His eyes are smiling as his eyebrows rise. Maybe mischief is afoot, and maybe it’s just Keith Eisner enjoying his life. “It wasn’t until I retired that I found my real job,” mused Eisner. His career as a public information officer was filled with words and writing, but it didn’t satisfy his soul.
Interested and aspiring writers in the area have been able to enroll in his class called Beautiful Lies/Beautiful Truths. For the past five years, parts I and II have been offered through the Life Long Learning classes organized by Senior Services for South Sound. Eisner loves the depth and energy of his students. Members of the Senior Center receive a discount on the course, but it is open to the general public. The small group meets weekly to share their works, critique each other, gain inspiration and find support.
Initially Eisner directs the critique. As the term progresses students dig deeper and respond more to each other’s writing. Long-time Olympian Linda Bremer, who attended the writing class, told me, “Keith is a creative genius – how he elicits stories from each of us is pretty cool. He uses many techniques.” Students are encouraged to form their own writing groups after the quarter is finished.
It’s also important to Eisner that writers don’t remain insulated by their work. Therefore, before the term is over, he arranges an evening at Traditions Cafe where students get to read a chosen work in front of their family and friends. I was invited to attend one of these celebrations because a friend was in the class. Her reading was immediately before the intermission. I had planned to make a quiet exit after she finished, but I was so entranced with people’s personal, enchanting and emotional stories that I stayed for the entire evening. It was wonderful. Now the secret is out. Family and friends are still in attendance, but as the word has spread, people come for the joy of listening, even though they don’t know any of the writers.
In keeping with his life motto, “The Best is yet to Come,” Eisner returned to school on his 61st birthday. He earned his Master of Fine Arts in writing from Goddard College. During the two-year program, he kept busy with weekly writing quotas. Pulling from that experience, he has his current students write about eight pages per week. “I read everything everybody writes,” he explained. That takes a lot of time. His own writing may take a back seat while he’s teaching, but when he’s not teaching, he writes on most days for a couple of hours. One technique he uses is to sit at the writing desk, set a timer for 55 minutes and write non-stop.
You might have seen Eisner on stage, as he has appeared in many productions. He met his wife Debe Edden, a professional performer, director and storyteller, when they were appearing in “Keely and Du,” an intense drama at the Midnight Sun. At the moment, he is appearing as a wise man in the Olympia Family Theater production of “3 Impossible Questions,” which was written by another local author Christian ‘Carv’ Carvajal. “It’s timely,” said Eisner, who used to perform in as many as six productions a year. Now he usually does one. The show runs through February 18.
An interesting note is that Eisner also uses his acting skills when he becomes a standardized patient for role-playing education for health care professionals at Madigan. These practice scenarios give the medical staff experience with patient communications, especially helpful in difficult situations. Eisner finds it a rewarding acting experience.
At the end of last year, Eisner was honored to have one of his pieces included in the 2017 O. Henry Prize Stories, an annual collection of the US and Canada’s best short stories that were published in magazines.
“I was staggered,” recalled Eisner. A writer doesn’t submit for the O. Henry anthology – they find you. Eisner began writing “Blue Dot” years ago. The story, set in the 60s, lived on his shelf for quite a while and was taken down from time to time. Finally in 2014, the 50th anniversary year of the Beatles coming to America, Eisner was inspired, brought out his story and tackled the issues that had stumped him. He completed the story and it was published in Salamander. Having the story published in the new book was a grand compliment.
“I’m really lucky,” says Eisner as the talks about his love of teaching, the time he gets to spend with his godchild, and the sweetness of his life. He’s writing the script of his life. The best is yet to come. Perhaps you’ll have Eisner help you with your story.
For another perspective on Eisner, one of his students, Linda Bremer, wrote a poem about him and included it in her book “Soul Reflections” available on Amazon.