Saturday, February 27, 2016

Going Under Cover

       Okay, I didn't really go under cover. That would've been cool, though. I always thought I would've made an awesome spy. But that's not really what I'm here to talk about.
       I'm not going to bore you with the details, but this week was pretty much awful. By Monday afternoon, I couldn't wait for the weekend. No, that's normal for me. I was especially dreading this assignment that I had to do for my off-stage theater class. We have been studying alternative forms of theater in plays like The Laramie Project, Fires in the Mirror, Body of an American, and others that take real life, interview accounts and turn them into art. So my professor instructed us to observe and interview our surroundings on Thursday, the 25th. I, being the introvert that I am, was none too excited about interviewing a bunch of random strangers, especially people that weren't students. I could deal with talking to students, but people on the street? What if they got angry and yelled? What if they didn't want to share? What if they said something I didn't want to hear?
      So I found a solution. I paired up with a friend who is much more exuberant than me, and together we walked to downtown Chattanooga to interview the city-folk. And here's where we went and what we learned:

1. Hart Gallery--this art gallery services and supports homeless, mentally disabled, and other unconventional artists in the Chattanooga area. When we walked in a group of 6 men and women were sitting around a table working on a variety of art projects. Some were just talking. We talked to the owner of the gallery, along with two of the artists who were more than excited to show us their beautiful artwork. It was wonderful to see how proud and happy they were about the art that they had created. And I have to say, I could never in a million years create the art that they did. Even if society doesn't justify their experience, they are supported and justified by Hart Gallery.

2. The Crash Pad--"An Uncommon Hostel" in Chattanooga that may be one of the coolest places I've ever heard of. This cool, chic hostel not only affordably houses travelers to our city but also encourages and enhances their outdoor experience in our awesome outdoor city. All of the products in and used by The Crash Pad are local to Chattanooga. The roof is a green roof (so a garden on top of the building) that heats and cools the building. They're providing a unique experience to our visitors with the goal of making Chattanooga one of the top tourist destinations.

3. We interviewed a volunteer at the Chattanooga Aquarium. This woman does not live here but volunteers once a month because it allows her to get in the water with aquatic animals, an experience that she would normally only have every few-several years. She doesn't normally explore the city, but she has ventured into downtown, and says everyone just seems so happy here. It's a joyful city. Then we got into a discussion about coffee, and it just took off from there. My favorite quote "Once you start analyzing coffee, you become a snob." :) I guess I'm a snob.

4. Then we hit the most nerve-wracking part of the afternoon--riding the city buses. I know this shouldn't be a big deal, but for me, growing up in a suburban bubble, this is a big deal.  Our first bus driver was a kind old man who talked to us about the history of Chattanooga. He has lived here for 50 years, which means he's seen a lot of the changes that the city has undergone. If you didn't know Chattanooga before the awesome hipster city that it is now, it wasn't such a wonderful place. But it's made bounds and strides to be one of the top cities in America. Then we turned to one of the bus passengers, asking him how he was today, and his response was: "I'm blessed! How about yourself?" It was such a happy response that it made both of us smile. Unfortunately he got off before we could really start talking to us about his playwriting. The next man we spoke to had stunted speech, but I was able to hear a few words: "stuck." "fifteen dollars." "church feeds." Then it was time to switch buses.
       Our next bus took us into the North Shore area, and I think the female driver was probably my favorite of the day. She seemed more interested in finding out about us then in us finding out about her. She wanted to know who we were, where we'd been all day, what people had told us. We could tell that she has a relationship with some of her passengers when they got off the bus, and she asked them what they were cooking for dinner so that she might try that. When she finally let us talk to her, we asked what makes her angry. She was silent for a moment before responding: "I don't get angry. I'm just not that type of person. I'm a happy person." It was such a surprise--no one so far had responded like that, so we asked, "Well what keeps you so happy?" "People like you young ladies. Talking and finding out about you keeps me happy." What a great way to end the day, both for us and for her. We were her last round.

      This assignment is something I never would've done in a million and one years. I just couldn't imagine it. Now, I'm beyond grateful that I was forced to. It turned a horrible week into the best day. I'll always remember the people who were happy even though they're suffering or may not be in the top tier of life. A common theme among our interviewees of what made them happy--their families. They worry about their families. They care about their families. Their families are the lights of their lives. And that's so beautiful. In a world of chaos and violence, people are worried about their families.
      So now I'm challenging you to do what my professor challenged us. Go out in your city. Talk to strangers. Ask them about their day. Ride the city buses and get to know the bus drivers. You never know what you might learn, who you might meet, and what might change you. Happy interviewing!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Collegiate Level

     When it came time for me to start looking at colleges, I had it in my mind that I was going to go far away from home. I was totally ready to go experience the world away from the supervision of an only-child home. Boy, did I believe that. And I had my sights set on Tulane University in New Orleans. If you haven't noticed this from my book synopsis, I love New Orleans. I still have a dream to possibly to attend Tulane (maybe graduate work), but that's beside the point. Tulane was so lively, small, cozy, close-ish to family if need be, and they have a great english program. I was all set to go. But then I actually started to think: distance, my friends, my future, and most importantly MONEY. I know money shouldn't be the key decision of where you choose to go to college, but if you're also thinking about graduate school, then it should most certainly be a part of the equation.
       Because of this, I started to look at in-state colleges. UTK was out of the question. Half of my graduating class was going there, and one thing I was unwavering in--I didn't want to be in high school anymore. So I turned my sights to UT Chattanooga. In between Tulane and UTK in size, it's in a new, up and coming city, with a campus that's actually a campus, and a lot of good merit to it. I wasn't exactly dazzled by my tour. I remember asking about the music program, and my tour guide returning with "well, we have one"......... Yeah, so note to future and present tour guides, know your stuff. You're representing all aspects of the school, not just your own interests.
       But I liked the campus, I liked that the english department wasn't totally forsaken, and I definitely liked the city. I could fit in here. So I applied to two schools--UTC and Tulane. I mainly applied to Tulane just to say that I could get into a competitive school with a fairly small acceptance rate--AND I DID!! However, I was satisfied with being a Moc. Don't get me started on our mascot...
        I'm not going to lie to you, the first few weeks to month of college were Hell. My roommate was just as awkward as me and went to her boyfriend from home as a safety blanket. Which I don't blame her for. If I had had a safety blanket, I would've been running to it too. Everyone else seemed to be clicking except me. But slowly, I started to warm up to everyone. I started smiling, and talking, and hanging out in people's rooms. The people I lived with my freshman year are still some of my closest friends, and I will always be thankful for the living learning community that I had the opportunity to be a part of.
       I've come to discover that freshman year is the year of desperation. You're grasping to make friends and hold onto them. You're looking for a place. And once you get into a groove, it's great. You have someone to go to Wednesday movies with, spring break plans, living arrangements for next semester. Then you get to sophomore year, and it's like the test year. Freshman year academics were nothing--basically high school. Sophomore year is when the academics really begin. Sophomore year is when you discover who your real friends are, who you can actually trust, and who just became your friend because it was convenient. But you're also more involved; you know the city.  You're a little bit more confident.
      I don't really know where I was going with this. I've just been thinking a lot recently about the difference between my freshman and sophomore years. They couldn't be more polar opposite, despite being in the same place with basically the same people.
      College is great. I've had great laughs, made a lot of memories and some great friends. I've gotten to know a great city that I'm proud to call a second home, even if it is hipster. I'm proud to go to UTC, even though some people say, "But why would you go there when you could go to UTK?" UTC is a great campus with a lot of opportunities for students. I have an awesome mentor, a creative writing club, a christian organization, and our annual literary magazine just published my short story--the first official thing I've ever had published. Chattanooga has given me so many opportunities, and I know I made the right choice in UTC. I didn't end up far from home, but I landed in the right place. There have been some hard times, but that's a part of growing up, right? Wow, do I sound like an adult. Is this what 20 does to you? I wouldn't change my mind about my college. It's all a matter of finding the right fit for you. It's okay if your first choice isn't the best choice. Transferring is a hassle, but it's still an option. I wouldn't have my crazy awesome roommate right now if not for transfer students. So good luck picking your college, and to those of you who are there or have been there, I hope you made the right choice. I'm a Chattanooga Moc and proud!

For you prospective English Majors out there, here's a list of some schools with respectable english programs not in any particular order (shout out to my adopted Hix family for making me this list all those years ago!!):
1. Sewanee: University of the South
2. University of Virginia
3. Columbia University
4. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga :)
5. NYU
6. Emory College
7. Washington University
8. Brown
9. Tulane University
10. Hamilton College

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day!

      Well, it's that time of year again. Flowers are out. Candy is flying off the shelves. There's a lot of pink and red in the stores. Yep, Valentine's Day. I know some people who hate Valentine's Day. My dad is one of those people who thinks its a holiday made up by the greeting card companies. And maybe that's true, but like I've said before, I like to celebrate! Valentine's Day is not necessarily a celebration of romantic love. If you are like me, V-Day is the time to celebrate just love in general.
       I LOVE my parents with all my heart. They give so much and take so little. They work hard to make sure that we've had a comfortable life. They're amazing, and I am beyond thankful that I'm theirs and they're mine. I love my dogs too. I literally wouldn't survive without dogs. That's part of what makes college very very difficult. I've always had dogs around, and now that they're...not, it's very difficult.
       I love my friends. I have some of the best friends a girl could ask for. They're funny, caring, driven, awesome, and just overall great people to be around. And I'm not just talking about college. I'm still friends with my high school group. I honestly don't understand how people can just totally abandon their high school friends. They're the people who walked by your side during those gruesome four years of puberty, change, and drama. How can you just let all those years go? I've been a girl scout for years, and one of our songs goes:
   "Make new friends 
but keep the old, 
one is silver 
and the other's gold. 
A circle's round, 
it has no end. 
That's how long I want to be your friend."
Cheesy, sure. But it's true. I love my friends, and while it may not be realistic that I'll be friends with them forever and ever, I honestly hope I will. 
        It also seems that a lot of guys have the misconception that girls want these HUGE, extravagant gifts. We want you to plan out an elaborate evening of perfectly detailed surprises. And I know that's true for some girls, and that's completely fine! But for other girls, all we want is to know that you thought about us. We don't need a room full of roses. I honestly would love a mix tape--something that maybe has a little meaning to the relationship. Songs are powerful, and if you're not a writer, let someone else say it. That's basically what their paid for. But the big take away here--think before you buy. A small, thoughtful gesture is more meaningful that a diamond necklace. 

If you want a little taste of literary romance this weekend, here's some of my favorite romance books. You'll note that Nicholas Sparks is conveniently not mentioned in this list--that's because I care about you, and I don't want to cause a sob fest on a happy holiday. Save his heart wrenches for another day

1. Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen
2. Love, Rosie
3. Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë
4. Saint Anything: Sarah Dessen
5. Meant to Be: Lauren Morrill
6. Eleanor & Park: Rainbow Rowell
7. A Countess Below Stairs: Eva

If you want to take a fantastical route for your romance, here's my top four love stories: 
1. Shiver: Maggie Stiefvater
2. Beautiful Creatures: Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia
3. Blue Bloods: Melissa De La Cruz
4. Vampire Academy: Richelle Mead (but you have to get through the whole series to get the full romance. Hey, I'm not complaining.)

Happy V-Day! Be sure to tell all your loved ones just how much their loved! And tell me what your favorite romances are!!

Friday, February 5, 2016

What I've Learned

     Tomorrow, I turn 20 years old, and if I'm being honest, I've been celebrating all week. I don't understand why people don't celebrate whenever they get the chance. Life should be one giant celebration! 
     So as I've been celebrating, I've also been thinking. I tend to do that occasionally. My brain can get a little jumbled. I understand that I have so much more life to live, and I'm not even a quarter of how wise I'll be when I die, but that doesn't mean I haven't learned anything in my 20 years. My lessons may be really silly, or they may actually have some meaning. Does it really matter? Because life is a combination of silly and meaning, right? I couldn't live my life without silly, and I definitely couldn't live without meaning. Otherwise, what's the point? So here we go: what I, Hannah Elizabeth Rials, have learned in my nearly 20 years of life. 

1.Friends and Family are key. 
I know this kind of seems like a "gimme" kind of lesson, but not everybody seems to learn this, or has the opportunity to. I would actually be nowhere without my family. My parents have provided me with more opportunities than I deserve, and I can never say thank you enough. And my friends...I am who I am because of my friends. I've lost some, and I've gained some. But I've treasured every one of them because they've all taught me something that no one else can. 
2. Be who you are.
Again, another "gimme." But hear me out. I remember being an awkward intermediate/middle schooler/early high schooler (a few friends can attest to this) trying to figure myself out. I was a follower in intermediate school. I honestly just wanted friends because I was a dorky, pudgy, overly homeostatic kid. Middle school brought the emotional/dark/rebellious (and by rebellious, I mean back mouthing my parents. That's about as far as it went) side out of me. Then high school hit, along with a bunch of other changes, and I think that's when I found myself. I'm a dorky, quirky, friendly, introverted, nosy, overly caring, Christian, leading, writer. That's my identity, and I'll stick by it. So pick out some adjectives and put them in your list. The list might, and probably will, change. But that's life. Change. And amongst all that change, you have the challenge of finding yourself. Good luck. I believe in you. 
3. Find your therapy.
I'm serious. It may be going to a therapist. It may be venting to your friends (but make sure that's not all you do). It may be gardening or cooking. Just find something for those times when life just comes crashing in. Because it will do that. I guarantee it. I have lots of therapy. My dogs. Or just dogs in general. Gardening. Writing. Cooking. Reading. Occasionally yoga, depending on how flexible I'm feeling. There's a therapy out there for everyone. My dogs aren't going to solve all of my problems, though that would be amazing, but that's not really the point. They're just a way to release some of the problems. Like Buddy--he's lying here beside me as I type, dreaming about something exciting. And it's relaxing. That's all you need. So go find your therapy. 
4. Being silly matters. 
I've always wanted to be the funny one in my group of friends. The funny friend is the one with the addictive personality, the person everyone goes to when they need a pick me up. I'm not funny. I try. I honestly do. The only people who actually laugh at my attempts at humor are my's okay, I'm not crushed about it. But hey, I don't have to be funny. Because I'm silly. I can crack myself up about absolutely nothing. I LOVE impersonating/quoting movies. The Princess Bride and My Big Fat Greek Wedding are my favorite to quote. I can tie an "invisible string" through my lip and pull it. I snort. I sing during movies, and sometimes I laugh too hard. This may be annoying to some people (especially my dad who always begs me to stop singing and regrets bringing up MBFGW), but it makes the days happier, at least in my mind. And your mind--that's the number one priority. 
5. Never Been Kissed. 
I've never been kissed. I've never been courted. I might've been flirted with, but I can never really tell unless it's blatantly obvious. And for most of middle school and high school, this was the worst part of my life. It was the end all be all. I liked guys, typically the tall, skinny, artistic and/or brilliant type. Crushing was almost always a thing to me. I even worked up the nerve to tell a couple of my crushes about my feelings only to be turned down. And boy was that crushing. But guess what? I survived! And I'm still friends with them.
Up until this year, I thought I was pathetic that I was a lip virgin. (yes, that's my term for it). I'm almost 20 for pete's sake. Now...I'm okay. I'm in a really good place. I'm confident in myself, in the direction that my life is going. I'm not actively searching for a mate, haha. For years, my mom and some of my friends just said, "It'll happen when its supposed to happen." And I finally realize they're right. I may find prince charming tomorrow or in ten years. But I'll find him when I'm meant to, and not a second before. Who knows? Maybe I've already met him. But the point is--Never Been Kissed (like Drew Barrymore)? That's okay, you're going to survive and thrive and move on. Because one day, your prince will come (see, there I go with the movie quotes. 10 points to Hufflepuff if you can name the movie.)
6. Your friends appreciate you. 
Friends can be both the best and most frustrating parts of your life. Especially as a girl because girls are confusing and sometimes not straightforward. We're insane, to be honest. 
I always struggle thinking that I'm the friend who cares. None of my friends actually care, they're just here because it's convenient and I'm the best they could muster up. Now, I know this isn't true. I promise. But I can't help thinking it sometimes, especially if you're the friend who always makes the plans or the calls or whatever. But guess what. Your friends do appreciate you. They just show you in different ways. You just have to learn to notice it when it happens. Sidenote, I love my friends. They're the best and weirdest and awesomest people. They're all going to go to the moon and beyond in life. Because that's just the type of people they are. 
7. Connections are literally everything. 
My generation is preached at about connections. We will get no where without connections. I'm here to tell you, it's true. Now, to be fair, most of my connections are from my mother because she's the most connected person I know. My boss and I call her the Mouth of the South for a reason. But I've made a few of my own connections. I wouldn't be getting my book published without connections. I wouldn't have had my internship last semester without connections. I wouldn't have gotten to have breakfast with an amazing author, Kathryn Holmes, without connections. And in order to make connections, you have to get out there and talk to people. Talk to everyone. This might be hypocritical of me because I have to force myself to talk to people. But I'm not here to tell you about what I do. I'm telling you about what I've learned. 
8. Smile. As often as possible. You'll make more friends. Your face may get more wrinkles, but at least they'll be good wrinkles. Life is just better with smiling. So just do it. Please. 
9. Listen to people. 
As a writer, I really like listening to people. They're story ideas just waiting to happen. Listening teaches you about things--about yourself, your friends, the world around you. Pay attention. Because people have important things to say, things you might not have thought about if you'd had your earbuds in. So just, open your ears occasionally. You might just learn something. 
10. Find something to believe in. 
I don't care what you believe in because that falls into the "nunyabusiness" category of life. But I stand by my idea that everyone should believe in something. If it's not a higher power, it could be love, or family, or friends. But there's something for everyone to believe in. It makes the world a better place. 
11. Give up your time. 
Today, our world is filled with hundreds of thousands of groups, people, and organizations to donate your time too. Not everyone has thousands of dollars that they can donate on a whim. And that's okay, because these organizations need your time too. There are so many people (and things) that need your help, and I guarantee that there is something out there that you'll care about. Animals, aiding abuse victims, working with the disabled, providing water for countries in need. It doesn't matter because they need your help. And help and time are things that you can give. 
Celebrate every chance you get. Your birthday, your friends' birthdays, Valentine's Day (even though maybe its a holiday invented by the greeting card companies). It doesn't matter because celebrating is the best. It gives a purpose to the day. It gives a smile to the day. It gives happiness and laughter and love to the day. And those are all things that you want part of your day, right? So why not celebrate whenever and whatever and whoever you can? 

Well, it's 8 minutes until I turn 20, so I guess I'll sign off now. If you made it all the way to this point, 10 more points for Hufflepuff (that's my house if you didn't already guess). I wish you all celebration, donation, faith, open ears, smiles, connections, friendship, love, silliness, therapy, individuality, and family. Carpe Diem, people! As my dear friend told me, after I turn 20, everything will go down hill from here :) 

Jusqu'à la prochain fois,