates sometimes gave themselves primitive tattoos using ink pens and a needle. Or maybe it was in a movie, or on the Internet. Either way, it was working.

A drop of blood bubbled to the surface, vivacious and proud. It was a tragedy to wipe it away, but that was the only way to get the ink beneath the skin.

Ciana’s spine popped when she finally sat up straight to survey her work. The two white lines running vertical along her wrist were no longer scars but accents highlighting one simple word, a mantra of sorts.

BE.

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Storytellers

I’m a storyteller at heart. I take annoying things like having a bad day or lacking faith, and turn them into stories. I like telling you about my son’s compassion and my daughter’s affection, but in a way that you can feel his warmth and her tenderness.

I like to take forgettable things and make them a bit more memorable.

But I also really like making stuff up completely. (I’m talking about writing fiction, not pathologically lying.)

November is National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve attempted this crazy idea for the last two years. And I’ve already hashed out this year’s attempt, and I’m itching to get started.

But I have this problem. There’s a difference between letting people read my blog and letting people read my fiction. The latter is way scarier. I don’t even let my husband read my junk. I kick him out of the room if I’m writing because I JUST KNOW he’s reading over my shoulder from across the room on the couch with the TV on.

Well, that’s enough of that.

I’ll be busy next month working on my fiction, and simultaneously working on this hesitancy (or maybe outright phobia) of sharing my fiction. So fair warning, all (or most, or some, or one maybe) of my posts next month will be pieces of my NaNoWriMo (that’s what we veterans call it) project, lovingly titled A Song for the Redeemed. Guys, I am SO GOOD at titling things.

AREN’T YOU EXCITED? I am. Or maybe that’s fear I’m feeling. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

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Why I Write

I asked this question on the Twitter a little while back, and the response was overwhelming. Even folks who don’t necessarily consider themselves writers replied with the same idea that boiled down to, “Because I have to.” I get it. I totally do.

I love to write. I love it. A lot. If I don’t take the time to write, I get grumpy. I yell at my kids. I tell my husband to do his own dang laundry. I don’t bring my reusable grocery bags in to Kroger. I know, I KNOW. I’m basically the mom version of Bane when I don’t write.

I write because I have to, because God not only gave me the gift but the need to write. So I do.

I write about my kids because they inspire me and consume me and twenty-four hours with them isn’t nearly enough to satisfy me until they are another twenty-four hours older. So I am desperate to capture the awe, to communicate it to them in ways more timeless than infinite kisses and picnic lunches.

I write about my faith, because sometimes I invite God in and He overtakes me. Sometimes I let Him fill me and His fullness cannot be contained. Sometimes I listen when He reminds me how He not just loves me perfectly, but likes me personally.

I write about the bizarre things I think about, because I love to laugh, even at myself. I am convinced everyone thinks the same way I do, they’re just better at hiding their inner weirdo.

But lately I’ve been asking myself why I write in the context of sharing what I write. And I’m not sure I really know the answer yet. I don’t know why not writing makes me cranky, why I feel satisfied after writing something good, why — just recently — I actually want you to read what I’m writing.

But I do know I want my words to resonate. I want to draw you in. I want you to leave with the same feeling of satisfaction, a sense of something — Someone — out there, the feeling that something grand is at work. I want to make you laugh, because laughter makes things a little friendlier.

If I cannot — or do not — make things better through writing, then why write? If I cannot make God more present for those who doubt, why write? If I cannot insist that God is the prize, and everything else is just excess, just His generosity, if I cannot bring Heaven a little nearer, if I cannot woo you to the Jesus I know, then why write?

It is a question I am still asking.

And in the meantime, I’ll write about it.

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The Mighty Weight

I’m sorry. But I’m not going to leave you alone about this.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I have a newsletter now. I also have an e-Book. Sort of. It’s more or less a compilation. A pamphlet? Words I typed on electronic paper. ALL OF THE ABOVE. And I called it The Mighty Weight. That’s just extra information you might be interested in. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I want you to read it and love it, because soon I’m going to write something else on electronic paper and then try to charge you for it. But this one? FREE. Don’t you love things that are free? I love things that are free, unless it’s the THREE Yellow Books that showed up on my doorstep. I actually hate those.

I want to tell you more about The Mighty Weight, but I hired some of my friends to tell you about it instead. Full disclosure, they’re all being compensated with empty promises of doughnuts.

* * *

As a parent, I know that I can never fully put into words the love and joy that I share with my son. With The Mighty Weight, Jessica has dipped her pen into the fountain of those inexpressible feelings and beautifully leaked them all over the paper. You know what? She’s better at analogies than me. Just read it, OK?
Ricky Anderson, Chick-Fil-A enthusiast and the reincarnation of Dave Barry

I recommend reading Jessica Buttram’s book The Mighty Weight twice. The first time read it as a collection of lovingly crafted essays about her children, Bug and Bean. The second time read it as a collection of insane ramblings about a literal bug and a literal bean. This is the book that keeps on giving!
Chad Gibbs, author & frequent inscriber of God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC

After reading A Mighty Weight, I want Jessica Buttram to be my mom. Except she’s quite a bit younger than I am so that would probably be awkward. Instead, let me say how beautifully she evokes the spectrum of emotions fostered by motherhood; how precisely she’s put to words what I’ve always felt about my own children but haven’t been able to write myself. Jess, “I love this. Like, a lot.”
Julie Gardner, editor extraordinaire and New York Times soon-to-be bestselling author (trust me on that)

I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with many talented writers and among them all, Jessica is easily one of the most talented. I just don’t think she knows the scope of her skill yet.
Knox McCoy, author of Jesus and The Bachelor/ette and co-creator of TVAsylum.com and his kids

The Mighty Weight is so beautifully written it made me wish I were a mother. Then, when I was near the end (I read it in a single sitting), my 7-year-old twins got into a fight with lawn darts and reminded me I am a mother. I ignored them and finished the book. Read The Mighty Weight. Jessica finds poetry amidst the layered moments of parenthood.
Leanne Shirtliffe, irony-enthusiast and Third Most Humorous Female Award recipient

Never before has there been such a powerful book from someone whose very name, Jessica Buttram, can be rearranged to spell A MAJESTIC BURST. Or JUST BEAT RACISM. Or BASIC UTTERS JAM.
Clay Morgan, the anti-blogger and reigning Cryptograms champion

JB and I go way back, back to 1965 when my parents met at prom and I played the guitar. This book was steal awesome then, when I stole it from the future to bet on sports games. Great Scott and Great Book.
Tyler Tarver, author of Letters to Famous People and Ryan Gosling’s scruffy chin double

Jessica’s honest writing will break your heart (but don’t worry — it will reform to twice its original size).
Stinky Face Auntie M, my little sister and a girl I almost ran away with once

* * *

See? My friends are so great and hilarious and…a little bit…random. NO MATTER. They liked it and I like them and we all have exquisite taste because everyone likes doughnuts.

All you have to do to get a FREE copy of The Mighty Weight is sign up for my newsletter. I even made it easy by including the link in the words “sign up for my newsletter.” See, I did it again!

Once you subscribe, you’ll receive a final Confirmation email – within this email is a link to open The Mighty Weight. Just click it and pretend I’m pouring you a nice mug/cup/flask of coffee/tea/bourbon.

PS, I love you.

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