Eagerly anticipated are the wrong words for how I felt about getting this memoir in my hands. Vibrating with excitement is probably a better way to describe it, although excitement seems too girlish. I first learned of its existence last fall on Facebook, of all places, and marked the preorder date in my phone calendar because I would be damned if I was going to miss it and not have it arrive on my doorstep as soon as possible. Kate Mulgrew is more than an actress, more than the character of Kathryn Janeway to my teenage mind looking for a hero. She is a woman just like all of us and she has lived a life that can not be described in one word or fifty.
The first 100 pages flew by and I found her words whispering through my mind as I tried to remember my backstage choreography and kept the actors in my care fully dressed and de-stressed. I found myself laughing at things her mother had said, knowing full well that an Irish-American in my life, namely my Nan, had uttered something similar during my time with her. If only Nan had the same amount of whit as to pickle her ovaries after her sixth child and place them on the mantle with a label reading “From Whence You Sprang.”
I felt like I was sitting across from her at whatever table or on whatever chair, train seat or park bench I happened to be reading upon, listening to these stories as they tumbled through my head in only the way her voice and inflection could deliver them. I laughed out loud at a well-timed barb, frequently utter an “oh, shit” or “holy shit” and felt like I was indeed having a conversation over a glass of wine as I would frequently answer the questions she posed with actual answers. As I sat in a park near the theatre where I spend my days in the dark, propped against a tree and enjoying the sun, reading about the births of her sons, I thought to myself, ‘people like this aren’t real.’ I could almost hear her reprimanding me, “yes they are, sweetheart. You just met one.”
She writes with such open honesty that it hurts. By page 35 I was in tears. By page 49 my heart was broken. By page 108 I found myself wanting to give her a hug and tell her it would all be alright. By page 152 I was sick to my stomach and needed to take a few moments away from it all because, somehow, this woman’s life experiences became too much for me (the humbled reader) to bear. So fluid, quick-witted and interesting is this memoir of her struggle to give up and find the daughter she had at the young age of 22, I was only able to place it down long enough to grab a coffee, perform another magic quick change and plop back on the green room sofa with said coffee and crack it back open.
If you were hoping for an opus about her years commanding the starship Voyager or her time with Orange Is The New Black, you will be dissatisfied, but I hope that you will understand something deeper than the characters and the work that fueled and saved her. I hope that you will read this memoir for what it is: the tale of a woman who dealt with the pains of being a woman like only a woman can. From Derby Grange to the sound stages of Paramount Studios, we follow along as she carries the daughter she gave up with her through every facet of life, never forgetting her and being haunted by her. The characters that surrounded her throughout the 45 years that she maps out for us are vibrant and very much alive in our minds. I wanted to turn to her friend Beth and ask her so many questions, to dance on the lawn with her mother, to hug her sister Jenny and have a drink with her father. She so honestly tells us about these characters, these people, that peppered her life with love and experience that they seem like friends of ours and not the relatives and friends of a woman we have never met.
What was interesting was reading stories that I half knew because of my following her career in my teens. I know of one of her husbands, her sons, her daughter. What I didn’t know was the meat of it, the heart behind it and the pain that came along with it all. My God, is this woman intriguing. I have things I would like to thank her for, namely my going to theatre school (a story for another time), but how does one thank someone for existing? If I ever have the chance to sit down to a drink with this lady, I will take it and not look back.
It was lovely to meet you, Kate. Raincheck on the drink.
Pop over to TheKateMulgrew.com and see if Kate is coming to your town on her book tour.