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In the beginning

Lily Quick to her friend, Virginia, on the playful role of words in Naughtytown, a fantastic realm, dedicated to the rehabilitation of "bad" children, and where the details seem to fall in-between her accustomed terms:

     “[T]he problem is....I haven’t figured out when to stop playing, especially with words: naming the strange stuff—you know, just to get hold of it. I haven’t been sure about it from the beginning, really....I mean, it’s kind of important here, isn’t it—playing that way?....Serious, really—considering where we are? We’d go blind without them, I think. Because, I mean, it even happens at home, where we have all these words, and there’s less in-between, in a way. I remember in science class last year, for a test we had to memorize birds with their names. And there was this one I hadn’t ever seen or heard of called a nuthatch. Anyway, when I got home after the test, something in our big oak tree caught my eye. And when I looked, there he was, plain as day: a nuthatch—­my first one for real. And I’ve seen nuthatches a lot ever since—and other birds from the test too: kinglets and juncos and....

    "My that I don’t think his being there that day was any coincidence; he was there because I had a test, just like he would have been there a day earlier if I’d had the test then. Because, see, he was never not there. He was there all along, invisible, sort of, till I had a word for him: till I had a name to keep him in mind; to make him be. He’d been in-between. And without the word I might not ever have seen him—or thought to see him. That’s what’s special about words, I think. It’s what I like most about them, really: the way they make things be, like magic, out of nothing--and for as long as you need them. And so here, especially, where there’s so much more nothing to see, I mean....Gosh, if we stop making them up....

    [And] [i]t’s just as serious the other way....As soon as you make them up to help you see, they stop you from seeing, or start to stop you; they keep you from seeing between. So you’re stuck; you have to use them, but you have to get past them too. That’s what I meant about playing....You take it seriously, by not taking them seriously. You’re not being real if you do. You treat them instead like frogs or turtles—things you’ve discovered walking. You play with them for a while, then you say goodbye. You say ‘moon’ or ‘rose’ or ‘nuthatch,’ and you enjoy it. Then you let it go.


-exerpt from Naughtytown, a novel

     in progress by Michael Scherf

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