The idea of a möbius strip is an interesting one. It’s a surface that has only one side and only one boundary component. It’s curious because it is so interconnected. If one were to trace the length of the outer surface with a pen, one would eventually end up at the beginning again without ever having to lift the pen from the surface. This has a great allegorical value, as you could view life in the same way: one continuous path that twists into itself and ultimately brings you back to where you started from. In his work This Möbius Strip of Ifs, Mathias B. Freese follows this theme by compiling a group of short stories that he penned over the years, and reflect his musings on various parts of his life.
Freese’s stories take us through the many facets of his life, from his time as a high school English teacher to his work as a professional therapist to his struggles in publishing essays. Some works are retrospective, looking back on his life (At 76) while others focus on those close to him (The Unheard Scream, About Caryn). Freese often waxes philosophical, and has a great mind for analogy and juxtaposition. His writings are intellectual and have some wonderful truths interwoven among the text. It’s hard to pin down an overarching theme that bundles these essays together, but if I had to pick one it would be analysis of self and others. Freese has a critical eye which spares no expense when cutting to the core of what he feels, whether it be about himself, his marriage, or the goings on around him.
Perhaps I should have seen this coming, then, when I read the essay entitled Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers. In its initial volley, Freese compares bloggers to Yahoos, creatures created by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels that exemplify humans in their most basic and boorish form. He takes specific aim at bloggers who set goals, specifically goals about reading a certain number of books in a specific time. He labels this “the challenge.” The crux of his argument against bloggers is their inevitable lack of intelligence and appreciation for literature, where in reading and reviewing for a blog one could not fully appreciate the mastery which is contained within most classic novels. Additionally, we (as bloggers) cannot stand to review books and give them negative reviews; we would rather not review a book than write a negative review. Additionally (and finally) he describes blogs as an ego-centric outlet for a blogger to express an innate desire for the world to ogle them and post about every aspect of his or her life. Of course, Freese does write that he writes this all in hyperbole, but how much of this is exaggerated? Notwithstanding that this blog does encompass most of these things that Freese professes to hate, I tried to understand his point of view. Yes, I have seen blogs where reviewers are afraid to write negative reviews. Yes, I have seen blogs where there seem to be more posts about the blog’s author than about the subject matter the blog was supposedly created for. However, the one argument that really grinds my gears (Family Guy reference) is the generalization that most bloggers do not appropriately appreciate literature. Before writing for this blog, I was unaware at the breadth and depth of blogs that are devoted to literature in all its forms. The staggering amount of discussion (educated discussion, no less!) that is present in these blogs that brings a new and revitalized look into the works of literary giants of centuries of old (Austen, Brönte, Hemingway, Wells, Dickens, etc) is astounding. These very blogs are what is driving a new generation to explore these works and read them anew. Yes, we may not ponder and mull the significance of every passing page with a fine toothed comb, but I argue that the spirited discussions that arise from these readings are just as important as the words printed in these novels. Therefore, after I began writing for this blog and discovering this underground (so to speak) network of literary criticism, discussion, and general celebration of the printed word, I was thrilled to meet so many other people who share the same thoughts and feelings as I have. That is the point of blogs, to connect those who would otherwise never be connected, whether it be by distance, time, or any other metric. Blogs have the power to do all this and more.
So, after getting that off of my chest, I’d like to end on a positive note. One of the essays that I enjoyed the most was Introductory Remarks on Retirement from a Therapist. It has a great tone of retrospection, where Freese urges the reader to make the most of his or her life. I’ll end with my favorite quote from this essay:
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.
We cannot have it all, however un-American, during life, after life. What is obtainable is the intangible, if worked at- the imprint, the impression you make on others, perhaps what we mean as the soul. In a corporate state this has no value. So, choose.
3 out of 5 stars
This Möbius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese
eBook: 184 pages
Special thanks to Mr. Freese for sending me my review copy