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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Sat Jun 21 2014

Ice cream in Nashville

Dark night, bright parlor, long line. I step in and take my place behind all the couples and families. I am the only one here alone.

Flavors are handwritten on a chalkboard behind the counter. I scan the list, pick two I want to try, and then settle in for the wait. My hands are too full to check email, Twitter, or Facebook, like everyone else is doing. So I default to people-watching and eavesdropping. Common pastimes for a writer.

The girls behind me are trying water yoga tomorrow. One of them can’t swim. Another one is named Avery, and she has the best hair. Wavy and blonde, with a braid framing one side. All of them are stylish and thin, somehow managing to look both hipster and preppy at the same time.

There are a lot of maxi dresses in here.

It’s been a long day, but I’m avoiding my hotel room. I’d thought it would be wonderful to have a clean, quiet space to myself. Somewhere new but predictable. Somewhere without responsibilities.

Instead it feels lonely.

After checking in, I escaped to dinner. I chose a place that I had been to once before, years ago, with people I loved. But even the memories of them aren’t enough to keep me company tonight. I text one and call the other. It helps.

Finally it’s my turn, and I ask for wildberry lavender and “Buckeye State.” I like complementing fruity flavors with chocolate. When the cashier hands me the receipt, I accidentally sign in the wrong place. I feel like an idiot, but she just laughs. It’s a good reminder to find the humor in things.

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Sun May 11 2014

Thanks, Mom

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My mother (right) and her sister, in Taiwan.

I’ve written about my mother many times. Today I’m going to borrow other people’s words.

From Heather Armstrong’s recent post:

I am successful because my mother showed me how it is done. She invested herself in me, and I owe her everything. I hope that she knows that I knew what she was doing. I knew that she cared and wanted me to learn how to work, how to be generous, how to be loyal. She is the reason I know how and where inside myself to dig deep. I was paying attention. I recognize the tireless campaigner she was on my behalf.

From Kevin Durant’s MVP speech (which you really should watch, with tissues handy):

“And last, my mom. I don’t think you know what you did. … You’re the real MVP.”

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Wed May 7 2014

Stretch your wings

In my opinion, one of the best things creative people can do is partake in creative work outside their chosen field. Because art sings to art.

For me, that usually means practicing photography, going to an art exhibit, or even just watching a great TV show. (Battlestar Galactica, anyone?) But this month, it mean drawing bugs.

Yeah, bugs.

Friend, fellow writer, and all-around-awesome-dude Dustin Hansen decided to start this thing called #MayAlphaZoo — a daily “sketch” exercise, guided by the alphabet. For a couple days it was just me and him, but quickly enough, other artists of all kinds were joining the ranks.

Designer Loel Phelps works with rich colors and textures. Children’s illustrator Amanda Erb draws critters that kill me with their cute. Musician/sound editor Jason Robison is composing short original scores to accompany Dustin’s animals, while Alternative9 Comics is “robotizing” them. Ben Brooks is making a codex of all the creatures in his Middle Grade fantasy work-in-progress. And like I said, I’m doing bugs. The ants and bees were a coincidence at first, but everyone encouraged me to keep with the theme. What can I say? I bowed to the (positive) peer pressure.

What I love about the #MayAlphaZoo project is how I’ve fallen in with this group of amazingly talented artists that I normally wouldn’t have reason to work with. I’m pushing myself to draw better and stay committed every day. And I’m purposely limiting myself to the Paper by 53 app on my iPad mini, because it’s efficient, because I’ve had the app forever and never use it, and because my design classes taught me that constraints boost creativity.

Maybe none of this will directly impact my writing, but I think it’s improving me — as a problem-solver, as an artist, as a person — and I have to believe that trickles through.

Anyway, here are a few examples of what each of us is doing. Hope you enjoy! And if you want to join in, just tweet your work and hashtag it #MayAlphaZoo. The more, the merrier!

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Thu Feb 20 2014

Stuff worth reading (Sochi edition)

“On #sochiproblems as I see them” by Vicki Boykis

I’m more than thrilled that attention is finally being called to how fucked up Russia is; it’s only something I’ve been talking about for years.  And it’s fine to make fun of something, but when that something is not your own, not something you understand, babies, goddamnit, you’ve got to be kind as Kurt Vonnegut would say. And kindness from journalists means adding context and not being sensationalist. Not playing the Ugly American Broadcaster.

“#SochiProblems Is More of An Embarrassment For America Than It Is For Russia” by Sarah Kaufman

Russians are not pleased by the trending #SochiProblems. Rather, they are “puzzled by why the Americans and the British are so very happy that the details are a little screwy, the way they generally are in Russia.”

So this is my plea to @SochiProblems, whining journalists and social media fiends: Have just a bit more respect for Russians, because while you might think you’re just ridiculing the Olympics, for many, this is their everyday life.

And a personal note:

I was disappointed in — but not really surprised by — the mass mockery of Russia that took place leading into the Sochi Olympics. Yes, some things are genuinely and harmlessly amusing (like the coat rack incident in the second article) and some things are seriously worth criticizing (like the human rights issues, or dangerous hotel water). But the cheap cultural jabs? The mean-spirited and purposeful misunderstandings? Gross. And worse: distracting. They took conversation and attention away from the problems that really need scrutiny. They gave people permission to laugh and move on.

Even many of the journalists came off, at least to me, as snotty Americans whining about less-than-4-star conditions. Guess what, folks? Not everyone has it as good and comfortable as we do. And you know what else? Not everyone does things the same way we do. Just because the Russian way of life is different from ours doesn’t necessarily make it bad or wrong.

Most of the snark has dissipated since the Olympics actually started, I think. We’re focusing on the events, as we should be. I just hope that after the last fireworks of the Closing Ceremony fade into the night, everyone walks away having learned something — having taken a closer look at themselves and their actions and their values. Because the medals aren’t the only things that matter. And as we’ve seen in the past, the Olympic torch has the power to cast its light across history.

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