Mind over matter

LIFE LESSONS: Carol Oliver says the ability, and determination, to work things out helped her make sense of a thoroughly confusing world as a youngster.
LIFE LESSONS: Carol Oliver says the ability, and determination, to work things out helped her make sense of a thoroughly confusing world as a youngster.

Somehow, summer (so far) has seem to have been much calmer, cooler and more enjoyable than some in years past.

I remember as a child living on Beach Road, St Kilda, where the heat melted the bitumen. I was unable to tell anyone that I thought the pavement would keep melting and I would eventually be sucked into a pit of bubbling bitumen. I think I was about four. Children in the 1940s were still largely seen and not heard and as for expressing your anxieties – it was unheard of in our household and most others as well.

For many reasons, the world felt very unsafe for me. Feuding parents created an environment of fear and I became very hyper-vigilant, which is exhausting and intrusive. And so, it became important to find a way to sustain myself without my parents’ help.

I did that by allowing my head to grow at five times the rate of my skinny body.

Let me tell you how I did that. Of course it wasn’t a physical thing, but it might as well have been.

Quite quickly I “saw” myself as safer because, in the end, I could mostly work things out. Explain things to myself, predict things, set aside ideas that seemed to be illogical and revel in whatever it was that I was good at.

The first real consciousness I had of the power in my head was after a game of hopscotch I played with a group of slightly older kids.

I could throw my tor and hit the spot, but it would always roll so I could never start. I was deeply preoccupied with this failure until the night of my very first big idea. 

I scrambled out of bed, disappearing under the bed to pull out a very old and very dirty all-year sucker (one of those twirling candy things on a stick). I snuck into the bathroom and removed the filthy, under-bed fluff and washed that lolly clean. I broke it into coin-sized pieces, licked it sticky and, on that bathroom floor, I saw that once thrown it could not run. Next day I won and then I won again. I felt no guilt. A tor was a tor and mine was superior because I made it so. 

It dawned on me that I had enormous power in my head. It caused my head to grow much faster than my body. My body didn’t seem to solve any problems for me at all. Too skinny and too small.

As I watched a granddaughter shimmy to the top of an AFL goal post when she was six, I saw that same power blazing away in a physical way. I hoped she felt as good as I did when my head started to grow. I did insist that her father put a stop to it for very obvious reasons (and he did), but I have kept a video to show her later.

Power used wisely is a wonderful thing. So I have been trying to mentally telegraph Donald Trump to remind him that power based on wealth, greed, superiority, intolerance and ignorance can and is a very dangerous thing. 

I don’t think even with my powers I have been able to ensure that that message got through to a man who acts out the revengeful child day after day. Lots of people get their head swelled up with power for one reason or another.

My head has in most cases been used for good. But if, like Mr Trump, you had a childhood full of expectations and competition that damages self worth, your head can turn toward ideas that are really screwy.

Like revenge and fear which, when coupled with ignorance, can produce the sort of behaviours that are now looking dangerous. 

Whatever. If he had been poorer, he would have loved the treat that my dad gave us in Melbourne every summer. 

Surrounded by cement and bitumen as we were, without air conditioning or fans, he would drag our mattresses into the backyard and we would sleep there when the heat was unbearable. 

That was after we had all been to the beach until it got dark. We watched other people sitting in the darkening water watching us. I loved it. Better than a military school by a mile.

Carol Oliver