This Möbius Strip of Ifs
by Mathias B. Freese
(Wheatmark / 1604947233 / 978-1604947236 / February 2012 / 186 pages / $10.95 / Kindle $9.99)
Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM
Mathematician and physicist Clifford A. Pickover has called the Möbius strip “a metaphor for change, strangeness, looping and rejuvenation.” Like the surface of a Möbius strip, the thirty-six essays folded into This Möbius Strip of Ifs ultimately have no front or back or beginning or end because Mathias B. Freese views his life, his work and his world as a continuous and open-ended process of awareness without the conventional limitations of meaning or dogma.
In “Untidy Lives, I Say to Myself,” Freese writes “That awareness of the moment or the one after that is about all this old man wants at this point in his life. I am working—by not working—on being ‘spot on’—love that phrase. A pastrami sandwich and a good pickle and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda is an epiphany for me if I am aware of it.”
Like the other eighteen essays in Part I, Knowledge is Death growing out of Freese’s experiences as a writer, teacher and psychotherapist, “Untidy Lives” explores the raw awareness and infinite potentialities open to individuals who risk true autonomy. The “risk,” as Jane Holt Freese suggests in her introduction, is that “to know who we are requires that we ‘die’ to many ideas we have about ourselves. Paradoxically, this ‘death’ quickens awareness, makes us more alive and sensitive.”
In “Teachers Have No Chance to Give Their Best” and “The Unheard Scream,” Freese—who taught for twenty-two years before becoming a therapist—decries the fact that school systems don’t provide environments conducive to learning. We have regimentation and conformity with energy being “siphoned off into empty rituals” in a system that conditions students and teachers to accept rote truths rather than to explore oneself without boundaries.
In “Jefferson,” Freese describes the profound and lasting impact of reading the words inscribed in the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial during a college-years Washington, D. C. visit: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
“I felt I was Moses before the burning bush, on hallowed ground,” writes Freese, “as those words were inscribed in flame into my mind—alas, not my heart. I etched them info myself. I have never forgotten them.”
Readers of these essays may infer that Jefferson’s words opposing a Constitutionally recognized state religion became for Freese, if not a mantra, a Möbius-strip axiom that threaded its way in loops within loops through every aspect of his life and work. Jefferson’s influence is certainly apparent when, in “Introductory Remarks on Retirement from a Therapist” and “Therapist as Artist: A Short Talk to the Stony Brook Psychological Society.” In Freese’s view (and no doubt in Jefferson’s) therapists help clients find self-truths rather than conditioning them to adapt to society’s truths because “society is essentially corrupt and corrupting.” The therapist, then, sees life as an artist sees life.
In addition to Jefferson, the truths of Jiddu Krishnamurti, Nikos Kazantzakis and Albert Camus weave the essays in This Möbius Strip together into a unified whole. Freese is the Freese he is not only because of his parents’ lack of parenting and the personal suffering following the loss of a daughter and a wife, but because of his formless evaluation and appreciation of the work of these men. Their spirits remain close at hand in the Freese’s essays about education, therapy, writing and book reviewing and the Holocaust in Part I, Knowledge is Death as well as in the film essays in Part II, Metaphorical Noodles and the family recollections in Part III, The Seawall.
Freese’s Metaphorical Noodles celebrate the work of passionate actors and filmmakers who fought for artistic freedom in a movie business that pushed conformity with the same fervor as school systems and preachers: Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre, Federico Fellini, Orson Welles, and Clint Eastwood. Freese’s The Seawall celebrates family, from his daughter Caryn, who committed suicide in 1998, after a long battle with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) to his wife Rochelle, who died in an automobile accident in 1999, to his “wayfarer” Grandma Fanny and World War II veteran Uncle Seymour.
In the final essay, “Reflections on Rummaging,” Freese summarizes everything else in this astute and profoundly engaging collection of essays while sitting in his garage with several boxes containing the collected records and mementos of a lifetime when he thinks that the riches and adventures of the world can’t give him what he needs most: “To enter into a moment of awareness—I’m not greedy—in which I can feel and experience congruity with myself.”
Somewhat cautionary, occasionally prescriptive, and always uncompromising and unapologetic, This Möbius Strip of Ifs offers readers the observations of one man’s lifetime of bucking the system and seeking a harmonious environment for the ever-awakening psyche within.Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of four novels, including the contemporary fantasy “Sarabande.”