Of Supplication and Enlightenment: 21 Reasons Why I Write

June 4, 2021 § 3 Comments

By Mary Hannah Terzino

This is not yet the essay on why I write. This is the foreword, in which I draw back a metaphorical curtain to reveal how this particular piece of writing came into being.  It’s the part where I tell you that the form of my piece is as meaningful to me as its substance. It’s the part where I tell you that its simple structure reflects two major influences in my life.

The first is the religion I was raised in, which includes in its services “The Petitions of the Faithful.” That prayer embodies both supplication and yearning, each petition ending in the repeated sentence, “Lord, hear our prayer.” I’m no longer part of that church, but I’m interested in that prayer as writing. Repeated lines can mesmerize. They can relate elements in a piece of writing to each other, or they can contrast them. They can summon urgency.

Like the repeated sentence in the prayer, messages of supplication and yearning are the echoes in every writer’s chapel. We venerate the written word, and we yearn for our writing to transcend our imperfect selves. The hope that it will, the belief that it can, is a reason to write.

(But I’m not talking yet about why I write. I don’t mean to build the suspense, but this is still the foreword.)

The second influence on my essay’s structure is my large, extended family, bursting with cousins who begat more cousins who are now begetting even more, probably as I speak. When one of us turns 60, someone surveys the cousins to create “60 Reasons we Love John,” or Marjorie, or whoever is having the birthday.

Each of the 60 reasons starts with the word “because.” Reasons can be as universal as “Because she’s fun” or as particular as “Because when we were 12 and I stole a dollar from his mom’s purse, he told her he took it.” “Because” is a subordinating conjunction, if you’re curious about its grammatical place in the universe. I think of it as a word of enlightenment, linking a question to its answer. If I were offering a reason for why we write, I’d say that it’s a longing to finish the part of a sentence after “because.”

But this was just the foreword, not the actual essay on why I write. Here is the actual essay: “21 Reasons Why I Write.”

  1. Because writing is the way I enter the world.
  2. Because writing is the way I leave the world behind.
  3. Because writing can embrace that contradiction.   
                   
  4. Because writing is how I try to change the world.
  5. Because writing is how I try to preserve the world.
  6. Because writing can embrace that contradiction.
  7. Because writing is how I confront things in my life that persist.
  8. Because when I’m in the midst of doing that, I usually don’t know it.
  9. Because writing can embrace that contradiction.
  10. Because writing allows me to imprint myself onto fictional Others.
  11. Because writing allows credible claims that my characters aren’t me at all.
  12. Because writing can embrace that contradiction.
  13. Because writing is a gloriously solitary sport.
  14. Because writing demands a trusted writing community.
  15. Because writing can embrace that contradiction.
  16. Because writing begins with listening.
  17. Because writing requires earplugs.
  18. Because writing can embrace that contradiction.
  19. Because writing is prayer.
  20. Because writing is play.
  21. Because writing can embrace that contradiction.

___

Mary Hannah Terzino resides in Saugatuck, Michigan, where she writes overlooking the Kalamazoo River. Her work has been published in The Forge Literary Magazine, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and Blue River Review, among others. She was a 2017 finalist for a fellowship for emerging writers over 50 from The Forge, and won first prize in Fiction Factory‘s 2021 flash fiction competition.

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