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The Crusade For The Grail Diary

In 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released.  While it is my favorite of the three – and only three – Indiana Jones movies, it stands out in my mind not for its plot or the acting, but for one very specific prop.

In the film, Indiana’s dad has a notebook that he keeps all of his information about his grail quest.  It’s a little palm size book that he calls his Grail Diary.  This prop seemed so magical to me when I was kid.  I’d been surrounded by books my entire life but there was something wonderful about the idea of a one-off book that only you, the creator of the book, understood.  Something that was half reference material and half art project.

“Look at this epic fucking thing, Junior.”

I’ve alway wanted something like the Grail Diary, but I didn’t want that notebook.  I love movies but I don’t really have the prop obsession that some people have to go out and create a replica of a movie prop.  I wish I did, but that requires way more patients than I currently have.

However, the grail quest like obsession that the Last Crusade did give me was for notebooks.  I wanted to have my own Grail Diary about a subject that I thought was cool.  This lead me to lots of spiral notebooks filled with story ideas and pen and paper RPG notes.  Alas, they do not have the same presence as something that was create by a movie’s art director.

Like everyone who went to college for English, I started collecting Moleskin notebooks.  When I was first getting into them, they were just palm size, hard cover books.  I still have my first one kicking round here somewhere, still waiting for me to finish filling its pages.

And that’s my major problem: I never finish any of the notebooks that I have.  Sometimes it’s because I pick a topic that I’m only going to write about in that notebook.  Of course, I then lose interest in said topic and don’t want to take notes about it anymore. Sometimes I create one that’s just going to be a journal.  I can’t lose interest in the notebook when I’m the subject right? Wrong.  Not only am I not the most interesting person in the world – I know, it was a surprise to me too – but writing journal style entries kills my hand.  It’s just easier for me to write long form on a computer.  I’m faster and I have more stamina.  However, I lose out on the tactile joy of analog materials.

About a year ago I stumbled upon Bullet Journaling.  Which is a productivity system where you write down everything you want to do or are thinking about as a running series of one line notes.  It’s pretty elegant system and I ran with it for a few months, filling up a new Moleskin, graph paper notebook.  This system was creating something the most like the Grail Diary.  It was non-linear, yet it yielded a useful book upon rereading.

The problem with Bullet Journaling is that it is a productivity system which means that if you’re not using it every day it’s really easy to lose interest and then you kind of build up a negative streak.  “I haven’t looked at my journal for three days, why look at it today.” I stopped using my bullet journal towards the end of last year.

I’ve created a new one with the start of this year but I haven’t put a lot of effort into it.

That isn’t to say, however, that I’ve given up on creating my Grail Diary.  I still love the idea of journals and notebooks.  I love that people create these ad-hoc systems for recording information that’s only important to them.  I research new ways to write notes and new systems to keep track of them. I look up what other people have made journals and notebooks about.  When there’s someone on a train writing in a notebook, I’m always shoulder surfing them.  Not because I want to see what they’re writing, but because I want to see them creating an artifact that is unique, and only useful to, themselves.

The act of journaling is something so personal, yet I don’t think we talk about it enough.  I don’t think we share enough information about this habit that creates these bespoke, handicraft books.

For the most part most of my note-taking and journaling is done digitally.  Making my computer my Grail Diary of sorts, but I’m still looking for ways to journal in an analog way that will create something truly unique at the end of it.  But like the true quest for the Holy Grail, it’s not the Grail that’s important, it’s the search.

Main Image – via flickr

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Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas Rewatch

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hunter S. Thompson lately.  We’re coming up on the anniversary of his death and that always gets me thinking about artists, art, and writing.  So I had a couple beers and watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas again.  I was actually going to do a review of drunk, in true Gonzo style, but I didn’t because… well… I was drunk.

The movie still holds up and is a great love letter to the book.  I still don’t know how the hell that thing got made.  I mean, can you actually tell me the plot of that Fear and Loathing?  Two guys get high and trash a hotel room, and then get high and trash another hotel room.  I know I’m not being fair to the book but this did get green lit for a movie that’s about all the more action is in the flick.  You could make the argument that Duke tweaks to the fact that their bender – and by extension their lives – has gone too far, but I think he had a pretty strong suspicion that was going to happen even before they got to Vegas.

Do not think for one second I’m bagging on that book or the movie.  The novel is probably my second favorite book of all time.  It’s just not something that would lend itself to being made into a movie, which I guess is why they made it.  And good for them.  Filming the unfilmable movie is Punk Rock filmmaking at its finest.

Plus, there is something really magical about Johnny Depp reading Hunters word’s out loud. I’m so glad there are so many moments in the film where it’s really just you, Depp, and the words.

Not many people can write like Hunter when he’s on top of his game.  There’s just something about the words he chooses to use and have such a presence and voracity.  I’ve always wanted to be that deft with wordplay, but I’ve always felt my vocabulary to be a little thin.  It’s something that happens when you are such a crap speller like I am.  You stick to the nine words you know.

But hey, I’m writing a lot more now so maybe I’ll add a tenth word.

Edit: totally misspelled Vegas every time I used it in this post. But I’ve corrected it and you’ll never know I screwed up unless I write something on here about it.  But what are the chances of that happening?

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How I Blog

Since I’m about a month into my year long blogging challenge, I thought it would be fun to write about how I actually blog.  Let’s start with the technology I use and then move on to my actual process.

Computer: MacBook Air (13 inch, 2014 edition).  While I do have a desktop, the MacBook has been an absolute revelation.  It’s super light, fast, and has an amazing keyboard that just feels great to type on.  I have this thing on me at all times, and I’ve found that I write a lot more in those little down times we all have.  Like when I’m on the train.  Also, my God does this thing have great battery life.  It never wants to die.

Blogging Platform: WordPress.com.  I’ve been a WordPress user for about eight years now.  It’s sort of become blogging in my mind.  I’ve been thinking about moving the blog to a self-hosted version of WordPress, but I haven’t really wanted to put up with all of the handholding a self-host requires.  Right now, it’s just better to let the nice folks at WordPress handle everything for me.

Writing App: Desk. I had a little trouble getting this to work with my blogging platform, but once I did, it was a dream.  It has a really slick interface that gets out of your way when when you’re writing and then it’s there the second you need to do any kind of formatting.  This is exactly what I like out of a writing environment: just a box to write in.  It’s not that the writing environment with WordPress is bad, it just lives in my web browser – the distraction machine.  Desk keeps me from flicking to another tab in search of who wrote the original Shadow stories or something like that.  In fact, when I’m actually writing I create a second desktop on my Mac just for my writing program so I don’t have any distractions.

Note Taking and Planing App:  Evernote.  I have a notebook just for my blog with a master list of blog ideas.  That’s the main thing I use the app for right now.  I do something pre-write directly into it if I have a particularly complex post that I’m working on.  I probably should find ways to use this app more to organize my writing.  That’s probably something to work on in the coming months.

Image Searching: Creative Commons Search.  I’m trying a lot harder to use photos in my posts.   The problem is that I suck as a photographer and it’s hard enough just to find time to write let alone take a few photos.  Generally, I jump onto Creative Commons Search and find a few pics that go with the theme of my post.  It’s been working pretty well for me so far, so I haven’t had to go onto any of the pay sites to find images.

My Process: While I do have a nice desk, my preferred method of blogging is to either be on the couch or on the train.  I like being in a slightly unorthodox position when I blog.  It lends something to the immediacy of it.  

I also try to do all of my first draft in one sitting as fast as I can.  The most surprising thing about blogging for me is how quickly I can do it.  I’ve regularly banged out over 1000 words in under 40 minutes.  When I’m writing fiction, it can take me almost an hour just to do 500 words.  I’d love to be able to tell you why this is, but it’s absolutely beyond me.  

After the first draft is done, I do a reread and polish.  Then it’s posted right away.  I really should let them set longer, but I’m usually looking down the barrel of a deadline and just want to get it out there.  The resting period is something I really need to play with more. 

And that’s how I currently blog.  This will likely change as the months go on so I’ll do another post like this once the changes are significant enough to justify it.  

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Blog Year January Update

January is over and I thought I’d check in to see how the challenge has been treating me so far.  I have to say, I completely underestimated how difficult this was going to be for me. It wasn’t coming up with content that was the issue, it was time management.  I thought this would going to be a lot easier than when the I did the month long blogging challenge a while back because I only have to come up with one post a week not one every single day.

This is actually kind of an issue because it isn’t forcing me to write every day so Thursdays have been sneaking up on me and I almost missed it the other week when I just got back from vacation.

But I’m very proud to say that I haven’t missed a week yet, and I’ve even had a few posts in between Thursdays.  I think what I need to do in February is build more a writing “grove.” Maybe do some more prewriting on posts during the week and keep checking WordPress daily. I’ve be working with the Reader function to force me to check it every day to read content.

I have to say that I like this challenge much more than I did the month long one because it feel like it’s a more regular part of my life instead of this wild thing I’m doing for a month.  I just feel like a blogger and I haven’t really felt like one before even though I’ve been running blogs off and on for over ten years now.

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My Happy Place Is Bad Ass Horror Comics Like Hellblazer

Everyone has a happy place.  For me, this is a constantly shifting thing.  Sometimes its a good video game, or a great conversation, or a nice bourbon.  Lately, it’s been sitting on my couch, listening to ambient music from Drone Zone, and rereading Hellblazer comics.

For anyone how doesn’t know, Hellblazer was a Vertigo comic staring John Constantine – a character created by Allen Moore for Swamp Thing.  When it first came out I don’t think anyone really expected anything from it.  It was a spin off series not written by the original creator, and about ten years too late for the end of the horror comics boom.  

It ran for three hundred issues.

While it isn’t my favorite series of all time, it’s certainly up there for me.  I love how the book mixes back and forth between supernatural horror like demons and human horror like serial killers.  And let’s not forget about John.  Probably one of the best characters in comics.  When I first started reading the trades in college, I formed a very strong love/hate relationship with Vertigo’s coolest magus.  I would fall in love with how cool John was, only to be horrified at something supremely awful he’d do to someone.  I almost put the series down a few times because he’s such a bastard.  But then I’d keep reading and John would win me back only to do it again.  

After a while I understood the truth: John Constantine does the things in horror situations that you would actually do.

If you were confronted with a demon from hell you would not stand your ground and fight it.  You would run.  And if you could run faster than your friends, you absolutely would.  Sure you’d feel bad about it later but you’d still be alive.  It’s not exactly what you want a main character to do in escapist fiction – be truly human.  “No, John.  Be selfless, and fight the monster, and save your friends, so I can pretend that’s what I would do.”  It isn’t. That’s what makes John such a compelling character.  The Punk Rock attitude doesn’t hurt either, I suppose.

I would put Hellblazer in front of anyone I could.  A lot of people couldn’t get past the first trade.  “He’s an asshole.”  “I know, right? Isn’t it great.”  Not everyone was willing to take that ride with me.

My love of loaning out comics wound up bitting me in the ass because I lost about ten Hellblazer trades during that time.  It sucked, but I always kind of knew that I would replace my collection one day. 

That day came a few weeks ago.  There’s currently a Constantine TV show on NBC, and while the show does water down some of the comic’s concepts a little bit, there really hasn’t been a better time to be a Hellblazer fan.  In an attempt at marketing synergy, DC is finally trading up the series the way they always should have: in chronological order.  Back when I was really hardcore into the series, they would trade up random story lines.  The first eight issues were collected, but then they would skip forty issues start Garth Ennis’s run with “Dangerous Habits.”  While I love that story, this sucked because it almost completely skipped Jamie Delano’s run which established the voice of the series that would carry it all the way through it’s 300 issues. 

But now those stories are being collected in these new additions.  It’s great to go through the series and reread some of my favorite stories but have the issues before and after them so that I have a greater context for the meta stores that each writer was trying to tell with John.

Now I really do love the show even though I’m pretty sure that it’s not going to make it to another season.  It’s a shame because I think the show runners are finally starting to find the voice of the show, but even if they don’t get picked back up, I think its justified its existence because it has gotten DC to give me the versions of the trades I’ve always wanted .

It’s given me my happy place.  Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to grab a nice bourbon and get back to some reading.

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Interuption in Blogging due to Snow Storm

I’m throwing something up here today so that I don’t break my chain and lose the challenge, but I’m going to give myself permission to not do my best work this time.  It’s not that I’m not inspired, it’s that I’m just tired.

I’ve spent the last week in Florida.  It was just supposed to be a long weekend, but the snow storm here in Boston extended it by two days.  And I cried about that all into my chilled beer while I sat on the beach in my home town.  Being back home during the dead of winter was surprisingly awesome.  Not because it was warm but because everything was super laid back.  I forgot how different the pacing can be from up in Boston, where everything is life and death.  “Hey asshole, this is my section of the sidewalk!  Drive somewhere else!”

The reason I’m kind of phoning it in today is that I have had the longest teak back I think I’ve ever had.  I had a layover in Buffalo for some reason.  I swear to God that is a made up place.  There’s nothing their and my southerner brain believed that everywhere in the north was super amazing and not near as desolate as all of our home towns.

And, because layovers are awesome, my four hour layover was extended to five and half.  Fun!  This is where I should tell you I’ve been running on five hours of sleep.

“But you could sleep on the plane.”  No. Fuck you, person I just invented to make a point. I can’t sleep on planes because my lizard brain is convinced I’m going to fall out of the sky.  Even though I’ve had to do it twice today, I couldn’t relax enough to go to sleep.

I did however relax enough to work on a fiction project that I’ve been meaning to get back to for a while now, which is why I didn’t write this post on the plane.

So here I am.  What is normally a three hour flight took me nine hours and then I had a late train getting back to my house.  But I got back to work on a project I haven’t written on a while, and, as I am now well over 300 words, I didn’t break my chain on this blog.  The challenge continues.

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Technology and Music, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Spotify

When I was in high school, I talked my family into getting me a full high fi stereo system for christmas one year. It was one those old school component systems that everyone used to have back in the day with a separate CD player and amp that drove two large Cerwin Vega speakers.

This was a really big deal for me because music was pretty much my life back then.  I wasn’t really a musician.  (I could kind of play bass.) But I simply loved to listen to music, I loved the culture around music, and I love the technology that allowed you to listen to music.  A full stack stereo system was all of those things.  It was a symbol of music culture – like a studded leather jacket – and it actually did something – played music really loud.

It was everything a young punk could’ve wanted.  I played that thing for hours every day and I’d have friends over just to listen to albums or make mix tapes.

That last sentence sounds like this was a million years ago, but it wasn’t.  I got the stereo in 1999, and digital technologies like MP3 players were still a ways off from supplanting something like a high fidelity system.  In fact, there is still a presence from  a thing like that nothing else can touch.

But that level of equipment was supplanted.  Not because the alternative sounded better, but because it was more functional at playing music.  My stereo had a 200 disc CD changer, which was mind blowing in college, but my girlfriend has an iPod that can hold 100 times more music in a package that could almost be swallowed if you really tried.

So in 2008 when my amplifier finally broke, I never got it fixed.  I always meant to.  In fact, I still have all my old gear, but life got in the way and for a long time I could hardly make ends meet.  Fixing something like that just wasn’t a priority because I had all my music on my phone.

But I noticed something over the years. I wasn’t listening to a lot of music and hardly any new music.  I buy a song our album here and there.  But buying things on iTunes always felt weird, like I was cheating on record stores. Then podcasting took off so I started listening to this emerging art form when I was running around town and not any music at all.  So even if I wanted to cheat on record stores, I couldn’t really justify it.

Also listening to music was kind of a pain in the ass.  I didn’t have good speakers on my computer, and headphones chained you into place.

Let’s talk about headphones.  What the fuck has happened to headphones?  They used to be an awesome speaker set that you strapped to your head, now they are tinny, little things we jam into our ears that have a sound quality just above an analogue phone.  Luckily, I had a nice set of Bose headphones, but the act of putting them on required such a statement of intent that I never really used them for serious music listening.  Like a lot of people, when I’m on a computer, I’m either writing or reading, which isn’t something I can really do when I have music blasting directly into my ear.

Music dropped out of my life for a while there, and that’s when you really start to age.  And fast.  I have opinions on tax codes now.  It’s fucking horrible.

That’s what mainstream music technology is now: practical and sensible. People don’t even have dedicated music players any more.  It’s an app on their phones.  It’s an afterthought. Hell, for a lot of people the one time they hear a song is when their ringtone goes off.  That’s what it was turning into for me.

I wanted the rock and roll part of myself back and it wasn’t until I released the connection my brain made between music and technology that I could do anything about it.  I was following the mainstream music technology path – which was never very great – and that wasn’t my thing.  I was big, in your face stereo guy.  I was the show off.  “Come look at my epic stereo and we will listen to the music of the Gods.”

I was a lot more stable in my life now so I could do something about this, but I didn’t want to just fix my old stereo.  I love it and what it was to me, but I my gear needed an update.  Music technology had evolved since then and I wanted to be where to new music nerds are.  So I did some research and found that wifi speaker systems are finally where I always hoped they’d be.

A few months back, I picked up my first Sonos system.  It’s a high fi speaker that using Wifi instead of bluetooth to talk to your mobile devices, which is good because every bluetooth speaker I tried was garbage.  Most of them sound like crap and bluetooth is a pain in the ass if you want to switch control devices.

The first time I used my Sonos speaker was a fucking religious experience.  Any song I had I could play on a speaker that had some balls to it.  And I got the cheapest one.  It sounded really good and worked exactly the way I wanted it to.

I now have three of the things and can throw music all over the house.  They don’t have demon’s scream quality of my old stereo but they sound great and make listening to music really easy and fun.  Which of course lead me to updating how I got music.

I finally bit the bullet and got a Spotify account.  As with the stereo, I wanted to do things in the most bleeding edge way I could.  The thing I’ve discovered about Spotify is that it returned what I really liked about getting music: the discovery aspect.  I could crate dig again.  Albeit in a digital form, but when I’m done, I have a really cool playlist created, or I’ve finally gotten into a bands I’ve always been meaning to get to.  I’m a Rush fan now. Before I wouldn’t pick up one of their albums because I wasn’t sure which ones where the best and I was just kind of intimidated by the whole thing.  Spotify just lets me listen to their entire discography for the same price I’m paying for everything else. It gives me the freedom to just try stuff that I wouldn’t want to spend the money on otherwise.  Only so much music you can afford when you are only paying for one song or album at a time.

So I’m finally back.  I listen to a lot of music again and it’s always on and around me now, which is how I always saw my life as an adult being when I was that high school kid getting the coolest fucking christmas gift in the world.

Picture via Flickr