Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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Category: Personal (Page 1 of 43)

“There’s no shame in being a starving artist”

From “‘Mad Men’ Creator Matthew Weiner’s Reassuring Life Advice For Struggling Artists”:

It took seven years from the time I wrote Mad Men until it finally got on the screen. I lived every day with that script as if it were going to happen tomorrow. That’s the faith you have to have.

Seven years. Somehow that sounds like both an eternity and no time at all.

I have the kind of faith that he’s talking about. I don’t think about it much, but it’s there. Automatic, like breathing. Only occasionally a struggle, like breathing.

Looking back on my posts here, a clear pattern emerges: I’m almost there. This is going to be the year, I can feel it. I’ve said that time after time after time. Is it folly to believe in something that never happens?

You’re only wrong until you’re right.

The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul.

When I quit my job, I gave myself a year. I thought, If I’m not agented and/or published by then, I can still look for work without any issue. I’m young, and I’ll barely have been “out of the game” for any time at all.

But a year passed. Then another. Then another. I found ways to justify putting off the job search. Little milestones to hang my hat on, and to fuel another round of “just give me a few more months.”

Maybe I always knew I wasn’t going back. Maybe I don’t want a Plan B.

The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant. I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt.

Am I cruel to myself? Sometimes. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, though, because I’m overly generous to myself too, haha. There has to be a balance, right?

Well, that balance would probably be healthier and more productive if it weren’t so extreme. Both ends of the spectrum lead to their own kinds of paralysis.

Also, how are we defining “significant”? A couple weeks ago, I had a sort of wake-up call. (Not for the first time, nor for the last, I’m sure.) A friend who is now interested in writing kept remarking on my achievements, saying how much he admired me. I brushed off his words — not out of modesty, but out of genuine disbelief and puzzlement. Me? Achievements? What? Where?

But after a while, I tried to let the compliments through. Tried to give them a fair chance instead of swatting them away without consideration. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but maybe I should give myself credit for getting to where I am. Maybe I should appreciate this part of the journey.

And maybe this is the year. Breathe in, breathe out.

Delightful imperfection, contradiction, my past, and Sailor Jupiter

I’m in the process of fixing a weird bug in my blog (where some posts show as having no comments even though the comments are right freaking there) and that requires checking over a lot of my old posts. It’s kind of fun, amusing, weird, inspiring, and embarrassing all at once.

Sometimes I wonder if I should go back and delete the more ridiculous or random posts. I know people who have done that. I even know one person (cough Sarah cough) who likes to “burn it all down.” Old journals, old blogs, old photographs, everything. She can be sentimental, but she prefers to rely on her own memory. She doesn’t like anyone being able to root through the relics of her past.

I’m the opposite. I love looking back on my history (and the histories of people I care about) in all its delightful mess and imperfection. Oh sure, it’d be nice to have a pristine version of myself presented to the public — but then again, I’m not a pristine person. I’m flawed and ever-changing. Is there a point in hiding that?

(Also, few people besides myself will ever go back into the archives anyway. Why hide what no one’s looking for?)

As with most things, it’s all up to personal preference. Me, I’m leaving my past alone. But I do understand the temptation to delete or obscure.

“How Sailor Jupiter Made Me Who I Am Today” by Amanda C. Miller

I always was drawn to Makoto for her interesting juxtaposition of the masculine and feminine. Her version of womanhood was complex, well-rounded, and unique to anything else I had seen in kids shows before. She was at the same time strong and sweet, badass and gentle. On the one hand, a tough self-sufficient independent woman who had lived on her own for years and answered to no one. On the other, a hopeless romantic who liked crushing on cute boys and secretly dreamed of becoming a beautiful bride someday.

I also remember the episode where she gets a lady crush on Haruka, which was not so much about sexual confusion, but more the fact that she deeply admires how Haruka is confidently able to reconcile the masculine and the feminine parts of herself, and doesn’t apologize for how anyone else receives her. Someone else’s confusion or inability to put her in a box is their problem, not hers.

Sailor Jupiter was my favorite too. There’s a superficial similarity — we’re both brunettes — but this essay helped me articulate the deeper parallels between me and Makoto.

I’ve always loved being “one of the boys.” I even went through a (deeply regrettable) phase of believing that “girliness” was a bad thing. But the truth is that even when I was in denial about my femininity, I had wonderful female friends, strong female role models, and a fair number of “girly” tendencies. Thank goodness for all that.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m able to look at my various traits without shame, and without assigning genders. I’m able to see that sensitivity and toughness can go hand-in-hand. I might not be as confident as Haruka about it, but I’m getting there.

You don’t have to sacrifice an ounce of your strength in order to maintain your femininity, and vice versa.

60,000 miles

This month, I finally made use of a present that Andy gave me two Christmases ago.

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First, I spent a week in England with my dear friend and critique partner Sarah Wedgbrow. It’s been nearly two years since she moved away, and even though we’re constantly in touch, I still miss her every day.

Next, I hopped over to Berlin and Copenhagen to meet up with two of my oldest friends so that we could celebrate our 30th birthdays together. (Okay, mine isn’t until November, but theirs were both within the past month.) Unfortunately I caught a cold, which took me out of commission for a couple afternoons, but I still had a marvelous time.

I feel lucky to live in an era when technology enables me to keep in touch with people I care about, even across great distances. But there’s nothing like that face-to-face connection. There’s no substitute for the sweetness of a child’s hug, or the smell of a Sunday roast. The way my friend’s eyes crinkle when she laughs. The closeness of our bodies crammed onto a single small bed while we whisper about life and love late into the night.

Twice this year, I’ve traveled halfway around the world to spend time with family. Twice this year, I’ve been reminded that family often transcends my definitions. Twice this year, I’ve seen that family is its own kind of magic.

And what is it about getting away that allows us to become closer to ourselves?

By the way, I know it seems like I’m traveling all the time — and truthfully, travel is a priority of mine — but I swear, I do have a permanent address, and I’ll be staying put for a while now.

Salt, mountains, light

1.

Sizzle and scent. Warm, chewy layers of dough and oil. The salty notes of scallions.

I have dreamed of this. Literally and figuratively, I have dreamed of walking down the side street by my jiu jiu’s house and buying fresh cong you bing from a street vendor. Now we’re finally here, standing in the small crowd around the stall, waiting for our order to be filled.

I watch the woman spread a pancake over the flat round griddle. Little drifts of steam rise from the belly of her cart, and the dough hisses as it burns. She slides a spatula under the pancake and flips it. More hissing, more steam.

People press in close, talking loudly. I let the unfamiliar words sail over me. They melt into the voices of shoppers walking up and down the street, perusing the other stalls, and mingle with the low hum of traffic from the main avenue nearby.

When our pancakes are ready, the woman hands them to us, folded like crepes and wrapped in waxy paper. We take them back to my family’s dining table, and we bite into the moment of truth. As our tongues dive into flavor and texture, we can’t help smiling. 

It’s even better than I remember. Even better than I dreamed of.

2.

When we spot the “restaurant” and decide to give it a try, he is skeptical. The place is little more than a shack on the side of the mountain. A cinder block structure with no front wall, just wide cement patios and a roof of corrugated metal. The open-air kitchen is all stone and soot.

But he is too hungry and uncomfortable to protest, so we go in.

My yi zhang orders who-knows-what for everyone to share. While our food is being cooked, we find plastic chairs and wooden stools stacked in a corner, and we arrange them around a table for ourselves. Another group settles in — college students, maybe — and a pair of cyclists after that. Suddenly the place seems lively and warm, rather than shabby and strange.

We chat in a halting mix of Mandarin and English. We enjoy the breeze that blows in damp and green.

Dishes are brought to our table as soon as they are ready. Pork fried rice and three different kinds of vegetables, all homegrown nearby. The food is simple, unassuming, and delicious.

We eat ravenously. We devour the mountains.

3.

The night market begins with a bright red archway, which is doing its best impression of a Buddhist temple gate. But neon lights betray the imitation. Everything is flashy and loud, blaring against the ink-blue sky and the sleeping city.

Like a school of fish, we slowly shuffle along with the throng. Our eyes scan each booth, searching for a snack or a trinket that we might enjoy. Shoes, toys, cell phone cases. Stinky tofu, crab legs, oyster omelet. Eventually he settles on strawberry juice — fresh, but watery — and grilled corn on the cob with spicy sauce. I indulge in an egg tart, the custard creamy and rich on my tongue.

We came here to satisfy our appetites. Not just for food, but for life. For an experience we can taste, and take home in our hearts. So much has been out of our control — but this? This chaos is ours.

Quick follow-up to MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES

Just before leaving for Taiwan, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for my friend Jasmine Warga’s debut novel.

I first blogged about her book, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, here.

I have now recapped the launch party over at We Heart YA.

And last week, I tweeted about a couple special surprises:

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