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Five Ways of Looking at Awkward This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Due Tuesday: “Write about a single word.”

I. Awkward. The word shuffles clumsily into my mind this morning as I yawn and sit up in bed. It bumps my brain and croaks, “Hey! Lemme in.” And I do. I let it stand in line with the other applying adjectives, who watch this graceless word wait knock-kneed behind “courageous,” “passionate,” “inspiring,” and “truthful.” But today’s Sunday, “a writing day,” and something about upside-down turtles and eating soup with a fork piques my interest. So I smile and yawn (at the same time), then grab a chewed pencil with no eraser. This old word is one of my favorites.

II. Awkward [awk-werd]. Sometimes it gets stuck in my mouth like peanut butter when I stretch my jaw to form its diacritical o sound; I bite into the k that’s sandwiched weirdly between twin w’s. The coolest part
is the “-ward,” pretending to be a
“-werd.” But a w duo? “Ahwk-werd.” The unnaturalness of it makes me grin and recall voicing those seven gummy letters during the eighth-grade spell­ing bee. I remember how a single word held the power to define a shy young girl and her poise.

III. Awkward (adjective). An online dictionary gives me eight definitions, and my head swims in the 10-point type because it’s still morning: inept, inconvenient, cumbersome, uncomfortable, clumsy, callow, embarrassing. I chuckle before yawning this time. Interestingly, there’s a shortened version of the word – “awk” – which happens to share its enunciation with the Pacific swimming and diving birds of the Alcidae family. But of course, I already know that. Ha, I’ve always been able to define this gawky, little word, so why has it defined me? Immature and imprudent, childish and inelegant – labels like glue. Why are adjectives so darn sticky?

IV. Awk-ward, awk-ward-ly, awk-ward-ness. It’s bumping noses on a first kiss or running into my French teacher ringing up a keg at Kroger. It’s spending more time searching “how to write an essay” than actually writing it, and it’s the silence following a joke that sounded much funnier in my head. It’s lanky preteens in
too-big sneakers, waltzing elephants, neck braces, “Napoleon Dynamite,” dangling modifiers, my dad reading my diary, lifting a baby grand, and all the times it grows quiet in class right before my stomach makes a sound like a dying whale. It’s even this awkward essay. But it’s more “constraining the dreamer, stunting the youth, defining the diffident Not-Yet-Named,” so go ahead and laugh it off. Laugh, because that’s how you win. Jeer at your labels, your mask, your doubts, your past, and poke fun at your inhibitions until they’re nothing more than a pile of withered words and laughable, lifeless letters.

V. Awkward. The favorite old word stumbles into my brain today. Its eighth and final definition reads ­“obsolete,” and that’s when I know. Galumphing to the corners of my consciousness, it plops atop dusty timidity, embarrassment, gaucheness, and insecurity to form a musty little mountain there in my mind – a mountain over which I’ve triumphed. Awkward, outmoded and outdated, I bested you. See how I’ve flourished. “You’re still kinda clumsy, though,” so I smile and yawn and gather my closing thoughts this morning: I ­define who I am.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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