what’s it like to have an mri when you’re claustrophobic?

My new piece at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s MS Connection blog tackles the topic of what it’s like for a someone (that would be me) to have an MRI when you’re claustrophobic, particularly when your head has to be enclosed by this lovely little thing called a “face cage.”

An excerpt of the piece:

“… [A] technician beckons me into the large room where the behemoth machine resides.

This is when the fun starts. And when I say ‘fun,’ I mean the opposite of fun. I really mean ‘terror.’ I mean a trapped-inside-something-and-can’t-get-out terror. It’s at this point when, after placing my head between two hard pieces of plastic, the technician clicks a hard plastic cage over my face and into those twin pillars. There is a relatively narrow rectangular opening above my face, but there’s no avoiding the fact that I am confined. The face cage is about two inches away from the tip of my nose. Its mere presence makes me feel like I can’t breathe. Like I’m being punished. Locked up.

Did I mention that I’m claustrophobic?”

Read the full post here.

Advertisements

essay: adventures with a dairy allergy

dairyIt was a serendipitous coincidence that my latest column for The Mighty website, “Got Milk? Adventures with a Dairy Allergy” was published as many were celebrating National Cheese Day an event in which I, sadly, did not partake.

The piece involves Thanksgiving dinner at my sister-in-law’s house, a jar of gravy, and a couple of doses of Benadryl. It starts this way:

My legs seemed to dissolve beneath me. My eyelids grew heavy as I plunged into sleep like I was falling off a cliff. Actually, it’s more accurate to describe what happened this way: I passed out in my sister-in-law’s guest bedroom, as if I’d been drugged. Blame it on the dry milk.

Read the whole essay here.

Image credit: The Mighty website via Getty Image/Baibaz.

essay: ms keeps some patients under summertime house arrest

the-mighty-300x300The website The Mighty has published a piece of mine about the brutal impact of summertime heat and humidity on multiple sclerosis patients.

“I am locked in a personal war with heat and humidity,” I wrote in the piece, my first at The Mighty where I am now a contributing writer. “To me, they are more than mere summertime annoyances, inconveniences that cause one’s hair to frizz, make-up to melt off one’s face in a colorful oil slick, and perspiration to soak one’s clothing with unsightly blotches. To me, heat and humidity are my jailers.”

Read the whole essay here.

Image credit: The Mighty website.

signing sneakers & arms at a massachusetts middle school

ac82ea3d-b0de-4adb-b1d4-4a76ff1c0fd6It was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.

And my first sneaker.

And a slightly sweaty palm.

f8f5e515-78e3-46c4-b15a-b6df7ca57768

Students from the Granite Valley Middle School — where I spoke in March about Mr. Clark’s Big Band — were full of questions, energy, and requests for me to use my green Sharpie to sign … their various limbs and footwear. (They SWORE their parents would be totally okay with this. For the record, I remain skeptical.)

Before I spoke in the auditorium, I visited the Granite Valley band room where students assured me that their Mr. Clark — who goes by the name of Mr. Topham in Monson — is just as lively and off-center as the lead character in my book.

a012dafb-8c38-4c57-9cb9-84193fa88e57Later, I shared stories about how and why I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band about a middle school jazz band about an hour’s drive to the east, told them tales about Southborough’s Mr. Clark, and read passages aloud while a PowerPoint presentation behind me showed various images of Mr. Clark (including one of him in a goofy pink wig during a performance), and of the Trottier Middle School band room.

The image that got the loudest response? The one of chicken-in-a-can that was on screen as I read a segment from the chapter called, cleverly enough, “Chicken-in-a-Can.” At least the presentation was AFTER lunch so it didn’t spoil anyone’s meal.

a1e0c588-b981-4df5-a402-4b3fc295c218I also got the opportunity to catch up with my friend from West Springfield (MA) High School, Granite Valley’s Principal Mary Cieplik (above, on the right), who generously invited me to address her students.

If you’d like me to visit your students, or your book club, send me an email: mereditheobrien@gmail.com.

Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.

talking books, writing, and music in hopkinton

The trio that make up the Hopkinton Coffee Break hosts — Darlene Hayes, Colleen Wright, and Patricia Duarte — recently invited me to dish with them about my writing, my kids, and journalism during their lively half-hour weekly talk show.

We discussed my latest book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band (2017), about a Southborough jazz band led by a risk-taking teacher, as well as my other books, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing (2013), about a fictional blogger who reveals way too much personal info online, and my collection of humor/parenting columns from when my three children were but wee youngin’s, A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum (2007).

essay: how I’m preparing to watch ‘this is us’ on super bowl sunday


In honor of Super Bowl Sunday weekend, here’s a special original piece by yours truly. 

*Spoilers ahead from the latest episode of This is Us.*

In the final moments of the last episode of the ten-hanky drama This Is Us, viewers learn that Jack Pearson, the father of three teenagers, will likely die in a house fire after the finicky Crock-Pot he and his wife Rebecca received from a neighbor, fatally malfunctions. The tight shot on the family’s battery-less smoke alarm, combined with an earlier scene of a wailing Rebecca in front of the Pearsons’ burned-out house, have foreshadowed this ugly turn of events for weeks.

But the first indication that Super Bowl Sunday would be the night of the house fire was when the oh-my-God-something-bad’s-gonna-happen music — those spare piano notes, the aching voice and lyrics — started playing at the end of the most recent episode. You just knew what would happen next. You could just feel it.

Continue reading “essay: how I’m preparing to watch ‘this is us’ on super bowl sunday”

writers’ day panel at BPU talks current events & nonfiction

bay path writers day 2017CBay Path University played host to its 16th Writers’ Day this past weekend, as scribes talked about how to effectively read one’s work aloud in front of a crowd (Charles Coe, All Sins Forgiven poet and author extraordinaire!) and how to turn family documents, handwritten letters, and memories into an intergenerational memoir (the fabulous Patricia Reis, Motherlines author).

bay path writers day 2017BThe final panel was packed with tales from three writers–Kinship of Clover’s Ellen Meeropol, This is How It Begins’ Joan Dempsey, and yours truly (see above photos)–who discussed how we used events in the world and in our own lives to inspire our writing, as well as how we folded current events into existing narratives on which we were working. My presentation focused on the real life events in my town of Southborough that inspired Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and how I worked events such as the Newtown school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing into my book about a middle school jazz band.

Thank you to author and educator Suzanne Strempek Shea for putting these panels together and for affording us the opportunity to spend an afternoon talking about one of our favorite subjects: writing.

Image credits: Suzanne Strempek SheaSuzanne Strempek Shea via the Bay Path University MFA Program.