Both/And

by Mark Chmiel

Joe Brainard, I Remember

I read Joe Brainard’s classic in 2002 as I was finishing up a draft of what was published as The Book of Mev in 2005. In many writing classes I’ve facilitated since 2012, I encourage people to read and enjoy Brainard’s book, and generate some of their own recollections.

A few days ago, I thought of I Remember as I know several friends who are deeply grieving the loss of a family member. At the memorial gathering, people were doing their own oral “I Remember.” The various appointed and spontaneous speakers were awkward, riveting, candid, eloquent, stammering, goofy, hilarious. So many anguished, happy tears were generated in that space.

The loss of a young person triggers all sorts of overpowering, contradictory, messy emotions. It occurred to me that, even once a day, before, during, or after a wave of being overwhelmed, a bereft person could perform the action of writing one sentence of an “I remember” about the beloved spouse, son, brother, friend. It could take as little as 15 seconds.

In Part Three of The Book of Mev, I invoked Keats’s “negative capability” in light of the desire to remember and to forget. This is related to the book’s epigraph, “Hold it all”—grief and gratitude, laceration and exaltation, blues and bliss. Jews say about the deceased, “May his memory be a blessing.” A writing ritual of accumulating simple “I remember” particulars could be a modest way of continuing the blessing from that memorial gathering.

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