A memoir, by its very definition, is an account of your personal experience, which means it’s a compilation of what you remember. Because a memoirist’s entire book is a series of remembrances, the words “I remember,” especially when remembering from the vantage point of “now,” by which I mean the now of when you’re sitting down to write your story, are almost always redundant.
Most of the time I find that “I remember” is easily deleted, as in:
I remember when she came home that night sloppy drunk.
It does not change the readers’ experience if this reads:
She came home that night sloppy drunk.
The room off the side of the garage in the house where I grew up smelled of the musty old books that lined the floor-to-ceiling shelves on both sides of the room, and I remember how I always sneezed upon entering.
This can easily read:
The room off the side of the garage in the house where I grew up smelled of the musty old books that lined the floor-to-ceiling shelves on both sides of the room, and I always sneezed upon entering.
A simple exercise with your own work-in-progress is to do a search and find for the word “remember” to see how you use it. It’s okay, of course, that other people in your memoir remember things, such as:
My mother spoke of how kind her grandparents had been to her. She remembered how her Nona wore an apron whenever the grandkids visited, and how she’d invite them to fish gum drops from its deep pockets.
There may also be instances where you indeed remember something “in scene” from the vantage point of “then” (whenever your particular “then” might be—age twenty, age forty) versus from the vantage point of literally “now,” as you sit at your computer and type out the words of your memoir onto the page.
For instance, consider a sudden remembrance of something “in scene,” at age eight, which serves as a turning point. In a case like this, the remembering serves a purpose:
When my dad walked in I could see the rage on his face. His eyes bulged and his mouth cut a straight line across tight lips. I instantly remembered how Sue and I had buried the evidence of our crime the week before. Had he come across our crude cover-up while plowing the fields? I wasn’t about to speak first.
Sometimes “I remember” might not be wrong per se, but it would be better articulated using a different word, as in this example:
Now he lay resting, too tired to talk. I remembered asking him about his time overseas, how it had impacted him and if he had any stories. He’d cut me off, telling me there were no stories to share, not now, not ever.
Simply change the sentence to read:
Now he lay resting, too tired to talk. I’d asked him once about his time overseas, how it had impacted him and if he had any stories. He’d cut me off, telling me there were no stories to share, not now, not ever.
Ultimately, “I remember” is a barrier between you and your reader (unless it’s “in scene” as in the example above with the angry father). It asks the reader to come into your head rather than to be where you want them to be, which is in your experience. When you recreate a world for a reader, they’re in it, transported to another time and place, where the line between what you lived versus what you remember don’t matter at all. Keeping this in mind, ditch “I remember,” or at least use it sparingly—and good luck!
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