Eileen began her blog, Imperfect Serenity, while she was taking care of two young children and her dying mother, so the title referred to her struggles to stay spiritually grounded during a difficult time. The title still fits as the blog now includes her adventures in eco-justice activism and book publicity.

Entries in friendship (2)


Keeping What's Important

I finally gave away my mother’s wedding dress a few weeks ago. When she died three and a half years ago, I didn’t linger over most of her possessions or procrastinate their disposal. She paid rent by the month, so there was an incentive to get going on the task, which fit my disposition anyway. After a year of caring for my mother, keeping vigil in her apartment during her waning hours, I was prepared to let go.

Some things I kept and made mine: the bamboo Victorian furniture that had been given as a wedding present to my Irish immigrant grandmother by the family she served as a maid; my grandmother’s china; the bowl my mother kept jewelry in, along with several of her favorite pieces; miscellaneous lamps and kitchen gadgets. I also kept my mother’s porcelain Mary, although I didn’t keep her faith—at least not the form of it.

Other things found good homes. I am sometimes startled to see my mother’s copy of Botticelli’s Venus when visiting a friend’s bathroom, a reminder of the wonderful female friends who helped me pack up my mother’s possessions, and occasionally took a few home. One friend, visiting from across the country, heard the story of my mom’s long hunt for Madeline molds and carried them back to a friend of hers who was currently on the same search. Carloads went to the Salvation Army. A van-full went to a recycling center. Some went in the trash.

And then there was a pile of clothing that could never be mine, but which couldn’t be dumped at the Salvation Army either: my mother’s wedding dress; the tailor-made wool suit she prized from her single days of travel; the red velvet dress she wears in pictures of her courtship with my father. These sat in a remote closet—too small for me, too large for my daughter, too dated and laden with memories for either of us.


They might have stayed there another twenty years if we hadn’t decided to sand the wood floors in our house, a project that required packing up all our possessions, as if we were moving. The packing revealed all we don’t use or need, resulting in a few more trips to the Salvation Army. Finally, I thought of a home for the wedding dress pile. My daughter was attending camp at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, a group that seemed more likely to want clothes from the fifties than anyone else I could think of. The director accepted them with enthusiasm, and I handed over the last of my mother’s things with just a twinge of sadness.


There are stages to grief, I am remembering during a month where I’ll attend two funerals. The one last week was for the father of a college friend who drove five hours to be with us for my mother’s funeral (and to clean out her refrigerator afterward). I was glad to be able to make the drive in reverse last week, glad to see our children playing together, and glad to realize that the things I’ve kept the longest have been friendships.


If You Love a Writer

After ten years of writing around my children’s schedules, I have a book coming out soon, and friends have been asking what they can do to support me. I’ve been touched by their offers and yet reticent to ask too much, especially of busy people in a tough economy. At the same time, the online writers groups I belong to are a buzz day and night with authors trying to figure out how to publicize their work before the entire publishing industry goes bankrupt. So, as a community service, I’ve decided to write up ten suggestions for all the people who love a book author who’s been fighting the publicity odds (Fellow writers, feel free to forward this link or add your own suggestions in the comment section.):

1.   Buy your friend’s book. If you can afford it, buy it for everyone in your extended family. If you can’t afford it, ask your local librarian to order a copy. In fact, you can suggest it to your librarian whether you buy a copy yourself or not.

2.   Don’t wait until Christmas or Hanukkah to pick up a copy. How it does in its first weeks determines whether a book will stay on the bookstore shelves or be sent back to the warehouse to be shredded (along with your friend’s ego). Try to buy it as soon as it’s published, or better yet pre-order a copy, which makes your friend look good and gets your friend’s publisher excited about the book’s prospects. An excited publisher will invest more in publicity, while a bookstore that is getting advanced orders is more likely to stock the book on its shelves.

3.   Friends often ask where they should get the book, which is a tricky question. In the long-term, it is in every writer’s best interest to support independent booksellers (reader’s too, actually). If you don’t have a favorite one yourself, you can go to IndieBound to find one near you. When a book is newly released, however, it may help your writer friend more to buy it through a big chain, so they keep it stocked where the most people can find it. Likewise, a high sales rate on Amazon can get people’s attention, and if your friend’s website links directly to Amazon, she may be part of a program where she makes extra money when someone enters Amazon through the link on her website and then makes a purchase. I personally have links to several booksellers,  on the theory that it’s good to spread the love around.

4.   If you genuinely like your friend’s book, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, mention it on Facebook and Twitter, and recommend it to your book group.

5.   If your friend’s book is sci fi, and you’re more of a Jhumpa Lahiri fan, say something like, “I’m so proud of you for following your passion,” and skip writing the review.

6.   If your friend is a good public speaker, recommend her to your church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, kid’s school, Rotary club, etc. If you live far away, your friend might get to come visit you and write it off her taxes.

7.   If you have a website or blog, link to your friend’s website. The more people who link to her, the better she looks to the search engines, which may help people who don’t already love her to find her book. To be really helpful, don’t link on the words “my friend,” but on whatever keywords your friend might be using to find her target audience. (For example, I would especially appreciate people using the phrase “Serenity Prayer” to link to my page About the Serenity Prayer.)

8.   If your friend could legitimately be a reference on some Wikipedia page, add her as one, with a link to the most relevant page of her website. Authors can’t tout themselves on Wikipedia without getting a “conflict of interest” badge of shame, but there is nothing more fun for a writer than discovering a spike in her search engine traffic due to a link posted on Wikipedia. It’s kind of like having a secret Santa.

9.   Don’t ask your friend if she has thought about trying to get on Oprah. Trust me– she’s thought of that.

    10. If you pray, go ahead. It couldn’t hurt to pray she gets on Oprah.