The Writer’s Lexicon: Shrug Sigh Think

Man, got home with a terrible headache! Backache. I’m sitted (seated) crisscross at the floor of my childhood bedroom, pounding away at the keys. Welp, here it is, another installment of . . . VOCAB IMPROVEMENT.


Today I read about the three words in the title of this post. Author Steinemann recommends we eliminate them from out prose. At least during a second draft. Shrug, for example, is simply overused. Sigh, on a similar note, is over used but to a great disadvantage: we should instead focus on the motivation behind this action, which could signify many things. Lastly, Think. Well, the author recommends we straight up cut it out, like sticky lard, or bloody scabs. Just. Pick. It. Off.


. . .


I parked the car at the far end of the lot, of my school. Under a tree. Twenty-one minutes early. I pull out my phone and read about Jeff Bezos stepping down as Amazon’s CEO. That’s cool. Grab my things, and go.


Good morning, Ms M. It’s the lady who gave me her name last week, who helped me out. But now is too busy to return my greeting in kind.




How are you?


G-o-o-o-o-d, she says. It’s my favorite word in English, Good. So I smirk under my KN-95 mask and quietly scribble my name in the sign-in sheet.


Have a good day, I say, savoring the word.


You too. And it’s done. One conversation down, a hundred to go.


Working here keeps me on my toes. Last week I was at the gym, working reading or tossing footballs, with students. Today?


You will be with Ms R and Ms S, my supervisor, coordinator, point of contact instructs me. I can see her smiling under her mask. She’ll have a good day today. I match her radiance, salute, and turn on my heel.


First period, lost. Second period? There’s a student who doesn’t speak English good (well). She follows me outside to the courtyard, and I invite her to pick where we will sit. She tells me she prefers the shade. It’s cool, and the wind hangs around, as we sit at a nice table.


Write me the alphabet, I ask her. She puts a few letters down, about a half dozen, not in any particular order.


I have dyslexia, she tells me. I tell her, No worries. And ask, Please take out a piece of paper.


All in Spanish, we take turns writing the big and small letters on each other’s paper. Take turns writing words that begin with the letters of the alphabet. We practice a few techniques for remembering certain combinations of letters — the ABC song might be useful here, I syllogize, but we are out in public, and don’t want to pass embarrassment to a twelve year old. So instead, I point out how the M and N are married, they are so similar; also, look the p and the q are kissing. She snickers, likes it. I ask, which one is kissing and which one is being kissed. She’s smart, this girl, telling me the p kisses the q.


A couple of other mnemonics like that later . . . and I give her the golden ticket, the sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet:


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.


Naturally we work the new vocab, and I make her draw it on her paper. Her dog is old, with wrinkles. And her fox is colored in blue (by my pen) but she understands it’s brown, giving him plenty of fur, and some wiggly lines of motion around the creature.


By now the period has ended, and curious passers-by peer from their cliques and corners, wondering what this new guy in a green blazer is doing with the one who is mostly quiet in class.


She and I elbow tap one another. It’s been a good hour. And I’m filled with warmth to see her strut her way back to her classroom, to pick up her unplugged and closed laptop.


What are the first four letters of the alphabet again? I ask.


She almost puts her hands on her hips, chin up, as she says: “A-B-C-D!”


“Very good,” I say. “And what’s my name?”


She shuffles her feet a bit. Darts her eyes side to side. But when I repeat the question she says, “Mr Brave!”


“Good!” Another elbow tap. “And how do you spell that?”


She does good.


Time for third period . . .

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