“But the fact is,” I continued, “that despite their sadness, and despite my guilt, and despite Egan’s anger, I went ahead and did what I needed to do for myself. In the end, it’s selfish.”
“I think you’re wrong there. It feels selfish at the time, because the pain is excruciating, but there is no nobility in hanging on to something that is miserable and false. We have to fight for our happiness in life.”
I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard about it. I love Janeway (the captain from Star Trek: Voyager, who Kate Mulgrew played for seven years, for those of you who are somehow unaware), and I love Red (her character on Orange is the New Black). She always plays these super-in-charge, competent yet vulnerable women that I’m instantly drawn to. Turns out a lot of it has to do with Ms. Mulgrew herself, who is a take no prisoners, ballsy Irish broad who has no qualms about loving her profession, and taking pride in her work.
What I didn’t expect was to find that not only is the book entertaining, it is absurdly well-written. Her writing is lyrical and moving, and it has a style all its own. She writes about her life, from birth until the year 2001, in a series of vignettes that manage to capture the things she cares about he most, the events in her life that have shaped her into herself. And it’s all anchored by the imagery of that title, Born With Teeth, which is a reference to her having been born with a full set of neo-natal teeth. But it works nicely as a metaphor for the way she comes at life.
She takes us through her early family life, as one of eight children in a sprawling Irish Catholic family, the deaths of siblings, her burgeoning career, her most significant professional achievements, and her most personal sorrows. The blurb on the book makes a big deal of the daughter she gives away at the age of twenty-two, and then spends years mourning, regretting her decision. The births of her second two children, her marriages, her successes, all have that running undercurrent of loss. The blurb would hve you believe giving up her daughter was the centerpiece of her life, but really it’s just a single piece in a very large puzzle (even if it is a large piece that affects all the other pieces in some ways . . . this metaphor is falling apart).
She writes so eloquently about falling in love, being assaulted, loving her work, bad jobs, the special bond of female friendship, the end of a marriage and the birth of her children. Perhaps the only thing that began to grate after a while is that she does focus very much on her love life, and I kept wanting more professional stories (especially about Star Trek), and stories about her family (including her burgeoning relationship with her adopted daughter). But I feel like that’s a personal reaction. This is her life story, and she writes about what makes her her, love being a very large part of that.
I highly recommend this book, especially in audio. She reads her own story with aplomb, and it ends up feeling very confessional, like an old friend is sitting down with you for coffee or drinks and unburdening her soul.
Here are some quoteses:
“They loved her because she was an independent spirit, unafraid to speak her mind, passionate, impetuous, and brave. Seldom lauded for her beauty, Mary Ryan had something else to offer, something women could grab ahold of and understand. She had a powerful sense of self, and this proved more magnetic and more relatable than any other single quality.”
“Actresses. What a bunch of sad saps we are, I thought. Madly in love with the child. Madly in love with the craft. Trying desperately to forge an alliance between the two, and constantly failing. If I were a man, I said to myself, none of this would be in question … Picasso wasn’t in conflict, you can bet your bottom dollar on that. He said, Scram! I need to work, and his mistresses and their spawn ran for the hills. Dickens wasn’t in conflict. He had ten children and wrote as many novels in almost as many years, because it was both understood and appreciated that he was gifted, famous, and rich. The male artist has always been respected.”
“Grief moves through the system much as love does. It seeks expression. So I put my grief where it naturally belonged, in the company of an old and experienced wound. I gathered my feelings, shattered, scattered, and wild, and locked them in the same place where I kept my feelings about my daughter. The work did not let me down, and neither did the part. When Mulgrew suffered, Janeway picked her up. And when Janeway felt like giving up, Mulgrew slapped her into shape. I was put to good use in every way, and this saved me.”