springfield (ma) paper features ‘uncomfortably numb’

Screenshot 2020-05-25 19.09.33The 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.

Here’s how it begins:

In her new book, Uncomfortably Numb: A memoir about the life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis,” West Springfield native Meredith O’Brien describes how she went overboard one Christmas season after a semester teaching ended and she proceeded to tackle “a ton of activities, too many, actually.”

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.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

Thank you to editor Cynthia Simison –who was my bureau chief in the Westfield, MA bureau — and to writer Cori Urban for the piece.

The article includes a plug for my June 1, 1-2 p.m. webinar with Bay Path University’s MFA in creative nonfiction to discuss “The Art of the Medical Memoir.” Sign up for the free webinar here.

Image credit: The Republican.

 

scenes from a virtual author event

sboro library talk4

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.

sboro library talk1

Image credits: Ryan Donovan, Southborough Library, via Zoom.

 

talking with robin kall at ‘reading with robin’ (+ book giveaway)

Screenshot 2020-03-15 12.31.51Robin Kall, the lovely host of Reading with Robin on Facebook, was kind enough to have me appear on her virtual author-palooza tour:

You can watch the interview here. (For some reason I couldn’t upload it here.)

We talked about the memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, about the impact of coronavirus on our lives, and about invisible chronic illnesses. I also read an excerpt from the beginning of the book when I first experienced multiple sclerosis symptoms.

Book giveaway: If you go onto Facebook and post a comment, you could win a signed copy of Uncomfortably Numb. At noon on Tuesday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — I’ll write down the names of all the commenters (old school, on paper) and pick two names out of a hat. I’ll then contact those lucky two.

Kall, a fellow New Englander, has been interviewing authors all weekend. Check out a group of other authors talking books.

In a pandemic, why not discover new authors and their books.

upcoming events: first memoir event 3/7

Tatnuck eventI’ve been furiously updating my Google calendar to add new book-related events to promote my memoir, Uncomfortably Numb (released on March 3).

Here’s a list of what I have scheduled thus far:

Book launch: March 7, 1-3 p.m., Tatnuck Bookseller, Westborough, MA

My first event for Uncomfortably Numb is a March 7 book talk and signing at Westborough, MA’s independent bookstore, 18 Lyman Street, Westborough.

The event runs from 1-3 p.m. Light refreshments will be available.

I’ll be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Book talk: March 26, Northborough, MA Lyceum

I have been invited to talk about the impact the Southborough middle school music program had on two of my children as chronicled in my 2017 nonfiction book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears & Jazz in a Middle School Band Room.  

The book examined how a larger-than-life music teacher helped his grieving students in a small Massachusetts town find strength and peace through the creative expression in their music and the camaraderie of the band room.

The talk — whose details are still being worked out — will take place in Northborough, MA.

Screenshot 2020-03-05 12.40.53

Book talk/signing: March 28, 1 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Holyoke, MA

I will be heading back to western Massachusetts — where I grew up and went to college — to promote Uncomfortably Numb at the Barnes & Noble, 7 Holyoke Street, Holyoke, MA (near the Holyoke Mall).

The event begins at 1 p.m.

I will be collecting donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Southborough library event flyer

Book talk/signing: April 9, 7 p.m., Southborough Public Library, Southborough, MA

I will be discussing why I wrote Uncomfortably Numb and will read aloud from the memoir at the Southborough Public Library, 25 Main Street, Southborough.

The event starts at 7 p.m.

***

I’m working on scheduling other events and will post them when plans are nailed down.

three writers on ‘uncomfortably numb:’ ‘triumphant,’ ‘riveting’ & ‘engaging’

41y3qh52bytl._sx326_bo1204203200_Three wonderful writers — memoirists and a novelist — generously agreed to read early copies of Uncomfortably Numb: A Memoir and to share with me their thoughts about it. And their words, dear reader, were very kind.

Marisa Bardach Ramel, co-author of The Goodbye Diaries: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of loss and love, wrote:

Uncomfortably Numb is a journalist’s investigation to uncover the mysterious illness that plagues her, combined with a mother’s touch to understand how it will impact her family, her career, and the rest of her life. A triumphant story of determination and resiliency. 

51spuobfyll._sx325_bo1204203200_Meanwhile, novelist Joan Dempsey, author of This is How It Begins, offered this:

A riveting memoir … O’Brien’s honesty, humility and humor will have you flying through the pages, rooting for her every step of the way.

Finally, writer Lisa Romeo — who was one of my MFA professors when I was working on Uncomfortably Numb — author of memoir, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, was the perfect person to review the memoir because, in addition to its chronicling of my MS diagnosis, it also details my mother’s sudden illness and death at age 65. I was diagnosed with MS four months after she passed.

swg-final-with-tabsRomeo wrote:

Uncomfortably Numb pulls readers into the reality of an unexpected and life-altering diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, with forthright clarity, detail, heart, and insight. O’Brien’s memoir is not only a gift to adults dealing with MS, but also for people grappling with any other sudden onset diseases and similarly “invisible” conditions — and for the people who love them.

This story offers the full view of how MS invades a life, from fear, loss, and complications, to adjustments and small victories. The author’s story of the first few years of disease progression — overlapping with raising teenagers, continuing a career, grief, and midlife losses — takes readers through challenges, triumphs, and disappointments of all sizes, on the road to acceptance.

At turns unsettled and dispirited, O’Brien is also an appealing narrator you’ll root for as she advocates for herself (and by extension, for other women whose undiagnosed symptoms are often dismissed). Along the way, she comes to understand her disease and herself more thoroughly as she creates her new reality. An engaging, thought-provoking, informative story, and a narrator you’ll want to know and follow.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Marisa, Joan, and Lisa.

Image credits from Amazon, Joan Dempsey, and Lisa Romeo.

publishing news: memoir coming in spring 2020

August 2019 book promo

The memoir on which I’ve been working for several years, Uncomfortably Numb, is being published by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing in the spring of 2020.

While chronicling the onset of symptoms that ultimately led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Uncomfortably Numb tells the story of not only finding an uneasy peace with the permanent uncertainty of living with a chronic illness, but also of coping with the premature death of one’s mother and the ensuing collateral emotional damage.

Here’s the Publishers Marketplace announcement of the deal:

August 2019 Publish announcement

Image credits: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing and Publishers Marketplace.

 

‘mr. clark’s big band’ goes to southborough library & the symphony

southborough library photo

The book talk/signing at the Southborough Library finally — finally! — happened after being rescheduled three times following snowstorms and a bout of the flu.

claflin obrien and clarkParents of current and former Trottier Middle School students who attended the reading at the library (see video below) told me they were mentally and emotionally brought back to the days when our children roamed the halls of the middle school, when some of the kids played music for Mr. Clark, and when all of the students mourned the loss of their friend, Eric Green.

Two days later, Mr. Clark and I chatted about Mr. Clark’s Big Band with music fans at the Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra’s final performance of the season, a season in which music educators were celebrated.

Some current Trottier Middle School students attended the show in Milford’s historic town hall and stopped by to greet Mr. Clark, who couldn’t play the trombone with his pals in the Claflin brass section because he recently had elbow surgery (see the sling he’s sporting in the photo below).

claflin obrien and clark2Several folks also paused at the book table to fondly remember former Algonquin Regional High School music director Dennis Wrenn, the man who helped Mr. Clark get his job in the Southborough school system and who is mentioned several times in Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

It can sometimes seem like a small world indeed.

Image credits: Southborough Access Media (first image), Scott Weiss (other two images)