When you read this co-biography you’ll see some sections that are marked ~Karen~ at the top and others that are marked ~Anna~. A primary marginal embellishment throughout the story, these headings indicate who is speaking. But they also offer a unique note about some of 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 becomes something altogether different and 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 wanted 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, a gaze from the other into her life. 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 calling this story, more precisely, a MWemoir.
For many reasons that are common in the margins, the marginal space of the MWemoir is not easily defined or described here at the center of the page.
I don’t yet know, for example, what the narrative point of view of a MWemoir is. Well, 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 have been 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 perspective of an outsider looking in, but also partly already her story, too, because of our relationship and having been raised by her. There is a lot about a MWemoir that is mysterious to me and to her, and may well be very different for the reader, too, who is likely more used to reading discrete memoirs written by a single biographer about a separate and separated individual.
Still, there are a few things I think a MWemoir is and does. For starters, 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, interpersonal needs and benefits, and not the concentration of power in one storyteller. The ~MWe~ heading also signifies an intergenerational narrator whose identity is the interdependent relationship between a mother and a daughter, and to some degree a daughter and her deceased mother, father, and grandmother through which all of these voices matter to the story. In this way, the marginalia of the MWe is also a direct response to and disruption of ageism, and in particular of adultism.
Ageism is perhaps most often used to refer to the oppression of older people. Adultism refers to the oppression of young people.
Here are some other aspects of this interdependent point of view, as MWe see it.
This MWemoir includes the benefits of intergenerational discourse, where there is no best, most important age, where younger people and older people are not silenced, and where wise and innocent and past, future, and present are mixed together. In a MWemoir every age and generation has a place in intergenerational healing.
This MWemoir celebrates 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 nevertheless is also influenced by Anna in her middle years, narrating from an age that is centered in society. Anna’s large role in shaping the narration demands that MWe maintain curiosity about how to keep uprooting blind spots in this normative age perspective that is often found at the center of the page.
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, I get that there is a third narrator that is you and me together. And the headings will help with this. But I have a very clear sense of what is my writing and what is your writing. Is this something that others have a fighting chance of picking up on our two different writing styles or literary voices?
~ Anna ~
Like even in a section like this one that has an ~Anna~ header, it might sound like your voice?
~ Karen ~
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 and you are saying it right there that I started and wrote that essay. So, that’s me. But then there are also places where you talk about me, but it’s still about you. And sometimes maybe when you talk about me it could almost sound like my voice, even though it is also your voice — it’s still you talking. That’s like a third voice when you’re talking about me like that. Do you know what I mean?
~ Anna ~
A third voice. That’s interesting, mom.
We’ve now established that in the margin of your story where you and I meet and overlap there is an interpersonal narrator, a third storyteller who is part you and part me and mysteriously altogether something else, a ~MWe~. But you’re making me realize that in addition to three storytellers, ~Karen~, ~Anna~, and ~MWe~, any or all of these storytellers may also be telling the story in a third voice or from a third perspective that is not precisely first person or third person, not entirely passive or entirely active, not entirely “The trip happened when I was young,” or “I went on a trip,” but something between these, something active and passive at the same time: “The trip unfolded in mysterious ways and changed the course of our family history.” The trip is doing something by unfolding, but it is also experiencing the doing in its unfolding.
No doubt some of the story is in second person as we speak directly to each other and to the reader, invoking both the singular and plural you as a perspective from which the reader is invited to join and follow the narrative.
~ Karen ~
You’ve got that part right, Anna. I love talking to you.
~ Anna ~
Reader, I hope you’re able to follow some of this. I hope it becomes more clear in time.
But, yeah, I now suspect that there’s something else happening in the margin, a voice that is not second person so much as it is both first and third person together, both passive and active, both self-spoken and spoken about, simultaneously. It’s a voice that isn’t so common in English, I think, or maybe generally in rapidly industrializing, Western, patriarchal, colonizing cultures. But at the same time, this third voice maybe exists for us because of and also within our overlapping experiences of gender injustice.
~ MWe ~
Sounds like there’s some research MWe could do?
Yes, you can look that up.
Hahahah. Indeed, I have an idea.