Thursday, April 18, 2013
G80 This Möbius Strip of Ifs
Name of Book: This Möbius Strip of Ifs
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. A psychotherapist for twenty-five years, Freese conveys a unique combination of psychodynamic thinking and Eastern philosophy while examining Existentialism, alternative education, and Jewish values. His award-winning novel, The i Tetralogy, is a groundbreaking contribution to Holocaust literature and a critically acclaimed work of "undying artistic integrity." His short story collection, Down to a Sunless Sea, was published in 2008. 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.
Year it was published: 2013
Overall theme: "A Möbius strip is essentially a ribbon with a twist. A mathematical model, it is used as a metaphor by physicists to describe why we, living within four dimensions, are unable to perceive other dimensions outside of the single boundary of time. To Freese it is a metaphor for unknown opportunities- possibilities outside of our perception. We can only remember the past and how we thought our future might have been." (xv)
Author: Mathias B. Freese
About the Author:
A psychotherapist for 25 years, Mathias B Freese conveys a unique combination of psychodynamic thinking and Eastern philosophy while examining existentialism, alternative education, and Jewish values. His award-winning novel, The iTetralogy, is a groundbreaking contribution to Holocaust literature. His short story collection, Down to a Sunless Sea, was published in 2008.
Part One: "Knowledge is Death"-Nietzsche
1. To Ms. Foley, with Gratitude
In 1974, Freese attempted to publish a story, but by mistake it came out under a different name. When he wrote and informed Martha Foley about it, she promised to correct him but died before she could do so. Freese reflects a little on his life and loss of his wife and daughter and how a kind note from the editor held him up during rejections of his manuscript and so forth. In life there is no resolution but only endless struggle.
2. At 67
He reflects and asks himself what he gets from becoming older. He reflects on his son Jordan, how he has changed physically and how he still sees himself as a young man instead of the one he truly is. There is slight humor in the book when he describes his physical appearance, and also he reflects on his accomplishment, how at last two of his books were published.
3. Untidy Lives, I Say to myself
At first he discusses February and how its both a happy and a sad month relating to his now dead wife Rochelle. He briefly describes slight background of what February means, then moves on to talking about how mind and bodies shouldn't be separated and how life is ultimately messy and there is no meaning in life besides just "being." The essay concludes with a letter he received from a former student and how he changed her life.
4. Teachers have no chance to give their best
He begins the essay about students who don't know who King Kong is. Then he goes on into how students are ignorant and that they lack knowledge of film and of books. All students focus on is getting ahead and that the creativity in schools is being killed. He then moves on to talking about teachers and how schools are declining because they're not demanding anything from the students. He calls for action and for people to begin to care.
5. The Unheard Scream
The quote I like from the essay is this "After all, the teaching profession does not attract the best because it does not encourage what is best in us." (17) He then writes a letter to students pointing out how people often look towards other to understand ourselves, and he encourages students to ask themselves why they are here and what will they do during this brief stay on earth.
6. Introductory remarks on retirement from a therapist
The essay begins with one of the clients obsessing with the money he has to gain for his unborn child's future, and then goes on to something a therapist should know, how one should encourage someone to arrive at a truth themselves rather than being told what to do or think. The author then mentions how odd that people are obsessed with finances instead of the human relationships, and uses an example of a survivor of Holocaust, of how she was poor but instead of obsessing about finances and so forth, she focused on the here and now, and when she dies, she leaves an estate of good memories rather than wealth.
In 1960, his mother died of uterine cancer and for the first time in his life, he travels to Washington DC and visits the Jefferson memorial, "Of all the monuments, the Jefferson Memorial attracted my attention, more welcoming breast than the phallus of the Wahsington Monument. I came to nurse." (24) He also vowed to memorize the words carved on Jefferson Memorial. He mentions how these words permeated through everything he did. There is drawback that 18th century man vested too much in intellect and reason. He then imagines Tom and Freud trying to free men from reason and unconscious and in the end reason is not all its cracked up to be.
8. Freud's Cheerful Pessimism
When he was in his 20s, he read Peter Gay's biography of Freud and mentions what impressed him the most about the book. In his 40s, he begins college and gets an instructor that talks negatively about Freud's attitudes towards women. When asked to provide which works of his talk this way, the instructor is not able to mention them. The author is impressed by Freud and describes a little of the lifestyle. Freud will not go away and more accomplishments of his are mentioned and how the author is in awe of Freud. The author managed to procure some of Freud's works and enjoyed reading them. Freud tackled many issues. Mathias shares two anecdotes and ends with a reason why he likes Freud.
9. Therapist as Artist: A Short Talk to the Stony Brook Psychology Society
He begins this essay this quote "The therapist is defined as someone who is an artist." (32) and goes on to list what makes the therapist an artist. He then moves on what's needed to tell the truth to a patient, to use the experiences from life, think of how the patient impacts you, also engage as well as motivate, learn from patients, "therapy is not method, but process." (34). He moves on to encourage people to not be disciples but to "die" to the forces such as philosophies, causes and so forth. At last he recommends the books he has enjoyed.
10. Ten Canon
He feels that healing can be obtained through the following ten canon, an article that he leaves in his waiting room. The points: Capacity to delay gives perspective, Registering, to not be asleep in life, to know what we feel before we say or act upon it, we really don't know/feel ourselves, and so we live quietly and desperately, it takes a fair share of our lives before we can see into our society, the magisterial consequence of "no" as it provides limits and boundaries, self-esteem is the scree, rock and earth at a mountain's base, the raw particles of day to day life really tell us what Nietzsche knew, that knowledge is death, and stay within your natural self. He follows these by brief summaries, asking us to examine our lives.
11. Fifteen Thousand Hours
He begins to discuss a student's thoughts, then mentions how a student will self destruct. The fantasies of the student's future continue on, mostly dark fantasies. He attributes these to neglect and loneliness. People need less dependence not more, and he tries to help them. He also advises to stay away from the system. Eventually the student leaves, and the author gives this quote "We all need help, and we each need to learn to create it, to give it-and most of all, to take it in." (41)
12. Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers
In junior high the author bought an abridged copy of Gulliver's Travels that he didn't appreciate until college, and he briefly describes the people and actions that inhabit such a book. Definition of a Yahoo (I do hope I don't fall into that category...) "I'll define Yahoo as a lout, brute and coarse human being, the term itself derived from Swift's Gulliver's Travels." (42) He then begins to describe his opinion on blogers, first with book challenges, then mentions quality is better than quantity. "Consequently a part of blogging is the 'challenge' and is yahoo-ism of an 'intellectual' kind." (43) He continues to describe bloggers in negative terms and retells some personal experiences he has with bloggers. "THis howl has sadi it all up to this point. I have no sweeping generalization to amek except that blogs simply are cyber-visuals of peacock strutting human beings, some of whom imagine tehy are literary critics. And so it goes." (47)
13. An Artist is Never Poor
At 57, he self-published a novel and mentions that no one at all cares about that fact. He moves on to discussing why he self-published, then veers off into Melville and Egypt, and then talks about the ultimate choice he decides to self-publish: "I self-publish to announce I am here, for I will soon be gone." (49) he then gives other reasons for writing, such as calm down, and to see constancy in life. Ultimately, he is the only audience he cares about.
14. In First-Person
The stories that the author writes are mostly in first person. Third person narratives for him are rare. For most of his life he put aside his creative endeavors to take care of his family. "I favor telling my tales from first person because the tales themselves are disguises for all the issues that have assailed me over these decades." (51) He mentions importance of details, and goes back to the time he took a class in Greenwich Village given by Marguerite Young. He then moves on to when he's reading his book, The i Tetralogy and impact of details in there. He briefly describes his childhood then goes on into his present woes, and why its odd that he likes first person narrative instead of a third person.
15. On Reading Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great
He begins saying that if psychotherapy should be properly used, it is destined to destroy a lot of things about the patient. Krishnamurti helped him learn about the world. Due to this, he can see through conditioning. He begins discussing and wondering how Sean Hannity might be if he was free from the christian myths. The book that he's reviewing caused him to rethink everything again, and he describes more people that go after religion. He mentions a conversation he had with a friend who still believe in jesus. "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." (58)
16. On the Holocaust
Chaplain McCroy asked him to speak in 2007, and he mentioned that today he has to be careful and to speak with truth and force. He mentions some of the writer's tasks, such as to see, to speak from the heart and to get truth free of conditioning and self-censorship. "One scholar wisely compared the Holocaust to a terrible train wreck; people wounded, dead, some wandering about in pain and confusion. It depends where you are in the train wreck; this determines your perspective, your feelings." (59) In his opinions, people are not experts on themselves much less than Holocaust. He goes on how people must remember on this particular day. He also mentions some observations, that man is a killer, altruists are rare and man is a forgetful creature and the man repeats. In truth, you don't know who will do what. He goes about how Man has a Nazi inside of him, and gives caution against ourselves, how schools should teach children to see inwardly.
17. Trains= Holocaust and Other Observations, Railfans
Discussion of trains that were used to deposit Jews at death camps, followed by a discussion from his novel titled Tetralogy about a character titled Gunther and the obsession of trains that the author has as well as Gunther, how no one knew the truth about it. He then goes back further in time recalling how his uncles bought trains for him 50 some years ago as well as how much he enjoyed the trains. To get more money for Bar Mitzvah, the train set is sold. He feels the need to go back to that particular hobby and he begins to buy things about trains on ebay. He then recites a poem from his book, Gunther's Lament.
18. Glut and Loathing in Las Vegas
The author and his wife Jane go to an auction that's described as extremely wealthy. Description of the wealth follows. The auction continued and the items that normally were expensive went for less expensive, which frustrated the auctioneer and the wealthy couple. He sees the governments such as communism, capitalism and socialism as failures and hates them. More description of emotions felt at an auction. Criticism of Peter Max and a brief description of mother and daughter who spent over 60,000 dollars. He compares the auction to Animal Farm pigs. He was shocked at how much the mother and daughter spent and gives more criticism. Besides random chance, there really is no difference between him and the mother and daughter team.
19. A Spousal Interview
His wife interviews and asks him questions, one is why he's pessimistic about the progress, which he explains as Manifest Destiny is a myth. "Man does not improve; he hasn't done so in fifty centuries. What may or may not improve is his physical environment, his societal, economic, socilogical, psychological milieu." (72) She asks him to go more into the detail of the "non-rational response," and he tends to travel back to childhood, to examples of religion and myths. Wife asks about the men traits he admires in some men, and he responds by saying they're all artists and mentions how much he admires Kazantzakis. She asks if he has any women he likes and he says yes and no, and admits to a struggle he has with his own mother. She asks him about his definition of success and he says its in the eyes of the beholder and on values he has. She then asks why he wrote this book and to whom its targeted and what he hopes readers will gain from it. He replies that he hopes his future kin will look through, that its a summary of who he is, he cares not for marketing of the book, and he writes it for himself. His wife points out he's not fond of America, and he replies that its random he happens to be an American and he identifies as an American as a fourth or fifth and he will forever be critical of America. She points out that he refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag as a teacher and wants to know why. He replies that he used to be serious about, then he began an examination of students' response to the flag and he discusses conditioning of people. She asks what's there to be proud of and he replies that people haven't evolved beyond that yet and lists some accomplishments of Judaism and mentions how he can't give it up yet. She asks him what psychotherapy accomplished for him and he at first describes what he was like when he began therapy and how a shrink took advantage of him and how he tried to avoid her mistakes. She asks why did psychotherapy appeal to him if he had a bad treatment by his first shrink? He replies that its because the process intrigued him. She asks him for the connection between psychotherapy and writing and he says its being open-minded and to be free. She asks him what he wants to write about, and he says "a novel about transcendence. A spiritual work of a kind. Wouldn't that be loverly? I have this transcendent urge-shit in me." (90)
Part Two: Metaphorical Noodles
20. Buster Keaton
He and his wife start to enjoy Buster Keaton and he begins to assemble a montage about Keaton a few months after watching his dramas. He learned of the actor through The Buster Keaton Story and mentions that the movie helped Buster buy a house for his last wife. He begins to praise Keaton, giving many interesting facts about him and of his life. "I argue that Keaton's work is an immense metaphor for how we deal with everyday life- making a mess of it in a messy, disparate existence. Who of us dies whole?" (96)
21. Peter Lorre: Emigre, Star of M
The author watched a movie titled M where Peter Lorre played a child molester, and the author follows that with description of the scenes and Lorre's personality and impact of the movie on other actors. Peter Lorre's life is briefly described as well as some of the films he starred in and so is his personality. The author deeply admires Peter Lorre.
22. On La Dolce Vita
In 1960 the author saw La Dolce Vita for the first time. He describes the movie as complex and something he appreciates. He goes on into some particular scenes, and mentions that the only moving scene is with Marcello and the father. The ending for him was confusing, and is best described as psychological.
23. Orson Welles in Heaven
He begins with saying that Steven Spielberg helped kill Orson and writes about a meeting (imaginary, maybe, not sure) about them meeting and a sled and a conversation they had. The section is also where the author supposes what Orson would do should he continue to live longer. The author then imagines Orson Welles' life in heaven, what he would do and what he would be given. The ending of the essay is somewhat mournful as events are impacted in real life.
24. Free Associations
Last evening the author saw Gran Torino by Eastwood, and commences with a brief biography of Eastwood, such as his directorial career with Play Misty for Me then he moves on to talking about slight associations in movies and then to a story he's writing titled Sojourner which he's trying to bring back to life. This gets him to reflect on his life; why he became a therapist, and the associations in his writing with the life. He continues on with how people are living lies and how to school is to condition. ]
25. Things Kazantzakis
There are three kinds of souls as well as three prayers, and he mentions how he favors the third one, "overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break!" (109) He begins to praise Kazantzakis and gives biographical information about him such as the fact he was friends with Krishnamurti, and the books Kazantzakis wrote and so forth. He also relates an experience where Kazantzakis asks his grandfather to give him a task, and at first it was reach what you can, which dissatisfied him, then it was reach what you cannot, which Kazantzakis felt good about.
26. Babbling Books and Motion Pictures
What I would guess, the author will give a list of the books and things that impacted his thinking and feeling such as bibliographical essays, Krishnamurti, Education and the Significance of Life, The FLight of the Eagle, The Awakening of Intelligence, Sartre, Miller's Death of a Salesman, Moliere, Conrad's The Lagoon, Crane's The Open Boat, Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, Harlan ellison, Sherwood Anderson, Mary Renault, The Nigger of the Narcissus, Freud, Nikos Kazantzakis, Mailer, Stendahl, Buber, Camus, John Hersey, Swift, Elias Canetti, St Exupery, Loren Eiseley, and Harold Lamb. After the descriptions of works, he turns to movies such as The Thief of Baghdad, Citizen Kane, The Search, The Man in the White Suit, Bitter Rice, The Red House, The Thing, Song of the South, The Pawnbroker, The Wild Bunch, and The Shape of Things to Come.
Part Three: The Seawall
27. About Caryn
The author talks about his daughter who suffers from CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome,) and of her difficult life as well as willingness to go on and how much she suffers from having this disease. Her childhood and adolescence are described as difficult, and she fears the abandonment. He also describes how their relationship became closer.
28. I Had a Daughter Once
The author begins with describing a daughter who committed suicide at age of 34, and how only her flesh embedded itself everywhere and that nothing could take it off. "When I come to die, all memories die. Many people die when each of us dies. In effect, cemeteries have no real purpose. They exist for the literal among us." (128) He the begins to question about life and purpose humans have.
29. Brett, at Eleven
Brett Leslie is a daughter the author has, and he begins to talk about her at the age of eleven, how he must initiate kiss or an embrace, how she began to confide things to her mother instead of him. He then briefly mentions his son named Jordan and a mother can stay and watch them change while a father must always leave the room. There are things he can do for Brett, but he admits that he has no expectations and described himself as a softy. Brett's personality is also described in detail, that she cares a lot for homework, loves clutter, and reads book as if they matter. Brett also would like to be held.
30. Leaving Home
His son is five and is about to begin school. The author dreads the future, what it holds for him. His wife doesn't want to give him up to school. The author sees Jordan as struggling and feels bad about sending him to school because he knows what will happen to his child. He argues that school should be left an option instead of reality. He describes these things as a loss.
31. Cameras as Remembrances of Things Past
He begins with a description of the Kodak Bantam Camera and of how things moved from film to digital cameras. Childhood memories begin to creep in, of him, his sister and his father. He passed on the camera to his son Jordan, along with Nikon FE, which he bought in 1979 and used it for two decades, making sure to include himself in pictures. In 1999 Rochelle passed away and he had to find a new way to relate to his son. He imagines that the cameras are people who are talking about their own experiences. More descriptions of pictures and of himself are given. "Photography and writing are sisterly arts, one writes with light, and the other writes of life. Both reveal much more latently than manifestly- if one sees." (139) He goes on into contemplating death, and recalls the death of his mother from ovarian cancer and how tired he is of life.
32. I Really Don't Know Me and I Really Don't Know You
He and his son don't really know one another. For a while the author was in denial about his son. The author doesn't believe that people are in control of lives, and mentions questions that aren't really asked by others. After praising Existentialism, he goes on to tell a story in Latin America about a dissident who died honorably.
33. Parable of the Seawall
He has a realization that something has been done to him over the years. He feels that he is not his own self and cannot advance himself to experience the real him. He begins to describe his childhood, living in a veterans' housing project in Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn. One time while on the beach, he and a friendly innocently displace the seawall. His mother finds out and forced him to walk home barefoot, memories he believes he repressed. The punishment diminished him and he described experience as a meat being ground up in a grinder.
34. Grandma Fanny
She is described as a gypsy type that loved traveling from one apartment to another and didn't like to cook. She and her son-in-law didn't get along and she's a hoarder and is also described as a narcissist who didn't have time for her children. He goes on with further description of her such as where she worked and the way she ate food, also that she knew several languages such as Polish. One time when Grandma Fanny came for a visit, she took some clay and formed George Washington bust. She kept it and refused to give it to the author. The only time she showed affection was when buying tallith and phylacteries for his bar mitzvah. She died shortly after his mother's death.
35. Uncle Seymour
He sees something his uncle posted, his status in the army and briefly describes a song his uncle sang from The Firefly (1937). His uncle has a talent in singing and fought and killed SS troops during WWII. He married Aunt Ruth and is described as constantly wired. The author strongly found himself identifying with his uncle. His uncle fell ill with nephritis and when he was about five or six, Uncle Seymour tossed him a grenade that made him think it was alive. He recalls his uncle as a prankster or a singer helping with the morale, and he tells some stories of his uncle. There is also a story of the Bronze Star and how Seymour never talked or showed off by having it. "The bravest of the brave need no medals." (158) Story of the Kraut is also shared. After the war Uncle Seymour had a business and tried to support his family. He even damaged the author's sense of trust by lying about teaching him to swim and abandoning him. This is something the author cannot forgive him for that.
36. Reflections on Rummaging
He goes into garage and goes through the papers and life, mentioning things he has kept such as stories, letters, rejection slips and so forth. He tears up a coroner's report of his dead wife Rochelle, recalls his childhood between 1940 to 1951 and how much can happen in-between. He also recalls on the years he taught and shares an anecdote by a student who went to Harvard and was very rude and obnoxious, but in the end the author did teach him something. He has a realization that he likes being a loner. "Rummaging has brought this to me. I believe that material things, although fun and pleasurable, could not give me anything for they are ephemera. All this is temporary fun." (163)
Quick notes: I would like to thank the author for the opportunity to read and review the book.
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)