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.
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