Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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Home (part 2)

It’s only a few minutes away from where you used to live, but this new neighborhood feels like a different planet. Free-standing houses bordered by driveways and fences. Sprinklers spitting water over grassy lawns. Golden Retrievers prancing with leashes in their mouths.

It’s a tranquil street connected to a busy road. Transco Tower winks in the distance. An occasional siren interrupts the night. Just around the corner, well-lit stores and restaurants buzz with traffic. The press of the city is comforting, in a way.

rooftop 012

It’s dark wood paneling and big bubble skylights. The double-sided fireplace and a bookshelf that swings open on a hidden hinge. The plastic Christmas tree that never gets taken down, only put out of sight. A cardboard cutout of Captain Picard that you begged Blockbuster to give you.

It’s the packet of seeds you plant haphazardly in the backyard. (They never even sprout.)

It’s the jar of bitter sauce your mom brushes onto your hands to stop you from sucking your thumb. (You hide the jar and then claim the housekeeper must have misplaced it.)

It’s the tap on your window at five in the morning, the chili cheese fries slipped through the mail slot, and those furtive hours spent discovering both your body and his. (You love him, but you know it won’t last.)

It’s climbing the roof and writing song lyrics until the stars come out. Raking the leaves with your dad on a Sunday afternoon. Eating candied yams and Japanese cucumber at Thanksgiving. Dancing in the bathroom and learning how to drive. Pimples and cover-up and worrying about your weight. Birthday parties and Homecoming mums. Calculus and Nora Roberts.

It’s over twenty years of memories and secrets, conversations and tears. Impossible to capture.

It’s a place you take for granted, to be honest.

It’s stability and comfort, even in its decline.

It’s not going to be there forever, though. Appreciate it while you can.

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“Watching a time happen and thinking, I will remember this.”


Photo by Susan Plocher. Words by Hannah Nicole (via Meg Fee).

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Home (part 1)

It’s where they brought you after the hospital. Your very first bed. Your very first everything.

It’s your betta fish named Rainbow swimming in her bowl on the kitchen counter. Your rabbit named Thumper running circles around the legs of the dining table. The piano in the corner of the living room, where you practiced “Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow.” The bookshelf that nearly fell on you.


It’s is the Old Farmer’s Almanac in your dad’s study, with its wispy gold-edged pages. Your bedroom window looking out over a giant tree and the neighborhood basketball court. The teeny tiny snow man you made on top of the hedges when you were four. The vanity counter you used to sit on while your mom dried and brushed your hair after a bath.

It’s chicken pox and sleepovers and Easter Egg hunts. Sitting alone in the car in a darkened garage because you yelled “I hate you!” during a fight. The calendar in the hallway that everyone forgot to update. The soft blue sofa that you jumped and slept and watched TV on.

It’s the tears you cried when you learned that you were moving. Your certainty that nowhere else would ever be as perfect. The moving truck slowly filling up while you sat inside pouting. The staircase that you hugged goodbye.

It’s the playground you took your husband to the first time he came to visit your hometown. It’s the gazebo you still drive by sometimes.

It’s a collection of old memories, faded and dusty like photographs in a shoebox. But precious nevertheless.

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Stuff worth reading

“No Indian Friends” by Priya-Alika Elias

I’m thinking of answers to questions that we’re embarrassed to ask, like why we’re so quick to describe ourselves as “white on the inside.” I’m thinking of answers we don’t have yet, ways we can tear the roots of internalized racism out of little brown kids. I’m thinking of Toni Morrison explaining how she embraces the title “black woman writer,” because she didn’t consider it reductive to be writing as a black woman. It isn’t a place of weakness, she said. It’s a place of strength.

“The Fire and the Snow” by Jennifer Tseng

Writing a convincing story is like setting fire to your own hands using only the match of your imagination. Success seems unlikely but it is possible. In both scenarios, no one really goes anywhere and yet in both scenarios, with practice and concentration, hearts beat faster and bodies grow warmer.

“What Makes a Woman Is Less Important Than What Makes a Feminist” by Jill Filipovic

Part of the work is to push ideological boundaries, to listen to each other with respect even if that doesn’t translate into agreement, and to face injustice head-on while building the foundations of a kinder, more flexible, more expansive society.

“Hi. I used to be transphobic. Here’s a story about that.” by Sara Benincasa

I’ve come a very long way in this regard, and I feel good about that. Not proud, exactly – I don’t think one deserves a pat on the back for realizing, “Hey, I’m a hateful fucking asshole. I should stop being one of those.” But I’ve shown myself that people can change, if they want to. Person to person contact is the most important aspect of change. It is hard to look into another person’s eyes and hear their honest story and still fear them, or hate them, or see them as less than you.

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Straight Outta Compton


On Saturday night, Andy and I went to see Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about (primarily) Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy-E, who together founded the one of the biggest, most influential, and most iconic rap groups in history. Upon returning home from the theater, I immediately jumped on Twitter to sing the movie’s praises. I had to. The movie energized me in a way that would not be contained. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Those are my thoughts in a nutshell, but I wanted to discuss a few things in more detail:

F-bombs and n-words. I suspect that a lot of people will be turned off by the “vulgar” facade of Straight Outta Compton. The movie showcases a side of American culture that many look down on, and it’s easy to use the profanity as an excuse to dismiss the film, the music, and the many artists who created it all.

But as a writer, as a lover of words, I think it’s important to recognize that profanity is just a mode of expression, as valid as any other. So is “street” speak. So is broken or accented English.

Things do not have to be comfortable or pleasant or polished to have merit. Furthermore, who gets to define comfortable and pleasant and polished anyway?

Hip hop as a voice for the marginalized. Eddie Huang, the celebrity chef whose memoir inspired the TV show Fresh Off the Boat, talks openly about his love for rap music. He has said that as a chubby Chinese kid growing up in the suburbs of Orlando, he stuck out in pretty much every way, and he connected to hip hop because it is all about the hardships of being in the minority. It is angry, empowering, unapologetic social commentary set to music that makes you move.

Growing up, I knew a lot of Asian guys who were into rap. Coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe not.

Not just for black people. “Conventional wisdom” says that only black people will read/watch/pay attention to black stories — and thus, that black stories are “niche” and can’t be blockbusters. But I have never been convinced of that. I certainly don’t want it to be true.

Personally, I have read and admired books like Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Beloved, Things Fall Apart, and Pointe. I have been a fan of shows like Sister Sister, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, black-ish, and Empire. I have watched and loved movies like Bad Boys, Dream Girls, Precious, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Beyond the Lights. And I have never once thought, “This story was not meant for me. I cannot relate. These are not my people.” Just the opposite, in fact.

I know I’m not alone in this.

Straight Outta Compton’s screenwriter was a middle-aged gay Jewish man. Clearly he connected with the story of these young, impoverished black musicians, because he did a fantastic job with their story.

Of course, he didn’t do it alone.

Oscar contention. As I said, I think Straight Outta Compton is worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Probably Best Director and Best Actor (for Jason Mitchell, who plays Easy-E) too. Every aspect of the film was top quality, and the subject matter was a perfect balance of personal and political, historical and timely.

Skepticism and hope keep battling inside me. Last year Selma got nominated, yes, but it lost out to a movie that I couldn’t even finish watching. Plus, Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo were horribly snubbed. A few years earlier, Ray was also nominated and lost, but at least Jamie Foxx won for his amazing performance.

That’s not a lot of precedence to go on, though. And those movies focus on black heroes who are actually accepted and embraced by the mainstream.

Regardless, I have more optimism for Straight Outta Compton right now than I did Saturday night when I was tweeting. I just read about the film’s screening for members of the Academy Awards, which apparently went quite well. Fingers crossed that they prove me wrong. Fingers crossed that we really are progressing. Fingers crossed that we can recognize and reward excellence even when it comes in a less familiar package.

Police brutality. OK, this one doesn’t really segue well, but I need to talk about it. Sunday morning, I woke up with swollen eyelids. I had cried that much during Straight Outta Compton.

Throughout the movie, we see Dre, Easy, and Cube experience multiple conflicts with law enforcement. Not once are they treated with respect, or even basic decency. It’s very hard to watch. Even harder when you remember that it’s real.

The film also includes brief but harrowing footage of the Rodney King beating. In 1991, I was only 5 years old, so I don’t remember much of anything about the incident myself. But 25 years later, I’m very aware of the world around me, and it’s disheartening to see the same thing happening now. So much has changed, and yet so much hasn’t.

Treatment of women. Given the role women tend to play in hip hop culture, I had low expectations for what I would see in Straight Outta Compton. But I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a story about the men, yes, but the women who figure prominently are portrayed with a fair amount of respect. The mothers, the wives, even Dre’s baby momma. We see them as strong, savvy individuals, who play significant roles in the lives of these men.

The background women may not get as much respect, but I felt that they weren’t used gratuitously. There were plenty of bare body parts, but without the unnecessary lingering that I see in so many music videos and cable TV shows. It was more like set dressing, for authenticity.

Note: In real life, a few of these guys have reputations when it comes to misogyny, and even violence against women. I am in no way condoning that. But I do understand the decision to leave that out of the movie given that (A) these guys were producers on the film, and (B) it’s not relevant to arc of their music careers or friendships, which is the heart of this story.

Update: Dre addressed his past mistakes. Ice Cube made new ones.

Last but not least, here’s a link to the original Straight Outta Compton album, free to stream on Spotify. Several of these songs were familiar to me already, but I definitely have a greater appreciation for them now.

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