Let Us Speak of Notebooks

In which the author shares his deep and abiding love of notebooks.

A stack of loyal notebooks.
The analog implements of my narrative art.

Let Us Speak of Notebooks

Dear Reader,

This week we are taking a short pause from our "Let Us Speak of Magic" conversation. And so, in lieu of sorcery and the arts of power, I would like to speak on another matter, close to my heart. Let us begin with a little history:

When I was growing up, my family watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at least once, every year (often on New Year’s Eve). Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, and the Nazis slugging it out for the Cup of Christ.

I love that movie.

“I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne, ‘Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky,’” Henry Jones Sr. tells us after overcoming a Messerschmitt Bf 109 with his umbrella and a startled flight of birds. That moment has taken up permanent residence in my memory – it is a poignant illustration of the wisdom of Jones Sr.

But while I've always been fascinated by this element, it's not the most impactful. That distinction goes to the Diary.

The Grail Diary to be precise.

I have been fascinated by that brown leather-bound book, filled with sketches and riddles and loose inserts for decades. It’s the life’s work of a scholar-explorer, a man dedicated to a quest, lovingly made and worn by the years.

It is dear to me.

Of the Love and Inspiration of Sacred Objects

Most of my reading had been related to a private world of Sacred Objects. - W.H. Auden

Auden, in his essay “Making, Knowing and Judging,” writes about what he calls the Sacred Objects that a poet encounters. He defines these objects (and beings) as those things which fills the poet with awe. Some are widely recognized across time and cultures: the Moon, Fire, Darkness, Death.

Others are more narrowly defined, more personally experienced. (Auden says his early objects are revealed by some of his favorite books: “Underground Life, Machinery for Metalliferous Mines, Lead and Zinc Ores of Northumberland and Alston Moor.”)

These Sacred Objects cannot be anticipated – they must be encountered. And when the encounter occurs, the imagination responds in praise. This is how poetry is born:

Whatever its actual content and overt interest, every poem is rooted in imaginative awe. Poetry can do a hundred and one things, delight, sadden, disturb, amuse, instruct – it may express every possible shade of emotion, and describe every conceivable kind of event, but there is only one thing that all poetry must do; it must praise all it can for being and for happening.

The Grail Diary is such an object for me. Artfully filled with lore by Jones Sr., sought by Nazi agents, consulted to unravel mysteries and overcome traps – the diary fulfills its ultimate purpose by showing the way to the very object it was dedicated to finding.

It is a Sacred Object that points the way to the gift of life, so that a son can save his father from death.

My Quest for the Diary

I’ve collected notebooks for much of my life. Stop at CVS? Buy a Mead Composition Notebook. Going to Barnes & Noble? Visit the Moleskine section again.

For years, many were begun then abandoned, others remained untouched. I wanted a notebook like the Diary, but I didn’t have anything to put in it. There was no purpose beyond the desire of the object. No grand quest.

In 2003 that all changed.

I began a habit of collecting – and filling – Moleskine classic hardcover pocket notebooks. In the nearly 20 years that have passed since then, I’ve filled a basket to overflowing with those little notebooks packed with personal notes and scraps of poetry.

In 2009, I began buying – and filling – Moleskine’s plain, soft cover journals that come in sets of 3 (you’ll see a stack them at the base of the notebook pile I shared). These notebooks became the workhorses of both my academic program and my creative writing.

But still onward I quested, searching after the Diary…

The Flowering of an Art

We arrive now at the most recent period of the journey. The stack I shared at the head of the newsletter (except for one notebook that I will discuss last) is my working notebook stack. If you would indulge me in some old-fashioned show and tell:

The bottom 3 (as I mentioned) are plain Moleskines. They are my workhorses and each has a purpose.

The gray notebook is my short story volume. It addition to story ideas and notes, it contains the first draft work for “The Saga of Stefnir” (which I am presently shopping to magazines), “What Was Left Behind” (written for a weekly writing prompt), “The Shrine of the Setting Sun” (a working title, it changes with the weather), and bits of "The Price of Fire" (a story in the same world as Stefnir).

The green notebook is 2022’s Creative Productivity Journal, where I work out strategy and my weekly schedule, including (but not limited to) writing, reading, blogging, newsletter crafting, and social media planning. (I owe my productivity system to The Sweet Setup and their All The Things class).

The red notebook is full. It contains mid-2020 through 2021’s Creative Productivity Journal where I established my most recent work patterns and rhythms. It’s also where I designed my website and planned out my Authorship Strategy (all of my combined authorial efforts on the internet).

The Greater Notebooks

The large gray notebook with the yellow tassel is a Baronfig Plus Confidant. It’s my Poetry Folio, inspired by Robert Pinsky’s book Singing School. In it I write out favorite poems and verses that I encounter during my daily readings (there’s plenty of Shakespeare and Merwin in there as of now).

The black notebook is a recent acquisition, a Leuchtturm1917, bought for one purpose: It plays well with fountain pens. (Oh, and it’s German. So, there you go. “Denken mit der Hand,” they say.) But actually, in as much seriousness as is warranted, this notebook exists to prepare me for greater things…but more on that later.

The blue notebook is a Baronfig Flagship Confidant that contains all the first drafts of my most recent poetry, including (but not limited to) the works I have shared online: “Preparing to Create,” “When I Was Younger…,” and “Dragon.”

The leather folio with the green string is a Paper Republic Grand Voyager. It takes refills and I’ve had to buy them. In here I write out first drafts for newsletters and blogs. (I do my best thinking when I can vigorously cross things out, draw arrows, and otherwise make a mess on the page.)

There you have it, my faithful servants. (No, I'm not going to talk about the ever-present Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity Mechanical Pencil that I've used for the last 12 years because of a neck/arm nerve injury that I sustained turning the pin of a Christmas tree stand. And don't get me going about the fact that I have to continually replace said pencil because they break all the time. Nor will I speak of the Dyrden Fountain Pen that I received as a Christmas present from a brother-in-law, which has provoked me to consider re-learning cursive. That would take another paragraph atleast, and we're trying to be economical here.)

Alright, let’s talk about that other notebook I mentioned…

Toward the Oldest Dream

My wife, having learned of my love for notebooks, bought me one as a gift to aid me in my quest.

You’ll see it at the top of my pile. It deserves, and is designed for both words and art. I have had it for a few years now and have never made a single mark in it.

It frightens me, this beautiful thing and its promise. It was not meant to be a workhorse. It is not a training violin to be handled by a student. It was meant for a higher art than I am yet capable of.

Long ago, I was a student of the visual arts, but I have been long out of practice. Yet seeing the art of Tolkien and remembering the Diary of Jones Sr., calls me to return. And so, I have recently picked up my practice of brush and pen again, that the notebook may become more sacred still.

For now, I will play at these arts in the Leuchtturm1917, which I mentioned before. It is meant to prepare me for this more formidable instrument.

Perhaps the day is not so far off when I will be able to share some of my work with you, dear reader.

Ah, it is a strange and wonderful thing, this old love and desire for notebooks…

Let us say farewell for now, dear reader. We will talk again soon. Next week we return to our discussion of Magic with a dive into the power of names.

Best regards,


P.S. Do you, dear reader, perhaps share my love of notebooks? Feel free to reply to this letter and let me know.

P.P.S. Do you collect notebooks and pens and so forth? Perhaps you might like to take a look at this site. Especially this page and this one. Remember to "choose wisely."

Want more words, Traveller? Come visit my website at bryanerye.com, or take the direct route to the blog.

Want to throw me some coin to support me financially? I have a Busker's Hat to help buy coffee and used books.

Was this email forwarded to you? Come and visit my outpost to choose a path through Perilous Realms.

Perilous Realms

Well met, Traveller into Perilous Realms. I am your guide Bryan Rye, Game Master and Author. Stay awhile and let us speak of many things.

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