Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Mon Aug 25 2014

You don’t have to be flashy to shine

Several weeks ago, Andy and I had the pleasure of seeing Sara Bareilles in concert. I confess, I’m not always one for live performances, because I dislike sharing the experience with a crowded mass of drunken boors and flash-happy tweens. Fortunately, Sara’s fans were a calm, courteous lot, and so I was able to enjoy her tremendous vocal talent, along with her clever, heartfelt lyrics.

sara bareilles concert 001

To be honest, she didn’t “work the crowd” the same way I’ve seen Ed Sheeran or the Spice Girls do. But Sara engaged us by being a storyteller. She shared the inspiration behind her songs. She revealed personal triumphs, struggles, and future aspirations. She took us back to her roots with a special a capella performance. She even gave us a sneak peek of her work-in-progress.

(Did you know that she’s doing a musical adaptation of Waitress? OK, I know nothing about the movie besides what Sara told us, but her song “She Was Mine” was soooo good.)

sara bareilles concert 002

Moved by her artistry, I shed a few tears during the concert, and at the end of the night, I walked away with a feeling of warmth and genuineness. From Sara, and from her music. I was reminded that you don’t have to be flashy to shine. Find your passion and share it with the world. Focus on what you’re good at. Connect with others, heart to heart. That is so much more than enough.

Just for fun, here’s a brief clip of Sara singing one of my favorites, “Gravity”:

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Thu Aug 21 2014

Rethinking failure

In a recent post, Chuck Wendig encourages writers to “fail without fear.”

We don’t learn a lot through success by itself. That sounds strange, but it’s true. I throw a basketball at a hoop and – swish — first time in? I don’t know what the hell I did. But I get one shot in and nine missed, I start to see how I can do that better. And suddenly, I start making more baskets. We make sense of our efforts through failure.

Failure is a word/concept that I think many of us are afraid of – but what if we just thought of it as a code word for rough drafts and imperfection? What if failure became a temporary stop on the road to success, instead of a final destination?

The other day, I had to get something engraved. (A trophy for Andy’s fantasy football league. Yes, they are that dorky about it.) I ran around town looking for a shop that would do this little one-off job, and finally found a really nice guy who was happy to take care of it right away. While he set up the machine, we made small talk. When he learned that I was a halfie, he started spitting out Chinese phrases he had picked up during his time working with Asian doctors in a laboratory. Ni hao ma. Ji cao fan. Xie xie.

His pronunciation wasn’t great, but he didn’t care. He wanted to connect with me, and he wanted to be corrected. He wanted to learn and improve.

Meanwhile, when I go to Chinese restaurants, I’m embarrassed that I can’t order in my mother’s native tongue. When I meet Spanish-speakers, I always downplay my fluency, because I know I’m rusty and don’t want to look stupid.

But I didn’t think this guy was stupid at all. I thought he was brave. I admired his hunger for knowledge and experience. His wide-open spirit. His willingness to embrace imperfection and to fail without fear.

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Mon Aug 18 2014

A place for rough drafts

The other day I hand-wrote a letter to my friend Angie — something I haven’t done in far too long — because I was craving that mental-motor connection, and because when I write to her, it’s very free-form. Whatever I’m thinking and feeling gets laid out on the page. It does not get evaluated. It does not get analyzed. It does not get polished.

“Where is the place for rough drafts in life anymore?” I asked my friend. The irony of course being that my letter to her was one such place.

With Instagram and Facebook showing constant highlight reels of people’s lives — and as a writer struggling to make her way through a competitive and fast-evolving publishing landscape — it often feels like every word I write and every photo I take has to be perfect.

But perfection isn’t attainable. And perfect is the enemy of good.

Especially here. Sometimes I forget that this is just a blog. This can be a space for rough drafts. People come here looking for genuineness, not perfection.

(I hope.)

It’s been a busy, stressful summer, and I’m not sure that autumn is going to be too different. But I want to feel differently about it. I want to feel energized by the activity, instead of drained. I want to be inspired instead of deflated. I want to be productive instead of overwhelmed.

Most importantly, I want to give myself permission to be imperfect. To revel in my rough drafts. Because rough drafts are practice. And practice may not make perfect, but it does make better.

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Sat Aug 9 2014

June and July in photos

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July 4th in St Louis 012 July 4th in St Louis 008
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Puppy face, old man eyes. #grumblepup #greyisbeautiful Canteloupe and sunflower seeds. #onthetable

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Wed Aug 6 2014

LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Like No Other As part of We Heart YA, I recently joined a diversity-focused YA book club, with the goal of putting my money where my mouth is and further supporting #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Our first selection was LIKE NO OTHER, a modern-day Romeo & Juliet story set in Brooklyn, featuring a Hasidic Jewish girl and a West Indian boy. The book resonated deeply with me, due to my own experiences with interracial relationships, and due to what was going on while I was reading. You can learn more about the book and its elements of diversity in this Q&A with author Una LaMarche.

Everything that this child is starts right now. The country, the city, the neighborhood, the block, the house — every detail of where babies are born begins to set their path in life, begins to shape them into who they’ll be. A newborn doesn’t choose its family, its race, its religion, its gender, or even its name. So much is already decided. So much is already written.

This quote is loaded. It could spawn a whole post by itself. It makes me think about all the paths that were laid out before me, all the balls set into motion, long before I was born. And before my parents were born. Before my friends were born. Before my own children will be born.

It also reminds me of the idealistic notion that everyone is equal. In terms of inherent value, that’s true. But in terms of equal footing, equal playing field? Unfortunately not. That’s why the idea of privilege is such a hot topic lately.

I am ashamed that my selfishness has caused me to miss a moment I’ll never get back – even if it also created a moment I’ll never forget.

This is the double-edged sword of selfishness. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s both.

If left to her own devices, Devorah would never be anybody but herself. It would never even occur to her. Other people put on disguises every single day — brand-name clothes to make them seem cooler than they are, makeup to cover up their flaws, personas carefully cultivated to make them more popular — but Devorah never does. She is always, almost helplessly, genuine. And that is endearing as hell.

I strive to be this kind of person. Natural, genuine. It’s not as easy as one might think. There are a million voices, a thousand pressures. Magazines, marketing, trends. All trying to sell you something, shift your perceptions, change your priorities. It’s hard to tune out and listen only to yourself. (Especially when self, as mentioned earlier, is actually formed by a lot of factors that are outside your control.)

She’s trapped by too few choices, while I feel trapped by too many. It’s too bad we can’t share some choices and even it out.

This is the double-edged sword of choices. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re both.

“It’s easier for you. You can pass back and forth. I’m afraid that if I leave, I won’t ever be welcome home again. And I don’t hate it, you know?” Her chin trembles as tears fill her rain-cloud eyes. “My family is everything to me, and there’s so much I love… I want to be able to have both. You and them.”

This is the double-edged sword of family. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s both.

Okay, that’s probably getting old.

It’s true, though. Most things in life aren’t black or white. They’re black, and white, and every shade of gray in between.

I have to take control and make a choice. But there is no choice that will bring all of my fragmented soul together. No matter what I decide… part of me will be forever lost.

A rock and a hard place. A game without a winner. (Which is subtly, but significantly, different from a game without a loser.) I’ve been there before. I’ll probably be there again. Is this what adulthood means? It’s not fun.

“She was my mother, and I felt her sadness like it was my own.”

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