talking memoir writing at bay path university

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Friends of the Hatch Library author series at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Mass. — where I teach in the MFA in creative nonfiction program, a program from which I graduated in 2017.

I discussed my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, read an excerpt that took place in Martha’s Vineyard aloud, as well as fielded myriad questions about writing, research, and inspiration.

Thank you Bay Path for inviting me.

meredith’s speech at upstate new york’s women against ms luncheon

I was thrilled to have been asked to serve as the keynote speaker late last year at the upstate New York chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Women Against MS Luncheon.

While I was disappointed that I couldn’t meet folks in person — thanks COVID — I recorded my brief speech for the virtual fundraising luncheon and spoke on the theme of making peace with wherever you are in your life at this very moment, whether you have MS or some other unpredictable obstacle with which you must contend.

(My speech starts in the 37th minute of the video above.)

lockdown lit takes on the bay state

I have been remiss in posting about the wonderful literary event which took place at one of my favorite indie bookshops — Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough, Mass. — featuring members of the Lockdown Literature writers’ group.

You may recall that during the shutdowns of 2020, I banded together with a group of 70+ authors whose books, like my medical memoir, were being released in the midst of an historic pandemic. Our group included writers of memoirs and nonfiction, of dark novels and wry works of contemporary fiction. We hailed from the east coast and the west, from overseas, and even included a superstar author who won all the big 2020 literary prizes (I’m talking about Douglas Stuart of Shuggie Bain fame).

I was incredibly honored to arrange to have some Lockdown Lit folks gather — just prior to the omicron COVID-19 surge — gather and read aloud from their work at Tatnuck Bookseller. Those talented writers included:

Christina Chiu, author of Beauty

Alice C. Early, author of The Moon Always Rising

Leslie Gray Streeter, author of Black Widow

Brad Fox, author of To Remain Nameless

David Daley, author of Unrigged.

You can watch the delightful beauty of the awkwardness of live events on my Instagram page as well as on YouTube.

what did YOU read in 2021?

I consume news in the form of two daily, hard copy newspapers (I know, I’m ancient), the Boston Globe and the New York Times. I also read online subscriptions of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, as well as devour magazines, the New Yorker and New York Magazine (yes, in hard copy), and the online version of The Atlantic.

When I’m not busy reading all of that journalistic and literary goodness (I just added the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction to my subscription list), I’m reading books. Funny books. Serious books. Fiction. Nonfiction. New England-centric. Politically-oriented. My tastes run wide.

Halfway through the year I published a list on Instagram of the books I’d read starting in January 2021 through early June 2021:

Then, as 2021 drew to an ignominious close with lines for COVID-19 tests wrapping city blocks, I shared the second half of my 2021 reading list:

What did YOU read in 2021? Give the authors a shout-out. They’d appreciate some social media love.

washington post review of books about hunt for covid-19 vaccines

Washington Post image

I was thrilled to have my first book review published in the Washington Post this month. I was asked to read two nonfiction books about the development of the COVID-19 vaccines: Brendan Borrell’s The First Shots and Gregory Zuckerman’s A Shot to Save the World.

The review began this way:

The rapid development and rollout of coronavirus vaccines is one of the biggest news stories in recent memory. As the novel and highly communicable virus began spreading at the end of 2019, the hunt for a vaccine began in early 2020, relying heavily upon a foundation of knowledge created by little-known scientists and researchers. By the time vaccines were being injected into arms at the end of 2020, the United States had lost hundreds of thousands of people to covid-19.

A story this expansive and consequential could surely fill many books. (Think of how many have been written about the 1918 influenza pandemic.) So it really isn’t surprising that two journalists have tackled the same big story in separate new books — with similar titles and stark covers featuring syringes. The books offer dueling tales of how coronavirus vaccines were developed in what seemed like record time. While they cover some of the same territory and quote some of the same people, the books largely shine their respective lights on different narrative slices of the story.

Read the rest of the review here.

Image credit: Washington Post

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/

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.