“I remember . . . “

“I remember…” is one of my favorite writing prompts. I have used it for my own writing, in my writing practice groups, and with students in more classes and workshops than I actually can remember.

I first discovered the prompt in Natalie Goldberg’s seminal writing book, Writing Down the Bones. More recently, I read Joe Brainard’s memoir, I Remember, a brief (only 160 pages) collection of random memories that reveal the poet, artist, and writer in a series of “I remember” fragments, some a single line, some a few sentences, none of them even a full page.

First published in 1975, the book, with its series of memories falling one upon the other, not chronologically, but through some intuitive logic is thoroughly enchanting and engrossing. Brainard concisely reveals the story of his childhood, the fifties, and the New York art scene he became part of. Each of these small “portraits” is captured in sentences beginning with the words, “I remember.” How familiar those words.

Of late, I have immersed myself in not only writing my own memoir, but studying the genre. Stacks of to-read, read, and to re-read books pile up on almost every flat surface in my apartment and my library card hasn’t been so well used since I was a kid. I’m a believer, and many of these books are proof, that memoir can take many forms, shapes, designs, and structures.  I Remember is a stunning example of that truth.

Coincidentally, or maybe serendipitously, shortly after I read I Remember, a friend sent a link to an interview with Dani Shapiro, one of my favorite writers, a memoirist as well as a novelist and teacher. In the interview with Marie Forleo, Dani tells Marie that her favorite prompt, and one she gives all her writing students, is “I remember…” and then she tells of finding it in Joe Brainard’s book.

Joe Brainard and I grew up in the same era. While he moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to  New York where he became part of the New York School of poets and artists, my later years took me to San Diego, where I still am, still learning and remembering and writing.

You may have done it before, maybe even many times, but today devote a writing practice session to “I remember…” You never know what memory wants to be revealed.

6 thoughts on ““I remember . . . “

  1. A good thought Judy…..
    Here in the UK there was a popular, sixties singer named Frank Ifield. Originally from Australia he came to settle here and had a string of hits for a decade or more. One of his most popular was a song called “ I Remember You.” I can still recall vividly, as a youth, travelling in the back of my Dad’s car with my Mum singing, full voice, this very song. Mum is unfortunately long gone but on the occasions that I hear this number on the radio I cannot help but cry…… The record always sounds, even after all this time, so fresh and evocative of a summer’s day trip we took to the coast when my Mum first sang the song. A beautiful day that I will carry with me all my life.
    “ Take away love and our earth is a tomb.”
    Robert Browning

    • What a lovely “I remember…” Michael. Thank you for sharing it here. Music is such an evocative way to enter into memory. We each have a sound track to our life. I can’t hear some of the old Big Band recordings without getting beautiful memories of my Dad and Mom dancing on our dining room floor. Oh… so many memories from music.

  2. Oh yes and I just remembered I have another memoir started. Can we blame my latest flying incident? Thanks for the reminder Judy and now I have to work. Dang!

    The I remember exercise boggles me because I have a long memory and it’s been a long time since the earliest one at the age of almost three. That is about 112 years ago. It. Is. Just. Too. Big. For. Me. as I tend to look at the entire thing instead of breaking it into smaller bits, sort of like a student of mine ate pizza. Or so he indicated he could.

    “I remember when I refused to work with prompts….

    • Hope you’re continuing to heal well. And, as Nora Ephron’s mother told her as she (the mother) lay on her death bed, “Take notes; it’s all copy.” So it is with us writers. All notes for the stories that may or may not come. Some will be forever stored in memory.

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