After sampling some reviews but far from all, I thought I might offer my own take on my book as a kind of guide to the perplexed.
At 71 Freese sets out in these thirty-six essays written over several decades, some fairly recent, some penned in the 80’s and 90s, to assess his own life as he looks back. Something of a maverick, something of a malnurtured critter, he reveals here and there, as if crags embedded in his prose, a meandering river of rage. Cognizant of this, knowing how it has tainted and tortured himself as well as having hurt his own children, he tries to make amends, but to no avail, realizing the dead cannot accept apologies. So what does he do with his cup of bile?
He writes about what he can remember, which he declares is a poor substitute to what he still feels inwardly about a whole host of things — his own rearing, one of benign neglect; his poor parenting as a father with his first child who later committed suicide; his embittered feelings about teaching because quite frankly he didn’t have the gumption or the brass balls to quit and go on to something else. Restrained by the inability or the wherewithall to risk, by his own passive-aggressive nature — quite frankly, of not having known any better, given his background, he stayed in teaching far too long. And some of his essays on education are structured rage-lets, if you will.
Freese feels cheated as if awareness escaped his grasp for much of the first third of his life. This is the key to many of the essays, having not only fallen short but having lacked the requisite insight and inner-directedness that might have led him to all kinds of awareness. The early part of his life was folly. For him insight is not awareness, for awareness is much more expansive an experience. Insight is not an epiphany, awareness is just that. Consequently we read of his encounters with Krishnamurti, a spiritual thinker, who inspired him to free himself of societal conditioning, so that he might experience the awakening of intelligence. There is much truth to the observation we often do not awake to about our early thirties, if then. The mass of men and women are asleep in life. You might say that his book is about awakening and staying awake.
One can imagine him, like Hamlet, walking the battlements beset by all kinds of musings, thoughts, guilt-ridden and mortifying associations of behaviors long since done away with. Ruefulness and regret all encumbered in remorse are Freese’s broth. One wonders if all his essays are really a cri de coeur, a cataract of long suppressed and repressed feelings, ideas and thoughts. As one grazes through his essays they reflect different times in his life — teacher, father, student, therapy client, middle-aged and old man, and child. In all his essays the forlorn child cries, sticks his tongue out or simply turns his behind to you and flatulates.
Very aware of his child but, unfortunately, at times Freese cannot be kind to it, although he would assert that inside of his very self is an immense mother flagellating him to perform or do better. And he would reprimand me for bringing up the tired cliche of the inner child, for he has a considerable amount of contempt for that kind of psychobabble. In fact one reads the book and senses a latent if not manifest expression of contempt for most things most of us esteem in our lives and culture. He would say good! Perhaps we all should read something like his screed to just get the scales out of our eyes.To sneer, to be snide are minor arts he has attained, he is a Henny Youngman of smartass despair.
And upon closer reading we may intuit the following: an endearing need on his part to stave off death for purposes of pursuing the final searches he has posed for himself — to know, to learn, mostly to become aware; a significant sense of loss twists through this man, of relatives and very close ones who died much too soon, the Kennedys’s of his mind; the unrequited and never again to be attained need to have been held, favored, told of his own worth; a fervent wish which he refused all his life to admit to which is to surrender his rage, to let go of his armored plate, to relent; the human regret of each of us to have led a better existence although he did catch on to that horse’s tail much later in life, therefore even more bittersweet. Freese might say that the odds are against you if you feel diminished as a child.
I detect his need to transcend or at least be better than he is as something he struggled all his life to attain or if we wish to look at it psychologically, something put into him very early as a child by a very conditional mother. In any case it is there, like one’s eye color. He so much as says directly that his life has been exceedingly contentious and bumpy and so it has. And again Freese uses these essays as gauze to drape about his wounds. Like a Jewish golem during late night stalking, he does his deadly rounds. Words assuage this man, for little else has given him the capacity to express himself; if he was a musician he would have been a drummer for that is subterranean and profound, the beat goes on.
Several of the negative reviews of this man’s effort choose one or two essays to dwell on without stepping back and looking at his life spectacle. Freese struggles for the totality of his expression, for the sweep of who he is, by linking these essays together in some kind of sequence, not pattern, for he sees no pattern himself except for a few psychotherapeutic insights he has about the warp and woof of his life. It is truly a mobius strip of ifs. He refuses to become a reductive diagnosis. As the child he is at times, he is saddened at being misunderstood — aren’t we all? Criticized by a few reviewers because his essays seem too personal or that he shaves too close, he cannot imagine not writing in that way because that is who he is. Reservations are for restaurants in his eyes.
In one or two places in his book he candidly declares that he has worked at expressing his unheard scream. An aware reader will identify with that, for the species itself has failed at that as well.