The screen at the front of the chapel shows lyrics to worship songs that are all too easily ignored. People in neighboring pews give slow glances in her direction. Girls snicker and point from the balcony on the left-hand side of the chapel. Some guy next to the snickering girls nods his head at a buddy standing on the balcony on the right-hand side of the chapel as a way to motion him to look down at her. People take turns gaping and then glancing at one another while bursts of muffled laughter escape their pursed lips.
They laugh because she stands shamelessly with arms raised high — fingers splayed apart awkwardly as they hyperextend at the knuckles. They laugh because she’s wearing one of those hats she always wears atop unbrushed hair (today it’s the one made with forest green felt and upholstery with creamy yellow leaves). Mainly, they laugh because her singing sweeps through the chapel at an unexplainable decibel with an equally unexplainable color that is both bright and dark at the same time. Her name? Hana. Hana (pronounced hah-nuh) Spangler.
Spangler is strange. She’s strange in the way she talks: Every word matters, and as a result her speech is slow and cautious — loud and dripping with expression when she feels the need to be heard and soft like a sleepy child’s when she feels reserved. She’s strange in the way she walks: stiffly, often with her hands in her pockets like some sort of suave detective — the sounds of whistles and show tunes tickle her lips nearly as often as oxygen itself. She’s strange in the way she laughs: a loud, unabashed melodic thing. She’s strange in the way she thinks: a mind in which both child and scholar are constantly trying to burst their way through, in which imagination and knowledge overflow. She’s strange in the way she dresses: a combination of tattered jeans, t-shirts and bold accessories that evoke exotic flavors of steampunk.
“I would compare her to Lady Gaga,” Jeanie Fairchild, an acquaintance of Spangler’s, said. “If she felt really strongly about the treatment of animals, I could totally see her wearing a meat suit.” she then paused to think for a second and said, “Only I see Hana as more creative than Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga would probably get her ideas from Hana.”
In a sense, Fairchild might be right: Hana is very creative and always has been.
“All little kids like to play pretend, of course,” Teri Stettnisch, Spangler’s mother, said. “But Hana was a devotee to character development, pretending to be Puck when we were reading about Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, and climbing up the ladder of her lofted bed with a toy plastic spring-loaded knife stuck into her underwear waistband and announcing that she was Tarzan.”
Her mother warned her that clothes were a necessity, but Spangler protested and said that she never wanted to grow up. Of course, Spangler became aware of her body as she grew a little older, but she has still kept some of her childlike whimsy.
Katie Petts said that she would compare Spangler to someone like Jack Sparrow. “She’s the odd character that everyone loves,” Petts said.
But, frankly, not everyone loves Spangler. Some make statements such as, “She’s off in her own little world singing songs. I can’t connect with her,” or “I just want to tell her that she is not making the world better by being so obnoxious,” or “I don’t get her at all, nor do I want to.”
It’s not as if her strangeness goes away when one gets to know her. Actually, the more one knows her, the stranger she seems.
A good place to begin the search for evidence of this deeper strangeness, is in her room. Spangler’s room hosts many oddities.
Piles of clothing, dishes and books are spewed sporadically on the floor. An assortment of hats she wears daily are stacked unorderly atop her vanity, and a collection of action figures she plans to display are in an open box near her window. In the corner, there is a didgeridoo that she plays from time to time. (She might also bring out her mouth harp.) The refrigerator houses a variety of ethnic foods such as mochi, a Japanese rice cake filled with bean jam, and kimbap, a Korean sushi.
Spangler is adventurous in the ways of food. She loves ethnic food, especially Japanese and Ethiopean. Ethnic food is not where her bizarre food choices end. If she has an orange, she will probably eat the peal, too.
“Why not?” Spangler said. “Orange peels are packed with vitamin C.” Spangler began eating orange peels when she was sick of the peels from sack lunches making her room smell bad and decided eating them was the simplest solution. The oddest thing that Spangler has been known to eat, however, is packing peanuts.
“I am not stupid,” she said. “There are two types of packing peanuts: the ones that are made out of Styrofoam, and the ones that are made out of corn. Obviously, you can’t eat the ones made out of Styrofoam, though people have tried to get me to eat them before. The ones made out of corn are pretty much like Corn Pops.”
Spangler is also adventurous in her clothing style. She wears tattered jeans and t-shirts that have bold statements such as “Social Hazard- I will not conform,” but what really stands out is how she accessorizes. At one point in time, she wore a watch on each wrist—one to tell the time, and one because she liked the ticking noise. She wears a hat almost every day because she is comfortable in them. In the winter months, she wears a scarf in the style of a hajib as often as she wears hats, not for religious purposes, but because she likes the look, and it keeps her ears.
Her closest friends have grown to love her oddities, although they did not always love them initially.
“It may sound kind of bad,” Jenna Kitchenmaster, Spangler’s current roommate said, “but I was kind of mad when I found out we were going to be roommates. I knew we didn’t have many common interests initially, but she ended up getting me into some things like Dr. Who that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise if I hadn’t known her. After a while, too, I realized how cool her strangeness is.”
Deborah Admire, a close friend of Spangler’s, admitted that she was turned off by Spangler to begin with.
“I was homeschooled, so I kind of have a radar for picking homeschoolers out,”Admire said.
There are two types of homeschoolers: “The ones where you are like ‘Woo!’ and the ones where you are like ‘Oh, boy.’ My first impression was definitely on the ‘Oh, boy’ sides of things.”
Admire was also thrown off by Spangler’s singing.
“She sang ‘There’s No Place Like London’ every time she came up the stairs. Morning, noon and night. I would lie in bed in the early morning and think I don’t know who you are, but that is not going to keep me from killing you.”
Admire said she soon realized that every weird thing that Spangler did, although it seemed she was making a point to be odd, had a purpose. The hats were things that were either made by her family or bought when she was with her family. She wore a ring that made her finger turn green and would never take it off because it was a gift from her younger sister, Marta. The orange scarf she wears often was a gift from her dad.
“When you are able to get past the stereotype that Hana is strange and just see her as Hana, you’ll be fine,” Admire said. “Now, if someone makes a crack about her singing in chapel, my reaction is more like ‘make fun of my friend… and I will kill you.’”
Although Spangler is often perceived as a loud person with a loud personality, Brittany Caffey, Spangler’s current resident director, said Spangler seemed a bit reserved and nervous when she first arrived at NW.
“She didn’t say much, but I could tell that she had a very close relationship with her dad, who was helping her move in.”
Caffey said she could tell right away that Spangler and her family had a deep connection. Whenever there was free time she saw them spending quality time in the lounge —all on one couch— laughing and snuggling.
“They seemed to be a creative group of people that would make up stories together,” she said.
And that they are. The Spangler family refers to themselves as a pack of wolves: “We howl together.” Her father, Bob Spangle, said, “(We) go everywhere we can together. (We) sing together, mourn together. We watch the moon phases together and read together.”Spangler’s mother, Teri Stettnisch, said, “We like being together learning, dreaming, making, enjoying each other’s humor and creativity.”
And her family is cohesively odd. Spangler’s sister, Marta, is very similar in interests and mannerisms. Their mother decided to keep her maiden name after she wed her husband simply because she liked her own last name, and he was referred to as the deviant of deviants by his sociology teacher in high school.
The Spanglers are aware that they don’t fit in. However, they are just grateful that they fit so well with each other.
“The most wonderful thing about being in our family is that we all love and respect each other,” Spangler’s sister said. “There are no stupid questions. We are always ready to support each other in interests and activities.”
This philosophy of loving and supporting others has transferred over to Spangler’s social life. Caffey describes Spangler’s personality as one that is in tune with the rules of improv: there are no mistakes, you just go off what the other person gives you. Caffey said that Spangler has the ability to make anyone feel funny because nothing is off limits. Plus, she has a laugh that begs people to laugh along with it.
“Her laugh is like a dinner bell, and her brain has just been fed,” said Michael Kugler, one of Spangler’s history professor, said. “Her laugh is this sort of melodic thing that kind of shakes as it goes up and down.”
Kugler, like many other people, said he appreciates Spangler’s laughter. He said Spangler’s laugh is something that attracts people to her, and although many people might try to hide something so distinctive, she just lets it happen. She is like that with almost everything — whether it be how she dresses, how she sings, how she sits in the front row completely alone during class or how she brings action figures to class just because she likes them.
If she were to compare herself to anyone, Spangler would go with Clarisse McClellan, a character from the book Fahrenheit 451. Motivated by curiosity, Clarisse is a 17-year old- girl who has an excitement for living and enjoys the dandelions, rain and autumn leaves. In a world where no one seems to care about what is going on around them, Clarisse’s innocence and unconventionality presents Montag, the protagonist, an outlet into understanding what makes life beautiful and worth loving.
“She wants to change people’s outlooks,” Spangler said. “Ideally, I would like to inspire many people to change their outlooks, too. But inspiring one person would be just fine.”
Spangler wants to show others that it’s okay to be different. “I know how gravity works. But that doesn’t keep me from jumping higher. I know that people may think I don’t care about what others think, but I do. I care that they think that I am strange — that’s how I want them to think of me.”