I know what you’re thinking, says the Narrator: Can I trust an author who calls one of his characters “The Gay Wizard”? I use that name not to offend, but because that was how he was known about town.
People knew the Gay Wizard. He was a local personality, a figure in the community. I remember Sarah and I speaking to our neighbor Sue one afternoon. Sue lived up the street from us, in a cream-colored home. Ferns hung in baskets from her porch. By the time we met her, Sue was already decades into her time on Shady. She spoke fondly of the wizard: his parties, his Studebaker, his boat.
Atop skeletal details of that sort, gathered haphazardly in the course of my tenancy, I crafted a character: someone I fancied meeting one day via time machine. Like an egregore of sorts, he entered first into my imaginings via the spirit of books of an earlier era. The books started turning up in the bins at Goodwill, as if he’d sent them: rare, obscure screeds like Arthur Evans’s Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture and Mitch Walker’s Visionary Love: A Spirit Book of Gay Mythology and Trans-mutational Faerie. From them and others like them I culled a portrait of a loving psychedelic animist: a gardener like Derek Jarman. That’s how I see him now, in fact: poised there in the sunlit grove at the center of the home’s back yard, spade in hand amid the growth of his garden.
In picturing him thus, I resist the story’s pull toward horror. If this were a work of horror, notes the Narrator, he’d have been a shadier dude. Play the horror factor one way, and he’d have been a Crowleyan sex magician. A Thelemite; a Satanist: a practitioner of black magic. Play it another way, as might, say, Jordan Peele or P. Djèlí Clark, and he’d have been a wizard of an even deadlier sort: the kind who go around in white, terrorizing people of color.
If he’s ours to imagine, says the Narrator, let us imagine him otherwise. In our choosing of genre, let us act with hope.
Among the more fearsome of the precursors to what follows is John Dee, the great Renaissance spymaster, court magician and inventor of the British Empire. Filmmaker Derek Jarman is just one of several artists to have made much of Dee in recent decades. In fact, Dee appears repeatedly throughout Jarman’s oeuvre. We first meet Dee, for instance, in Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, where he operates as a kind of early-modern Doc Brown. At Her Majesty’s behest, the Dee of that film works up a spell that sends Queen Elizabeth I 400 years into the future–i.e., to London in the age of punk. And what begins in Jubilee continues in the films that follow, with Dee cropping up again the very next year by way of Shakespeare’s famous magician character Prospero. The latter wields a wand modeled upon Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica in Jarman’s adaptation of The Tempest (1979). Nor is this the last of Dee’s appearances in Jarman’s catalog. He also turns up as muse, for example, in a film named after Dee and Kelley’s famous scrying experiments, The Angelic Conversation (1987). Nor was Jarman alone in thinking highly of Dee. The latter captured the imaginations of several of Jarman’s contemporaries. To mention just two examples: Dee appears as a character in Michael Moorcock’s Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen; and comics artist Alan Moore wrote a libretto about him. For Jarman’s own reflections on his interest in Dee and in related topics like alchemy, see his memoir Dancing Ledge.
With end of semester nearing (another day or so of grading and that’ll be that), I acquire tools and prepare for summer. Gardeners needn’t be “tool freaks” like the Whole Earthers — but they do need tools. Garden tools: “objects of both practicality and great beauty,” as Derek Jarman notes. Shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows: these are all “means of production.” Tools both for planting flowers and vegetables and for removing grasses and weeds. Frankie digs beside us as we work. With help from Sarah’s parents, we replant beds around the base of the house. The work we do now opens new avenues of thought, new spaces of possibility featuring rocks and stones. Before I know it, I find myself in the know again about Sakuteiki, the oldest published Japanese text on garden-making, written in the mid-to-late 11th century, when the placing of stones was gardening’s essence.
There have been times in my life when writing is simply an ongoing process, happening alongside other happenings, author scribing in notebook, looking around, listening, learning. Connecting, transmitting. My scale is small. I’m no Vertov. But sometimes life happens in such a way that the hand moves. One evades capture in silence and solitude by conversing with others, mourning the passing of the great free-jazz drummer, gardener-philosopher, and healer Milford Graves. He and Derek Jarman inspire me. To them now I appeal. And like that, with eyes closed, I see the following. A wall of circles like the speakers at the center of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound, the public address system through which they played. “Time fer some music,” shouts an announcer through the speakers. Henry Cow, innit? Aggressively proggy. Sarah arrives and trains me on the air fryer. Hurrah, hurrah. Delivery arrives with sandwiches. Hurrah, hurrah.