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Thinking Makes It So: Earnest and unimportant

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By Kelly LeVan

When I’m driving, brushing my teeth, putting drops in my dog’s infected eye and even writing this column, I’m also asking myself, “Is what I write worth reading? Do I have anything to say?”My forgiving readers might remember some doozies – one where I tell, in goofy-shallow terms, why I like fiction more than non-fiction or nearly any of my top-10 lists. These represent times when I didn’t come up with a good answer to my questions. Is it important that I got lost once in Pajarito Acres? Is it even entertaining? Opinions vary, my own included, but I wrote about it anyhow.Sometimes I wax on about poets I adore, or my fianc, whom I super-sumo-King-Kong-sized adore, because these topics matter so much to me. Nevertheless, I still have trouble judging what appeals to subscribers to the Los Alamos Monitor. There are thousands of you, and you each have your own super-sumo loves, possibly very different from mine.Probably, some of you are really tired of reading about Wallace Stevens. I can’t even imagine what that’s like.I believe nearly everything can be important, if written about with the right care, sensibility and depth. I’ve read all the way through lengthy articles in the New Yorker magazine about high-risk loans, fashion designers I’d never heard of, corn and many other subjects that mean nothing to me. I enjoy them because the writers’ enthusiasm and talent beguile me. They don’t write generic lines.I fall for prose like some men fall for women: It’s the form they desire, regardless of the specific words. Although one could argue the form they desire is somewhat generic – that’s where sex and literary taste fail to compare.Anyhow, I don’t think these authors’ tricks would work so consistently if not for the inherent interest we humans have in what other humans do.This understanding has helped me relax. I want everything I write to be fair-minded, eloquent, momentous, infallible – I want it to carry a lot of traits that I don’t have myself. The harder I try, of course, the more contrived the writing. My mistake has been thinking that in order to write meaningfully – in my mind, this is synonymous with being meaningful – I have to write something of everlasting significance: perfect words.I’m beginning to realize that honest, genuine thoughts connect to a reader on some level baser than the intellectual, in some dank, grizzly cave located just behind the primary motor cortex, or maybe along the borders of our fingernails, that messy, shaggy zone we can’t stop tugging and biting at.I like to sound smart as much as the next M.F.A. grad does, but I also want to write words that you can tug and bite at, that you can’t resist playing with, that you reflexively grip between your teeth, a beast for literature.I’m glad I have nothing wise to say that you couldn’t easily come up with yourself. It means we’re alike, reader and writer. It means I respect you, and that even when I write about my dad’s skinny sweat pants or my grotesque, 30-year-old’s love for tutus, you might grant me a few minutes, minutes which are, intrinsically, more important than anything I might say.Lately, I feel possessed by what everyone knows means the end of all great thought, even in brains much fuller, much more like collegiate gardens of Eden – gardens of Harvard – than my own untended garden of Western New Mexico University. Disregarding a few odd days out, I’m happy.After too many long and somber, glitterless years, I’ve become the kind of person who colors eggs. I don’t even have a child. When Michael does his impromptu Linda Blair impression, I laugh like I’m 3. I laugh as though chocolate milk should come out my nose and spray the dog. I laugh like nothing bad ever happens to anyone. I should know better. I just got back from China.But just as sincerity and substance don’t always go together, neither do bad experiences and life-long pain. For instance, take my recent trip to Beijing and Shanghai. I’d never been off continent before, having driven once to Montreal and once, with a zoology class, to San Carlos, Mexico. My pre-China farthest-away destination was Alaska, where the customs generally match those of other U.S. cities and towns.In order to go to Asia, I did so many things I had never done before. I applied for a passport. I applied for a visa – which was a little difficult to obtain as an American journalist. I got immunized against diseases I don’t have to worry about in Los Alamos, like Typhoid Fever. I bought a travel guide, something I maybe should have done for my weekend in Montreal but did not.It’s almost hysterically fun to prepare for a trip like this – for me, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. I never thought I’d get to wait in the immigration line at the international terminal at Beijing. I was just some kid nobody liked in high school. Thank God for the insignificance in that.E-mail Kelly, who promises to write more about her adventures in China soon, at laeditor@lamonitor.com.