When you read this co-biography you’ll see some sections that are marked ~Karen~ at the top and others that are marked ~Anna~. Commonly called headings in standard layouts, these marginalia offer a unique note about the text — the occasional introduction throughout the story of an interpersonal narrator. Sections marked ~MWe~ also tell the reader that the speaker has changed. But this third "speaker" is not a third person whose name is MWe.
Let me explain. Neuroscientist Dan Siegel says that “the self is not defined by the boundaries of our skin.” He goes on to explain how it is true that part of myself is me, the stuff inside my body and head, my spirit, my personality and preferences. But myself is something more than all of this as well. According to Siegel, the mind is not the same thing as the brain, or any of those other parts of the body that are also intrinsically Me. The mind is actually the brain plus the information the brain shares, both sending and receiving, with other brains — in other words, relationships. For this reason, selves are also always in part relational entities as well. Me plus We. But rather than a Me and a We, side by side, the self in total is something altogether more, a MWe.
When my mother asked me to join her in telling the world the story of her life, I was excited and scared. How in the world could I — could we — do this honestly and me not end up taking over her voice in parts? In addition to the parts she would write and the parts that I would write, a co-biography, we needed a new framework of understanding, a place where our relational selves could speak. The place where my mother’s inner being extends outward in the dance of life with other beings is not autobiographical, automatic from within her and unaffected by her relationships. This place is not biographical or even co-biographical either. In the overlapping margins of my mother’s Me and my Me and our We, there is a story of my mother’s life, in her voice, but where I come in as well. For this reason, we’re also calling this story, more precisely, a MWemoir.
I don’t know what the voice of a mwemoir sounds like. Except that I imagine it to be less rigid. You over there; me over here. I don’t know if my mother’s mwemoir should be written entirely in first person from her point of view, or if my first-person point of view when it comes in is, yes, partly the voice of an outsider looking in, but also partly already her story, too, because of our relationship.
For many reasons that are common in the margins, the marginal space of the mwemoir cannot be easily defined or described. Still, there are a few things I think a MWemoir is and does. When you come across the ~MWe~ heading, this marginalia signifies an intergenerational narrator whose identity is the interdependent relationship between Karen and Anna. The MWe narrator is not an individual, but rather a messy something more than one person. The MWe of this story is neither dependent nor independent, but mutual, the perspective of shared needs and benefits, and not the concentration of power in one storyteller.
Here are some aspects of this interdependent narrator, as mwe see it.
This MWemoir includes the benefits of intergenerational discourse, where there is no best, most important age, where children and older people are not silenced, and where wise and innocent and past, future, and present are mixed together. In a MWemoir every age has a place in generational healing.
This MWemoir celebrates healing as part of healing through collective care, intergenerational learning, and decentralizing power from individual stories, or even collections of individual stories and redistributes a share of power to the collective as an entity unto itself.
This MWemoir has original text inserted that was written by additional members of Karen’s family, including parents, grandparents, siblings, romantic partners, and children, which widens Karen’s MWe in the story to a constellation of perspectives, influences, and interchanges.
This MWemoir still carries the burden of Anna in her middle years, narrating from an age that is centered, being a big part of shaping the narration and maintaining curiosity about how to keep uprooting blind spots in this perspective at the center of the story.
And finally, this MWemoir includes direct addresses to the reader and from one narrator to the other. Mostly, Karen addresses Anna, viewing Anna as her support in telling her story. Mostly, Anna addresses the reader, viewing herself as interpretive support to Karen’s story. Sometimes this all goes differently in the moment and in the MWe. It’s wild out here in the marginalia of a MWemoir. But MWe hope you stick around.
~ Karen ~
Ok, Anna, but I have a very clear sense what is my writing and what is your writing. Is this something that others have a fighting chance of picking up on? You were talking in your introduction about how you felt that you were bad at singing, and I didn’t quite remember how strongly you felt about that. That was like you revealing something that I hadn’t quite owned in terms of memory about you. Then of course when you quote my writing in that essay, well, I know it and you are saying it right there that I started and wrote that essay. And then there are places where you talk about me. That’s like a third voice when you’re talking about me. Do you know what I mean?
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