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Rarified Company

Even among artists, there is little understanding of what it is like, how atypical it is, to live with greatness. I am becoming less inclined to share reminiscences, not more, casually glossing over the most interesting period of my life because I invariably get uninvited armchair (in fact, postgame) quarterbacking, however well meaning. Living with a normal person, one can expect a certain amount of give-and-take, certain expectations of comfort or security; living with someone burning with divine fire is a wholly different matter. Great artists have greater needs, they are pricklier sorts and less inclined to commerce or conventionality. The reward of surrendering much of your life to them is experiencing their fire, like the pearl of great price, selling all that you have to obtain it.

I’ve never had a new car, a vacation in over 20 years or been anyone’s boss. But I’ve never really missed them, except perhaps the vacations. I do regret not being able to share with each other the places we grew up and not having more time to spend in his company.

Now my days are more like those of regular, if artistic, folk “stoking the star maker machinery behind the popular song” while not quitting the day job. Invariably, when going over my resume, someone will comment on what I should have done with regard to my life or my acting career. In fact, AJ often bemoaned how our circumstances impeded my opportunities and felt guilt about it. Enh! Life is full of obstacles and opportunities. We just don’t always recognize which are which except in retrospect. My time was not wasted. I am a better artist and wiser person thanks to his tutoring, not to mention a happier person thanks to his love. Without him, in all likelihood, I would have crashed and burned.

Now I am going through books he left behind. Being the peripatetic sort of reader, he would take turns reading 20-30 books at a time, so in many of the books I trip across his stopping point. Finishing Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Blake, I have been startled by the similarities between our lives and that 18th Century visionary. A scant three pages beyond the yellowed bookmark fell the passage I knew would have pierced AJ’s heart: “She worked with her husband on his art; she sat with him ‘motionless and silent’ when he needed her presence to comfort him; she fed him and made his clothes. It is a story of the utmost devotion, virtually without parallel in the history of English letters, and it can fairly be said that without Catherine Blake none of the great works of her husband would have appeared. We can salute her now, two hundred years later, as we see her sitting beside her husband in their small room off Oxford Street.”

Ah, but you could have been famous had you spent more time on your own endeavors someone once said to me. That has already been ensured, whatever else I may accomplish, I replied. And for something greater and more enduring than a mere acting career.

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