pittsburgh’s women on the move luncheon

Since the COVID pandemic essentially shut down the world in early 2020, I haven’t really had the opportunity to speak in front of actual, live people about my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, or about the fact that I have multiple sclerosis. Other than one event to launch the book in March 2020, all my other events have been virtual, and, given the circumstances, that’s entirely reasonable.

Then the Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society invited me to speak at their annual Woman on the Move luncheon for Sept. 29, 2021. The event would occur after we’d had our COVID vaccines. The event would be outdoors. And when not sitting at the tables or speaking at the podium, most folks would wear face masks.

Now that the event has concluded (and I can breathe again … I was low-key terrified about speaking to tell you the truth), I’m experiencing a rush of joy at having been able to not just share my MS experience with others, but about seeing and speaking with fellow MS patients. It’s like a fellowship of sorts, a collection of people who just get it, who understand the unpredictable and chronic nature of the disease, who understand heat sensistivity and what it’s like when you hit a wall of fatigue.

For instance, I spoke with a Pennsylvania man who, despite having MS, has run four marathons, including the Boston Marathon. After my speech — in which I mentioned I have MS-induced heat sensitivity — he wanted to show me photos of how he was able to regulate his temperature while running the marathon (sleeves and a baseball hat filled with ice that would be replenished at different stops along the marathon route).

Several people shared that they, like me, were initially disbelieved or dismissed when they sought medical help for what they feared was multiple sclerosis.

Two nurses who work with MS patients were bursting with pride about their vocation, while someone who does physical therapy with MS patients slipped me her business card and told me she’d be reaching out to me with some advice.

I even got to speak with CBS affiliate KDKA-2 News Anchor Ken Rice — the event emcee — about journalism and baseball, two of my favorite subjects.

Everything from the orange gift bags on the tables — which included candy Boston baked beans (because I’m from the Boston area) and little notebooks (because I’m a writer) — to the authentic warmth everyone exuded, it became shockingly clear to me why so many of us have deeply and vicerally missed being in one another’s presence and why having to understandably be relegated to the safety our COVID bubbles has been painful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not running around and partying maskless. I wear my mask outside, indoors (except when eating), and in the classrooms where I teach. (I’m one of the few folks who even wear them to baseball games.) I’ll get a booster shot as soon as I am able. But being with people today at this Women on the Move luncheon made me realize, man, have I missed people!

new: buy copies of meredith’s books via tatnuck online

The Westborough, Mass. independent bookstore where I’ve held book events and which sells signed copies of my books, has now created a local authors page.

What does this mean?

You can purchase copies of Meredith’s books online AND support an independent bookstore to boot.

When you buy Mr. Clark’s Big Band for your teacher or music friend, when you grab a copy of a medical memoir — Uncomfortably Numb — about what happens when one’s life is involuntarily upended by illness, or you are seeking a darkly humorous novel — Mortified — about a thirtysomething mommy blogger who reveals TMI about her family and lands into hot water, you can feel good about supporting an independent publisher (Wyatt-MacKenzie), and an indie bookshop.

Meredith outside of Tatnuck

talking women & health with authors & poets

Author Christina Chiu — who wrote the powerful Beauty (do yourself a favor and read it!) — invited three writers to tackle the topic of women & health, while she also shared candid stories of her own illness, as well as her son’s experiences with food allergies.

Among her guests:

Sandra Beasley, the author of the memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, and more recently, Made to Explode: Poems, spoke about her food allergies and how she has embraced her disability as a part of her identity.

Poet Julie E. Bloemeke — whose collection of poems, Slide to Unlock, “investigates how modern technology redirects our erotic and familial lives” — discussed not only how she dealt with depression, but how it and various therapies for it influenced her writing.

I, meanwhile, read aloud a section of my multiple sclerosis-centric memoir Uncomfortably Numb where the neurologist who first examined me — after an MRI showed a lesion on my brainstem — suggested that my symptoms of numbness were likely “psychosomatic.”

I hope the discussion helps give people with illnesses and/or disabilities some sense that they are not alone.

celebrating ireland with a virtual Facebook parade of authors

Facebook-based book groups The Write Review and Sue’s Reading Neighborhood teamed up with six other book groups to create a virtual, day-long St. Patrick’s Day “parade” of authors. Since we can’t stand on the sidewalks to watch live St. Patrick’s Day parades anywhere due to the coronavirus, this was the next best thing, plus it gave us the opportunity to speak with authors who are in Ireland right now, while we’re stateside. The Irish Echo even ran a feature story about the unusual, COVID-era event.

I appeared on a panel where the writers discussed the “Irish DNA” in our work. The night before the panel, I looked over my four books and discovered that there’s Irishness deep within the bones of each, in one way or another.

The only explicit reference to my Irish connection (via my father’s father), was found in my collection of humor/parenting columns in my book A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum where I included a piece called, “Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with All-American mutts.” In it, I talk about how my husband and I served our three young kids the same corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread my family used to eat every March 17 (full disclosure: my husband almost always made the corned beef.) While Scott took care of the corned beef, I’d have the kids create shamrock-themed crafts while I blasted U2 and the Dropkick Murphys (“Shipping Up to Boston” of course) as Scott and I enjoyed Guinness. That was usually followed by the kids’ consumption of super-sweet shamrock shaped cookies with sprinkles set atop their shamrock paper plates. One year, Scott and I took them to South Boston, where my brother lived at the time, to watch the famous Southie St. Patrick’s Day parade, not too far away from the L Street diner, which was featured in “Good Will Hunting.”

My next book, Mortified: a novel about oversharing, didn’t explicitly have Irish references, although the main characters were Irish. You had Michael Kelly who married Maggie Finn, whose mother was Molly Mahoney, whose mother Emily had lace curtains in the window. The novel was set in a suburb outside of Boston, an area where Irishness is deeply felt. When I was a newspaper reporter for a brief time, covering Boston City Hall in 1998, I was frequently asked, “What county are you from?” I’d wrinkle my brow, recall the western Massachusetts county where I was raised (Hampden), but then realized they meant from which IRISH county did my family hail (Cork).

Years later, my two works of narrative nonfiction included Irishness not only because the second one, Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir, was my story and I have Irish heritage, but because both books made frequent reference to Jamison Clark, the main character of Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. He not only was the hero in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, but he appeared at the beginning (and the end) of Uncomfortably Numb as he was there when I first experienced numbness in my left leg. During one of my first long interviews with him (the one with the numbness), Clark told me about and showed me his Celtic necklace with the “triple Goddess” that he wears, saying it symbolizes eternity and rebirth, this from a man who married a woman named Colleen O’Brien (no relation) and who, before they had kids, would spend the entire St. Patrick’s Day in the Black Rose in Boston.

While a recent DNA test told me I am 53 percent British and Irish (designating County Cork as a likely ancestral location), Irish influence has always been strong, particularly because of that O apostrophe at the beginning of my last name.

Watch the panel discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/1367330023/videos/10225035457138085/

sunday, march 14, 11 a.m.: catch me on a virtual authors’ st. patrick’s day parade

I’ll be getting my Irish on during the Facebook-based Write Review’s 1st Annual Virtual St. Patrick’s Day Parade/Book Club Tour/Hop on Sunday, March 14 at 11 a.m.

A ton of authors, with some connection to the Emerald Isle, will be participating in the day-long festival of all things books and Irish. (Plus there will be giveaways.) Join The Write Reviewers Book Club on Facebook in order to participate.

I’ll be speaking during the 11 a.m. panel about the Irish DNA of my characters, focusing on the protagonist in Mortified: a novel about oversharing, the stressed out Maggie Kelly.

catch me talking writing & childhood reporting aspirations on ‘the downtown writers jam’ podcast

I had a blast chatting with Brad King on his Downtown Writers Jam podcast about writing and journalism, my medical memoir, and my childhood days of pretending to be a reporter when I’d read newspaper (for which I’d eventually become a reporter) out loud while recording myself with my mother’s old, gray tape recorder back when I lived in western Massachusetts.

Please take a listen. I’d love to hear what you think!

meredith reads christmas-themed excerpt from novel ‘mortified’

Have you successfully taken your family’s photo for your holiday cards? (Yes, yesterday.)

Have you already sent out your family cards? (No. They’re ordered and I’m praying they arrive in time or else they’ll turn into New Year’s cards.)

Well this excerpt I read from my novel Mortified — about a mommy blogger, circa 2004 who reveals too much information about her family on the internet — is about the main character, Maggie Kelly and her disastrous Christmas card photo session with her two young children.

The excerpt is a blog post written Maggie wrote for her “anonymous” blog “Maggie Has Had It” (spoiler: it isn’t anonymous for long) about a terrible early December incident involving red sweaters from Baby Gap, baby wipes and candy canes.

Enjoy the dark humor as you think about those picture-perfect social media posts you’re seeing on Instagram, Facebook and on the cards being delivered to your home of uber-stylized family photos that extol happiness and joy … amid a killer pandemic, an historic recession, and while our president is running around like a mad king who has decided reality doesn’t apply to him.

You can get a signed copy of Mortified: a novel about oversharing at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA.

The book is available at Bookshop, Amazon and other indie retailers.

got readers on your holiday list? give ’em signed books from an indie bookstore

Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA has signed copies of three of my books (a memoir, a novel and a work of nonfiction) for sale, just in time for the readers on your holiday lists. Given that COVID has severely affected small businesses like independent bookstores, I’m sure they’d appreciate your support.

Signed books include:

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir about the life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis Kindle Edition

Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir. My medical memoir about the life-altering impact of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. It chronicles the two years it took to get an MS diagnosis and confirmation that the symptoms I was experiencing weren’t simply in my imagination (as one physician suggested), as well as the uneasy piece I reached an uneasy peace with my post-MS life.

Mr. Clark's Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears, and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room Kindle Edition

Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. A book about the 2012-2013 school year I shadowed the Southborough, MA middle school jazz band as they were recovering from mourning the sudden death of one of their own, a 12-year-old trumpet player named Eric Green. This award-winning book would be great for any educators on your list.

Mortified: a book about oversharing by [Meredith O'Brien]

Mortified: a novel about oversharing. Set in 2004 at the height of mommy blogging, this darkly humorous work of contemporary fiction follows a thirtysomething mom of two who started venting about her frustration with modern parenting through her blog. When her family discovers the unkind things she’s been writing about them online, well, all hell breaks loose.

support local indie bookstores: signed books available at tatnuck bookseller (westborough, ma)

I recently donned my Boston Red Sox mask and headed to my local independent bookstore, Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, MA, to sign copies of my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb.

The copies are on display at the Local Author table smack dab in the middle of the store.

Feel free to snap up a signed copy from the store.

Show your love for indie bookstores!

spoonie author network podcast talks ‘uncomfortably numb’

Dianna Gunn recently interviewed me for her podcast, called the Spoonie Authors Podcast, a group which spotlights writers with disabilities.

For those who are unfamiliar with the phrase “spoonie,” the podcast offers this definition:

A Spoonie is a person who suffers from a chronic illness, condition, or disability that regularly drains them of their energy and/or causes acute pain, resulting in impaired function of ordinary activities. The nickname came from an article called The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino, which you can read on butyoudontlooksick.com. In my opinion, it’s still the best way to describe to non-Spoonies what life for us really feels like.

In The Spoon Theory, spoons are used as symbols for every-day activities, such as showering, making lunch, collecting the mail, and so on. Many of us don’t have enough ‘spoons’ to handle the simplest of routines.