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/

why did i wait so long to join a support group?

My latest post for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s publication, Momentum Magazine, describes my initial reluctance — fueled by fear — to join an MS support group. But after attending several online support groups to promote my medical memoir, Uncomfortably Numb, I realized I was missing out.

Here’s how the piece begins:

I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in July 2014. Upon receiving my diagnosis, I reached out to the National MS Society for information. Included in the materials I received were contact details for MS support groups in my area. But despite the fact that I was perfectly able to attend a support group, I resisted.

Why?

I was petrified to sit, face-to-face, with my potential future.

Read the whole piece here.

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!

podcasts, youtube series feature ‘uncomfortably numb’

I rang out the wretched 2020 and rang in 2021 with interviews about Uncomfortably Numb: a memoir with podcasters and the host of a YouTube series.

We talked about adjusting one’s life to an unexpected turn of events (like having the world shut down because of COVID, as well as, obviously, getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis), the impulsive decisions we can make when we’re under stress (like “panic adopting” a puppy just months after getting diagnosed with MS, as many folks have done amid coronavirus shut-downs), and the impact of about writing about very personal topics.

Spoonie Author Podcast

Dianna Gunn, of the Spoonie Author Network — a network “devoted to sharing the stories of disabled, d/Deaf, neurodiverse authors (and/or authors who manage mental illness and/or chronic conditions) and educating abled people about what life is like for us as ‘Spoonie’ creatives” — conducted an interview with me where we discussed how a multiple sclerosis diagnosis upended my life and forced a stubborn me to pace myself when it came to my day’s activities (something with which I’ve had mixed results).

The Situation and the Story Podcast

Weeks later, Chris Moore, of The Situation and the Story Podcast — which interviews authors about “the ways our various identities and intersectionalities inform our stories and make us who we are” — chatted with me about writing this intensely intimate memoir which covers rough emotional terrain, from my own illness and questions about who I’d be as a writer if some of my symptoms worsened, to the death of my mother with whom I had a challenging relationship.

Dr. Brandon Beaber’s YouTube Multiple Sclerosis Channel

Then I heard from a California-based neurologist who specializes in multiple sclerosis, Dr. Brandon Beaber, who asked if I’d speak with him about Uncomfortably Numb and my experiences as an MS patient.

Dr. Beaber, the author of Resilience in the Face of Multiple Sclerosis, has a YouTube channel packed with informational videos about all things multiple sclerosis.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Dianna Gunn, to Chris Moore and to Dr. Brandon Beaber for the time you spent discussing Uncomfortably Numb.

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.

invite me & my fellow ‘authors in pajamas’ to your book groups

With the advent of Zoom-based book groups during this horrendous pandemic, authors have gotten creative.

One way is to offer book clubs the opportunity for us to appear on a Zoom chat wearing funky pajamas.

This fall I joined the group Authors in Pajamas, a group of writers who you can invite to your virtual book clubs. If you schedule a visit, you’ll get a lively chat featuring a writer in cozy PJs!

A list of the authors — as well as links to get our books — is available here.

good book fairy calls uncomfortably numb ‘a wonderful, absorbing memoir’ with ‘heart and insight’

Book blogger, the Good Book Fairy, featured Uncomfortably Numb on her site, giving it four stars.

Her review:

“Uncomfortably Numb is a wonderful, absorbing memoir where the author chronicles her transformation after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. O’Brien, who is an author/journalist by trade, writes about her life pre- and post-diagnosis, and provides an honest account of how her diagnosis impacted her life and family. The author shares the long diagnostic process where many doctors did not take her seriously.

O’Brien writes with openness of heart and insight. I found her to be honest, relatable, and authentic. I admired her strength, courage, and perseverance as she finally accepts her diagnosis and learns to adapt to her ‘new normal,’ and hold onto her identify as a writer, she states that her ‘reluctance to move forward into uncertainty is rooting me in place, paralyzing me.’

Throughout the book, O’Brien showcases her talents as an investigative journalist by weaving in medical reports, physicians’ notes, and lots of valuable information about MS. She also spends a lot of time talking about her wonderfully supportive family.

… Prospective readers should know that this book is about much more than MS. There are universal themes throughout, and the lesson that readers can take away and apply to their own lives.”