Believing Is Seeing by Julie Travis
Nothing is ordinary.
Many years ago I read a couple of lines in a travel guide that have influenced and inspired much of my writing and photography; the author described how he’d spent two hours just watching a dung beetle doing its work. He wasn’t rushing around visiting attractions or checking out cafes or bars – he’d spotted an insect and become immersed in what it was doing. In doing so he’d pinpointed something I’d always believed, but not consciously acknowledged; that the details, the smallest things, are extraordinary.
We are not usually encouraged to stop – most of us are under pressure to live and work at a speed that doesn’t allow us to notice anything much (it’s notable that lockdown has benefited many who’ve been forced to slow down, to the point where some don’t want to return to ‘normal’). Many times when life has been tough I’ve stopped to watch a bee collecting nectar from, heard its buzz take on a different tone when it’s inside the flower and seen the incredible movement of its wings as it takes flight. How many times does this occur around the world over the course of a day? A mind-boggling amount, but each time it happens it’s remarkable and it gives me some perspective on my insignificant woes. There is magic everywhere – in the natural and the super natural world, but the key to unlocking this is, I think, in the power of imagination, the power of being open to what’s around us. Imagination is another thing that isn’t encouraged. People love the products of imagination – books and films, for instance, are a huge part of our lives – but there can be a contradictory dismissiveness of those who create these things for not doing a ‘proper’ job. The full potential of the world – and us humans – needs more than a scientific, rational eye – although it’s fair to say that the two approaches can overlap at various points.
Trees talk to each other. Plants are connected by underground threads of fungi (mycelium), and share nutrients, or toxins if an unwelcome plant is among them. Grass sends a distress message when cut (that lovely, fresh smell is not as joyful as it seems). Time is a physical thing. I find all of these things mind-blowing. Science has proved their existence but the other worlds around us are tangible to those who can tune into them (voluntarily or not) but are currently unprovable. The story of Hamish Miller is an interesting example: Miller was a businessman until he suffered a near death experience during an operation. It changed him profoundly. He became a dowser, a blacksmith and an author. He’d seen the ‘other side’ and it didn’t scare him; he just realised there was so much more around him than he’d previously believed. When he passed in 2010, he was reportedly happy and completely at peace with what was about to happen. Was his experience real or was it, as has been claimed by science, just an hallucination?
Can a person will something into being? People from every culture claim to have done so for thousands of years. I know people who have cast successful spells, or put a hex on those who’ve hurt them. I believe these things are possible as I’ve seen the results, just as I’ve had so many paranormal experiences that I can’t help but accept them. My fiction has been described as magical realism; that is, magic as part of everyday life. This was never a deliberate plan – my original aim was to write contemporary horror that reflected myself and the worlds I moved in, which I wasn’t seeing in the stories I read (apart from in Clive Barker’s work). But that was thirty years ago and of course other influences and experiences have changed my writing direction and purpose to some extent.
As you can see from this piece, the lines between the wonders of the natural world, actual magic and the paranormal are somewhat blurred for me. I cannot separate them in my worldview so I shaln’t try to do so here.