Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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Sisterhood of summer

3 years old. Shallow waters, and big orange floaties encircling each arm. Our mothers sit pool-side while we splash and play. You’re a mermaid queen and I’m your daughter, your best friend, your handmaiden, your loyal subject. The sun burns bright above our dark-haired heads, and we squint as the sunscreen melts into our eyes.

12 years old. Dive-bombing into the deep end, and shrieking with laughter when the lifeguards whistle at us. Our mothers sit at home across the street, but they check in on us through the windows, as if their watchful gazes can save us from drowning. You’re Marco, and I’m Polo. We hunt for each other, eyes closed against the sting of chlorine.

29 years old. Seeking quiet and relaxation, but instead encountering neighbors I’ve never met before and don’t really care to know. The mothers complain loudly about kids who aren’t present. The red-faced men are drunk and showing off. You’re hundreds of miles away, probably sound asleep, while here I’m remembering the silky slither of aqua water around our young legs. My eyes gloss over, and the memories settle around me like the vast evening sky. 

Someday, I imagine, we will go swimming together again.

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“How to Be a Writer” by M. Molly Backes

This is kind of an old post, but it’s new to me (via Rose).

Let her have secrets. Let her have her own folder on the family computer. Avoid the temptation to read through her notebooks. Writing should be her safe haven, her place to experiment, her place to work through her confusion and feelings and thoughts. If she does share her writing with you, be supportive of her hard work and the journey she’s on. Ask her questions about her craft and her process. Ask her what was hardest about this piece and what she’s most proud of. Don’t mention publication unless she mentions it first. Remember that writing itself is the reward.

Let her fail. Let her write pages and pages of painful poetry and terrible prose. Let her write dreadful fan fiction. Don’t freak out when she shows you stories about Bella Swan making out with Draco Malfoy. Never take her writing personally or assume it has anything to do with you, even if she only writes stories about dead mothers and orphans.

Let her go without writing if she wants to. Never nag her about writing, even if she’s cheerful when writing and completely unbearable when she’s not. Let her quit writing altogether if she wants to.

Let her publish embarrassingly personal stories in the school literary magazine. Let her spill the family’s secrets. Let her tell the truth, even if you’d rather not hear it.

Let her sit outside at night under the stars. Give her a flashlight to write by.

Let her find her own voice, even if she has to try on the voices of a hundred others first to do so. Let her find her own truth, even if she has to spin outrageous lies in search of it.

Let her write thinly-veiled memoirs disguised as fiction.

Keep her safe but not too safe, comfortable but not too comfortable, happy but not too happy.

Link again here at the end, because it really is worth reading in full.

Some of this is just good parenting. Some of it was 100% spot-on to my own childhood. I don’t think my parents were intentionally raising a writer, but they did a good job of it anyway.

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Recently viewed

Beyond the Lights

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My friend Elissa recommended Beyond the Lights several times on Twitter, so when this striking image popped up on Netflix, I immediately took note. (I didn’t realize that the love interest is reflected in her glasses until I was putting the picture into this post, though. Hah!) Beyond the Lights is the story of Noni Jean, a pop starlet who has lost her true self in the swirl of fame. Her depression is dragging her under, and no one sees it — until one night, police officer Kaz Nicol somehow does.

Noni and Kaz not exactly star-crossed, but they do come from very different worlds. Will loving each other help or hurt their respective goals? What happens when what you want isn’t actually good or right for you?

Ambition and over-sexualization, performance and creativity, romance and self-discovery. The movie explores a lot of themes that I have a strong interest in. Also, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is mesmerizingly beautiful, which is eclipsed only by her immense talent. Her eyes could almost tell the story all on their own.

It’s a quiet, sexy, serious but uplifting film.

Baggage Claim

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Baggage Claim is not a great movie… But it’s fun, and it features a wonderful cast that really drew me in. I mostly know Paula Patton from Mission: Impossible 4 and from her former marriage to Robin Thicke, so seeing her in this kind of a light-hearted role was a change of pace. She really embraced the goofiness and the physical comedy, and she’s just a delight to watch. (Random observation: At times she bears a strong resemblance to Jennifer Lopez.)

Adam Brody is a scene-stealer, and Taye Diggs performs with an unexpected and understated hilarity. They are also two of the many, many, many extremely handsome men in this movie.

Then there’s the airline support staff — curbside luggage guy, check-in counter lady, and security checkpoint guy — who subtly ratcheted up the humor of their performances throughout the film until they had me laughing out loud (for real) by the end. They reminded me that even small characters can have a big impact on the success and enjoyment of a story.

The Good Lie

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To be honest, I bawled my eyes out the first time I saw a trailer for The Good Lie. But I was hesitant to actually go see it, because I thought Hollywood would do their usual thing and turn this into a story about Reese Witherspoon’s character. I mean, just look at the poster, right?

But I’m happy to report that Reese is barely in this movie. (Just to be clear, I do like her!) Instead, the story rightfully centers on 3 young men and 1 young woman who survive a terrible war in their home country of Sudan, and eventually find themselves trying to recover and make new lives in America. It’s about children robbed of innocence, families torn apart, sacrifices and choices and powerlessness, and the things we can never forget.

Another thing I loved about this movie is that the main characters are portrayed by Sudanese actors. In fact, several of them lived through the horrors depicted in the film. I cannot imagine how difficult it was — and hopefully empowering too — to tell a story so near to one’s trauma and to one’s heart.

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This night is sparkling, don’t you let it go

Last week my best friend Angie came to visit. She’s been going through ish and needed a pick-me-up trip. Our main objective was a Taylor Swift concert in Chicago, but as you can see, we did a lot more than that.

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I don’t really have a cohesive story to tell about Angie’s visit, but there are a few things I wanted to mention:

Fortuitousness. I think there’s a lot to be said for flexibility and adventurousness. Some of my best experiences have come out of wandering, being curious, exploring.

I was reminded of that when Angie and I were driving around a certain neighborhood where I might like to live someday, and we decided to turn down a random street and see if any houses were for sale. We found one, stopped to peek in, and ended up meeting one of the top realtors in the state of Ohio.

Later, in Chicago, we also stumbled upon the gorgeous rooftop lounge of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel because we were chasing frozen custard from Shake Shack.

You never know where a road might lead you.

Disconnecting to reconnect. This is something I learn over and over again. Someday it will stick. It does cling harder and longer every time.

I love the internet and social media. But I also love — and desperately need — time away from the internet and social media. In spite of missing out on funny tweets, industry news, and the daily happenings of my friends, I am overall happier when I am not plugged in. Instead of taking in the non-stop stream of other people’s thoughts, I am left to listen to myself. My own mind, my heart, and my spirit.

Community and knowledge are important. I don’t want to isolate myself. I don’t want to delete everything. I just want to manage it better.

Taylor Power. I have long enjoyed and admired Taylor Swift. Her new album might not be my favorite overall, but it’s got a lot of great songs, and it’s another solid showing of her musicality, her honesty, her maturity.

At this point, I can’t really be “the Taylor Swift of writing,” and I no longer wish to be. (For the most part anyway, lol.) But when I was sitting in that stadium, listening to her music and to the heartfelt words she shared with us in between songs, I noticed a few things that I want to keep in mind as I move forward in my career.

First, her willingness to be vulnerable. She may not name names (usually) but it’s obvious that her songs draw on deeply personal experiences and feelings. I’m not that bold in my nonfiction, but I want to be.

Second, she seems to have found and embraced “girl power.” The media likes to spotlight her romances, but Taylor herself prefers to talk up the amazing group of female creatives (musicians, writers, actresses, etc.) whom she has befriended. I think it’s a wonderful brand of feminism for her fans to be exposed to, especially the younger ones.

Last, but certainly not least, Taylor knows how to make her fans feel special. Through social media, she is extremely accessible, without relinquishing her privacy. She also goes out of her way to connect with fans, from her “Secret Sessions” and baked goods to surprise scholarship money, or even light-up bracelets and “real talk” at her concerts.

It’s no wonder that Taylor has managed to make millions of people feel like they know her, and in doing so, created a loyal following of fans and friends.

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Stuff worth reading

“On how to live life ‘on fire with the same force that made the stars'” by my friend Rose

Every day I recalibrate and try to do better at living with bravery and pushing what I thought were my limits, but I also remember to be kind to myself.

We limit ourselves all the time. We create boxes, we set boundaries, and write ourselves into corners because we are terrified that if we approach something greater, that we will fail. What if, instead, we imagined immensities?

From a Facebook post by David Gerrold, a writer for Star Trek: The Original Series:

Star Trek was about social justice from day one — the stories were about the human pursuit for a better world, a better way of being, the next step up the ladder of sentience.

“Write, Erase, Do It Over: On Failure, Risk and Writing Outside Yourself,” an interview with Toni Morrison

I may be wrong about this, but it seems as though so much fiction, particularly that by younger people, is very much about themselves. Love and death and stuff, but my love, my death, my this, my that. Everybody else is a light character in that play.

When I taught creative writing at Princeton, [my students] had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that.” First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends. Think of somebody you don’t know. What about a Mexican waitress in the Rio Grande who can barely speak English? Or what about a Grande Madame in Paris? Things way outside their camp. Imagine it, create it. Don’t record and editorialize on some event that you’ve already lived through. I was always amazed at how effective that was. They were always out of the box when they were given license to imagine something wholly outside their existence. I thought it was a good training for them. Even if they ended up just writing an autobiography, at least they could relate to themselves as strangers.

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