Monday, April 30, 2012

Interview : Mathias B. Freese

Mathias B. Freese is a multifaceted personality who is a teacher, a psychotherapist and an author. I got a chance to read and review(here) one of his books -  'This Mobius Strip of Ifs' and was quite impressed by his writing style and the sincere way in which he has shared his life with his readers. 

It was a pleasure to conduct an e-interview with him for the readers of Literary Sojourn.

1. When did you start writing your experiences in the book form ? How has been the writing experience so far?

I have been writing since 1968, although at age eighteen my high school yearbook published a poem by me which was so misunderstood and so savagely edited that I didnt recognize it when it was in print. An English teacher got carried away and omitted the underlying theme of depression which I was experiencing when I wrote it. Unknowingly she compounded my resentment. It was the repressed Fifties, so what else is new? The next effort was ten years later in a short piece for an education journal which revealed or uncorked my disenchantment with teaching content in the classroom. After that my full-blown neurosis composed of despair, depression and rage revealed itself in 1974 when I had Herbie published, my first major short story. (See my first short story collection, Down to a Sunless See.) As you know the first essay in This Mobius Strip of Ifs , explores my serendipitous and synchronous adventure with that particular story. In any case after being listed with Mailer, Oates, Singer and other greats, I felt very encouraged and continued to write.
Rejections cooled my ardor but I never quit. Indeed, I promised myself that I would set out to write the best stories I could and at a later date have them published. This self-promise took thirty or so years. Characterologically this effort says so much more about me than as a writer. So as Spencer Tracy once said about Kathryn Hepburn in one of their collaborations, what there is of her is cherce. Consequently I dont quit. I persevere. The only audience I write for is me and if you like what I have written, so be it.

My writing experience can be extracted in a sense from Kazantzakiss epitaph: I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

2. What has this literary journey taught you and enriched you with?

Vibha, this question is the equivalent, as I think about it, of assessing my very life which by the way is what I have done on a regular basis over the years and decades, in short, pungent, I hope, open and feeling essays.  We are all born to be done away with. Again I go to an epitaph to help reflect, this time Epicurus: I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind. Much wisdom and therapy in that remark, for Epicurus, rightly so, believed that philosophy should be a kind of therapy.

But readers of this interview want something else, dont they, Vibha?  (Happy talk?) An aspect of myself is not to please others but that while I write I share my experience with you, with me first. I have enriched my literary journey, not the other way around. I give to my writing and I learn in that way to write better. Krishnamurti  famously said in one of his dialogues, The word is not the thing itself. So all my writing is just an approximation of what turmoil, tumult and insight I have about my human condition. As we all should know, to cite Christopher Hitchens, we are only partially rational, animal, and often savage at that, and our human genome controls the robot that we are.

3. Which has been your most satisfying writing experience so far?

The i Tetralogy, my extensive take on the Holocaust, represented much of who I am as a Jew and human being, of my growing up Jewish in America. In that novel I put all the skills, imagination and  heartfelt renderings I could about man. I have gone beyond Wiesels affirmation that indifference is not tolerable any longer. I have arrived at a different assessment based on my reading, psychotherapeutic experience, my atheism free of religious conditioning, the bane of civilization, and I have gone into the unexplored country. Man is out of control, always has been, genetically so! In a few years we all will be reading about evolutionary psychology, the additional scientific work based on Darwin’s theories which have emerged in the 90s. Dawkins, Dennett, Ridley, Wright will become well-known names, and what they have to report based on immense scientific studies can be summed up in Richard Dawkins words: “We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecule known as genes. This is a truth that still fills me with astonishment.” The Selfish Gene

Consequently writing about the Holocaust allowed me to examine the nature of man so genetically far beyond Hobbess short, nasty and brutish assessment.

This Mobius Strip of Ifs, I believe, has given me the most pleasure because I was freewheeling in my approach and many essays were written over four decades and reflected the thinking I had at different stages of my adult life. Upon reflection, the book is about the emergence of a self.  It was an assessment of myself and now at 71 I see where I had trod and what lay before me. Ironically it was you or someone else who wrote that the book was a profound self help one which, I feel, is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, this made me think and if it is so, that I have made others go back to my book, chew and digest it, that is a delightful gift to this writers life. My working hypothesis is that this book is from an inner directed person, and that is uncommon. Recently the American Psychiatric Association deleted Narcissism from its manual of disorders, DSM IV or V. That is, most Americans are now narcissistic and what was formerly a disorder is now the norm. All those learned interventions I had acquired for dealing with this disorder goes out the window. So when an American goes overseas and wants a house and insists that it have an American bathroom,  that kitchentop counters be made of granite,  that all appliances be stainless steel only testifies to our lunacy, not our so-called normalcy.  By the way, the essential trait of a narcissist is his or her emptiness, the rest is all bluff.

4. Are all the essays in 'Mobius Strip of Ifs' taken truthfully from your own life or do they have some fictional elements too? How comfortable do you feel opening your feelings in front of the world?

Easy to answer. My life is non-fiction. I will not play shrink here, but I gather individuals are uncomfortable with my openness. An English Academic, who I have 50 years on, cited this difference between English and American writers. Americans are into Whitman, Thoreau, Ginsburg  and British writers, except for Hitchens and a few others, are constipated, to be blunt. Brits, unlike Ginsburg, cannot howl. I can’t think of an English equivalent to Hart Crane. To make my point, this academic was displeased with my plumage. Oh I couldn’t care less because she cannot see through her own conditioning.

Having spent years in treatment and working on myself by reading Krishnamurti, I have no qualms about expressing my feelings openly, not disguised as in novels and short stories. The personal essay fits my personality and I use it as best I can. Think about this: the real task of a good shrink is to make the unconscious conscious and human beings have a terrible time arriving at revealing themselves. We really do not communicate well as a species. We are gelatinous vats of suppressed and repressed feelings and awarenesses. When you can break through, you are free.

I struggle to be psychologically free. I can say that all my writing is about my need to be psychologically free, of myself, especially you, and of the world which conditions 24/7. And the worst felon in all this is the monolithic and mammoth conditioning of religion which is the dragon at the gate. Freud argued (The Future of an Illusion) that to become free of this conditioning brings you into full adult maturity as a human being. Religion is man -made. (Pause.) Consequently it is corruptive.

5. What do you intend to write next? When is it expected to be published?

The next book is already finished and I am thinking of how to go about getting it published. I have submitted it to several online magazine contests, but most likely I will have to self-publish it myself.I will not engage agents on this because it is so time intensive to acquire one  Id rather go the other alternative routes. After all, I do not have a vast readership nor do I devote many hours to promoting the book. I try to do what I can but I refuse to be sucked into rampaging capitalism which is all the rage across the internet, the hustling, self-promoting, the slobber at some writers’ mouths as they urge you to read this or that.
So here is a synopsis of my next book. No one who encounters the Holocaust seriously is ever done with it.

I Truly Lament, is a varied collection of stories, inmates in death camps, survivors of these camps, disenchanted Golems complaining about their tasks, Holocaust deniers and their ravings, and collectors of Hitler curiosa (only recently a few linens from Hitlers bedroom suite went up for sale!) as well as an imagined  interview with Eva Braun during her last days in the bunker. The intent is to perceive the Holocaust from several points of view.

An astute historian of the Holocaust has observed that it is much like a train wreck, survivors wandering about in a daze, sense and understanding, for the moment, absent. No comprehensive rational order in sight.

In my award-winning  Holocaust novel, The i Tetralogy, considered by some an important contribution to Holocaust literature as well as a work of “undying artistic integrity” (Arizona Daily Sun) I could not imagine it all, and this book of stories completes my personal struggle. Within the past year 10 stories have been published online and in print from this collection, the most recent “Slave” published in Del Sol Review in December 2011.
I will promote my present book and by years end publish the new one.

6. What were your thoughts when you started writing iTetralogy ? What unique thing did you want to convey on the  Holocaust that has not been done before?

Allow me to depart a little from the question and express my thoughts in this fashion
To have survived the Holocaust is to have been gutted as a human being.  The inner self is ravished. Whether or not one recovers from that is beyond comprehension.

All literary depictions of the Holocaust end as failures, perhaps revealing shards of understanding. And is understanding ever enough?  Writing about the Holocaust is a ghastly grandiosity.The enduring mystery of the Holocaust is that memory must metabolize it endlessly and so we must try to describe it, for it goes beyond all imaginable boundaries. One soon realizes the fundamental understanding that the species is wildly damaged, for only a damaged species could have committed the Holocaust.
No great piece of art, no technological achievement or other historical creation of mankind can ever expunge the Holocaust.

Human beings are so much less than we give them credit for. If we begin here perhaps books can be written about the Holocaust without blinders or eyelids, although by definition they will fail. Every artist who struggles with the Holocaust must begin with an acceptance of failure and that must be worked through before art begins.
I have come up short here.  I must say what I have to say as a man, as a Jew, and be done with it. I feel deeply the flaw within as part of this species. I am ashamed.

By name and nomenclature, the Holocaust is but an approximation of what happened. The species cannot grasp its nature. The artist will only succeed marginally if he or she manages to drive that home.

The  eternal perseveration of the species has become the Holocaust. We will never be done with it. We will never work it through.

7. You are a teacher and a psychotherapist - which of these two vocations excite you more or is more satisfying, other than writing. While working in the capacity of a psychotherapist, which do you think are the most common human frailties and strengths?

As a psychotherapist I can engage human beings, at times, at very profound levels, not in the classroom. Most schools condition human beings,  that is their real task to indoctrinate, to be an American or to be French. By working with my fellow human beings I began to grow as well, and as you know, Vibha, in This Mobius Strip of ifs I write about the telling consequences of being a client and a practitioner. For me treatment helped this soul to become much more free, more open, more expressive, although I still work on those potholes we all have.

I am not an expert on human happiness, frailties and strengths. No one is an expert. As I age I realize I know shit. Perhaps other than techniques, therapists should keep that in mind, all “professionals.” Look at the world about – it is in chaos, those in charge are not in charge themselves, think of Clinton’s errant penis, Cheney’s need to devour human beings by sending them off to war, Sarah Palin who did not know that there was a North Korea and a South Korea.

Id pose your question another way. What can I do to become aware, and what can I do to decondition myself so that I can see clearly? In that is hope.

8. Could you please give suggestions to budding authors on how to make their writing more effective and meaningful?

Advice sucks. Whatever advice I have received I had to process through my own machinery. So if you want to lick at the waters of advice-givers, make sure that your machinery is working real well and that you can discern good from bad.

Let me specify. It is an old cliché to writers that they should write between 500 to 1000 words a day over years. And what if you cannot? Well, I had to work and feed the family. I wrote in study halls while I taught; I wrote late into the night when I could. I fought off despair all those years through sheer grit and bullheadedness. I just wanted to write to exorcise my dybbuks. I never thought of myself as a writer. I was an auto-didact. What I have concluded is that you do your best, learn what you can, use what seems useful and forget all the bullshit you know, 10 ways to have  your book reviewed, how to write a query letter to a blogger, how to get an editor,  and how to promote you work before you even write it (book as package). I  dont know about you but I am fatigued. We do all this fussing as each day we move closer to our end. Ecce Homo.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

App Review : Little Critter Collection # 1

Title : Little Critter Collection # 1
Author : Mercer Mayer

My kids have always enjoyed reading the Little Critter books and I was thrilled to see these picture books on the hand held devices too. This omBook application offers a set of 10 small books. Each of these books is a wonderful reading and visual experience for the young readers. I find Little Critter books very similar to  Berenstein Bear books and Arthur book series in which a small subtle message is packed in an interesting story from the lives of some lovable and endearing characters.

The narrator's voice and rendition is so captivating that you feel like watching more and more of Little Critter. The sound effects are beautifully incorporated in the stories.

Like the other omBooks, the images have naming words associated with them which pop up on tapping them.

Little Critter - All by Myself
In this sweet simple book, Little Critter is excited to be a responsible person and not a child anymore. He is happy that he is able to do many things on his own though not always in the perfect manner. For instance he tries to tie his shoe laces but by mistake ties the two laces together, he tries to pour his own juice but spills a little on the floor and many such things. But the point that comes across beautifully is that he is making a sincere effort and that is commendable.

I Just forgot
In this book, some of those things are pointed out which every child finds hard to remember - putting the toys away, turning the tap off and many more such things. But here again Little Critter is trying his best to accomplish all these tasks but somehow some things just slip out of his mind though his intentions are not to do so. The lovable Little Critter makes this story so much relatable to every little child.

When I Get Bigger
I guess every little child wants to get bigger sooner than later and more so when they see adults exercising so much of freedom and control over so many things. The adult world looks very enticing for young minds who are unaware of the struggles and challenges of that phase. Likewise Little Critter is just waiting to get bigger as soon as possible so that he could go to the store on his own, watch late night movies, own a two-wheeler and many other things which catch his fancy. He can’t wait to get bigger.

Just Me and My Mom
Little Critter takes a trip to the city with her mom and they visit a museum there but it is hard to have an uneventful day in Critter's life so first he loses the train tickets, picks up dinosaur's egg in the museum and ends up having much more adventure and excitement than a regular visit brings. But despite all these, he enjoys the day out with his mother thoroughly and peacefully goes off to sleep in the train while returning home.

The New Baby
Little Critter is super excited to have a new baby sister and he wants to be a good big brother but he fails to understand why the baby keeps crying even when he tells her his best jokes or makes funny faces. But slowly he finds out what all he can do with the new baby to amuse her and entertain her.

Just Grandma and Me
Little Critter gets to spend a day at the beach with his grandma. He tries to help grandma in his own innocent and funny way. When his grandma's hotdog falls in the sand, he washes the hotdog with ocean water and offers help to blow up his own inflatable sea horse. It turns out to be a fun day with grandma in the summer.

The New Potty
A perfect book to read to the children who are undergoing potty training. In this book, Little Critter's sister is learning to use her brand new potty. She does not like sitting on it but when her brother shows her how to sit on the potty, she willingly follows him. She reads and watches TV while sitting on the potty and makes her dolls sit on it and slowly even learns to use the potty at the right time to avoid any spills on the floor.

Just For You
Little Critter really wants to do something just for his mom so he tries doing some chores for which he is still very little. While carrying the groceries, he drops them in the driveway and when he tries to take bath on his own, he splashes too much. But there is still one thing which he can do just for his mom and he can not go wrong in that and that is giving her a big hug and a kiss. Little Critter comes across as a very sensitive and thoughtful  person.

Me Too
Little Critter is facing the challenge of managing her little sister who wants to do exactly the same things as he does and tags along everywhere he goes. Very patiently Little Critter listens to her 'Me too's , lets her play in his games, agrees to let her in his secret hiding place in the tree house and even shares the last piece of cake with her. And one day Little Critter realizes that it does help to share things with the siblings because the same behavior comes back too.

I Was So Mad
Little Critter is finding it hard to understand the ways of the elders because he is not getting to do anything that he wishes to do. All he hears them say is - No, you can’t do. It is interesting to read how he manages his anger and finds some fun activities to do.

There are three ways to read the books - Read to Me, Read it Myself and Auto Play and the readers can switch between the stories through the main menu.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book Review : This Mobius Strip of Ifs

Title : This Mobius Strip of Ifs

Author : Mathias B. Freese

Publisher : Wheatmark

ISBN : 978-1-60494-723-6

As I received this book, the title intrigued me to a great extent. I had no clue what the term 'Mobius Strip' means so obviously searched the web to find out about the same. A Mobius Strip is actually a twisted ribbon or is described as a surface with only one side. It is the basis of some scientific models and is used as a metaphor by mathematicians and physicists. It illustrates how, for people like us, it is almost impossible to even imagine any other dimension outside the known four dimensions.

Freese has used the same fundamental approach in order to explain the possibilities which are beyond our comprehension and perception.

The book is primarily an array of essays which are written addressing a medley of aspects - author's reminiscences, his observations, his understanding, his evaluation and his learning from the whole process of living life for 67 years. These essays actually give the readers an unadulterated insight into a thinking person's mind touching various topics ranging from his personal thoughts and relationships to very generic comments on his teaching profession and his struggle with the society.

He discusses about the bond between body and mind and how they both need to work in perfect tandem in order to accomplish the simple yet hard to achieve task of 'living in the moment'. He highlights this point by saying - 'Most of us are unprepared for living until the very hour we die. We give little organized thought - awareness, if you will - to our mortality. We are obsessed with peripherals - and false needs. '

Mathias' lucid and brutally true comments on teaching are admirable and in order to strengthen my point, here is a quote from the book- 'He teaches English in a suburban school. It is not unlike other high schools in that real learning is not carried out. The implicit assumption is that education need not have vision or be real. It is a holding action. For some it is too frightening or wasteful to really work with young people in the kind of intimate and caring way they crave. After all, the teaching profession does not attract the best because it does not encourage what is best in us.'

An introspective and thought provoking letter to a student deserves a very special mention too and I would not like to divulge the details of the same and spoil the interest of the readers.

The uniqueness of these essays is that all are disjoint articles which works at two levels - it keeps the anticipation alive as to what is going to come next and each of these can be read individually too.

The impressive part about these essays is that the author seamlessly moves through these numerous varied topics without running into the risk of losing the attention of the readers. Rather the readers would surely find many things to relate to during the whole narrative. I, for instance found a few passages perfectly cloaking my inner personal feelings. The feelings expressed straight from the heart are sure to stir many chords for various readers at varied levels.

Mathias Freese is a psychotherapist and an English teacher and offers a great piece of writing which incites the readers to introspect and reflect on the events and the whole lives running past them. It encourages the readers to analyze the life truthfully and sincerely. It is a profound self help book without making it apparent or being preachy. But it definitely is not a book which you should just finish off in a few hours. These essays are to be chewed and digested to get the best flavour, taste and eventually the maximum benefit out of them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

App Review : Polar Bear Horizon

    Title : Polar Bear Horizon

    Author : Janet Halfmann

    Illustrations by : Adrian Chesterman

    Available on : Android and Apple devices

    (Available at special introductory price of 99 cents )

    Another offering(fifth, to be precise) by OmBooks which comes with three options - Read to Me, Read it Myself and Auto Play.

    It is the story of a polar bear family which lives in the north coast of Alaska. The two cubs are born to a Polar Bear in late December when sun does not shine. But now they are restless and want to come out because spring has arrived and the den is getting warmer for the new cubs and their mother. The mother first tests the outer world by poking her head out of her snowy den and when she smells the air safe, she lets the furry cubs out.

    The two cubs are trying to explore the big new world outside the confines of their den. The mother is famished and is looking out for some bearded seals or ringed seals for her hearty meal. She trains the little cubs during the first couple of years by teaching them ways to protect themselves as well as to find food at the right places. The cubs also learn to swim in the sea water.

    The story educates the readers about the life cycle of polar bears, their eating habits, their hibernation patterns, their parenting style and much more. Besides talking about the Polar Bears, the narrative also introduces other four legged and winged inhabitants of this part of the world some of which form the meals of Polar Bears.

    The book takes the readers to the world of the Polar Bears and their little ones and what all it takes to survive in such harsh climatic conditions. Overall an interesting story on the furry animals which live almost at the edge of our earth far away from any kind of human touch. The illustrations are gorgeous and the extra facts on Polar Bears at the end are an extra bonus.

    The book application comes with these features:

  1. Picture-word association
  2. Clear audio narration
  3. Melodious background score and other sound effects
  4. Zoom option on the images

  5. However, I would have liked if the keywords in the text were highlighted or had a little detailed explanation associated with them.

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