“We had a democratic dinnertime every night,” Kitty recalls. “My parents got to play one of their albums, and then my brother and I got to play one of ours. So at the dinner table they had to suffer through our Jefferson Airplane while we had to suffer through their Billie Holiday.” Dr. Margolis was to see the day when Kitty herself would glory in the voice of Billie Holiday, but when Kitty was only thirteen or so, that day appeared a long way off.
Kitty counts on her fingers all the other things she worried about in herself when she was a second-grader. “I was not athletic. I had a patch over one eye because of a vision problem. I had orthopedic shoes.”
She reflects upon all this, and you can see, in her lowered eyes and her silence as she collects her thoughts, the kind of pain that she felt then.
“You know, the great jazz singers were rarely the head cheerleaders in high school.”
She laughs, but only for a moment.
“Boys threw rocks at me. I had to walk the long way to school because, if I took the short route, I would have to pass the rock throwers. One boy in particular, who lived across the street, was the worst.”
The history of art is filled with emotional wounds brought about by injuries real or felt. Proust’s asthma as a boy. Martin Scorcese’s asthma. Ray Charles’s blindness. Charles Dickens time as a child in the blacking factory. Edith Wharton’s ice-veined upbringing in wealthy New York society. Speculation about the artistic impulse often mentions such hurt, and indeed it was the subject of Edmund Wilson’s remarkable The Wound and The Bow, a classic of writing about literature, and the book that most clearly spells out the notion that emotional suffering can be the source of creativity.
I’ve often thought that one source for art is the artist’s use of her creative impulse to redirect the rage that would otherwise erupt from her abandonment, her wounds, her misfortune.
When Kitty’s father learned about the boy across the street and his harassment of his daughter, he went directly to the boy’s father and confronted him.
“Oh, yes, it ended...right then and there,” she says. But in her telling of this story, Kitty’s breath becomes shorter, her anger and hurt still pronounced. She disperses it with an anecdote about her mother.
“I had little smocked dresses when everyone else at school had dresses with a waist, and I even had the matching underpants that my mother had made, so that when I went on the jungle gym no boy would think he’d actually seen my underpants.”