The Booksmith of San Francisco, partnering with the literary journal Zyzzya, hosted a lunchtime chat between journalist and Black Widow author Leslie Streeter and myself, members of Lockdown Literature, a group of authors whose books have been published amid the pandemic.
Leslie and I talked about the challenges of writing memoir, of worrying about revealing too much information, and about how writing our books — hers about her husband suddenly dying as the couple was in the midst of adopting a child, mine about the death of my mom and the loss of my health courtesy of my MS diagnosis — discuss how we’ve dealt with involuntary changes in our lives.
We both read aloud from sections of our book as well. The section that I read from my book was on the impulsive decision to adopt a second dog — Tedy — so I could focus on something other than death and illness. Ironically, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is exactly what many others have done in the face of their own helplessness.
You can purchase both of our books via Booksmith, which proudly sells all of the books published by the Lockdown Literature authors.
Leslie is a columnist for the Palm Beach Post and the author of Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books With Words Like ‘Journey’ In The Title. She lives in West Palm Beach with her mother Tina and her son Brooks.
You can watch the live-stream of this Facebook event — or watch it later, but then you won’t be able to ask us questions live — here.
Christina Chiu — working with the New York Writers Workshop and 2040Books — organized a virtual author event where she invited three writers to discuss our recent books which all touch on the subjects of “Hope, Healing and Loss.” Chiu’s recent novel is Beauty.
I was thrilled to discuss my medical MS memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, alongside memoirist Maya Lang who wrote What We Carry about her mother’s Alzheimer’s, and novelist Jacqueline Friedman whose That’s Not a Thing features a character who develops ALS.
The hour-long discussion was lively and varied, as we touched on topics from approaches to writing and research, to how the medical industry treats female patients differently than male ones.
I had to fend off Tedy, who kept trying to climb up on my chair and eventually succeeded. Then there was Max, who was snorting and moaning loudly on the floor. My husband decided it was the perfect time to make dinner so there were ambient cooking noises as well. Ah … the joys of the coronavirus quanantine and working from home!
In the first scene in my recently-released medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, I am interviewing Jamie Clark, the music director of the middle school jazz band I’m planning to shadow during the 2012-2013 school year to witness how Clark helps his students through mourning the sudden death of a band member. The year I spend with Clark and his student musicians is the subject of my 2017 book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.
As I’m speaking with Clark, I experience what I will later realize is the first symptom of multiple sclerosis. It will take two years before I’m officially diagnosed with the incurable autoimmune disease, and another three to see the band book through to publication.
The time line covered in my 2020 memoir Uncomfortably Numb starts with that August 2012 interview and ends with the launch of Mr. Clark’s Big Band. Pretty meta.
The Republican — the daily newspaper for which I used to work way back in the day, back when it was called The Union-News –ran a feature story about my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, and my experiences with MS.
Fatigue hit her hard while she was watching her son at a Christmas musical event at the high school in Southborough where she now lives. “Quite quickly, my thinking became foggy and my legs were on the verge of giving out,” O’Brien recalls. “I had to ask my husband to drive me home immediately. I spent the next several days in bed, unable to do what I wanted because my body needed the rest.”
The Southborough Library and Recreation Departments co-hosted a virtual author event via Zoom where I discussed my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, and fielded questions ranging from inquiries about multiple sclerosis to questions about the writing process.
I read several short excerpts from the memoir, including one about how, in the confusing aftermath of my MS diagnosis, I became obsessed with getting a second dog — a puppy — whom we named Tedy Wilson (after the New England Patriots’ Tedy Bruschi).
Now 5 years old, Tedy made a guest appearance.
Image credits: Ryan Donovan, Southborough Library, via Zoom.
I love to support independent bookstores and make sure to visit one whenever I’m in a new town or city. But … since we’re in a pandemic, I figured I’d give you a couple of options of where you can buy my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb. I’ll emphasize the indie bookstores first:
Based in Westborough, MA, this independent store has been the site for book events for all four of my books, including the one and only in-person event to launch my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, before the Coronavirus shutdowns went into effect.
If you’re looking for signed copies of Uncomfortably Numb, email the bookstore and we’ll send the book on its way. You can also call them: 508.366.4959.
Two seriously enthusiastic shout-outs to Paige McGreevy and Zibby Owens for affording me opportunities to chat with them about my memoir Uncomfortably Numb.
These two women have been incredibly generous in helping writers, whose work is being published during a pandemic, connect with book lovers.
McGreevy, who started the New York City-based Les Bleus Literary Salon, has been hosting writers via Zoom as they read from the new books for an audience of literary enthusiasts. (Several of my fellow authors from Lockdown Literature, pictured on the right, have read from their books in recent weeks, so I was in illustrious company.)
You can watch the interview as it happened below. (Luckily, Tedy, my hyper-yappy dog, did NOT burst through my office door — which never quite clicks closed — and start barking. PLUS my three, college-aged kids — who are all finishing up their spring semesters virtually — did not slow down the internet enough to boot me offline.)
Gary Chester — whose wife Cathy Chester, an MS advocate & writer, blurbed my memoir — said the book is not just recommended for MS patients, but also for those who love them:
As a caregiver, I appreciated O’Brien’s role as a tour guide through the labyrinth of a seemingly healthy individual experiencing early symptoms of MS to the ultimate diagnosis and its consequences. The journey is not one of clinical observations that many MS patients and loved ones can check-off as they proceed through the book. It is a personal diary of the frustration, doubts, worries, and grievances of almost any MS patient.
Chester added, “She transports us through the dread in a manner that is thoroughly readable and relatable.”