When a friend showed me Joe Brainard’s book I Remember recently, I thought, This is marvellous, and how come I didn’t know about it already.
I remember how much I cried seeing South Pacific (the movie) three times.
I remember when I went to a “come as your favorite person” party as Marilyn Monroe.
I remember how much I used to stutter.
I remember that for my fifth birthday party all I wanted was an off-one-shoulder black satin evening gown. I got it. And wore it to my birthday party.
I remember a little boy I used to take care of after school while his mother worked. I remember how much fun it was to punish him for being bad.
I remember Liberace.
Perhaps the reader’s thought on browsing I Remember is, I could have written this. It’s not as straightforward as that, of course. On a train a while ago I decided to write a Frank O’Hara poem, and it was so abjectly awful that I was compelled to tear the paper into tiny pieces so that no trace of it remained. But we all have memories and interior lives and we could all produce a piece of writing after Brainard’s template that was personal to us, something like this.
When I started this blog my vague intention was to write about culture. Music, books, theatre. Increasingly, though, I retreat into myself. I can write any number of mini essays about films I like, but the chances of my writing anything original (and what’s the point in writing anything that isn’t) are zero unless I write through the prism of my personal experience, and also I’m only barely cine-literate. So these days I generally forget the films and focus on my life. Could I write my own variation on I Remember?
I remember Ben, the first boy at school to have a digital watch. When you asked him the time he would reply, ‘It’s six minutes past nine o’clock.’ Even at five years old I knew that normal people rounded the time up or down to the nearest five minutes and so I decided he was odd (which he was, his parents were dentists).
I remember when someone would come into the classroom in the middle of a lesson and all the children would turn their heads to see who the new arrival was, but I deliberately never looked, to prove I wasn’t a sheep.
I remember watching the film of The Witches in class as a pre-Christmas treat, and a girl I liked had to be escorted out of the room because she burst into tears when Anjelica Huston took her mask off, and I wanted to go out too so I could comfort her but stayed because I also wanted to keep watching the film.
I remember a teacher washing someone’s mouth out with soap. I wonder if this can actually have happened.
I remember being frustrated at how complicated it was to get my red tights on when I was playing a red robot in the school play.
I remember my English teacher asking for a copy of an A.A. Milne poem from the library and my knowing immediately where to look for it and my friend Richard taking the credit and my not minding because I loved him.
I remember the unremitting tedium of church, my instinctive conviction that the rebranding of Sunday School as ‘Sunday Club’ was phony as hell, the delight of being asked to play the piano for hymns, adding tasteless reharmonisations of my own invention.
I remember never being in a fight, never punching another boy, though when I was twelve I did slap someone and immediately regretted it, but then he called me a slapper and we laughed about it and everything was all right again.
I remember going on the space hopper and deliberately bouncing on the football to make myself fall off, because it was funny.
I could go on, doubtless will go on in future posts, and could probably write a book’s worth of this stuff, but I can’t commit to it because I feel like I live too much in the past as it is, and I fear that the constant dredging up and writing down of long forgotten memories would turn me into a Billy Liar- or Walter Mitty-style fantasist. I’m barely world-trained as it is.
That said, the strong vein of self-indulgent nostalgia that has always been present in these pages will continue ad nauseam. This post is a prelude to another one about reading in childhood, and there’s plenty more where that came from. I suspect I’m writing these maudlin recollections primarily for my own benefit, but if you happen to like them too then so much the better. Onward! ceaselessly into the past.