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Darker Fables

Writing and reviews. Adventures, maybe? Exciting, definitely.

I’m Going to India!

The past few months have been messy. I haven’t blogged in anything but the most cursory sense since I don’t know when, and I seem to have been living underwater, surfacing for air once every few weekends, but otherwise living submerged in a mindless rhythm of churning out words for my dissertation.

It has reached a stage where I no longer know what it means. I write and rewrite, edit and re-edit in a vain search for meaning, understanding those authors who seem unable to finish their series. I think, like me, they get so caught up in the vision of the story that to write it becomes impossible.

In one clairvoyant moment when I lifted my head, I sent an application. I think it was more to break from the slog than because I thought there was any hope of hearing back, but hear back I did. And then in rapid fire succession there was an interview, and now though I’m still reeling from the surprise of it, it seems I… got it?

Wait. What?

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I’m going to India for two weeks of summer school! Hooray! Everything but travel is funded by my scholarship! Hooray! I’ll get to go on another adventure, just when my current one comes to an end! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

Excuse me if that seems a bit sarcastic. It isn’t, not at all, but I’m still waiting for it to feel in any way real. Flights are booked, my visa is approved, and all the confirmation emails have been sent and received, but the only word is surreal.

I will be studying at Amity University in Uttar Pradesh for two weeks, then flying south to Bangalore to meet my Indian family for the first time. Afterwards I shall arrive home a more cultured, international person, and a better blogger. Goodness knows I’ve made that commitment many times, but as part of the scholarship, I have to document my trip, and share it with the world.

Updates soon!

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So You’re Going to be an Au Pair…?

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I have some thoughts on the subject. Having just completed a year and three months long stint of childcare work in France, boy do I know what you’re letting yourself in for.

This post is dedicated to anyone going into the childcare profession, specifically those entering language instructor/nanny positions. These are some things I wish I had known when I was starting out.

1. Children behave differently when their parents aren’t around.

If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll go through a childcare agency, who will take a look at your CV and match you with a family. You will then visit the family, see what’s what, and decide whether you want to take the contract.

A great idea, except that those angelic cherubs, showing you all their toys and twirling around in their princess dresses under maman and papa’s admiring gaze, are not an accurate portrayal of what you’re going to be dealing with.

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2. The parents may be unaware how bad their children can be.

Your predecessor is long gone, so there’s no one to give you the low-down. You’ll just have to gamble, hope for the best.

Now, day one. Cut to you sprinting down the street after a laughing eight-year-old who is trying to lose you on the way home. Cut to you wrestling them for the house keys outside the apartment. Cut to you trying to make the lunch, and them throwing toys out the sixth floor window…

This is likely to be the general flavour of your first few weeks. Only now will you understand what you’ve taken on.

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3. Discipline is difficult.

Their rooms look like the aftermath of a natural disaster. They’ve turned the sink into a potions table, and are pouring glue down the drain. Tomato sauce has been trampled into the carpet, they’ve broken the bathroom door, and the youngest one is screaming loud enough to summon the police.

What can you do to avert the next stream of crises?

Not a lot, because you are one in a long line of ‘nounous’ who have been in this position, and like all before you, you’re being tested. The children have the upper hand – they can communicate with each other in a language you don’t completely understand, and this is their territory.

The one line that will save you? ‘Stop that now or I’m going to call maman.’

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4. The parents will help you, but you have to ask.

Nothing stings a child worse than anticipating maman and papa all evening, and then experiencing them arriving home angry because they’ve been informed of bad behaviour. The parents have powers that you do not, and effective wielding of their assistance will ensure you soon gain the upper hand.

That being said, I don’t think you should tell the parents about every infraction. My method was three strikes and ‘that’s it’, but you have to stand your ground. Decide where your lines are based on the children’s general behaviour, and if you can deal with it yourself, do.

In time, the children will accept your authority, but you need to fight!

5. It’s a physically exhausting job.

A well-behaved child is an entertained child, and you are the entertainment. That means endless rounds of hide-and-seek, a new game at least once a week, and an all-singing-all-dancing show, every minute of every day. You’ll become a master at voicing teddies, and will hear ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ echoing in your head until you fall asleep.

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6. It is an emotionally exhausting job. 

Leave your heart at the front door, because it’s going to get bruised. Perhaps they wish to vent a subconscious rage at the fact you are a usurper in their parent’s role (I theorise), perhaps it is simply because children will be children. Whatever the reason, there is no denying some will say and do mean things. The youngest, because they don’t know any better, the oldest, because they know it hurts.

This is not true of all children. A few will see you as the friend you are trying to be, but a lot will lash out. During my time in the job I was kicked by a little boy until I had bruises on the backs of my legs, and told by a little girl that I was ugly every day of every week.

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7. Communication is difficult. 

Especially if you are working with children who speak a different language, keep the dialogue simple.

If they want you to go away, don’t always ask why. Just give them some space. Children do not have an adult’s ability to articulate their emotions, and find it especially frustrating when they are tired. Sometimes it’s best just to go, and let them come to you a while later.

Complex emotional issues are for the parents to help them with. You should just try to diffuse the situation and restore a state of calm. Don’t take it personally when you don’t understand. It’s not always your place to.

8. You may not agree with the parents’ parenting techniques.

This can be one of the hardest things, in my experience. Seeing these children day-in day-out forges a bond between you, and whilst you might not love them, you will come to care.

It may be difficult to watch as the drawing you and the children worked on all afternoon just to show maman is airily dismissed. You may find it hard not to say something when you are again told that the children can eat ‘whatever they like’ for snack, although you’ve mentioned they’re constipated.

Because you’re working in so intimate a setting you’re going see things that you don’t agree with, but you have to hold your tongue. They are not your kids, and no one asked for your opinion.

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9. Maintain a professional distance.

Yes, be the children’s friend. Yes, laugh and play together. But remember, things can end abruptly. The family are not always obligated to give you a notice period, if it seems you’re not what they were looking for.

And while it can be nice to chat with the parents when they come in from work, always remember that they are your employer. In most cases they will not welcome you as one of the family, but as house staff. A necessary support in their lifestyle, who can soon be replaced.

10. It gets easier.

I have worked for six different families during my time in Paris, some temporarily, and some for longer contracts. The children have ranged from 1-12 in age.

The first family I ever worked for was by far the most difficult. Two children, one of whom was a Veruca Salt character prone to nuclear tantrums and public masturbation. I more than once arrived home in tears.

But then it got better. I don’t deny it took a long time, but eventually, I found families with whom it was possible to build warm, respectful bonds. I became authoritative, and settled into a rhythm which worked for me. Looking back, I think this job made me tougher than I thought I had it in myself to be. Now, I can handle anything.

So if you’re starting out, this is going to be one of the hardest things you have ever done, but you can do it. I believe in you ❤

Ovine

Skittish, she flees
at the first tremble of thunder,
the first flashing of eyes,
long gone before teeth are bared.

But it is not for a dog to complain
over what needs chasing
just to find the way home.

White tufts blowing in the bracken
and two-toed prints show
where she was, before
the storm was so fierce.

The grass is glistening in the rain,
just as sweet as sugarsnap peas,
a new green cemetery of names
that are not yet forgiven.

There’s a bleating, somewhere
in these echoing hills,
like a child in dark wilderness,
but the wind snatches all away.

© Deanna Scutt, 2018

Paris in Colour

It’s been so long since I last wrote a personal blog post that it seems a bit insincere to return to this journal format, but this is an important anniversary, or it was, two months and ten days ago, which is when I reached the one year mark since arriving in Paris, and started to consider the awful truth that soon I will be leaving.

In just a few short weeks I will be busy with whatever comes next, so if there’s an appropriate time for reflections, I guess it must be now.

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My expectations of this experience were monstrous in scope, and orbited a single, dangerous idea: that I needed to come away from this someone new, quite distinct from my former self. It was, I admit, not only a depressing aim, but an odd one, since Paris is not, in my opinion, a city of any change.

After centuries of relentless artistic analysis, Paris is as Paris was, and as Paris will be. To step onto the metro is to breathe stale air that has washed over a thousand other people, and to be any kind of artist here is not to founder in uncharted waters, but to drink the rich history of the many who went before.

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I have not changed. At least not in the ultimate, irrevocable fashion my immature self hoped. Instead of a sudden metamorphosis, I think I instead underwent something closer to a personal evolution. All there is of me is all there was of me, but I wield myself with a better knowledge of my own nature, gained from my experiences.

It is tempting, of course, to bleat out every story I have lived, to pen down every struggle and success so that I can show how much it was all worth, but I understand better now that all stories have a time when it is best for them to be told, and that not all stories survive being written.

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Life has chapters, and my time in Paris has been a chapter in mine. In a month and a half I shall turn to a new blank page, only it will not be quite blank, because it will be thin enough to show the shadows of old letters on the page behind. There are no fresh starts, but I no longer think I need one. As I discovered when I came to Paris, whatever you leave behind does not leave you, but follows on the wind.

So when I go, as I must, this will not be so much the past, as a part of the present in which I am.

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I promise I am winding up to a point, which is that I have come to the conclusion that rebirth is a lie. Going somewhere new will not make you new. It will, however, give you the space to lay down some roots that reach further than before.

Words are a petty medium, says the woman who left her country to write, but I don’t think I need to write every detail. I need only to say that for so many, many reasons, this has been the best year of my life.

Best Books: Spring/Summer 2018

I’m aiming to hit 100 books, so I’ve been reading heavily this year. Here are my highlights so far.

1. Sandra Gulland’s Josephine Bonaparte trilogy:
Dramatic, sweeping, emotional, and all-in-all a thoroughly engaging portrait of an extraordinary woman, who lived in an extraordinary time. First novel review here.

2. Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman:
A+ character development, evocative writing, and shape-shifting foxes. Reviewed here.

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3. Camille Griep’s New Charity Blues:
A book unlike a lot of books. Ultra-subtle futuristic retelling of The Iliad, with elemental magic. Clever, with an interesting, original concept. Pleasant surprise.

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4. Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest:
Aliens, war, suffering. Detestable villain. One of the author’s best works, in my opinion.

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Working Girl (1988)

5. H.G. Wells’ The Sea Lady:
Badass mermaid versus Victorian society. An unexpectedly deep gem, and available for free download at Project Gutenburg. I still can’t fathom why this story is so unknown.

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Peter Pan (1953)

6. Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road:
A great deal less magical or lavish than anything else on this list, but the only book I have ever read which has led me to sympathy for lying snobs and cheaters.

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The Vampire Diaries (2009-2017)

7. Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens:
Fairytales, fairytales, fairytales are my favourite ever thing, especially the dark ones. Rapunzel meets Elizabeth Báthory.

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Hoping to get some more in-depth reviews done, but it’s dissertation season, so I make no promises, save that I’ll do another favourites for autumn/winter. Suggested reading always welcomed!

Mayfly

I could call it a hex
the words that pulled you
out and away downstream.

And the winds rolling in
say storms would have come erelong,
to strip the ground as bare as a mirror.

Labyrinthine, is the origami
you make of yourself,
folded nine ways from the truth,
those scissors driving home.

But I am sorry after all this,
and sorry for that as well,
as my heart quickens onwards
and I swim the summer night.

We were flowers, perhaps,
but not ones with particular meaning.

So go, as I go,
and let’s not speak again of love or life
or death. I remember so much opinion,
and my patience is not what it was.

Too sharp, too green,
those fruits we picked.
They left my teeth on edge.

© Deanna Scutt, 2018

Grey Green

My blood was once
a stream of cement,
and I remain well-acquainted
with bone wall prisons.

My breath,
and the hairs on my hands
say the past is less
than a lifetime ago.

Ravens and doves,
living high in my towers,
were a raucous cawing that I never
released.

Not until the waters came,
and left me barefoot
in the rags of my fine gowns.

Now here,
these petty salt marshes
leave me more than the
proverbial beggar.

No more slaving
or sweet dreams.

© Deanna Scutt, 2018

Severance

It’s clear
that if I could,
I would cut my body
into pieces, and file
those pieces
into separate plastic bags.

Most I would cast away
into all the different oceans.

I might keep my eyes,
the shape of my hands,
the way a line runs
down my breastbone,
but these things,
more than anything,
are delicate.

Upon consideration it’s
all more corruption,
unworthy of anyone’s interest.

I love my father’s cheekbones,
but not when I seek
a vampire’s absence.

Ways to look into
dark, glass water,
and be, but not be,
to slip away unseen.

© Deanna Scutt, 2018

Ave

Ah, this soft-skinned child
let wind blow through her.

No more hiding in the roots
of shivering blossom trees.

If I was what I was
then I carry my regrets,
and shed them as feathers
for a warmer, brighter coat.

These waters, soft and saline,
have ravaged my throat,
not like bleach but a scream
that seeped up through my skin.

If you are singing then I hear you,
if not I imagine
and unmake
the hollow structure of my bones.

© Deanna Scutt, 2018

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