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Therese Eiben—Eye Doctor in Her Sight

February 24, 2013

“He respects Owl, because you can’t help respecting anybody who can spell Tuesday…” —A. A. Milne, creator of Winnie-the-Pooh

"Outside" © Mike Marshall

“Outside” © Mike Marshall

As I take some time off from the Writers Studio, I can’t leave without paying tribute to Therese Eiben. Therese teaches Level I in the New York City Writers Studio program and the Level IV Online program. And she’s the greatest eye doctor I will ever meet. I entered Therese’s class in January 2012 with blurry vision, a world of words beyond my reach because I couldn’t grasp what was always outside. For 20 magical weeks in 2012, my vision improved—those salt-rock eyes—and I wrote myself out of a comfortable cell block.

"Tuesday, Eye Doctor in Her Sight" — A Poem for Therese by Jamez Chang

“Tuesday, Eye Doctor in Her Sight” — A Poem for Therese by Jamez Chang

I kept writing. A torrid pace, with the patience of a prisoner digging his way out with a spoon. Shawshank Tunnel Syndrome—typing away.

The inspiration kept hitting. 20 straight weeks. And when class ended, I took a road trip with my best friend (Best Man at my wedding) Milord Roseborough, carrying along a book, Therese’s book.

Mo’ Better Eyesight: Craft Appreciation…the Editor’s Mind (aka, The Practical Writer: From Inspiration to Publication).

"25 Keys" © Mike Marshall

“25 Keys” © Mike Marshall

And when I put the book down, I made a bet with my friend, handshake on a dare: “25 publications in 100 days.” To turn those bulbs of inspiration into things I could share. A little more clarity for all. And that 25th piece was the first story I ever sold. Won the bet on the 97th day.

I would share that night with my wife and three daughters at a Mexican restaurant called Cinco de Mayo; and sometime during the coffee but before the flan, my youngest daughter, Abbie, asked me about the weird animal sticking out of my messenger bag…

"Practical Light" © Mike Marshall

“Practical Light” © Mike Marshall

Thank you, Therese for all these strange puppies, the poems and stories that curled up without resistance for 20 weeks in 2012. Sometimes kenneled, always un-caged for a later revize. Found one in an oven mitt the other day!

And so from our monthly writing group (No MAPs) to your optometrist’s office at 78 W. Site, it was always one thing, Therese:

“wonderful.”

———————————————————————————————————————————

Publication Notes:  Therese Eiben’s nonfiction and fiction have appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Fortune and The Alaska Quarterly Review, among other magazines. She is the co-editor of The Practical Writer: From Inspiration to Publication (Penguin 2004) and was formerly the editor of Poets & Writers magazine. Therese will be reading her latest work at the Greenwich House on Saturday, March 16th (7 p.m.).

Several of Therese Eiben’s former students banded together to form a writers collective called No MAPs (No More Abandoned Puppies), which meets on a monthly basis. Here is what these writers have to say about the good doctor:

“For someone who restrained herself so much when writing, I always hear her say something like this before I begin a first draft: ‘Go above and beyond. You can always scale back.’ And during the times when I struggle with writing, I hear her positive voice in my head, urging me to continue, to finish. I know everyone writes for someone. One of the main people I write for is Therese.”                                                  —Sakinah Hofler

“Therese has opened up a whole new world to me and taught me that everything is moldable except the core emotional truth that lies behind your words.”           —Sylvia Schwartz

“Therese gave me the confidence to write my first short story ever. I’d written a lot of non-fiction, but fiction somehow felt daunting. She told me to practice the craft, to learn from the masters. A scene emerged, and later another. And another. Her gentle and thoughtful feedback is what made me go home after class and keep writing.” —Nicola Ruiz  [Editor’s note: that short story, “The Storm,” was named one of the Top 25 in Glimmer Train‘s Family Matters contest.]

“Therese has a gift for picking out luminous moments in each student’s work and holding those gems up to the light. Then gently she’ll follow up with ‘Now, if you want to take another swing through this…’ with feedback on how to polish a next draft. She models the way to get to work. Encouraging, constructive, honest, thoughtful. She’s fantastic.”                                                                                                              —Doris Vila Licht

“Therese is one of the sharpest, most generous teachers I have encountered. She has demystified the writing process for me, so that I have the tools and the confidence to push through those times when inspiration isn’t quite enough.”                                 Elana McKelahan

“Therese encouraged me to let go of my inhibitions and just write — then helped me to focus on fine-tuning my technique. I will always be grateful to her for her encouragement.”                                                                                               Julie Leblang

“The Practical Writer” Edited by Therese Eiben & Mary Gannon. Published by Penguin. Available at Amazon.com

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5 Comments
  1. Such a wonderful wonderful tribute! You have a great heart my friend!

  2. Can’t wait to check it out!

  3. Kevin Singer permalink

    Nice one, JC. I liked the hidden POET in the poem

  4. A good piece on Therese Eiben who was a most excellent editor at P&W. Glad to hear she’s still out and about helping writers.

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