“I Remember”

This writing warm-up is adapted from Joe Brainard’s “I Remember.” (Granary Books 2001).

A few excerpts from this author’s book are:

  • I remember how much I used to stutter.
  • I remember Aunt Cleora who lived in Hollywood. Every year for Christmas, she sent my brother and me a joint present of one book.
  • I remember shower curtains with angel fish on them.
  • I remember one very hot summer day I put ice cubes in my aquarium and all the fish died.

Details from our memories often evoke more than mere facts. Reading that his fish died, I felt sad for those fish and sad for this author as a little boy. I feel he wanted to do good only for it to be the wrong thing to do. I want to know more about these fish. How long did he have them? What color where these fish? Were they goldfish?

From this list of “I remember” choose one.

  • Focus on details of these memories while recalling them.
  • Describe what is happening.
  • Show feelings during the unfolding event.
  • Was there any reaction to the event?

The “I remember” is a way to dig into the experience. We don’t want to just scratch at the surface. We want this memory to pop so that it affects our readers. By developing our own take-away from this event, our description will help us avoid clichés and blanketed statements.

Joe Brainard’s I Remember is a literary and artistic cult classic. As an autobiography, his method was brilliantly simple. He shared specific memories as they rose to the surface of his consciousness, each prefaced by the refrain “I remember.”

Like Brainard’s pieces in his book, we can keep each “I remember” piece short, at a few sentences. We can also expand further, treating this as the start to a longer piece.

Yesterday, I participated in the Community of Stories through the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), here in Cincinnati. Under the guidance of a writing mentor, and in a group setting, the above warm-up was one of our writing exercises.

Here is my “I remember” list from yesterday:

  • I remember being alone in the dark without my candy.
  • I remember being proud of a woman going into space. Sitting on the hardwood floor, I watched my TV, seeing the rocket go up. Then, the next moment I was devasted when the Challenger exploded.
  • I remember the sensors wrapped on my fingers seemed to tighten when the needle moved further than before, displaying a peaked line on the graph paper which kept spitting out of the machine.
  • I remember the stranger who walked up to my tent on a Tuesday morning. He told me of terrorist planes hitting the Twin Towers. My kindly stranger was as puzzled as me.
  • I remember Andrea’s firm handshake was warm when I was hired for my library job.

This “I remember” warm-up reminds me that memories are not as fixed as we might assume. Memories are more fluid and then become fixed when they are recorded and supplemented with details.

Which “I remember” memory will you write about? -Elle-

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