This exercise comes out of a class I’ve been teaching for several years now called “Memory Palaces.” I describe the class as “an introduction to the work of art as mnemonic device, or system to aid and deepen, and/or create, memory.” I’ve consistently found this to be one of the most generative and surprising exercises we do; many participants seem to discover a larger project they want to work on while completing the exercise.
A note about the spirit in which you may wish to respond to the instructions: If you don’t remember or know something, that’s very much OK. Try to stick with the feeling rather than trying to work through it or against it. Devote 100 words to what you realize you don’t know—or, more than that. You may discover something unexpected.
1. Describe your earliest memory.
2. Describe something that happened yesterday.
3. Describe something that happened a week ago yesterday.
4. Describe something that happened five years ago yesterday.
5. Describe something you have completely forgotten.
* I’d suggest writing at least 200 words in response to each instruction. If you are asking a question like, “But how can I describe something I’ve completely forgotten?!” you are on the right track.
About the author
Lucy Ives is the author of two novels: Impossible Views of the World, published by Penguin Press, and Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World, published by Soft Skull Press. Her essays and stories have appeared in Art in America, Artforum, The Baffler, The Believer, frieze, Granta, Lapham's Quarterly, and Vogue, among other publications. For five years she was an editor with the online magazine Triple Canopy. A graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. Ives teaches in NYU's XE: Experimental Humanities & Social Engagement Master's program and was a recipient of a 2018 Creative Capital and Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. In 2020, Siglio Press will publish The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader, a selection of Gins's poetry and prose, edited and with an introduction by Ives.