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.
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.