Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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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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HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Margaret Dilloway

On Monday I decided to ignore the computer and silence the phone, and to just read instead. Partly because I have a book club meeting coming up, and partly because I could feel that my mind and body needed this. It’s so easy to be a slave to the screen, to social media, to all the alerts and messages vying for my attention. I wanted to assert my freedom. I wanted to establish a boundary.

It was wonderful. I read ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes in its entirety. (And I used up the better half of a tissue box while doing so!) I can’t remember the last time I sat and focused on one thing that way, for that long. It felt great. Almost like meditation.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I don’t have favorite lines from it to share and reflect upon. It wasn’t quotable in that way. I think part of the reason it could make a great movie is because it’s more about the plot and less about the prose. Also because Emilia Clarke has been perfectly cast as Louisa.

How to Be an American HousewifeAnyway, I do have a small backlog of books that are quotable, so I’m going to highlight one of those today instead. First up, my friend Margaret Dilloway’s debut novel HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. This book came out a few years ago, but the subject matter is timeless to me. It’s about a Japanese woman reflecting upon her early life and what led her to marry an American man, as well as about their daughter’s journey back to Japan to reconnect with family and culture.

“You are right to be afraid,” he said, “but where does this fear lead you? Nowhere. You must let go of fear.”

It’s easy to tell someone, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” But the truth is, there’s plenty to be afraid of, so I love the idea of accepting fear as reasonable and real, but then setting it aside anyway. It’s hard — but valuable — to be able to sit with an uncomfortable feeling without letting it overtake you.

Forgiveness is a skill that, like cleanliness, should be learned early and practiced often.

What a smart and beautiful analogy. I’ve read a little bit about forgiveness lately — especially in the wake of the Charleston shooting, here and here. I’ve also been thinking about forgiveness in the context of an old friendship that soured. What I realized is that I may not fully understand the nuances of it. I think I’m better at forgetting, burying, “moving on.” But maybe that’s not the healthiest way? Maybe I need to practice more.

“Is it funny to feel homesick for a place I’ve never been before?”

In my opinion? No. Because that’s how I felt the first time I explored Madrid. I recognized it as a home of my heart, even though I had never been there before. (At least not in this lifetime…)

“If you wait for happiness to find you, you may be waiting a long time.”

I think I’m good at this one. My whole life, I’ve gone after what I wanted. I’ve failed often enough, but I try not to let that deter me. I guess it’s the whole “you can’t win the lottery if you never buy a ticket” thing.

Do not protest against life’s strains, but let them unfold and carry you through wherever they may.

This one is harder for me. I’m an emotional person, so life’s disappointments and injustices do hit me hard sometimes.

Sometimes letting go brought more peace than holding on, I realized, though it was harder to do.

And this, to me, seems very interconnected with the previous quote, as well as with forgiveness. All I can say is, I’m working on it. On all of it.

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“There’s a lot to be said for the long game”

My college friend Michael Szczerban is now an editor, and he also contributes interviews to Poets & Writers magazine. From his latest, a roundtable with 4 young agents:

Ballard: I often take people on and then work with them for a very long time. The first novel I sold this year was something I had worked with the author on for four years. It wasn’t that I was editing every line. We just had to find out what the story was. I work very closely with my clients, and I bet everyone in this room does. The better you make the book, the better the sale.

Flashman: Your point is really important because sometimes writers think, “Oh, I’ve got an agent! We’re sending it out, it’s going to be a best-seller tomorrow!”

Habib: There’s a lot to be said for the long game. Look for an agent who’s in it for the long haul.

This turns out to be a fitting post for today since Twitter tells me that it is Agents Day. I’ve been with my agent, Tina Wexler, since April of last year. In that time, she has already proven to be a kind, wise, generous, and patient advocate. Even when I lay bare my insecurities and frustrations, she guides me through them with confidence and grace. Sometimes I worry that I’m a bit of a disappointment to her, like an investment that hasn’t panned out. But then I remember that she’s in it for the long haul, and so am I, and the years ahead hold unlimited potential.

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