Our lives are made up of moments. There are the small moments: Waking up, and seeing the sun color your bedroom. Making coffee. Taking a walk. Laughing at a joke. Savoring a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream on a hot, summer day. And there are big moments: Birthdays. Graduations. Weddings. Funerals.
There’s a simple yet powerful writing prompt that we can use to capture these moments, whether you’re wanting to sharpen your observational skills, become a better writer or just record meaningful things you might forget. Because, after all, memory is tricky. If we don’t jot it down, we can’t control whether we actually remember. And more often than not, we won’t and don’t.
The prompt is “I remember.”
I came across it in Judy Reeves’s piece. She first discovered it in Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones, and then read it in Joe Brainard’s memoir I Remember.
In it, Brainard features seemingly random snippets from his childhood and the 1950s. For instance, he writes: “I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie,” “I remember when I thought that if you did anything bad, policemen would put you in jail,” “I remember butter and sugar sandwiches,” “I remember tight white T-shirts and the gather of wrinkles from under the arms,” “I remember when ‘beehives’ really got out of hand.”
Author Dani Shapiro gives this prompt to her students, and when she does, not one of them hesitates to start writing. Right away.
Consider carving out 10 minutes every night to jot down what you remember about your day, what you felt or really any memories or images that pop up when you write the words “I remember.” Which might be anything from your own childhood to your child’s childhood, from a special summer vacation to a hilarious moment with friends, from Walkmans to Trapper Keepers. Your memories might be silly or serious or something in between.
I remember feeling nervous about her first day at daycare, and all of us with tears in our eyes.
I remember having a sweet heart-to-heart with him.
I remember how proud I felt when my boss complimented my work.
I remember sobbing at that sad movie, because it brought up the loss I’ve yet to deal with.
I remember laughing hysterically with my best friend.
I remember reading that book, which made me realize that I’m not alone. I’m never alone in what I’m thinking or feeling or worrying about.
I remember that lovely picnic with my son when we stared at the clouds and pretended they were cars.
I remember the scent of jasmine during today’s walk.
I remember having a poster of New Kids on the Block and trying to do the moonwalk.
I remember writing really bad poetry that helped me heal from a hard year.
I remember seeing 20 turtles in that pond, and realizing all the things I didn’t know about turtles. Which reminded me of the magic of nature and how much I still want and need to learn.
It’s amazing how just two words can spark a slew of profound memories, musings and feelings, which we otherwise wouldn’t have touched or connected to.
What do you remember?