Category Archives: Articles and Reviews

Review by Udita Banerjee

This Mobius Strip of Ifs …a review

POSTED ON APRIL 5, 2013 BY UDITA BANERJEE

on http://cupandchaucer.wordpress.com

I usually read fiction. So when Mathias B. Freese wrote to me asking if I would like to review his book, I agreed because of two words that he used to describe his book, ‘memoir’ and ‘psychotherapist’. What’s not be intrigued about!? I wasn’t disappointed. This book is a collection of essays, a wide variety of topics, from relationships to blogging, from Holocaust to Freud… each essay was a bit of a jolt really…

It is a harsh read. There are works like those of Freud’s, scientific and calculating, cautious even. There are works like Paulo Coelho’s, which give you deep mantras in sugar coated easy to read stories. And then there is this man, who calls a spade a spade, and gives you facts and truth to your face. He is critical of people, of habits, of the system, of the world around him. Above all, he is critical of himself. He was a therapist; therapists have issues too!

A book that begins with a quote by Hemingway can hardly go wrong in my eyes! I once read Freud, a lot of him, I liked frequent references to his work. On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy the references to other things as much, ones I did not know about… “How will I ever read so much!?” reads my note to self on the margin.

Reading a lot of the essays made me feel like I was encroaching into really personal territory. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read on. Did I really wish to know? I don’t know how much courage and general faith it takes to bare to the world… Also, the essay on bloggers made me ask questions as to my own purpose… Why do I blog? Why about books? Am I a true critic? Am I needy? If so, aren’t we all? A book  that makes you introspect is, in my opinion, a brilliant read, challenging and scary, but worthwhile.

It’s the kind of book one can come back to. It is not a cheery happy read, but I like them that way. It is like an old friend, who was a cynic a long time ago, but now is just an old friend…

Quotes: “Like the sad genius of the schizophrenic, allow me to find a nether place, to rest in sweet shadow, to come away from what I plainly see.”

“The task of each one of us is to be free of the other and ultimately free of one’s own inner constraints. All else follows.”

“I self-publish to announce I am here, for I will soon be gone.”

 

Review by Sophie Dusting for VerdictBookReviews.Blogspot.co.uk

Book Review: This Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese

Book: This Mobius Strip of Ifs
Author: Mathias B. Freese
Published by: Wheatmark
Date published: 2012
Format: Paperback
Length: 164 pages
ISBN: 9781604947236
Genres: Memoirs, Essays, Collection, American culture, Psychology

http://verdictbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/book-review-this-mobius-strip-of-ifs-by.html

The Synopsis: In this impressive and varied collection of creative essays, Mathias B. Freese jousts with American culture. A mixture of the author’s reminiscences, insights, observations, and criticism, This Mobius Strip of Ifs examines the use and misuse of psychotherapy, childhood trauma, complicated family relationships, his frustration as a teacher, and the enduring value of tenaciously writing through it all.


Freese scathingly describes the conditioning society imposes upon artists and awakened souls. Whether writing about the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, or film giants such as Orson Welles and Buster Keaton, the author skewers where he can and applauds those who refuse to compromise and conform.

The profound visceral truths in this book will speak to anyone who endeavors to be completely alive and aware.

The Review
I didn’t really know what to expect from This Mobius Strip of Ifs when I was first approached to review the collection of essays. Having read few non-fiction pieces and not having a keen interest in the genre, I was quite hesitant when turning the first few pages. What a relief then, that I was blown away by a simply stunning assortment of essay which were insightful, entertaining and quite moving in their content.
The forward is excellent; succinct and concise, it brings together all the works in a short summary which almost reads as a short biography to Mathius Freeses’ life. It was extremely useful to have, for if you wanted to dip in and out of the collection and read the essays in whatever order you fancied, you could go back and remind yourself how each fitted in to the ‘wider picture’.The collection is split into three groups. The first of the essays are under the collective banner “knowledge is death”. As described in the forward, “to know who we are required that we ‘die’ to many ideas we have of ourselves. Paradoxically, this ‘death’ quickens awareness, makes us more alive and sensitive.” The essays are short extracts of Freeses’ journey to decondition himself; they explore everything from the labels society places on people to how his own awareness grew and developed. This may sound heavy but it is told with wit and intelligence, making what could be quite a difficult subjects accessible and comparatively not too difficult to understand.When I review any piece of work I carry with me a pen and a load of post-it notes to jot the odd thought down, to act as a prompt for when I come to write my final review. I had hundreds of post-it notes scattered all over this first group of essays and you know what many of them said? ”I loved that sentence” or ”I loved that quote”. In the end there are just to many to list but here are some of my favourites:

“Answers are expired prescriptions.” (Pg. 6)

“…we own the slave mentality.” (Pg. 16)
“Why so you seek books, schools, teachers to inform you what is?” (Pg. 19)
“Organise your life financially and it becomes an attribute, and no more than that.” (Pg. 21)
“To not be asleep in life.” (Pg. 36)
“I self-publish to announce I am here, for I will soon be gone.” (Pg. 49)

Having gone through therapy myself and having come out the ‘other side’ unscathed, I really connected with the first group of essays, particularly one entitled Ten Canon. I feel the essay is almost a play on the ‘Ten Commandments’ but in this case, it is the ten principals for achieving healing awareness. I came to find that I myself had attained almost all of these through my own therapy. This is what this first group does best; it connects with the reader. It almost offers a free course of therapy right in your hands. There are many points for which to start a discussion (and hence this would make a great book club read) and offers much food for thought long after you’ve read them.

The second group were collectively entitled “Metaphorical Noodles”. I must admit I didn’t like the essays as much as the first selection. The essays discussed various actors, films, producers, directors and so forth and for some it read like a biography of their screen career. Ironically, these actually read like ‘essays’ where as the first group didn’t seem as formal. This may also be partly due to the fact I connected with the first group so strongly; to go from quite personal topics to those I knew little about or had a deep interest in, was probably the reason why I didn’t enjoy them as much.

“The Seawall” was the title for the final group of essays. For me these were the most moving set of essays as the author describes the relationships with his family. About Caryn describe Freeses’ love and changing relationship with his daughter, Caryn. This essay was poignant and so touching, it moved me to the point of tears.

“Our relationship was one of orbiting moons, still and silent as they did their turns, in a vacuum.” (Pg. 124)

This sentence is a perfect example of how articulate Freese is and how powerful his words can be. His writing throughout all of the essays is superb; it’s difficult to see how it could have been worded any differently.

Perhaps my only couple of criticisms would be that the tone of the essays can sometimes be depressing and if read in one sitting, I could imagine the essays would be quite over-whelming.

Out of all of the essays, if I could only recommend my top five, it would have to be:

  1. Ten Canon
  2. Introductory Remarks on Retirement from a Therapist
  3. About Caryn
  4. I Really Don’t Know Me and I Really Don’t Know You
  5. Reflections on Rummaging
…oh and A Spousal Interview…and – you see it’s really pointless me even trying to narrow it down!
The Verdict - A stunning assortment of essays and possibly the best work by an Indie author I have ever read. Freese is incredibly articulate and manages to turn difficult subjects into something accessible and attractive to readers. In the essay ‘At 67′ Freese writes, “long after I am gone they can point to a grandfather or great-grandfather and say that that at least one Freese got out of the rubble of that family and made something of his life, left something of value.”This is that something! 5 Stars.

The Paperback Pursuer, Allizabeth Collins, Reviewer

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review Review # 274: The Möbius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese

 

Description: (from book-jacket)

In this impressive and varied collection of creative essays, Mathias B. Freese jousts with American culture. A mixture of the author’s reminiscences, insights, observations, and criticism, the book examines the use and misuse of psychotherapy, childhood trauma, complicated family relationships, his frustration as a teacher, and the enduring value of tenaciously writing through it all.

Freese scathingly describes the conditioning society imposes upon artists and awakened souls. Whether writing about the spiritual teacher, Krishnamurti, poet and novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, or film giants such as Orson Welles and Buster Keaton, the author skewers where he can and applauds those who refuse to compromise and conform…

At the core of these essays is the author’s struggle to authentically express his unique perspective, to unflinchingly reveal a profound visceral truth, along with a passionate desire to be completely alive and aware.

Review:

First question: What is a Möbius Strip? I knew that the front cover had a picture of one, but I still wasn’t exactly sure, so I looked up the definition: “A one-sided surface that is constructed from a rectangle by holding one end fixed, rotating the opposite end through 180 degrees, and joining it to the first end…” (merriam-webster.com).

http://mathforum.org/mathimages/index.php/Topology_Glossary

Unfortunately, I still wasn’t sure why it was the tile of the book, until I found this definition: “a Möbius strip only has one side and one edge, so ants would be able to walk on the Möbius strip on a single surface indefinitely since there is no edge in the direction of their movement.” (physlink.com). So I finally came to the conclusion that the Möbius strip, (in the book’s case), might represent the disorienting structure/cycle of life; things look one way, but end up another.

I was genuinely surprised when I started reading Mathias Freese’s essays, they were very rich and profound, his outlook on several topics showcasing a range of unyielding emotions – frustration, anger, discontent, depression, doubt, renewal, hope, etc… I was not ready for such a mind-altering read – one that left me in a state of contemplative hibernation. Each essay, especially “Untidy Lives, I Say to Myself”, “Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers”, “I Had A Daughter Once”, “On the Holocaust”, and “Babbling Books and Motion Pictures”, resonated with me, some for obvious reasons, others because they were so eerily personal. The author’s thoughts were well organized and brutally honest, his no-holds-barred writing style pushing me into debate with myself over my own preconceived ideas and beliefs on certain topics. Even the most simple essays conveyed unfathomable depth, there is no way a reader could put the book down and not linger on the wisdom the author had offered. After reading, I must admit that I feel like everyone has their own Möbius strip – a life full of actions, ideas, stories, regrets, loves, miscommunications, etc, and Mathias Freese has made that point very visual to me. I really enjoyed the book overall, the essay size and formatting were very accessible – I read the essays in order, but it is very easy to pick-and-choose which order a reader prefers. The Möbius Strip of Ifs is not a book to be read quickly or taken lightly – but it will stay with readers for a long time after it has been experienced. Highly recommended to adult readers looking for a refreshing, emotion/thought-fueled read; not for the faint of heart.

The Literary Aficionado Review

Thursday, December 27, 2012

This Möbius Strip of Ifs

`Life is best understood backwards.’ KierkegaardReview by Grady Harp

According to the dictionary definition, `The Möbius strip is a surface with only one side and only one boundary component. The Möbius strip has the mathematical property of being non-orientable. It can be realized as a ruled surface. It has several curious properties. A line drawn starting from the seam down the middle will meet back at the seam but at the “other side”. If continued the line will meet the starting point and will be double the length of the original strip. This single continuous curve demonstrates that the Möbius strip has only one boundary.’

The concept has confounded many thinkers and writers but in the hands of Mathias B. Freese the essence of the meaning of the concept is defined in a series of essays that represent some of the most sensitive and profound thinking of the past few years. Freese writes about psychology, philosophy, thought, family, memories both good and sad, and ramblings about the lives and works of such disparate characters as Buster Keaton, Orson Welles, Nikos Kazantzakis, Peter Lorre to Federico Fellini’s `La Dolce Vita.’

In many ways Freese’s essays are feelings of discontent with the American way of life, his disappointments not only in his career as a teacher, but in many aspects of the way we perceive worth. He often bemoans the manner in which we trash art, spiritual concerns, and creativity in favor of crass commercialism. His previous, highly honored writings about the Holocaust surface here and there and are profoundly moving. In `A Spousal Interview: `After all my years of writing about the Holocaust, the one great learning for me is that it is repeatable; that we learn a little form it, but it will be massaged and kneaded into a sweetener as a historical lesson and not much metabolized by future generations …”Never Again” is an inept, inane and useless slogan, representing more of the ache and agony of the generations after the Holocaust. The Holocaust will be mostly forgotten centuries hence and will be so attenuated that in American textbooks it will take its place alongside the genocide of the American Indian, a paragraph or two or three. If you want a measure of life in this existence, find love, find meaningful work; the rest is illusion.’

These essays are so important for us all to read, so full of richness and quotations that deserve repeating, as the following form `Things Kazantzakis: ` We are spendthrifts with existence, we use it badly. I struggle with “reach what you cannot fine” all the time. No, I will not end up transfigured on a cross, but the struggle, dear reader, the struggle has made my life richer – and dearer.’

Another coupling of essays shares the profundity of his mind. In one titled “About Caryn’ he praises his daughter stricken with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) for the courage she demonstrates in coping with her station in life, and that essay is followed by `I had a daughter once’ in which he describes Caryn’s suicide (`she rotted for a week before someone inquired about her.’) and the grieving a father for a daughter has rarely reached such heights of profound tenderness.

This is one of those books that belongs in the library of every thinking and concerned human being. It is a treasure, at times exceedingly painful to read, at times exhilarating. Highly Recommended.

Grady Harp, December 2012

TITLE: This Möbius Strip of Ifs
AUTHOR: MATHIAS B. FREESE
PUBLISHER: WHEATMARK
ISBN: 9781604947236

Review in Centrifugal Eye, Eve Hanninen, Editor: Double Wow

Review of  This Mobius Strip of Ifs in the Autumn 2012 issue of  “The Centrifugal Eye” online literary magazine, pages 81-83 reprinted below: 

Reflections on Rummaging

by D. J. Bryant

Mathias B. Freese first appeared in The Centrifugal Eye’s web pages in the form of an anomalous review of short stories from his collection, Down to a Sunless Sea (2007), by TCE staff writer Ocalive Olaopa Mwenda. (Visit TCE’s archives to read Mwenda’s Absence of Light: Quirks of Dark.*) While Matt Freese is not a poet, his stories and essays are often poetic in tone, and this now-retired teacher and psychotherapist has written often on the subject of writing — a theme always welcome in our journal.

The essays in This Möbius Strip of Ifs were written over four decades, according to Freese, and many were previously published. The first in this collection, “To Ms. Foley, with Gratitude,” even won the Society of Southwestern Authors Award for personal essay/memoir. To whet your appetites, I’ll reveal that “Ms. Foley” was none other than Martha Foley, editor of The Best American Short Stories series (1941-1977).

Recently, This Möbius Strip of Ifs won 2012’s National Indie Excellence Award in the category of non-fiction, and was a finalist for Dan Poynter’s 2012 Global eBooks Awards (Autobiography/Memoirs) .

Award-winning or not, what I enjoyed most about Freese’s essay collection, without question, was his storytelling. Even though the essays within are non-fiction, many are descriptive, concrete narratives. They read, sound, feel like stories. From the classroom to the therapist’s couch to the family-shadowed corners of childhood. Freese accredits this “richness” to having “lain down ‘pilings,’ details on which the story’s scaffolding rests.”

At almost 200 pages of prose, I’m not about to give you a rundown on all the pieces in Möbius Strip, but if I rummage around a bit and pull out some choice scraps from Freese’s memory bag, you’ll get the drift. Right away, I come up with “Teachers Have No Chance to Give Their Best” (pg. 14). While the essay is meant to be a rant, it’s also an honest telling (and yes, a story) about the state of urban high-school ignorance — concerning English, reading, writing, and especially culture, where many students “are sorely confused about their own ethnicity so as to be misinformed of the heritage of others.” Especially sorry case in point: “No one in the advanced tenth grade English class has the
foggiest notion who King Kong is.”

Matt Freese admits a leaning towards Freud (like so many of us), and he’s well-enough read on him to engage us with witty, analytical anecdotes (unlike so many of us who misunderstand or misquote because we haven’t read enough). Freese explores this idea in “Freud’s Cheerful Pessimism”(pg. 27). Other psychologists and psychotherapists will likely agree with Freese when he says “there is much to be said for the analytic approach. All of life is an expression, our expression, to put things into words or to act upon the world. Choose your flavor; I became a writer, others harpoon whales. We all need to make the unconscious conscious, a working definition of psychotherapy that has Freudian salt in it, like a good lox.”

And how about Gulliver’s Travels? Think it’s a kid’s story? Freese will have you grinning like a reaper’s scythe as he links Yahoos to bloggers in another rant he refers to as a “howl.” (Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers, pg. 42.) It is particularly enlightening to discover how literary reviewers, such as myself, are compared to review bloggers — are we so different? Freese thinks we are, if we’re honest and don’t go about “shoving chicken fat” up authors’ asses.

Speaking of authors, many of you can relate to the careful crafting decisions we must often make, whether these include selecting a point-of-view, or carving unrelated details or sloppy repetitions from an overripe manuscript. Freese’s essay, “In First-Person” (pg. 51), takes a self-critical and accepting look at his own emblematic choices when it comes to writing and editing his stories. A
self-proclaimed tinkerer, he’s learned to wait for his stories’ ends to come to him. Or not.

The essays I liked most in Möbius Strip have something in common; they include nostalgic and multicolored portraits of family members: Matt Freese’s parents, uncle, grandmother. These remembrances also conjure scenes thick with longing, frustration, and oppressed anger. Freese refers to his upbringing as one of “benign neglect,” not from a lack of wants or needs, but “a lack of mothering and fathering.” Still, his parents influence heavily the texture of his writing here.

“Trains = Holocaust and Other Observations, Railfans” (pg. 63) explains Freese’s obsession today with trains and scale models — and how this interconnects with a decision his father made over 50 years ago.

In “Grandma Fanny” (pg. 150), we get to meet his maternal grandmother who was a wayfarer and hoarder, never content to stay for long in any one place, but full of unexpected charms when it suited her. And there are other characters among these essays. Wives, daughters, a son. Freese opens up, maybe sometimes telling more than you want to hear, other times just enough to flood you with empathy.

What was least appealing to me in Möbius Strip was a consistent, mud-dark bitterness that flowed unceasingly from Freese after some of his “howls” hit their crescendos. I can understand degrees of animosity and frustration, especially in light of negative life experiences, but sometimes it overwhelmed my appreciation for the “stories.” I’m not a shallow reader, by any means, and I don’t shy from confessional writing. Yet, I wasn’t a fan of what sounded like potential grudges and unresolved anger that might be skewing Freese’s point of view.

Isn’t this a matter of personal tastes, though? Rightly so. Matt Freese echoes what many of us writers and poets think, feel, and hope to express in our writing as we continue to head, irreversibly, into our twilight years. Sure, yeah, some of us are frustrated, angry, even disgusted with the state of the world. And it’s going to show some of the time.

If you enjoy essays on cultural icons, books, and movies, you’ll like the section called “Metaphorical Noodles,” which noodles about a number of theater and screen actors; and “Babbling Brooks and Motion Pictures” (pg. 112) is essentially a biographical essay of books and stories that impacted Freese’s thinking. He’s got some informative things to say that might lead you to your next good read. Or write.

Freese ends this collection with an essay on something I’m prone to do every time I move house or clean out my files: “rummaging.” You know, it’s where you start sorting papers from folders or boxes that are at least 4-25 years old with the intent to “clean out.” You get through a few pages of a typed document, and then you come across a couple of torn, handwritten notesheets of quotes or quickly-jotted lines of poetry, an old letter you saved for some sentimental reason— and you go sit down and start to read them all instead of tossing them. For you writers, it is often more important to find and re-examine those keepsake scraps than it is to actually “clean out” your office or desk. Freese’s “Reflections on Rummaging” surely bears this out, although my wife would probably be more impressed by a neater office.

Poet, Editor, Alyce Wilson of Wild Violet Magazine, Reviews My Book

Review: “This Mobius Strip of Ifs”

December 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm , by Alyce Wilson

This Mobius Strip of IfsThis Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wild Violet Magazine.

How does one summarize an entire life of more than 60 years? When faced with this ominous task, too many self-published writers produce rambling, episodic narratives that fail to capture the true drama and beauty of their lives. Fortunately for author Mathias B. Freese, he is a gifted essayist who has been writing essays for decades. By collecting his favorite pieces, he gives readers insights into both his personal life (which is, sadly, full of tragedy) and his views on such topics as education, psychotherapy, blogging, and, of course, writing. The book, as a result, is one part personal memoir and one part intellectual analysis.

This combination elevates the book, but it also means it is a book best read slowly. Readers are likely to find themselves pausing to contemplate the message behind each essay. Freese is direct and opinionated, and he often takes an opinion counter to popular thinking. Take, for example, the essay “Teachers Have No Chance to Give Their Best,” where he begins by railing against students for their “puerile minds” and “vacuity.” But while these words are harsh, he lays the blame squarely on teachers. As a former teacher himself, he strongly suggests that schools need to do more to encourage creativity and self-reliance.

Just when it seems he has given up, labeling the educational system as “a great Arctic mammoth wandering aimlessly,” he offers up a glimmer of hope: “Take any five decent, well-intended, creative and committed teachers and administrators, people who care, people in passion, free men and women, and one could wreak a reformation in weeks.”

Such is the power of these essays: he sets up problems in stark language, but he also points to the possible positives that we, as a society, could reach for. Whether writing about the challenges of the current publishing scene or the historical record of the Holocaust, he shows readers both the ugliness and the beauty of each topic. He shares valuable insights from his time as a psychotherapist, and he waxes eloquent on some of his favorite movies and classic film actors.

The personal essays in the back of the book provide a look at his family’s trials and grief. From the tragic loss of both his first wife and his daughter, to coping with memories of a neglected childhood, he writes powerfully when he is at his most personal. In many ways, these essays might have been a better way to begin this collection, since it would have helped to provide a real sense of the writer, in a personal way, before the denser, academic pieces.

This is a book that will stay with the reader, that will occasionally pop up as an undercurrent to conversations. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of his fiction masterpiece, The i Tetralogy, it is a thoughtful, compelling read.

View all my reviews

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by Mathias B. Freese

On December 6, 2012 at 11:55 am

Thank you for capturing my stance: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” — Kazantzakis (epitaph).

By Fran Lewis, Reviewer, on Amazon

5.0 out of 5 stars Self Awareness,October 3, 2012
This review is from: This Möbius Strip of Ifs (Paperback)

This Mobius Strip of Ifs
Author: Mathias Freese

What if everyone lived within the inside of a box so thick that they could not see what was behind the corners or upper lid and never realizing what lies behind the confines of this box? What if you world was so fragile and breakable that all you see is what is right in front of you and not what is around you? What if you lived inside the shell an uncooked egg and each time you moved around just a little bit of the shell came apart and what you begin to see is not what others want you to see but what is really there? For the first time you view the world, slowly at first and then when the entire shell cracks and is no longer protecting you within its shell you begin to see, question, listen and explore the amazing world that has been hidden from you for so long? What if students were encouraged to asked questions and received more than just the expected or canned answers written in the teacher’s edition of a textbook? What if students were actually taught not spoon-fed and required to seek what is deeper than what appears on the printed page of a textbook that is outdated as soon as it is printed. New information is recorded daily on the net, new research is done everyday and textbooks are only current until a new one is written and more information added which outdates the first but soon that one too.

Personal awareness just how much value do we place on it. Just how do we deal with disappointment? This Mobius Strip of Ifs refers to an essay the author wrote titled “Herbie,” chosen to appear in an anthology in a magazine. But, sometimes misprints and mistakes are made and are corrected. Other times some go unnoticed or just left the way they are because fate you might say steps in a plays its own hand. The editor of Graffiti informed the author that his short story titled “Herbie,” published in that magazine was listed in Martha Foley’s The Best American Short Stories of 1975. It was placed in the section “Distinctive Short Stories of 1974.” Thinking about which authors whose company he would be in the author then realized something else upon closer look. Excited and living in his own world of personal blind ambition and like some self-absorbed he states he soon realizes that the name the article listed as the author was not his but that of H.T. Kirby Smith. Writing the Martha Foley he received a reply. She was the founder of the magazine and apologized for her error, penned a formal note but passed away before rectifying the error. Regardless of the error in authorship it does not negate the fact that he wrote it and it was acknowledged for its excellence. The author instead of dwelling on this decided to continue writing, learned from it and used it as a valuable validation of his writing ability. What if they never made the mistake? Would he have come to the same revelations he reveals in this book? “A Mobius Strip is essentially a ribbon with a twist,” as, stated in the foreword of this book. Life does not provide us with a clear path without its on snags, twists and turns and the definition certainly fits the many situations and experiences the author shares with the reader. Imagine if we explored life and allowed ourselves to find out more about the “possibilities outside of our perception.”

What if teachers were allowed to teach without the constraints of curriculum guides, paperwork and text? What if students were encouraged to become more aware of whom they are and what they want to be rather than what is expected of them? What if students were not consumed with grades, getting ahead, money and become their own person without being victims of the world created for them by their parents and friends. What if teachers like our author did not become frustrated by having to tell his students rather than have them inquire? What if he could actually engage them and not watch them take notes or hang on his every word? What if educators actually challenged their students and allowed them to master things on their own? Teachers as he relates seen confined, distrusted and are not empowered.

Aging has taken its toll in the author as it does with most people. Defining and observing the changes within his physical appearance, his attitude and perspective is shared with the reader in Chapter 2. No one asks to age or get older. You hope to but the changes we see are not always what we want to accept but we have no choice. Two books published is definitely a great accomplishment. Making something of his life he certainly did. Sharing with the reader that he overcame obstacles, adversity and life’s difficulties might encourage more to take on his way of thinking and understand the meaning of his What ifs. Chapter 3 he shares his view on how he lives his life untidy and a great email from a student. The Unheard Scream is a letter that he addresses to all of his students trying to explain what they should be looking of in life, searching for their own answers, not taking just what we give them as gospel and learning to think about ” what they will do here on earth?” Have you ever asked a young person what or where they see themselves in ten years? You might be surprised of not so surprised at the answers you will get.

An artist creates a picture or painting defining his work through his art. A therapist the author states should be well read in art, music and literature. The many definitions and references to his vocation are interesting as he sates as a therapist he is an outsider. I often get the feeling as I read each essay that the author places a different part of him within the framework or structure of the theme presented. Throughout this chapter he allows the reader to share his profession, explain his role and how the therapist uses himself as an instrument. As the layers unfold you begin to feel that each part is a separate scene in a movie or special documentary dealing with each aspect of this thinking, vocation and perspective on life. As he tells the reader about the impact a client has on him and how the client is the best facilitator of information helping the therapist understand not only the needs of the client but the therapist too. The Ten Canons explained on pages 36-38 are almost ten ways to deal with pain, remorse, lies and self-esteem.

Mr. Freese includes some well written, straightforward essays that express his viewpoints and thoughts on many topics. I don’t think he is trying to sway the reader into thinking his way or convincing you that you have to agree with his point of view. Frustrated with the teaching profession he airs his views and explains in many chapters that students were primarily concerned with grades, when and if they will graduate and what monetary value can they attribute to the careers that their parents might have chosen or someone at the school might have suggested. He included essays on Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre, Orson Welles and Kazantzakis. For lovers of movies and books you might want to read “Babbling Books and Motion Pictures.” What if what you were taught as a child was wrong and has no bearing on what you need to help you in life as an adult? Simply stated in one sentence: The task of each one of us is to be free of the other and ultimately free of one’s own inner constraints.” Self-awareness and thinking for yourself without being programmed by the schools, parents and your friends would be quite compelling and interesting to see how students would handle being able to think more critically and intuitively on their own.

Essays about his family discusses his early life, his childhood, his middle years and an aging grandparent, a daughter with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Syndrome and essays that reflect the many stages of his life. Uncle Seymour who had a powerful impact on him and who allowed him to finally learn to accept and express his own thoughts and emotions guiding him to become a therapist. Added in we learn about his divorce, his thoughts about Freud, experienced as a therapist and how he came to find and learn his own personal truths.

The second half of the book Metaphorical Noodles includes the work of many actors and filmmakers who strived for the same things students should in school artistic or educational freedom. In the movie business directors and producers strive to create movies as they see it or the writer sees and often the actor’s thoughts and creative input are pushed aside. Within the third section we learn more about his daughter Caryn her struggle with Chronic Fatigue Immune Syndrome and taking her own life. Losing his wife in 1999 in a car accident and his Grandmother Fanny whose story you need to read and his Uncle Seymour whose many actions described will definitely surprise the reader. In I Had A Daughter Once the author shares his raw and inner emotions about losing his daughter. “Cameras as Remembrances of Things Past,” allows the reader to understand the power of the lens and how taking pictures can recreate moments in your life, family history and allow you to relive them everyday you look at them. To me it keeps the person alive in your heart and mind giving you your history. What if the cameras and reels of film that you have in your home could speak for you and create their own movie of your life? This final section called Seawall allows the reader to hear the author’s thoughts and share his feelings about his children, losing his wife and his own personal losses allowing the reader to reflect on their own.

But, there are positives in his life and his son Jordan brings the light out in the author’s eyes as he is watching him write a screenplay, decide on who is and is watching him find his way as an artist. The final chapter I would like to reflect on is I Really Don’t Know Me and I Really Don’t Know You as the author in this chapter reflects on his life, his downward spiral toward extinction as she says and realizing that he and is son are blind toward each other. Relating how he walked with his Uncle Seymour to the Jewish bakery to get a rye bread reminded me of sharing a rye bread as a child with my grandfather. What happens to the rye that his uncle bought was traumatic for the author and the total incident will explain why when you read it. He was also the cause of destroying his sense of trust when he tried to teach him how to swim and what happens will surprise you as he thought he was going to have swim lessons but instead he almost drown. Reflections on Rummaging rounds out the book and is the final essay is a final accounting of everything he reflects on in this book while sitting in his garage facing many boxes filled with his life’s history. But, this book allows you to rummage through the mind of this therapist, father, complex man and try and understand your own Mobius Strip If’s? What if we all thought the same way? What do you think would happen?

H. Colthup (Kent,UK) “honest and challenging”

This review is from: This Möbius Strip of Ifs (Paperback)

This is a fascinating collection of essays that at times is almost too intimately honest; as if you’ve come across someone’s private diaries by accident. Mathias Freese does not hold back with his thoughts and insights as he looks back over his life and experiences. Often I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, and in fact one essay, ‘Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers’ ends with Vonnegut’s famous line, “And so it goes.” Throughout the collection we are reminded that Freese’s background is both as an English teacher and as a psychotherapist – all provide material for him to draw upon and sometimes rail against. An accomplished short story writer, Freese’s ‘Seawall’ essays flirt with storytelling as we learn more about his family. His Grandma Fanny jumps right off the page and left me wanting to know more about this woman, her ability to speak several languages, her exotic youth when she was a ‘Rubenesque fleshpot’, and her final ‘bag lady’ existence. Uncle Seymour, however, scared me more than a little, particularly as he almost drowned Freese as a child and left him unable to swim, his sense of trust ‘forever damaged’. This collection is not an entirely easy read – that is not to say it isn’t well written, quite the reverse. However, Freese does not shy away from confronting the reader with uncomfortable truths; regardless of whether the reader agrees or not, Freese does not hold back. I was reminded of conversations with my elderly father-in-law whose politics and attitudes I don’t entirely share but I still like the man. I didn’t agree with a great deal of Freese’s opinions, but my word, it was refreshing to read. These days editorial policies and public sensibilities (certainly here in the UK) necessitate a certain amount of bland inoffensiveness. The internet, supposedly the last bastion of true free speech gives us opinion beaten down by political correctness or stamped on by nasty minded trolls. Freese, within the pages of ‘This Mobius Strip of Ifs’ allows his honest opinions space to be explored and supported by his life experience and his wide reading; no polite editorial, no safe vanilla sound-bites, and most importantly by being a good old fashioned printed book there’s no opportunity for a drive-by trolling. Want to disagree and argue the toss with Mr Freese’s thoughts? Then do it the old fashioned way by reading the book and get into a heated debate face to face with someone. This is a book I shall be sharing with my reader friends not because I loved it, I didn’t, but it challenged my ideas and beliefs in a way that a book hasn’t for a long time.

The Best Review Ever of This Mobius Strip of Ifs by David Fraser, Poet

Review on AscentAsperations.com

This Möbius Strip of Ifs, a collection that is part memoir, part essay, evolves in the reading into a philosophical treatise on how to live life with awareness and inner freedom. Mathias B. Freese uses the möbius strip as a metaphor for unknown possibilities and he rants, philosophizes and reminiscences on many parts of his life—his upbringing, his careers as teacher, therapist and writer and also as a son, father, and spouse who has experienced his fair share of tragedy.

Many of us growing up in the aftermath of the Second World War, being in the first wave of the baby boomers have experienced much of what Freese speaks about. This writer certainly has and he to has worked in the teaching profession and has been a writer all his life. Freese speaks of having to struggle, to persevere, of being a sensitive child, ill-nurtured by his parents, of being conditioned to conform through schooling. He sees himself as an outsider with a tragic sense of life but still remains optimistic that things can change.

Whether he is ranting about blogger critics, reflecting on the Holocaust, remembering old movies and movie stars such as Buster Keaton and Peter Lorrie, railing against the conspiracies of schooling, and the state of the human condition or sinking into deep personal familial pain, his themes (personal discontent, questioning authority, pain, the question of existence, the struggle, the stumbling, recovering and stumbling again, the endurance, perseverance, and the reaching and going beyond what one is) are replayed and reworked so that by the time you have digested the collection, you come upon the broad sweeping statement of who is Mathias B. Freese and he is in many ways like all of us if we are examining our lives rather than sleep walking. Although this reviewer has a different set of memories, and different pathways to the future, much of what is said resonates. There are moral, philosophical and spiritual truths to be gleaned.

Freese says “The anonymous soul does not need his or her fifteen minutes of fame.” Interesting that one of his earliest writing successes came in a publication of a short story anthologized in The Best American Short Stories of 1975, but was unfortunately attributed to another writer. Freese didn’t receive those fifteen minutes of fame but he says, “it is my very anonymity (thank you Ms. Foley) that I can remain steadfast, honest and true.”

At 67 he questions what it is he wants from aging and like many his age, ponders and questions more spiritual and philosophical things, while seizing the day as time flies. In an essay “Untidy Lives, I Say to Myself”, he comes to realize that the untidy lives of the aimless creatures of humanity are messy and without purpose. The search for meaning for him may not be the question but rather it is sufficient “just to be” and to be in the flow of it all, profoundly awake as Krishnamurti says.

In a couple of essays on his teaching experiences and the state of American schooling, he becomes quite vitriolic, and rightly so, for much of American schooling, (not teaching; there is a difference) is profoundly flawed. He rants against the industrial, factory model of education that certainly came into being after WW2 and has persisted despite much proven psychological research into what “learning” is. He laments the situation where students “are asleep in life”, where a teacher is “fated to fill up rather than draw them out.” He sees schooling as internal conditioning where individuals learn to “fit in, adjust, adapt, go to college, and go to work,” leaving school as “a fixture of society.”

In speaking about therapy he picks up similar themes. “Some of us move through life in sloppy fashion, never fully dressed for the occasion.” He sees individuals in society as “obsessed with peripherals and false needs.” It is ironic that we are so focused on financial matters that we neglect the psychological, spiritual and emotional needs within our lives. Studies have found that it is the inherent actions of parents, what they do, not whether they read to their children every night, or hover over them as they do their homework, or how much money they lavish on their children, that determines what those children do with their future lives. Many of us are struck by what our children have absorbed from us by our very own actions in daily life as they were growing up. Freese says, “Perhaps the best inheritance you can give to close ones is the way in which you lived, as opposed to how well you saved and planned.” This reviewer’s parents frugally scrimped and saved after having lived through the depression and the Second World War and the depressed state of Britain for ten years after that war, and he would have rather had a different kind of inheritance, one more grounded in spirituality and emotion, one that was denied him and them, because they felt all they could do was survive.

In “Personal Posturings: Yahoos and Bloggers”, Freese rants about blog critics who posture and pretend to be educated and well-read. He amusingly sees them as “Costco customers rummaging through jeans or sneakers.” One can identify here. A book review should only be written to enhance and further the book. Why write a bad review? If a book is bad, then silence should tell the tale. Why clutter up the internet or waste ink?

Freese writes about the Holocaust but also writes about the small “h” holocaust that he considers he experienced growing up. What resonates is worth noting for all of us is that one goal for each of us, can be “to arrive at self-awareness free of society’s mores, religious injunctions, and personal fears.” He concludes that “The bravest of us all are those who do not need systems—fascism, to wit—not religions or cults.” He sees religions as man-made straitjackets and in the context of the Holocaust and the “Never Again” cry that we, humans, have inside us an innate capacity for cruelty. And he comes to realize that “we should begin to help our children to see inwardly—psychologically, emotionally, perceptively, and intuitively—to see themselves clearly as creatures capable of great wrath.” In “A Spousal Interview” Freese sees mankind as an “evolutionary misfit, or anomaly who is the same inside his skull as CroMagnon man. This seems so pessimistic, but he realistically says, “We need to examine our animal selves for what we can tame or domesticate and to learn what we cannot safely harness, such as war.” And he gives us good advice in such a world view. “If you want a measure of life in its existence, find love, find meaningful work; the rest is illusion.”

Freese talks about artists not being valued because they “show life in process, in action and in deed and this is always threatening.” In his more personal essays dealing with family members and tragedy, he returns to the struggles, the struggles of his daughter to endure and go on as she suffers from Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome and tells us how writing for her chisels out and defines who she is, just as in the myth of Sisyphus and his never-ending struggle defines him as well.

All in all, despite Mathias’ existentialism—“It is cold out there, comically cold; it is lonely out there, very lonely; and we have only choices to make, often tragic ones”—he leads us to some profound truths about how to live a life. He says “The glory of each day is in its being and for that I am joyous.” He advocates that we rummage for ourselves, analyze our lives, live in the moment, de-condition ourselves, be anarchist against conformity and above all struggle to chisel out and define who we really are. This book although deeply personal, is also an open-ended journey for learning to live with awareness and inner freedom.

Amazon

Mathias B. Freese is an award-winning essayist and author of The i Tetralogy, a fiction about the Holocaust which has garnered remarkable praise around the world (2007 Allbooks Editors Choice Award), the weight of his twenty-five years as a psychotherapist comes into play as he demonstrates a vivid understanding — and compassion –toward the deviant and damaged.

David Fraser lives in Nanoose Bay. His poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Rocksalt, An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry. He has published four collections of poetry, most recently Caught in My Throat, and a book of poetry and poetics titled On Poetry, with Naomi Beth Wakan. He is a member of the Canadian League of Poets and is currently the Regional Rep for the Islands for the Federation of BC Writers.

Book Review – Writer’s Block Party!

by Lisa Taylor of Writer’s Block Party posted March 27, 2012.

I just want to share with you a sample of the description given for this book on amazon:

“In this impressive and varied collection of creative essays, Mathias B. Freese jousts with American culture. A mixture of the author’s reminiscences, insights, observations, and criticism, the book examines the use and misuse of psychotherapy, childhood trauma, complicated family relationships, his frustration as a teacher, and the enduring value of tenaciously writing through it all. Freese scathingly describes the conditioning society imposes upon artists and awakened souls. Whether writing about the spiritual teacher, Krishnamurti, poet and novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, or film giants such as Orson Welles and Buster Keaton, the author skewers where he can and applauds those who refuse to compromise and conform.”

When I first read about this book, I got the impression that it would either be wonderful or terrible. Either the author would be intelligent enough that he could effectively and from solid ground “joust with American culture,” or he couldn’t and the book would read as a giant whine-fest that lacked credibility. As you can tell by my rating, he clearly has the brains to back this book up.

Now, I didn’t agree with all of his essays, but agreeing isn’t the point. Where would the world be if we all only read or listened to things we agreed with? Other times I agreed so strongly that I slapped the book down on the table in the break room at work and cried “Thank you,” or laughed at the accuracy of his sometimes extremely entertaining name calling. As I read I often wished Mr. Freese were sitting there next to me so that I could make counter points and discuss his views further. What better kind of non-fiction is there?

This book doesn’t have a specific genre. The author discusses everything from generational problems in education, to human nature and living in the moment, to the horrid hypocrisy of book bloggers (and yes, I quite enjoyed that one!) Growing up, I spent many hours in philosophical, scientific and logical conversations about many of the same topics with my father. As an adult, often in conversation with others I will mention a concept, like the purpose and illusion of religion or the horror of a teacher who says “Don’t worry about that, it won’t be on the test,” just to draw confounded stares. I often forget that most people did not spend their childhood philosophizing late into the night, and I feel like many of the ideas in this book will be novel to them. If you’re one that likes to contemplate the world around you and question even the most basic assumptions…this book will spark all kinds of things for you to think about. But if you are one who DOES NOT take time to contemplate the world you live in…you NEED to read this book. It may very well plant a seed to help you grow in ways you never imagined.

Let me caution you though – this is not a book to CONVINCE anyone. There are no lists of facts to support views, there are no step by step logical arguments. I honestly got the impression that Mr. Freese couldn’t care less if I believed him, and that is partially what made his book so compelling. His essays use emotion as much as reason to make his point, which at times annoyed me; not necessarily because emotion is bad, but because one must always be vigilant to ensure their emotions aren’t manipulated to a view point that does not actually make sense to them. (think of any politician’s speech…ever.) That distrust of emotional appeal may be as much a flaw in myself as much as the book, though. Most people LIKE emotion, and this will be a positive for them and help them relate to otherwise abstract concepts.

The book reads like a piece of art. His writing is complex and tiered so that meaning upon meaning can hide inside the words for you to explore, and yet it reads smoothly. I generally take a long time to read non-fiction because every chapter or so I have to stop, process, take notes, think and otherwise LEARN what I have just read. I think I read This Mobius Strip of Ifs faster than any other non fiction book I have tackled, because it read artistically; not like a science book. It drew me in as any good fiction novel does. Was the grammar perfect? No. Were there misspellings? Probably, although usually it was hard to tell if a word was misspelled or just invented. These things didn’t matter though – it reads like a conversation, and he is very well-spoken.

This book deserves more than one reading. I’m certain that in one pass I haven’t gleaned all or even most of what Mr. Freese has stored there for me. But instead of it being a chore, I am already looking forward to the time I read this book again…I’m willing to bet you will too.

As a side note, a möbius strip is basically a ribbon or strip of paper that is twisted once and then glued together at the ends. It is a simple thing to do, but a very interesting mathematical concept in that a line drawn from one end to the other will go around the ribbon twice before meeting its beginning. It is a concept often used in higher mathematics, chaos theory, and fractals and it is startlingly relevant to this collection of essays. Attempting to understand the world around one’s self is a bit like trying to understand chaos. Our lives and who we are is a culmination of an infinite number of details and exact circumstances at every instant. Any alteration in these could have yielded unrecognizable current circumstances. As his title suggests, we cannot truly come to understand how and why the world is how it is, (the culmination of a möbius strip of ifs) but only approach understanding through constant growth and analysis of our life and ourselves.

2 Responses to Book Review – This Möbius Strip of Ifs

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    Lisa — It is a rare for an author to be reviewed with such insight. It really is more than that — it is an empathetic and knowing response. I am thinking of Dickens — “What larks, Pip, what larks.”
    Matt Freese

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