Category Archives: Personal Response

A Hunni By Any Other Name Would Not Be So Sweet

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“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;”

(Juliet, II.ii, Romeo and Juliet)

Counter to our dear Juliet’s philosophies, I argue that I would not be as sweet if I were to be called something other than Pamela Hunnisett. Our name is the first mark of our identity, the mark of our existence for a brief span of space and time whilst on this earth. I believe there is a metaphysical alchemy of fate when naming a person, and it is fascinating to consider the importance of how the symbolic meaning of one’s name can become inextricably intertwined with one’s identity.

To say that my mother toiled and sweated over the rhythms, rhymes, diminutives, and symbolism of my naming would be a fallacy! But something in the stars on that quiet night of May 7, 1971 whispered to my mother my name, Pamela. A name that by Northern Ontario standards was “unique”. The sound of my name attracted my mother, and that eve when my parents bestowed it on me, she set into motion the fates of my existence.

In an age where many Canadian girls were called Jennifer, Lisa, Tracy, Vicky, Tammy, and Susan – Pamela was archaically British and profound with unbecoming airs. So, as a child, I carried the name Pamela as a burden of being different, a bit of an outcast.   Most called me Pam, some Pammy, as is the fashion in Canada, and these shorter forms increased my popularity and suitability among my peers. However, privately, I have always preferred Pamela – as does my mother. Preferring the uncool has been the story of my existence. I have the means (as in using the name Pam) to have one foot with the “inner” crowd, but I always prefer to be just outside the inner ring, looking in as an observer. My heart remains in the preferred solitude with Pamela. 

Yet, the symbolic meaning of my name has carved its-self into my personality blessing me with a sweetness of nature that draws people to me for kind, loving friendship and counsel. Unknown to my mother at the time of my birth, my name is said to mean “sweet as honey” or “all honey”.   It is a name that is a poetic invention by a poet Sir Philip Sidney in the 16th Century, for his heroine in the book Arcadia; he created the name to symbolically represent the character’s sweetness of nature, so he took the Greek words pan (meaning “all”) and meli (meaning “honey”). Come the 18th Century Samuel Richardson published a novel titled Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded.  Therefore, although I might be inclined towards solitude, I get on well with people as I’m generally amicable and considered to be a sweet, reliable, and loving friend – as are my literary namesakes.

Although my mother did not know the meaning of Pamela, nor the literary history of Pamela, she did know the meanings of my middle names: Jane, which means “a gift from God” combined with Marie that carries the grief of meaning “bitter”, as in Jane-Marie; I came into the world bitterly as a gift from god. Perhaps that is the truth behind the reality of being an “oops” baby when my parents were young newlyweds and unprepared to yet have a child. Those secondary names were given to me in homage to my great-grandmother Jane (my father’s grandmother), and my dear Grandma Kelly’s name Marie (my mother’s mom). In true sweetness, my mother named me to make both sides of the family happy. And by giving me those names, it fated my relationship to my dear Grandma Kelly who loved and adored me as her namesake, and nurtured so much of my nature and love for literature. However, it was also the fortuitousness of fate that predominated those designs with Pamela – “sweet as honey”! Thus, my name is blessed in paradox – much like my personality and life. 

Again, in the naming of names, my life is filled with irony when also considering my last name – Hunnisett – yes, that is right – as in HONEY-SETT! Silly in so many ways to be “Sweet as Honey” Hunnisett. This makes me laugh, and I love the ridiculous in life, so I love that my name is hilarious! But that also owes a responsibility to be that kind of person who deserves such a name. When I first read Roald Dahl’s Matilda when babysitting I thought that Miss Honey was the sweetest teacher ever! What a lot of responsibility I realized that my name carried! I did have aspirations to teach, so I took on the characterization of Miss Honey with great seriousness; I too would love kids and save them! Soon enough as I began teaching teenagers in 1998, they quickly called me Ms. Hunni! I cherish that identity, of being that kind of entity for my students throughout the years.

When it came time to marry a handsome Latin Argentinian with the lovely last name Rios, I had no intention of rebranding myself, nor did he have any expectations that I should. Now, don’t get me wrong, Pamela Rios has a sophisticated sexiness to it – a name one should aspire to have! But it is not who I am! Such a name would just not be as sweet, sexy – yes, but not so sweet!

So, it is and so it remains that my name is Pamela (sweet as honey) Jane-Marie (gift of god, bitterness) Hunnisett (a British surname). Let’s just say that the Urban Dictionary says that “hunni” means “a name you call your good friend”.

Who I am is completely rapt within the denotations and connotations of all my names – whether that is by my fate or by my design, I do not really know. But I do believe that if I had any other names I would not be nearly so sweet!

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For Rue!

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IMG_1890Today my heart broke into a million little pieces as I learned of the passing of my darling Ruthanne Penrose at the mere age of 29! When I taught this lil’ sprite, I was blessed with this goofy little loving angel who would sweep up and organize all the pieces of my world into some funky lil’ artistry that would turn darkness into light for all who let her in, which were many because she loved so unconditionally. She was my student, my actress, my director, my student-teacher, my friend! DSCN4965

I am grateful that Rue was more than a student; she was a soul-sister! I’ll now need to believe that my angel, my friend, my child, my student, my sister will continue to cast her light, love and quirkiness from above because I’ll never forget her.

She has blessed us with visits these past two years and infused her love into my children’s world; she was family for us all and I am eternally grateful that she found her way to be part of both my past and present! My children have been blessed to have loved her too!

Rue makes me a believer in heaven and angels; God must have called her on for greater things, although I struggle to understand because this world so needed her! We needed her! Her love of life and people are an eternal inspiration. I’m so grateful to have so many memories of such a wonderful person in my life; she made me a better person.

DSCN4983Rue – never will I be on a mountain without remembrance of you and the joy you found in their majesty. I hope you will still find your way to visit me now and then, for if it’s possible, I know you will. I’ll miss your yearly visits, your New Year missives, and your hilarious being in Facebook-land. Bless you my Rue! I miss you so much! We all miss you! My most sincere love and condolences to her incredible family and friends.

Here are two poems for you my girl. The first you sang in the CHCI choir – you would practice it incessantly , but your voice was beautiful and I never forgot it. The second is a favourite and reminds me so much of you and your success!

Thanks for the precious memories!IMG_1942

Remember
BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad. DSCN4979

Success
To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self;
To leave the world a little better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasmIMG_1879 DSCN4970
And sung with exultation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived –
This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Light Shines in the Dark

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A powerful light shines in the dark.

A powerful light shines in the dark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mysterious forces of the universe never cease to amaze me.  As doors close, windows open.  Once, in a relationship crash of my twenty-something years, my father – who thinks pragmatically like any true businessman – tried to comfort me with “don’t look at this as an obstacle, rather, look at it like an opportunity!”  This “insensitivity” sparked a teenage-like rage of disbelief and betrayal in my heart!  How could he liken my broken relationship to a business euphemism?  Ah – but that travelling salesman – my daddy – was all too wise!  That truth has become a mantra of my life; thankfully I could put my emotional ego aside to see that wisdom – those loving and supportive words, eventually, brought light to my darkness.  Thus, the universe does this to us too, repeatedly!  It brings us situations that are obstacles and conflicts until we learn how to make them our opportunities.

I have thought of this often this week through challenges!  There have been many obstacles and my emotional side often frustrates through it all.  But slowly, the week has offered me far more opportunities and I will choose to focus on those.

To begin, I – gulp – took up the call for proposals for NCTE  2013 regarding the blogging journey I’ve experienced with my students.  This is pure opportunity, a dream to hope for!   I do not expect such an honour of presenting at this event that I truly, truly love, but I am proud that I took a chance to make a dream come true.  After-all, as my first blog here states: “Pretending that next time I could be presenting at such a conference as this! But in truth, I just basked in the glory of the gurus and the geniuses wondering if I’d ever really grow up and be wise like the big kids and as energetically creative as the young kids?”  I truly believe in NCTE and how it has transformed me as a teacher!   The PLN and sharing we speak of here in our etmooc course really made me feel the confidence I needed to take a risk and try.

Second blessing of my week – tweeting with  one of my professional idols – Penny Kittle.  As an English high school teacher, this  fine lady is a mentor to my professional growth.  I first encountered her at 2011 NCTE and again I basked in her glory at 2012 NCTE!   She is pure inspiration!  If you are an English teacher – you truly need her!  In fact, my subtitle on this blog is “Blogging Beside My Students”, which is an emulation to her book Write Beside Them.  Alas, I am so excited that she will be coming to Alberta to do workshops with writing!  I noticed on her website that she would be in two other provincial cities this coming month – so I advocated to our local PD and they are bringing her to us too.  Okay, true, I could be accused of being a stalker.  But, I promise you Penny, I’m just humbly respectful of  your amazing energy and talent!  I hope you’ll still take me up on the coffee and tour (it seems Oprah wasn’t interested when she came to town this week).  Just the courage it took me to tweet Penny warrants a coffee – I hope!

Now, as the universe has offered me some painful lessons this week, it also brought great “lights” to my life!  First of all, I reconnected with this amazing teacher who has been a virtual friend and mentor to me – my PLN  (personal learning network).  I met this amazing lady – Carol Mayne – about four years ago via the English Companion Ning.  Ironically, she is in neighbouring Canmore (in the mountains via Calgary).  As I was learning about PLN and sharing, I longed for my friend who I had lost touch with over a year ago.  Luckily – I quickly found her – and it turns out we were finding each other serendipitously via this course.  Amazing!  I am so grateful to have her back in my world and we are planning an actual meeting, as real humans!  Furthermore,  I just saw great clarity of good people in my life – the gifts  of my family, dear friends, and amazing student teachers who I get to collaborate with in my classroom!  I have been blessed by many loving, light-filled people!

Finally, I have really enjoyed reading many blogs this week that transform one’s “wounded” spirit.  But the two that truly to spoke to my inner truth were:

These blogs, this course, that conference, the tweets, these people all remind me: “don’t look at this as an obstacle, rather, look at it like an opportunity!”  Essentially, there is much more grace and gratitude to be had in my week than I had felt before.  I choose to focus on the opportunities and be grateful for them.  I guess that pragmatic dad of mine was right all along!  Thanks Daddy!

View of Canmore, AB from the abandoned tea hou...

View of Canmore, AB from the abandoned tea house up Mount Lady MacDonald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia – the film

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Cover of "Australia"

Cover of Australia

This is a piece I wrote a few years ago after seeing the film AUSTRALIA.  Last night I watched it again and decided to post this piece.

AUSTRALIA – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
~A Personal Response~

Every once in a long while comes an epic film that completely sweeps me off my feet. As a child, I would love to spend a Sunday afternoon curled up in my nest to watch the great epic films of Gone with the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, Ben Hur, Cleopatra, The Ten Commandments, and Out of Africa. These films would transport me across time and place and developed my insatiable love for a great story; such stories I could often only find hidden within the pages of great books. As time passed, and I grew older and wiser, I continued to find enchantment with epics that would occasionally emerge – The English Patient, Saving Private Ryan, Titanic (yes that one too), Gladiator, and the more recent entries of Troy and Atonement. These films, due to essence of their genre, always managed to weave their magic on me and turn my adult wisdom into child-like innocence and awe. True to form, Baz Luhrmann’s latest film, Australia, completely wooed me last evening.

Australia is truly a breathtaking heroic epic that crossroads Australian stories of the attack on Darwin during World War II, colonizing ranchers, folk tales, and the Aborigine’s Stolen Generation. Australia uses all the magical ingredients of an epic film: sweeping landscapes, legendary characters portrayed by Hollywood’s élite , mystical foreign lands, treacherous antagonists, decorative costumes, dramatic lighting, harmonious musical scores and poetic motifs – where human drama is set against the backdrop of a society in conflict. But in the aesthetic theatrical genius hands of Baz Luhrmann – recall Moulin Rouge – this film takes the concept of epic one step further into a transformative shamanistic dreamy semblance of cinematic artistry and symbolism that delivers on the motif dream of taking us “somewhere over the rainbow”. This is mix of ingredients that my innocent heart indulged in and was completely swept away into the land of Oz – Aussie-land that is!

To begin, we must consider the land itself – the majestic landscape of the Northern Territory in Australia. Initially, the landscape is barren, desolate and unforgiving, and like Lady Ashley (Kidman), the viewer is left wondering what would ever draw someone to settle in such a bleak locale, especially in the dry season in this tropical arid land. However, as Lady Ashley begins to “see” the real beauty of the land – with its ravines, rivers, and billabongs, so too, do we. Throughout the film, we are mesmerized as the landscape transforms into a tropical heaven of greenery, waterfalls and flora during the wet season. It becomes a landscape that embeds into our hearts and we too fall in love and want to stay transported in this bewitching place.

Not only does the landscape bewitch us, but so too does the bewitching star-power cast. Nicole Kidman is pure enchantment as she delivers a dynamic and fascinating character that begins in snooty caricature of a haughty English grand dame, but transforms into a beguiling, brave and alluring heroine. Hugh Jackman is our hero (in a legendary kind of way) who is magnificent as a rugged loner who forsakes society and their social mores to stay true to his freedom as a drover (cattle herder), and who is more at home in the aborigines world than the colonial world of Australia. Jackman’s character makes the women in the audience swoon and makes men relive the cowboy heroic ideal of their childhood. There are a host of wonderful Australian actors who add their talent to this show, but the greatest charm is the new blood of 11-year-old Brandon Walters who shines as the child Nullah. Nullah as the central figure – and our innocent-eyed narrator – is an orphaned, half-indigenous victim of the Stolen Generation. Walters’ innocence, energy and charm completely wins our heart with the flash of his smile, the mischievous twinkle in his eye, or the singing of his angelic hypnotic voice. This film follows the innocent journey of Nullah as he finds happiness and identity by following the dream promised to him in The Wizard of Oz! Walters proves that he does have the acting chops to stand up with the likes of Kidman and Jackson. This is a special array of characters and these actors really made them unforgettable.

Although Australia is a hit in terms of entertainment value, it is also a film that educates us historically, morally and ethically. World War II, the colonial exploitation of New World resources, and the prejudicial mistreatment of indigenous societies are not new concepts, but the perspective shift to look at these through the unique Australian experience was enlightening. These are weighty issues that have carved a common history in the world and Baz Luhrmann’s confident exploration of them has really brought them into a modern sensibility.

In North America, there is little to no mention of how World War II affected Australians. Yet their vulnerability to Axis Japanese forces – at least in the North – was the same as any European country to the Nazi’s. It really puts into perspective the scope of what a “world war” means. However, the war really becomes the catalyst for the romantic war backdrop reminiscent of a Casablanca or a Gone with the Wind where the survival of love – mother, father, and child – becomes a battle of survival against enemy bombs, bullets, and bloodshed. Perhaps this romantic side is trite, but nonetheless, it does satisfy.

Not only does the war become a historical lesson, but so too does the story of colonization. We become witness to the ruthless greed of capitalism and the profiteering of indigenous cultures to serve and support this greed – a reality throughout the world – but again told from the perspective of the Australian experience. However, with contemporary morals, our hero and heroine defy the prejudicial feudalistic social mores of the day and attempt to transform their “Faraway Downs” ranch into a multicultural mosaic that embraces a unity and extended family morality. This utopian existence – “somewhere over the rainbow” – continues to be challenged by the corruption of a villainous rival rancher who not only desires a capitalistic monopoly on the cattle trade, but also feels he must righteously destroy the “unnatural” dream-like utopia of white-folk who have the audacity to treat their “hired help” and their adoptive “half-bred” child as equals. The film takes this historical reality and transforms it into an ethical battle that is conquered by our “outsider” heroes.

The ethical battle takes on a greater importance as the film elucidates the global issue of both genocide through eugenics and identity-theft that whites have exploited throughout the history of colonization. In Australia this racial battle is known as the Stolen Generation of mixed-descent children. This issue of subjugation, by erasing cultural “savagery” through assimilation laws and missionary education work, becomes yet another antagonist in the film as we see Nullah attempting to hide from the authorities that would forcibly remove him from his home and family, in trying to expunge his cultural identity. Ironically, this lonely mixed-descent child’s personal conflict is that he doesn’t feel acceptance or identity in neither his father’s white world nor his mother’s Aborigine world. This Aboriginal world is mystical and foreign to many of us, but Luhrmann respectfully entrances us with the rituals and customs of this spiritual culture. So, as weighty as these ethical issues are, we – the audience – are appeased with the blend of both ideals where he finds familial love and acceptance by his adoptive white family, yet he still embraces his adventurist shamanistic instincts. His identity is reclaimed in the best of both worlds!  Although this is a melodramatic compromise, it is satisfying!

Ultimately, Australia may be formulaic – albeit with a hero and heroine on equal footing – but it fulfills the dreams and ideals of this formula by delivering a blockbuster hit. It is a return to the classic romantic epic film and Baz Luhrmann is resplendent as a modern storyteller. His sagacious choices of locale, cast, and storyline – along with his virtuosic cinematograph talent – combine to create a film that transports our hearts and minds to another place and time, as it fulfills our child-like desire for the enjoyment of a great story that inspires and illuminates.

Disillusioned Feminism

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Nederlands: portret van Rebecca Walker

I have spent the better part of my life being keenly aware and proud of the feminist movement.  My mother was a hard-working nurse throughout my childhood, and my grandmother also was a widowed working woman for an insurance company, once owned by my deceased grandfather; their example and wisdom taught me much about the feminist movement for rights and liberty.  Empowerment of women has always been an allure and motivated me as a young learner to do my best academically so that I could write my ticket to success – tapping into all the potential roads that the feminist movement had mapped for me.  My reading interests were feminist trailblazing writers from Atwood and Laurence, to Bronte and Shelley, to Woolf and Chopin, to Plath and Sexton, to Angelou and Walker, among many others – too many wonderful voices to list here.

So, it was with great interest that I happened upon the writing of Alice Walker’s daughter, Rebecca Walker.  Alice is the genius writer of the beloved Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple, a Civil Rights Movement activist, and an activist writer for issues of feminism, sexism, and racism. When I saw that Rebecca was a writer too, I imagined how inspiring it must have been to grow up basking in Alice Walker’s genius.  I dreamed of what it would have been like to have had grown up in the battle for rights in the Southern United States, especially with a mother who had such a powerful voice, especially in the household of a mixed-race and mixed-class family (her father was from rich Jewish New York descent, while her mother came from poor Southern African-American farmers). But Rebecca’s article – “How my Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart” in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail – offered a very different perspective than any I could have anticipated; it made me reflect on my own challenges with my mother, and of my role as a mother with a career.

Although I’m a firm believer in the concept of perspective and bias in writing – and I have yet to investigate Alice’s own counter-arguments to her estranged daughter’s claims – I must admit that I was completely devastated by this article.  To learn, from Rebecca’s perspective, that she almost never became a mother “thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.”  It is with great irony that Rebecca’s independent choice to become a parent with a man whom she loved was condemned by our beloved Alice – the same Alice who in her matriarchal power rallies for women to have the freedom to choose their hearts desire, the same Alice who advocates for the sisterhood of women who need to care for each other.  Rebecca further explains how her own existence was a burden to Alice who poetically wrote about Rebecca being a “calamity” who “impeded” her ambitions as a writer.  Oh dear Alice, how can you betray your own child?  How can you be so callous and cold when your beautiful and talented daughter has chosen the path of motherhood in conjunction with the ambitions of career?

Furthermore, the article reveals the neglect that Alice inflicted on Rebecca: “while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities  –  after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.”  Ouch!  Rebecca’s neglect has known no end and she has found her voice to trumpet her tales of woe from the abuses of this fanatical feminist.  However, Rebecca needs to find peace with this condemnation.

Like Alice, my mother was a mother to all in our town.  I would grow up hearing the words: “how lucky you are to have such a wise and caring mother.”  But when she came home, and her service to our family was done, she rarely had time left.  Now, thousands of miles apart, our time is achieved through a phone call here and there, a “fwd” moment of sincerity in an email from her, an email with jpeg pictures of her grandchildren from me, and a four to five day visit once every year (if we’re lucky).  But unlike Rebecca, I have found some peace in this relationship.  Rather than rail against this reality, I’ve come to accept it.  My mother loves me – I know this.  My mother worked very hard, and taught us well, and did her best.  It is not her fault (or mine) that the demands of a working mother couldn’t find time or balance during the working week.

This article also stirred up my own fears of trying to “do it all”.  I, too, fight to find a sense of balance between work and motherhood.  I often say that trying to satisfy the demands of my work, my family, my home, and myself leads to a lot of mediocrity in all categories.  My gosh, someday my children will find their voices and will complain that I spent too much energy and time on work – like writing in this blog tonight instead of cuddling them to sleep.  The guilt of trying to be all, to all people.  The fear of failure, failure to myself.  Such are the pressures when we try to walk in two worlds.  I admit, with feminist guilt, that being a mom and housewife in those lazy, hazy days of summer are my favourite moments in life.  If only, I often say, I could afford to just stay home and fret about the crumbs on my floor.  Feminism is a powerful movement that has afforded my 21st century life a freedom unknown to women 100 years ago.  I am forever humbled and grateful to the sacrifices and battles my predecessors endured for my freedom.  Yet, this same freedom often leads me to feel like a failure, a fraud, and felon

Reading and talking about "Why War is Nev...

– living a life where mediocrity and fragmentation is a guilty reality.  I don’t blame my children for my mediocrity as a teacher; I don’t blame my teaching, or feminism for that matter, for my mediocrity as a mother.  I just recognize the internal battle and hope that someday I find a way to reconcile this divisiveness.

Like Rebecca, I am proud of being a mother to two of the most sincere and gorgeous creatures to have ever entered my life.  I love being witness and participant to the joy of my children when we make pancakes together on a Sunday morning, the squeals of their laughter as we dance and sing to Camp Rock 2 together, and the charm of their negotiation skills as they convince me away from my laptop to play with them in their world.

Dear mother and Alice, you have missed so much of the past and you are missing so much of the present and the future.  Dear me, please remember that being a mother is the most gracious of all gifts I have received in life, and traditional ways are of value to me, my children, my family, and society.  It does not diminish my feminist existence, it empowers it with the choice to enjoy the embodiment of my feminine and my feminist selves.  Dear Luca and Tulia, I pray that someday you will know that I have loved my every day with your “delightful distractions” and that my only calamity of existence is not spending enough time basking in your silly ways, and your growth-filled days .  I truly hope that you will always know that you two are my most sincere priority. I do hope that this anthem will often hold me accountable to the dream of what really matters to you and me.

(Walker, Rebecca. “How My Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart”. The Daily Mail: Mail Online.  23 May 2008. Web. 05 Sept. 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1021293/How-mothers-fanatical-feminist-views-tore-apart-daughter-The-Color-Purple-author.html#ixzz0yP1chZPp )