The “I Remember” exercise is based on Joe Brainard’s book of the same title. Here are some lines from his book I Remember:
I remember my first erections. I thought I had some terrible disease or something.
I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.
I remember when my father would say “Keep your hands out from under the covers” as he said goodnight. But he said it in a nice way.
I remember when I thought that if you did anything bad, policemen would put you in jail.
I remember when polio was the worst thing in the world.
The key to writing an “I remember…” is to focus on the details of your own memories as your recall them (or (re)inventing the details as you see them). For example, if you are going to write about the your dog’s death, you would not want to write “I remember when my dog died I was sad.” Emotion, if it happens in these, will be in the details; stay away from statements of emotion played straight. Instead, try “I remember the odd angles of my dog Fozzie’s legs and his lump-crushed torso under the Bridgestone off-roads on my Dad’s F-150. I remember he still had his cloudy brown eyes open, looking at me like he did when he wanted to understand what I was saying, full of concentration & what & why.”
The “I remember” is a way to mine your own experience and memory for content while simultaneously avoiding automatic language and cliches. Like Brainard’s pieces, you can keep them really short but pack them full of specifics. Try to keep them under four sentences.
This exercise also reminds us that our 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.
Besides revising or expanding your “I remembers,” you can keep this tactic in your arsenal of exercises to use when you want to create details or start new literary texts but are stuck. You can always edit out the “I remembers” or condense lines or sentences, but I sometimes like the repetition.