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5/7/2016 3:22:44 PM
I feel compelled, as a writer, to introduce you to my own idiosyncratic ways of going about writing a story. The creative process, as I observe, might prove of worth to reveal as I experience it. After finishing and publishing TESSRAE: A MEMOIR OF TWO SUMMERS I lay fallow. I never know what the next book will be about but I do know that I will begin something as my need to write has not been stifled by age or an arthritic mind. I observe myself or as Krishnamurti wrote, “The observer is the observed.” Chew on that for a while. So, over the past few weeks an amorphous idea began to gestate. In fact I wrote a few pages called “The White Parasol”. But I get ahead of myself. What I want to explore here is my own creative process with the hope you may find it of note.
A few weeks back I was invited to a local institute to speak about memoir writing. In preparation I looked up Bernsteins’s magnificent soliloquy in CITIZEN KANE, a scene that Welles believed was the best he had ever filmed. In that sequence Bernstein speaks of a young girl with a white parasol he had seen as a young man decades ago. All this is in response to the reporter’s quest to discover what or who Rosebud was. Bernstein says that not a day has gone by that he has not thought about the girl with the white parasol. Memory and time are condensed in that observation and it has a gravitas that needs time to grasp or ponder. It is a valid cliché as we grow older images from the past grow brighter with a concomitant feeling, at times, of nostalgia, sentimentality, pathos, and loss and attachment.
And so all this was floating about in my mind when I came across quaquaversal which I discovered serendipitously looking up a word in the dictionary. Briefly, it is defined as being in all directions, emanating, if you will, from a common center. I liked that immediately, and I thought of myself as a writer in that I tend to turn inwardly, deeply, profoundly so as if in search of the geode that may be the heart of any new story. David Herrle reviewed TESSERAE and observed:
Anyone familiar with his other work isn’t surprised by Freese’s ability to always dig deeper through apparent bottom after bottom of self-analysis. “Fearlessness makes for authenticity in writing, so I can measure myself and not be a crybaby about it,” he writes near the end of the book. (In fact, he outdoes himself when he faces and reveals the truly tragic suicide of his daughter Caryn.) I’m reminded of what Orson Welles admitted to Henry Jaglom: “I’m dark as hell. My films are as black as the black hole.” This also is true of much of Freese’s literary output, but despite that darkness, that tendency to descend into the psyche’s hell, there is illumination and even rejuvenating sunlight. Frankfurters, root beer, ice cream and cotton candy at Coney Island glow alongside “tumultuous sex” with fantasy-come-to-life lover Marlene. In contrast to a fundamental sense of shame and ominous Rorschach perceptions, there are “non-maudlin memories”: childhood movies and radio shows, makeshift slingshots and scooters, the unintentional comedy of territorial, scolding adults.
And so leave it to another writer to say it best. As the days went on with these story pieces floating about in mind I came upon the idea of following the spine of CITIZEN KANE by having a deceased character (me) being deciphered by his survivors as they guess about this artifact they find or the last words he has to say upon his death bed. I intended to break rules and do things with the structure of the story, as yet undefined, so that all the tessera might come together into some visible mosaic.
In fact this essay was written before I finished the story. In fact this essay may help me to finish this story. I am writing to explain to my self –and to you – the process by which I noodle out a story.
I created two rosebuds for the story, one which is shared while the main character is alive, and another which is cryptic to his son who hears these words directly. The dying man utters Kaye-Halbert, the hyphen of importance. The son mistakenly assumes that it is the name of a girlfriend, or some girl in a white parasol from the past. He asks relatives and friends if they have ever heard that name and he comes up zero. He goes online and discovers that Kaye-Halbert was a TV set from the early fifties, in fact, a vintage TV set, probably 19 inches with knobs for volume, horizontal and vertical in the front, jammed with tubes. With this information he begins to consider. He recalls– he begins to freely associate — that his father told him that he ran home from school in 1951 and was able to catch the last inning in which Bobby Thompson hit a classic home run off Ralph Branca to win the World Series. Truly memorable. And now he had it. Kaye-Halbert was his father’s rosebud, a dying one, an image from his childhood for some reason that resonated within. Indeed, his grandmother had died and her last words, his father shared with him, was “Father Knickbocker.”
So now in my mind I have two rosebuds to incorporate into my story.
What is the motive for my writing this Wellesian jigsaw puzzle, shades of Susan Alexander. I think I want to self-discover myself once again. All my writing is about my navigation. I am the Admiral of the Ocean Sea. I want to access my core and from that quaquaversal. And so it is a search, artfully constructed through the artifice of a story. CITIZEN KANE looms large in several of my essays and stories for there is something to that film which I experienced as a very young boy which grabs me, throttles my sensibilities and draws me close to it. I think it has to deal with loss. KANE reeks of loss – his mother; his sled; his mistress; his wife; close friends. And in a way he loses whatever self he had. I will say boldly he has lost love and I identify with that, for in a way, it happened to me.
When I was a young boy…when I was a young boy I visited a manufacturing plant run by my uncles, Seymour and Bernie. My father was in charge of plating. The Freeses made rhinestone jewelry of a high order. I used to wander about and simply observe. One black woman enjoyed me as a young boy and was most affectionate to me. I’d watched as she opened a tissue packet filled with stones, I think imported from Czechoslovakia. With a bracelet that had been plated and designed by Bernie, plated by my father in rhodium, she embedded by hand stone after stone, craftily pressing down on the facets with a knife. It was hard work, often tedious, but the outcome was beautiful. On other sites workers would work on a clay tablet in which pieces were put together to make a pin, necklace or earrings. They would solder these brass pieces and the odor of resin remains in my mind. After that they were taken to my father’s site in which they were plated and then returned to the room where rhinestones were placed into them. Here you have an association as I construct this small essay. Here is an association that I will use to show you how I go about constructing a story, unconscious to conscious. For what I take from all this is infinite care and infinite details.
Details! All my stories, all my writing are embedded like a stone into a setting with details. THE WHITE PARASOL will succeed or not on the careful placement of details. And so I will share some of the details I may incorporate or not into the story; they are a buzzing mentation in me at this moment.
After his father’s death, his son, Daniel, goes through his belongings, as we all must do. What he comes upon are items from my own life that I will use for the story, so they really do exist and I need not imagine too much but simply describe. [The irony is these will be my artifacts for my son to collect, assess and metabolize as a son. Oh, the psychological permutations are manifold]. So, like sled Rosebud what I own and what I describe are condensations of many different layers of meaning, call it gravitas if you will. A tie clasp from the fifties has a bluish tint to the square stone attached to it, given to me by my cousin Irving, and a favorite of mine and a reminder of Irving himself; Daniel comes upon two maroon prayer bags for my tallis and phylacteries which I was given by my Grandma Fanny for my bar mitzvah [I will be buried in this tallis, for I have asked my son, Jordan, to do that]. Daniel comes upon JEWISH TALES AND LEGENDS, the first book I ever owned, with an inscription from my Grandma Flora given to me when I was about 7 or 8. I devoured this book and many years later used some of it in a story I was writing, to good effect.
And Daniel finds a very thick album with many photographs of his father’s family, his mother and father, his uncles, aunts, et al. The album has a page in it in which his father identifies each and every relative because he knows no one else would. His father is a saver, an observer, loyal, a rememberer, or the rememberer is the remembered. As Daniel scours and prowls the remains of his father, his artifacts, he comes across a gold mezuzah, a picture of his sister at age one, and of all things, an ancient Duncan yo yo from the fifties. And there is one old shoe tree that his grandfather passed on to his father who used to be in Vaudeville and was a hoofer. In a jewelry box he unearths a Queens College school ring from 1962, his grandmother’s silver marriage band and the most tender finding of all a ring made in shop class while his father was in junior high school which had a heart soldered to it, a gift he gave to his mother. Some of these I will distill and take only the best details I can. After all, artifacts are our leavings, the cloaca of having been.
There is a primordial perhaps genetic tear in all of us; some don’t know it exists, and cannot palpate it; I feel it, I am a writer. It is in Bernstein’s tale of the white parasol. So I will put the story of The White Parasol on my blog in the near future, when it all has coalesced and hopefully, it has become quaquaversal.
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His Jewish roots versus Christian culture makes him whisper Amazing Grace. His repressive and sexual agnostic youth was countered by the discovery of naked Big Beautiful Woman and failing relationships with merely ordinary specimens. Woodstock for him is Time itself. Now in his seventies, Freese has a compelling gravity to look back to the past, to remember, relive and transfer to e.g. his son Jordan. But life is larger than words, the author’s more than the personality he described in Tesserae. Life’s struggles, adversaries, and miseries offers material for a novel like this on time-beings. Well done!
April 17, 2016
Reviewed by Molly Martin
A Memoir of Two Summers
by Mathias B Freese
Paperback: 236 pages, February 15, 2016, ISBN-13: 978-1627873536
By definition a tesserae is a small block or piece of glass, pebbles, tile, bone, or other materials employed in the creation of a mosaic. Using this definition; the title of this book, Tesserae, indicates to the reader that a mosaic of vibrant narrative pieces will be conveyed to generate an interesting, perhaps uplifting, array. I found myself becoming drawn into the work through a shared sense of nostalgia. Freese carries the reader along from summers spent in Woodstock, into his life during the sixties, through to the current time. The 1963 political scene, black and white TV, skinny dipping, high school friends, an affair and the ending of that affair, the sixties and an awareness of the self, Woodstock summers, sharing difficult memories, musing over daily happenings, and at last musing from the period well beyond the sixties and coming to grips with everything in between leave the reader with an understanding of the ‘unconscious forces which human beings generally dismiss as so much climate change chatter and we really can’t get our minds around evolutionary psychology which, with monumental and ever growing scientific evidence, states that our genes rule us, that we are simply host bodies, that our genes mutate and struggle for what is best for their survival. ‘
Freese’s writing is charming. As each chapter focuses on a phase of Freese’s life: his memories and feelings concerning marriage, youth, aging, regret, and memory, Freese weaves a narrative rich in human frailty and humanity. His reflections regarding life, affection and the way we all change and become who we are now, may serve to motivate the reader toward exploring and perhaps setting down memories for themselves. Freese’s writing is distinctive and well-written with universal appeal. Tesserae is a work to be read and perhaps re-read, for the perceptions it offers into memory and the nature of the self.
Reviewed by: molly martin
Please tell us about yourself.
Retired English teacher and analytic psychotherapist, I have been a writer for almost 50 years. I am self-taught, with the deficits of any autodidact. I resist being shown how to write. I prefer to reinvent the wheel – in that is a learning by itself. Suffering has taught me a great deal. Writing simply reveals that anguish. The purpose of all my written works has been to educate myself about who I am and for that no teacher can work with me except to hand me a copy of Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, and leave me be. Consequently my writing reveals an awakening of intelligence, as Krishnamurti phrased it. I am a seeker and marketing of my books is a kind of perverse expression. I would like to be read, although I consistently refuse to shape my work for any market. That is a writer’s sellout, capitalistic perversion of the highest order. I say what I have to say whether you like it or not. The resistance to my latest effort has been strong. I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust has been reviewed splendidly; however, some bloggers, some editors and some reviewers reject even reviewing it. That says more about the Holocaust than it says about me.
When I come across an individual who is empty, I will on occasion tell him or her that he or she is not a serious human being. To be serious about how one lives one’s life is essential to my make-up. I don’t suffer fools.
Please tell us your latest news.
I am glad to report that I won The Beverly Hills Book Award 2015 in the category of short stories. That was a thrill. For writers I would suggest that they submit their work to as many contests as possible, Poets & Writers lists dozens of them with deadlines and entry fees, if any. At least you have judges looking at your work, so you are being read.
When and why did you begin writing?
My first expression was a poem I wrote at 18 that was accepted by the Yearbook. As I look back it clearly references the depression I was in. To add to that, the teacher-editor threw out the original title and missed entirely the basic theme of the poem. So much for English teachers who think they are editors. It didn’t help my depression, just made me angry.
In 1968 an article, “Is content enough?” was accepted by an educational journal and was the first professionally piece accepted by a publication. It took 10 years to secrete another effort. I had no idea I was moving into writing. I can say, looking back, that early fiction and non-fiction pieces were written to work out or work through psychological and emotional feelings of long standing. Consequently I view writing as a personal therapy, a working through, to use psych-speak, of what harassed my emotional states.
For 30 years I wrote my stories and I promised myself that someday I would publish all of them, for some, indeed, had been published in little magazines. In 2008, I self-published Down to a Sunless Sea at the age of 68. It was reviewed favorably. A novel about the Holocaust, The i Tetralogy, was published in 2005, and a book of essays, This Mobius Strip of Ifs,” a prize-winner as well, in 2012. So as I age the rewards come. I am the Aesopian tortoise.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The i Tetralogy took me several years and it is graphic, overwhelming and heart-rending; reviewers have said that. It is like Rashomon. I explore the mind and life of a concentration camp victim, and then I explore the mind of his perpetrator. I may not spell well, I may not be grammatically correct all the time, but what I have learned is that my imagination is first rate. But that is not enough. As a psychotherapist I learned to master to a large degree to be empathetic. Combining empathy and imagination allowed me to creep into the mind of both victim and victimizer. And so my first book revealed my feelings about what it is to be a Jew.
The Spanish Inquisition in 1492 based on racial purity led directly, indeed, was the template for the Hitlerian Holocaust. I wanted to learn how that came about. I have several reasons and understandings about all that. Chalk it up to the species being damaged; we are beyond remediation. All this is in the Tetralogy.
What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
I say pompously that I do a lot of reflection, but is that being pompous, or is that what this collapsed culture thinks about it. For decades I have read the works of Krishnamurti as a kind of thread as I walk through the maze. So I am a seeker, believing wholeheartedly that the observer is the observed. Read his Think on These Things (Harper) and write me a note. I am a dedicated cinephile and, of course, I recommend that you see Pandora by Pabst, and the glorious work of Louise Brooks ( her book, Lucille in Hollywood, is a hoot). I am a real lover of anything Art Nouveau, and seek out objects, whether valuable or not, that reveal that era. Gustave Klimt is a favorite. I admire the Pre-Raphaelites as well. I recently over extended myself and bought a Degas print at an auction. Since I don’t play golf or revel in sports, you will now appreciate the responses above all the better.
Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?
As a former psychotherapist I see that all 27 short stories in Lament, reveal much about myself; that I have better skills now; instead of croaking my themes I sing them.
What is your marketing plan?
In Auschwitz, it was reported that an inmate asked a guard this question: “Why?’ And the guard responded, “Here there is no why.”
Consequently I used several tools to market this difficult book – this interview, per se; a book tour; entering contests, as many as I could afford; querying hundreds of reviewers, bloggers, et al. Like the guard’s answer, there is no answer to how this book has been received, too much Holocaust fear and historical ignorance among reviewers.
I accept that there is no answer. I am pleased to have made this work reveal the best of what talents and skills I have.
What do you plan for the future?
As Harold Bloom opined, we are all “near death” experiences. And so I have finished a memoir. Although professionally edited, I will work it over, for it may be my last book. I am 74. Sometimes I think the well may have run dry. I feel that all literature is worked over unconsciously and that the unconscious is a true friend if only we trust it. In short, when a story or a poem is written, it really is the second version. So we shall see.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS:
What do you think is the difference between writing short stories and novels?
Short stories are epiphanies; short stories teach writers how to write novels. The Bible is beyond masterful in some stories, forget the religiosity and learn about the brevity from these stories. Writing short stories gives you an opportunity to see the whole, to see the arc of what it is you are saying. Short stories are the opened back of a Patek-Philippe. You can tinker or repair as long as you like. The great novel should read like an intense, passionate short story. Of course, the poem is the hardest epiphany of them all; some poems are novels.
Is there a message in your stories that you want readers to grasp?
When asked if a movie in production had a message, Sam Goldwyn reportedly replied, “If you want a message go to Western Union.” I never write with a message at hand; a feeling, yes; a mood state; yes. I like to be surprised with what I have written. Grasp this about me! I write like my hormones need to excrete. I am not into purpose. Some teachers take an idea or concept and parse it, analyze it, break it into components and then synthesize it for their students. When I taught I took an idea, turned it into fractals, sought no endgame, and let the pieces fall where they may. Consequently don’t ask me to plot out a novel; I am too intuitive to do that.
If you had to choose, which short story writer would you consider a mentor?
I have always been impressed with the humanity, the empathy and psychological understanding of Sherwood Anderson’s, Winesburg , Ohio. Hemingway admired this book but never gave Anderson his due, but that is Hemingway. Anderson could write about the neurasthenic, to use an old term, woman; Hemingway had trouble writing about women.
Do you have any advice for other short story writers?
Write dozens of stories and then keep only a few; or slave over one story interminably only to realize it doesn’t work. Notice the trick or conditioning in this question. Advice? Has the human race ever asked for advice? Essentially, find your own way, work on being inner-directed and in this way the need for advice melts away. All writing is an extension of how much you have grown into a human being. Work on yourself and what you write will reveal this. Avoid all conditioning, religion, in particular.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Contemplate my end, which we should all do on a daily basis; and we can do that without regret or remembrance of things past. In fact, cogitating over this might make life that much more dear.
I also have a grand sense of humor so that compensates for what life teaches me. Awareness is the key. Get cracking, reader!
What books have most influenced your life?
Kazantzakis’s Report to Greco and The Last Temptation of Christ; Elias Canetti’s, The Crowd;
Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things, The Flight of the Eagle, and The Awakening of Intelligence.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Mathias B. Freese
1786 Tanner Circle
Henderson, NV 89012
Cell 702 715 0683
702 685 2446
Publisher’s link: http://www.wheatmark.com/catalog/entry/Tesserae-Summers-Mathias-B-Freese
TESSERAE: A MEMOIR OF TWO SUMMERS
The quiescence found in Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers has a staying effect upon the mind; this memoir lingers in the reader’s memory for some time. – Steven Berndt, Professor of American Literature, College of Southern Nevada
In 1941 Citizen Kane premiered and the author was one year old. The snowglobe Rosebud weaves in and out of his memoir, cinema’s consummate symbol of attachment and separation, the classic dyad of the human being. And its precipitate — loss.
This memoir discloses and reveals achingly so, often in astonishing and agonizing ways, one man’s travail. Freese is not satisfied to merely recall, to remember, but to metabolize what he has experienced throughout his seven decades. The furnace for his emergence into mature adulthood took place in the sixties, that irrepressible decade that changed America culture forever.
As a retired psychotherapist Freese knows that relationships between one human being with another is a critical human learning we master or we do not, for it facilitates our personally idiosyncratic journey through life.
Tesserae is not only a remembrance of things past but a reworking and critical recollection of experience and events Freese encountered in his late twenties.
The most telling – and compelling aspect – is his capacity to learn from struggle.
In the summers of ’68 and ’69 Freese lived in Woodstock, and his life was transformed. Tesserae richly explores how the counterculture kneaded him, how it enlarged his perspective, and how it encouraged him to be more open and express.
In his seventies now, Freese looks back not so much in regret but in knowing he had experienced that rare spiritual event, an awakening of intelligence. The reader now shares in his tested perceptions, his hard-earned observations about relationships; of how many of us go to our graves unknown to our selves.
Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers concludes on an existential note. A man who has faced considerable adversity in his life, Freese has prevailed.
Endorsement: “In reading Mathias Freese’s Tesserae, however, it becomes clear that this is no mere pastiche of other works; his memoir stands above much of the crowd in its commitment to ask, “What is it to remember? To recall, retrieve, reflect, to go back for a moment, to feel a period of time long since gone.” By posing these questions, Freese works within the answers by tenderly plaiting a web that spreads from Woodstock, Las Vegas, Long Island and North Carolina. The author locates friends and family, lovers now long since gone, desire and passion sometimes quenched sometimes unrequited, and the harrowing agony that comes from that most soul crushing word of all, regret.” Steven Berndt, M.A.
Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers by Mathias B. Freese; Wheatmark; Non-fiction; Soft Cover 978-1-62787-353-6 $12.95
Availability: Amazon.com, Wheatmark.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
MATHIAS B. FREESE is a writer, teacher and psychotherapist. His recent collection of essays, This Mobius Strip of Ifs, was the winner of the National Indie Excellence Book Award of 2012 in general non-fiction and a 2012 Global Ebook Award finalist. His I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust was the winner of the Beverly Hills Book Awards, Reader’s Favorite Book Award, Finalist of the Indie Excellence Book Awards, and finalist at The Paris Book Festival and the Amsterdam Book Festival.
The book can be ordered from Wheatmark.com or the author at email@example.com. Publication date mid-February 2016
A recent article in the New York Times noted that “Imitation runs rampant in memoir land,” and this observation underscores many of the memoirs that exist currently in the writing market. In reading Mathias Freese’s Tesserae, however, it becomes clear that this is no mere pastiche of other works; his memoir stands above much of the crowd in its commitment to ask, “What is it to remember? To recall, retrieve, reflect, to go back for a moment, to feel a period of time long since gone.” By posing these questions, Freese works within the answers by tenderly plaiting a web that spreads from Woodstock, Las Vegas, Long Island and North Carolina. The author locates friends and family, lovers now long since gone, desire and passion sometimes quenched sometimes unrequited, and the harrowing agony that comes from that most soul crushing word of all, regret.
Through Freese’s eyes and prose he reminds the reader of the universalities among mankind that could unite us as humans, but more often than not turns us inwardly upon ourselves with sadness and lamentation of our profound distance and separateness. Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers is not a work of sadness and grief. Rather, it is an effort from a trained psychotherapist adept at understanding the feelings that we all have. This therapeutic perspective enriches the memoir, grounding the reader in reminding us that the author is working to understand his past and how it has shaped his life. None are spared from the ravages of time and memory, not even Mathias Freese.
His memoir reminds the reader “that insight is never enough, that feelings are the royal road to consciousness, that awareness in itself is an action, that memory is sweet but often an attack of the heart.” In Freese’s worldview, we all may attain “a measure of peace.” Or what Hemingway called a clean well-lighted place. The quiescence found in Tesserae: A Memoir of Two Summers has a staying effect upon the mind; this memoir lingers in the reader’s memory for some time.
Steven Berndt, M.A.—American Literature
Steven Berndt is an English instructor who specializes in proletarian literature of the Thirties.