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Writing Prompt Yields Meditations on “Mom Jeans” - Kirsten Oerke

Three day free write: Write everyday for three days, no matter what, without judging or censoring yourself. Try to reproduce the flow of thought without being afraid of what is shameful or what you consider uninteresting or not worthy of being written.


DAY ONE:


A writing exercise immediately makes me think of “writing” and gets me wondering why I choose to spend so much time on something that suits me so poorly: especially a writing prompt that requires that you don’t judge or censor yourself. I would much rather edit out my flaws and make myself look smarter, younger, and more successful and virtuous than I really am. Oh, and more energetic. In reality, I pass out a lot like the Mad Tea-Party Dormouse in Alice In Wonderland: I consider sleep a free drug.


So why voluntarily expose myself by writing? And isn’t “writing about writing” the most boring subject of all? But according to hip, beat poet, Charles Bukowski, writing about writing is still better than not writing. So.


The first thing I do when I get writing prompts (or really any kind of instructions whatsoever) is go over them a thousand times in hopes that they are a key that will magically unlock a secret genius portal in my head that hopefully will practically do the exercise for me. I am an especially uptight procrastinating stickler about directions that ask you to relax and flow. What kind of reverse psychology mind Kung-fu is that? Maybe it’s the rebel in me—I can’t be “free flowing” when directed.


DAY TWO:


Also, since I’m not supposed to censor myself or worry about being boring and uninteresting, I’m trying really hard not to think of shallow, mundane things, so of course I find myself thinking about those kinds of things more than ever.


For example, I was just secretly gloating about how I’m finally thin enough to buy a pair of Skinny Jeans. How embarrassing that I consider this vain, materialistic goal a huge triumph.


I probably only lost weight because I’ve been clinically depressed since the death of my aunt and mother in law and my husband quitting his job and my sister losing her job during COVID and the kids leaving for college —the minute I feel normal again, that weight will go right back on, and those jeans just mean more money sacrificed to a brain-washing capitalist society’s temptations. Though I am beginning to suspect that I will never again feel normal—if I ever did, if there’s such a thing as normal.


At least the jeans didn’t cost a lot of money. I should have been suspicious about how deeply discounted they were, and realized that something was wrong. Because it turns out that skinny jeans are totally “yesterday.” Very fitting (pun intended). That’s right, since my son applied to college, I’ve seen plenty of hip, happening campuses, and no-one under the age of thirty was wearing skinny jeans anymore.


The Hip young (underline young) women are all wearing what my generation ironically used to look down on as “mom jeans”—high waisted jeans that go all the way up to the ribs, cruelly emphasizing meaty, middle aged abdominal lumps. I think of them not so much as “mom jeans” (my mom wisely avoided jeans altogether) but more as “old alcoholic uncle jeans,” the kind that pinch the beer belly, yet are blobby and formless everywhere else— leaving the shape of the legs and butt a terrifying mystery you hope will never be solved.


But what if your nice yoga-regimen-toned ass and legs are exactly what you’re hoping to show off?—especially at your age. My age. Well, this is where it gets even more stupid, because these new hip jeans that all the young women are wearing: they are almost always ripped at the knees. The knees? The one peekaboo body part is the knees? Who wants to show off their knees?—one of the most un-sexy, genderless body parts, designed to perpetually wrinkle.


Also, who makes their knees vulnerable on purpose? My best friend just shattered her kneecaps from tripping on some crooked cement while gardening, and she didn’t even have osteoporosis. I have premature osteoporosis—the doctor thinks I got it from dieting when I was a young dancer and shorting myself on calories and nutrition while still growing. I should be wearing giant Hockey Player knee guards (and hip guards and shin guards) every where I go. Maybe the ripped knee trend is pointedly ageist. Osteoporosis sufferers need not apply.


I think it s because young people are more liberated than my generation was—these brilliant young women are using their new style of jeans to say: fuck you, we won't be sex objects like the women of your idiot generation, who were practically complicit in being sex objects, unlike us: we will wear “mom jeans” that don’t cling to our butts or legs—our legs could be the shape of tree trunks or twigs, who cares?— and the only skin we are going to show is our knees—just to frustrate you.


I am jealous—I want all that time I spent on worrying about my weight and appearance back so I can re-invest it into writing. Too late.


But wait! Maybe the whole pants thing is just the opposite of what I originally thought. Maybe this new generation of women are flaunting the fact that they are so young and gorgeous and confident that they can wear these incredibly ugly jeans and still feel fabulous. After all, they have their whole lives ahead of them to change their minds and wear something flattering.


DAY THREE:

You asked for it, Writing Prompt: “Write whatever comes to mind without censoring yourself.” Here’s what you get: petty, uncensored mind-drift. You? Who is “You” anyway? Why do you always think in the second person, like you’re sharing your identity with some mysterious other? Are you seeking an ideal sympathetic ear, some company, a shrink, a witness? Or is it just a way of trying to distance yourself from yourself?


OK. Now the phone is ringing. I don’t want to pick it up because I know you’re not supposed to interrupt the flow. A real writer would have put their phone on “do not disturb.” Hemingway would never have answered a phone while he was writing. You can bet that his wife or his mistress or secretary would have picked up that phone and taken a message, all hushed and reverent so as not to interrupt his genius.


The phone stops ringing. I instantly feel an anxious pang. It’s some kind of mental conditioning. I think it’s a pang of guilt. Dereliction of duty. Did Hemingway even have a phone? I will always picture him looking down from Mount Kilimanjaro in the shade of a cool vintage tent of weathered khaki colored canvas draped over rough-hewn wooden poles, like a Ralph Lauren ad.


The phone starts ringing again. I peek at the caller ID and see it’s my sister, who I have not spoken with in too long. She lost her job. Her dog has cancer. This is too much. Some part of me; the part that is a good sister, maybe the part of me conditioned by working for decades as a secretary, surely the part of me that will never be a writer shuts my laptop and answers the phone before it stops ringing.

 

Kirsten Oerke was born in Iowa, studied writing and literature as an undergraduate and got an MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University. She has had short films she wrote and directed selected for festivals and challenges, worked on an early short film version of Boys Don’t Cry, andhad her short script, The Gardening Aisle directed by Sabrina Dhawan, writer of Monsoon Wedding. She is married with two sons, lives just outside of New York City and credits her writing friends/ groups with preserving her mental health, especially through COVID. Her twitter handle is @joysofjello.

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