When body and mind flit about

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My thanks to everyone who flitted about during 2013 and in the process clicked onto keithwatkinshistorian 27,000 times. I plan to continue these musings during 2014 and in this, my first blog of the new year, I am summarizing my intentions for the 60 or more columns I intend to post during the next twelve months.

As in the past, they will focus on the two aspects of life about which I have been publishing online as Keith Watkins Historian: American Religion and Bicycling.

These statements, which usually vary in length from 750 and 850 words, are personal statements about things I’m reading, doing, thinking about, or trying to figure out. Although I usually spend two or three hours—often more but rarely less—writing each statement, they still are musings and reflections more than polished and completed units of though.

Christy Wampole, an assistant professor of French at Princeton University, helps me understand the character of these postings. In a column published in the New York Times on May 26, 2013, she discusses essay as a much-used form of writing. By essay, she means a “short nonfiction prose with a meditative subject at its center and a tendency away from certitude.”

Introducing the word “essayism,” Wampole says that it “consists in a self-absorbed subject feeling around life, exercising what Theodor Adorno called the ‘essay’s groping intention,’ approaching everything tentatively and with short attention, drawing analogies between the particular and the universal.

“Banal, everyday phenomena — what we eat, things upon which we stumble, things that interest us — rub elbows implicitly with the Big Questions: What are the implications of the human experience? What is the meaning of life? Why something rather than nothing? Like the Father of the Essay [Michel de Montaigne], we let the mind and body flit from thing to thing, clicking around from mental hyperlink to mental hyperlink.”

Of course, as an aggressive bicyclist, the bodily flitting about discussed in this column features two-wheeled travel most of the time, but sometimes I branch out to related forms of activity. Coming soon, for example, will be notes prompted by my recent rereading of Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. My interest in the well-being of the earth continues to be expressed in this column, as can be seen in the current series of essays prompted by the book The West Without Water.

Getting Ready for 2014Some of the blogs during 2014 will be prompted by my own bicycle ventures of the year, including a few days of cycling in Florida (if it quits raining), a four-day ride down part of the California coastline in February, and PAC Tour’s Century Week in March. Some of these columns will be descriptive, but I will also spend more time trying to describe “the meditative subject” at the center of these rides.

Some of my bicycle writing will focus upon cycling, public policy, and safety. Here, my opinions are strong enough that I may find it difficulty to maintain the “tendency away from certitude” that Wampole cites as one of the characteristics of essays.

Over the years, I have written and self-published some two dozen travel narratives featuring bike trips I have taken. This coming year may allow me the time and provide the motivation to bring them together in two book-length manuscripts that could be shopped to publishers as real books. This blog will likely serve as a venue in which I begin shaping the central narrative for these manuscripts.

As religious historian, my mindful flitting about will be shaped by three intentions for the year. (1) I hope to conclude one unpublished (and perhaps unpublishable) book-length manuscript in the field of local church history. (2) I intend to post several blogs on issues and implications related to the ecumenical Protestant churches that have come to my attention while writing my forthcoming book, The American Church That Might Have Been. (3) I will try to outline a new book in which I describe my pilgrimage of faith and where it has brought me.

All three of these topics are rife with blogging possibilities. These columns will serve as miniature essays. In them I will approach everything “tentatively and with short attention, drawing analogies between the particular and the universal.”

According to the year-end summary that WordPress sent me on December 30, this blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. It it were a public lecture at the Sydney Opera House, which holds 2,700 people, it would have taken five sold-out performances for that many people to hear these presentations. As blogs go, that’s a very small number. Even so, I am grateful to readers who have found their way to keithwatkinshistorian.wordpress.com. I hope that you and many others will continue reading these brief, tentative, wide-ranging essays during 2014.

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