Month: January 2013 (Page 1 of 3)

“Things will be different when…”

Yesterday I backed up my computer for the first time in over a year. (Sidebar: HOLY CRAP, how could I have let so much time go by?! Bad, bad Kristan…) Since I was hooked up to all my old files anyway, I decided to browse through some of my writing from college.

Many of the stories were so emo that I couldn’t read past the first page. Did I seriously turn that stuff in to my professors? (And get A’s on it, for the most part?) I thought I’d left all the melodramatic teenage angst behind in high school. Unfortunately not.

Thankfully there are a handful of stories that I’m still reasonably proud of (including “The Tenth Time” and “The Escape”) to balance things out. There is even one that I may clean up and offer on Amazon along with TWENTY-SOMEWHERE and “The Eraser.” What’s funny is, the story is definitely YA, but it was written long before I knew what YA was. I guess that seed has always been inside me, just waiting to be watered.

Anyway, this somewhat entertaining, somewhat embarrassing journey through my past also brought to the surface a very specific memory: Me telling Andy that things would be different once I graduated college.

I remember the moment vividly: a bright Sunday afternoon, I was a senior, sitting on my extra-long twin bed, feverishly writing the next 10 pages of my thesis project, which were due the following day. My thesis project was a novel — or more accurately, half of a novel, because with all my extracurricular activities, a full 300+ page manuscript seemed out of the question. And that was precisely what I was explaining to Andy. That being a resident assistant, and director of the dance club, and a sexual assault advisor, along with my full course load, took up too much time and energy. It wasn’t reasonable to expect me to write a novel on top of all of that. (Never mind that he had done it when he was a sophomore…)

But once I graduated, and had only a job to worry about (“only” a job, HAHAHA), then things would be better. I’d finish the novel in no time. Not only that, but I’d write a short story every month (and get them all published, HAHAHAHAHA). I’d practically breathe words onto the page, in this naïve fantasy future of mine. It’d be so easy. Once I’d graduated.

About a year later, we were having the same conversation. Only it wasn’t “when I graduate,” it was “if I didn’t have a job.” For nearly 4 years, I told myself that writing would be easier, faster, if I could focus on it full-time. So one day, with the support of Andy and my parents, I decided to take the plunge. I quit my job. There was nothing in the way anymore.

Two years later, I’m still not living in that magical, fantasy future. Now it’s not “if I didn’t have a job,” it’s “if I had an agent.” “If I had more money.” “If my wrists didn’t hurt so much.” “If I were sleeping better.” If if if…

All the “if”s in the world are not going to make this any easier or faster, I’ve realized. It all starts and ends with me. I have to figure out how I work best, and then do it. It’s as simple — and difficult — as that.

(On a related note, that old cliché is true: Be happy now, because now is all you’ve got.)

So whenever I feel like the hardest thing about writing is that it’s just me and the page, I’m going to try to remind myself that, ever since I was a girl, my favorite thing about writing has always been that it’s just me and the page.

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Stuff worth reading

“The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and Her Admirable Commitment to Making Us Look At Her Naked” by Lesley at xoJane.com

As a culture, we have at some point lost the knack for being able to see diversity of shape and form as anything other than a series of mistakes that need to be edited in Photoshop.

“Hello Laptop, My Old Friend” by Nathan Heller

We like to think we make progress, but, in the end, perhaps we only change.

“Roots and Leaves” by Justine Kao

I would have liked to say that I have tried to reclaim those stories just as Chiang Kai Shek tried to reclaim the Middle Kingdom. But the truth is that before a certain age you think the only stories that have anything to do with you are the stories you create, and it is not until you start losing them that you realize the only stories you own are those that created you.

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Dos gatos

Alhambra cat (cropped, filtered)

Alhambra

Between the “new” Pantheon-like palace and the old deteriorated citadel, there is a sandy plaza where you can buy popsicles and beers and look out over Granada. People sit in twos and threes along the low stone wall, savoring their refreshments and resting their feet — for the Alhambra is a vast beauty, and to know her, you must walk her.

As these humble visitors flip through the map, or click to hear the next chapter of the audio guide, a young ginger tomcat saunters out of the bushes nearby. He sits directly in front of them and waits for his handout. Demands a bite with his feline stare. This is his home, after all, and though you have paid admission, you have not gotten his permission.

Retiro cat (cropped)

Retiro

The heart of Madrid is a park, a pond, a statue. Retiro. Through its veins run skateboarders, tourists, buskers, rowers, photographers, artists, teenagers — and a handful of immigrants selling knockoff purses, DVDs, and jewelry.

Then there are the cats.

You might not see them in the summer, when it’s hot and crowded, loud and full of feet. But on a cool cloudy day, they will creep around the marble columns and slink between the stone figures, as at home in the monument as your beloved pet is when keeping you company in the kitchen.

And just as your kitten may hide in the laundry or under the bed, these Retiro cats have their own cozy spots. They disappear into hedgerows, slip into drainage gutters. They are the ones who live here, not you. They are stray, but not lost.

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One night with a cheetah

Last night, thanks to a work event that Andy had at the Cincinnati Zoo, I got the very special opportunity to hang out with a cheetah cub.

Meet Savanna, the 6.5 month old, 38 pound cheetah that I hung out with tonight. (Took everything in me not to snuggle and/or steal her.)

As tall as a Greyhound, with the oversized paws of a Great Dane, Savanna is just 6.5 months old and weighs a deceptively low 38 pounds. (Full grown she could weigh double that.) As part of the zoo’s “Ambassador” program, she has been acclimated to a variety of human sights and sounds so that she can attend functions such as our party that night, or more importantly classrooms, to help teach people about wildlife studies and conservation efforts. Savanna stayed with us for nearly an hour, during which time she calmly sat for pictures, climbed on a table to monitor the room, and even nuzzled her 3 handlers like a house cat. With such affectionate gestures, and some of her baby fuzz still visible, it was hard to remember that she’s a dangerous predator.

As an animal lover, I was super excited to see her so close. (Less than an arm’s length away at times!) I was also impressed with how relaxed and well behaved she was. (More than my own dog would have been in the same situation.) Savanna’s handlers assured us that “her first time did not go this well,” but over the weeks they continued working with her, getting her more and more comfortable with humans and our ways, and now she is a very good ambassador indeed.

When she reached her limit for the night, she strained against her leash in the direction of the nearest exit. Savanna’s handlers took the cue right away and said good night on her behalf. We were all sad to see her go, but it had been an immense pleasure to share her company for any amount of time she was willing to give it. She had put everyone in high spirits for the rest of the evening.

Fuzzy cub.

Long after the party ended, as I was going to bed that night, I thought about Savanna’s story. She was one of two cubs born to the zoo, but her brother did not survive. Apparently cheetah mothers will not raise just one cub — because after 18 months, cubs are left to fend for themselves, which would be hard to do without siblings — so Savanna was effectively an orphan. The zoo jumped in, of course, and there happened to be an opening in the Ambassador program. She was also partnered with a puppy of similar age and size to be her adoptive playmate and brother, and the two will be best friends until she matures. (Female cheetahs live alone; but don’t worry, one of the trainers is already eager to adopt the black lab, Max, when Savanna is ready to leave him.) In all, a happy ending for a beautiful creature.

It made me think about humans. About our natural instincts. About when we choose to jump in.

Some might say, “Not everything in life is fair. A cheetah mother won’t even raise her own cub if it’s a single. Does that make her evil or cruel? Of course not. It’s just survival. Those kinds of animal laws are what allow species to thrive. That’s how nature works.”

Others might say, “A cheetah follows instinct — and can only follow instinct — but humans are capable of much more than that. We have reason and compassion, morals and ethics. These things serve to both burden and guide our decisions; they make us who we are.”

Rather than choosing a side, or thinking of these statements as opposing sides at all, I fell asleep feeling glad that both were true.

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Insta-hooked

Confession

I am totally addicted to Instagram right now.

Why?

I have always loved photography. I’m not a great artist (drawing, painting, sculpting) but I think I have “a good eye for it,” as they say, and photography is the medium through which I’ve been most able to express that.

Which is not to say that I am a photographer. I’m a hobbyist, an amateur at best. I don’t have professional aspirations (or even delusions, haha). I simply do it for fun. For beauty. For memory.

(I make that disclaimer in part because I sympathize with the pros who must endure every doofus with a camera phone thinking, “This is easy! I can take a good picture. I’m a photographer!” Trust me, writers feel that same pain.)

instagram 02 instagram 01 instagram 03

Thoughts on photo-processing (and personality)

Personally I’ve always leaned toward “less is more” when it comes to adjusting or enhancing photos. I like to boost contrast a tad, and de-yellow-ify indoor shots, but otherwise I tend to leave things alone. So I actually wasn’t a big fan of Instagram at first, because it forces square crops and promotes filters. As Andy once put it, “Why do all these photos look like they were taken in the 60’s?”

It’s a fair question, and occasionally I wonder if our generation will regret not having any “normal” photos of this period of our lives. But obviously I’ve changed my mind enough to get hooked, so… yeah.

(Also, I realized portrait and landscape crops are a bit arbitrary, aren’t they?)

In truth, I still stick fairly close-in to my original photos, using Instagram to tweak contrast or color balance, but mostly trying to make a better (truer?) version of the real thing.

(This probably comes as no surprise to my mother, who often remarks that I am not wild enough.)

Meanwhile, there are some really creative folks out there. Folks who use HDR, superimpose multiple images, etc. People like my friend Stephanie, who can bring so much imagination to the image. Who can create a different story than the one originally captured.

(Steph lives, breathes, and writes the fantasy genre. This is a surprise to no one.)

My account

If you’d like to be friends, let’s! instagram.com/kristanhoffman

And if you don’t have Instagram, no sweat. You’ll see plenty of my stuff in the “[Month] in photos” posts anyway.

Enjoy

Here are just a few of the great Instagrammers I’ve discovered so far. Click through to see more of each person’s amazing work.

_janekim heysp homesliced
jen_seiser jethromullen joyjangles
miltoncross moonlightice withhearts

Even as a hobbyist, there’s a great joy in being inspired and pushed to do better work. These folks give me that.

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