All posts by Michael O'Hara


Writing comes easy to me, but sharing it does not. I’ve made this point several times throughout class this semester, and reading John Bean’s Writing Comments on Student’s Papers reminded me of the immense weight of the vulnerability that comes with showing my work to those whose opinions I trust and asking for constructive feedback. I can see myself sitting in a chair, wrapped in the sinking feeling that comes with the lingering anxious thoughts that buzz through my head, constant, stinging, anxious bees. 

The year I taught English in school, I let myself be driven by that anxious feeling, and the idea that there were some students that felt just as I do when sharing my work. Bean brings up the idea that we might not always approach the work of our students with the same sensitivity that we may approach a colleague. If I were to give myself any kind of credit for that one year of fumbling through teaching sophomores and juniors English, it is that I was as sensitive towards them to a similar length that I am bitter towards my own writing. While holding myself to such high standards, I’ve learned the significance of being compassionate towards those students who don’t have the experience I have. I can only imagine being harsh on somebody else who is naturally as self-conscious as I am, and the blow I could deal by providing feedback the wrong way. 

When I approached the writing of my students I could tell who took themselves seriously, those who understood that my class was a form of deconstruction and reconstruction. I always found the things worth praising in the work of my students the things that made their works stand out as individual pieces of artistry, sometimes that can be something as small as one well-crafted metaphor, in other instances, it would be eloquent points written in a coherent, linear format that made it clear just what the author intended. Bean points out that one of the things often ignored by a teacher is the “personal dimensions of writing,” but, to me, that is exactly the thing we should be looking for and expanding upon. 

Sommers brought up something that I wished I had recognized as a teacher, in that I am not there to instruct or guide through the craft of writing, but I am also there to represent the greater audience. It’s a different lens entirely, even if the goal may be the same, I tried to open my students to the ideas of perspective, open-ended thoughts, but at the same time I only ever did that through how I define the concept and perhaps not how other’s would. I now question whether or not I should have elicited some additional perspectives over the course of the year, if for no other reason than to actually provide those additional perspectives and truly give my students the experience of writing for an audience beyond that of one individual. 

Should my opinion have been the end all be all in my classroom? I don’t know. Sommers brings up excellent points regarding the appropriation of a paper during the drafting process. When a teacher provides feedback on a draft, this can lead to students only correcting the particular errors that a teacher has pointed out without expanding on or editing the actual thoughts that they had at the start of the paper. Growth may not come this way, as the perspective those students hold is not being challenged or pushed back upon. 

After reading through the two articles this week, I feel stepping back from teaching in order to sort out my views on much of this may have been the correct call. 

Writing Ideologies and an Understanding of Selfish Art

As a student working towards a Master’s degree in Writing Studies, I understand that I am expected to become a part of a greater dialogue and contributor to discussions related to rhetoric, it’s history, how it is a necessary part of writing and how the thoughts on the art of writing have changed over time. Yet as I sit here, I become increasingly aware of just how little I truly understand, and find it increasingly difficult to contribute to the conversation when I have no steadfast opinion, no horse in the race, no stakes in the game whatsoever.

Instead, there are questions I find myself internalizing, as I reflect my own worth as a writer. I’ve never published anything, never even attempted. The novels I’ve written in the past have usually become the catalyst for wastebasket-ball, or, if not printed, tenants in prime real estate on hard drives that could have gone to more useful things like bitcoin wallets or dark memes, because my collection of those has never been quite big enough.

For thousands of years humans have used rhetoric in speech and composition, to persuade, give a call to action, relay messages, provide entertainment, among other countless reasons. While the idea of studying writing may be newer, the process of writing goes back generations. Some of those ancient texts are still read and studied today for the messages they convey. What would it take to write something that merits will outlive me?

The above question speaks to a relationship between the author and the audience, because the audience defines the impact of a work of writing. The 1960’s saw a groundswell of work related to the relationship between artist and audience. My work, however, rarely sees and audience eyes. I have a conscious need to get my work in front of eyes yet an outright fear of doing so, thus, my writing in it’s current state is a form of selfish art (Noah Gundersen would be so proud)

According to many theorists from this weeks reading, writers make choices. Every word put on a piece of paper is the choice of a writer, and creates a writers authentic voice, but I could never define my voice if I wanted to, to me it’s as non-existent reflection of me. I don’t know what my voice is, and I don’t think I ever will, as I will never get to read what I put down on paper without the lens of being the author that arranged them. My voice then is defined by an audience that I struggle to put myself before. How do I break this cycle?

I cannot even properly decide which of the ideologies that Faigley described in 1986 fits me as an individual. Expressivists value originality, the cognitive value recursive processes, and the social-epistemic value discourse communities and the development as a language as a social process. While I would love to say that I see myself as an expressivist, I’m forced to recognize that there is very little originality left under the sun. I would love to say I’m a social thinker regarding the writing process, but I keep the heart and soul of my writing hidden typically. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, there is a time and a place for each ideology, and only through blending all of them can any form of writing, or teaching on the craft, stand the test of time, but, will I ever understand enough of each ideology blend them in such a way that I can have an impact on others?

I imagine, for the time being, I will continue to hold myself back, and let the spotlight fall on those willing to take a greater risk than I have been willing to up until this point. I once taught writing in a high school, despite feeling like I understand so little of what it is I actually do, or don’t do.

On Writing

I try to convince myself that when I stare at a blank page and can’t find the words to fill it with that I am romanticizing the ideas I can fill it with and not fumbling over my own insecurities as a writer.

Hello, I am Michael O’Hara. I am an aspiring failed novelist, a manic depressive floundering teacher, all around lost individual, and current student in the Writing Studies master’s program at Kean University.

Originally, I joined the writing program at Kean University as I was looking to transition my career from pharmaceuticals to education. I had spent nearly a decade as a pharmacy technician with various organization, with my last position being during the pandemic. It was during this time that I felt I needed a change. My role with that final company had me numb to myself; I was less hands on with patients and more in touch with an electronic prescription management system than I would have ever preferred.

I’ve always wanted to matter, or at least to feel like I matter, and losing my connection to my patients made me feel like I didn’t. I was a cog in a machine, pushing a pumping oil through tubes to motors running conveyer belts and assembly lines, and I lost bits of myself with each passing day. The idea had been floated to me before that I would be an excellent high school teacher, and so I decide I would become one.

The pandemic changed the world in countless ways, and I have no doubt that it changed the course of the education system for decades to come. My first year teaching, I met some gifted and incredible kids, some of which with their own brilliance lost to them, yet… it was a struggle from the very beginning, and it never stopped being one for me. I wanted my student to share my love of novels, poetry, thought, expression, and very few did. Despite the fact that I became a mentor to many, the things I taught them became much more about life and much less about content. I wanted to treat my students like young adults, but that proved to be a mistake in many ways. My thoughts on becoming a teacher have soured over time.

So now, I am what many might call “a little lost”. I have no desire to go back to pharmaceuticals, am worried I will lose my passion for literature and the art of writing, do not find much interest in returning to working at assisted living facilities, making promotional videos, or retracing my steps back to any of the other positions I’ve held over my working career. The only thing that I want to do, the only thing I think is for me, is writing.

I want to write because I have road-tripped America five times, living out of my car in mountains and deserts, slept under stars in a Kansas winter, and walked across the Golden Gate of the Golden State. I’ve met some of the most beautiful people with stories that humbled me, reduced my ego to porcelain and shattered it under the weight of what they had experienced, lives I’d never lived, and all the while I was looking for something, a story that would put my life into context, rectify who I was with who I am so desperately trying to be.

I have more questions than I will ever have answers to, but the questions that linger fester, writhing with me. I don’t know who I am, and sometimes I rely on the characters in my head to shed some light on those pieces of me that I need to reacquaint myself with. Currently, I am writing a novel about a heartbroken man searching for answers, I see myself in him, and see those I love in everyone that he loves. The novels I hope to release to the world, the ones filled with grit, piss, vinegar, bile, and the horrors of the world, are love letters all the same.