I patted myself on the back after finishing This Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias Freese. I felt challenged and smarter from the brain exercise. Freese turned his philosophical essays into a book—not a memoir, but readers will know who he is, how and what he thinks, and read some very personal stories about him and his family. Essays can be a fulfilling type of lifewriting since they can delve deeply into the heart and mind of a person. They can be written advice and explanation to children and grandchildren.
Freese was a high school teacher, then a psychotherapist. He’s had a childhood without much love. He is very honest about himself, befitting as he espouses the goal of becoming self-aware—stop sleeping through your life! The first section of the book covers his philosophies about the education system, therapy, the Holocaust, the words on the Jefferson Memorial, whatever he’s had experience in or finds meaning in. He weaves his stories into his essays. The second section (Metaphorical Noodles) contains his thoughts about a few favorite movies and actors (mostly older). In the final section, Freese gets more personal and writes eloquently and poignantly about his family. He’s crusty, but he values love.
What’s a Mobius strip, you ask? It is a ribbon twisted and attached end-to-end to form a continuous strip, there is no front or back or end! It is an exciting curiosity to mathematicians and physicists (and a useful concept in factory assembly lines). Freese’s wife writes in the foreword that to her husband it is a metaphor for possibilities outside our perception. “We can only remember the past and how we thought our future might have been.”
“I see this book as a statement of who I am,” writes Freese. He says it is a “powerful and nourishing feeling for me to have paused long enough to have observed the passage of time and my place in it.” I found many philosophical “truths” in his book that I wanted to highlight in yellow.
I recommend this book for those interested in writing their own philosophical essays as a legacy for their families, and for those who enjoy intellectual discourse. You don’t have to agree with Freese, but he will provoke you to think about your responses. Likewise, your family doesn’t have to agree with you, hopefully they will be interested in what you have to say about life, what you’ve learned from your experiences, and so discover who you are.
Thanks for telling us about this book. I’m a great fan of personal essay and find it far better suited for exploring some topics than simply sharing experience. I appreciate your reminder that it is a legitimate and powerful branch of life writing.
I like personal essay, too, Sharon, as well as lifewriting made up of short stories. Essays run the risk of being boring to strangers who wouldn’t care what an unknown somebody thought about this and that, but still great for family books. Mathias’s essays are musings pertinent to anyone, and triggered by pieces of his life story. He merged essay and lifewriting so well.
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