Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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World on fire

There is a stack of books on display in my living room that is very dear to me. One is a scrapbook of all the ideas that Andy came up with for proposing to me. One is the novelty book about our relationship that he actually did use to propose to me. One is the children’s book that my two best friends wrote and illustrated for me as a wedding present, based on our Twenty-Somewhere characters. And one is the scrapbook of our wedding weekend and three receptions.

If my house were on fire and I could only save one thing (other than Andy and Riley, of course) I would save that stack of books. It is priceless. It represents the best, most sacred things in my life. Love and family.

When I was in college, my sister-person’s house burned down. Luckily neither she nor her mother were home at the time, but they lost basically everything. Clothes, computers, photographs, heirlooms, keepsakes, and most heartbreaking of all, their cat and dog.

(We were told that the animals didn’t suffer. The smoke muddled their brains and caused them to simply lie down and sleep.)

My sister was not able to save anything. She was not given that choice. She could only make peace with the ashes and rubble, and move on. So that’s what she did, with unbelievable grace.

Last week, Paris burned. Literally and figuratively.

It seems like every day there is a “house” burning down somewhere in the world. And in the wake of those tragedies, we see what people chose to save. We see what they value.

We see people who have suffered yet still reach out their hands to offer assistance or comfort to others.

And we see people who turn their backs, trying to protect themselves from further pain and fear.

I am lucky. I have never been in a fire. I have never had to see my home or my belongings reduced to smoky nothing. I hope that I never do.

But I also hope that if that unthinkable worst were to happen, it would not reduce me to smoky nothing. I hope that I would not be ruled by anxiety and anger. I hope that, like my sister-person, the experience would reinforce my strength, not reduce it. I hope that I would honor my loss not by hoarding what little remained, but by sharing it freely. I hope that my heart would remain open, and full of compassion.

I hope.

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Home (part 5)

It’s the first house in weeks that has caught your eye. Timeless brick, attractive landscaping, and oh man, those hardwood floors. You click through each photo, waiting for the “but.” The catch. The compromise. But there is none.

It’s even better in person. You’re not supposed to fall in love — not yet, not yet — but how can you resist that sunny window seat in the attic dormer? Or the inviting front porch where you can unwind in the evenings? Or the fenced, shaded yard where your dog can roam and your future children can play?

It’s what you’ve been waiting for. The “quickening” sensation in your chest that your realtor described. A sense of rightness. Of possibility. You spend several days walking the nearby streets, poking into local businesses and getting a feel for the neighborhood. No, you’re not supposed to fall in love yet, but something is blooming inside you. Your lips flower into a smile.

It’s a whirlwind process. Offer, counter offer, contract, loan, inspection, negotiation, closing. Less than 30 days after you first set foot on the property, someone hands you the keys.

It’s so surreal.

It’s yours.


It’s over a hundred years old, but brand new to you. You can barely take it all in. There’s so much space. So much to learn. Cast iron radiators, plaster walls, knob and tube wiring. You have no idea what you’re doing, but that’s what makes this an adventure. Even the dog has to discover all the sunny spots anew.

It’s a blank canvas. An eternal work-in-progress. You both want so badly for it to be just right, right away. But perfect doesn’t exist, and even good enough doesn’t happen overnight. Take a breath, take a break. Take it one day at a time. If you just keep going, you’ll get to where you want to be eventually, probably without even realizing it. (There’s a writing metaphor in that, by the way.)

It’s dripping onto the baseboards when you’re painting a room. Then fixing a leaky valve in the basement. Breaking the blinds when you’re cleaning a window. Then finding a cool new light fixture for the dining room. Hitting brick when you’re trying to hang a picture. Then hosting a dinner party for some wonderful friends, and realizing that this — jokes, drinks, warmth, love — is what it’s all about.

It might not be guaranteed, but it’s more than a maybe.

It might not be forever, but it’s a future.

It’s a dream come true, and a dream unfolding.

It’s a mix of hopes, expectations, and the unknown.

It’s the next chapter in your most treasured story.

It’s time to turn the page.

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Home (part 4)

It’s a leap of faith. He asks you to follow him to a new city, and you say yes. You’re moving in together, but it doesn’t feel like a sin. Just the opposite, in fact. Like puzzle pieces clicking into place.

It’s a jumble of hand-me-down furniture and college dorm cast-offs. The big blue recliner. The IKEA drawers that don’t align quite right. The creaky bed, with two comforters because someone hogs his blanket in the night. He springs for a new sofa though, big and comfortable. And a new flat-screen TV too.

It’s every bit as much yours as it is his, even though your name isn’t on the deed. You fill a closet with your clothes. You buy a piano as a graduation present to yourself and then play it (occasionally) in the spare room. You vacuum, wash dishes, and do laundry. You help decide where the paintings and souvenirs should be displayed.

It’s that first night with a new puppy, who is so soft and adorable and whimpering. Just this once, you sleep on the floor next to his crate. You both barely get any rest at all, but you both feel better anyway.

It’s watching Twilight with girlfriends from work. Cooking together and setting off the smoke alarm. Hosting four other couples for dinner, everyone cheerfully crammed into the living room, playing charades and euchre. Dog-sitting for neighbors. Watching deer wander through the backyard, their ears pricking at the sound of your dog’s bark.

It’s where you finish writing your first novel, just before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

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It’s where you finish your second novel, too, the one that gets you an agent.

It’s where you dream and work and despair and push through.

It’s where you realize that you’re already living the life you want. Now you just have to enjoy it.

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Home (part 3)

It’s a strange mix of exhilaration and mourning as you drive away from the house you grew up in. A new chapter of your life is beginning. Your most essential belongings are packed into suitcases and boxes, and squished into the back of the car. You lean your head against the window and watch the miles blur by.

It’s the point where two rivers meet. The intersection of pierogies, Warhol, and the Steelers. You’re lucky to have relatives in the area, and they gather together to welcome you. But after they leave, you’ll be living alone with strangers. The warmth of your family’s love is a guiding light into the unknown.

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It’s a brand new dorm. Clean and lively. 52 other students on your floor, roughly 250 in the building. You keep to yourself at first, but you leave your door open as a sign. Over time, you make friends and develop crushes. You join late-night cram sessions in the lounge. You listen to your roommate’s laptop moo at all hours of the day.

It’s the smell of fresh snowfall, and gusts of wind that bully you across campus. Flashing lights and loud music at frat parties. Buses that always run late and then arrive in clusters. The clunky old piano in the practice room. The closet crammed full of costumes for dance club.

It’s sneaking into places you aren’t supposed to go, like the roof of New House, or the basement of Doherty, or that hidden part of Hammerschlag Hall.

It’s the humility of attending tutoring sessions for the first time in your life, and then the first-pump of pride after you ace your final exam.

It’s the horrifying realization that your double major is making you miserable, and then the relief of walking away.

It’s the heartbreak of not being chosen as a Resident Assistant, and then the courage to apply again.

It’s the slow-burn discovery of a person whose soul is so strong and so bright that being with him feels like riding a shooting star.

It’s the best four years of your life, so far.

And it’s going to set you up for even better years to come.

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