The Rag Bag Man and Other Thoughts 5


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Anne Lamott. Most of my peers know and adore the raw, real humor and her very regular, messy faith that she portrays in her books.

The STORY festival in Chicago brought Lamott to the main stage, where she promised to tell us everything she knows about faith, and everything she knows we about writing. She told us while we sat with our pencils poised for copious note-taking, that fortunately, those were the same talk.

She said that, “the voices inside your head will be self loathing. They will be the narcissistic, raging, wounded cry of the ego,” which is often doubly true for the Christian writer (artist). Not only does our work suck in the hands of the inner voices, but so do our very souls.

She said that life, faith and writing are like going to an obstacle course to which we bring even more obstacles. We tend to make the easy things much more complicated than necessary.

She said we listen to “the great palace lie: As soon as I [fill in the blank] then I’ll be happy.”

Lamott said that our souls “long for freedom. It only comes from discipline.” The truth we try to escape regularly. We want freedom to come like a secret surprise in the caramel corn. We would prefer it to come without any of that icky stuff like discipline and hard work.

She talked about the rag bag guy. The rag bag guy is the man in her head who keeps all the little scraps of life that Lamott scribbles during any given day. She brings him her offerings, so many unclean sacrifices that they turn into sentences, essays, chapters and novels. Scraps of dialogue, the color a building, the feeling of sunset or the taste of grief. And together Lamott and the rag bag guy set to work.

She said that we often want a lifetime of work in an hour, but that’s not usually how it works for us mere mortals. Instead, “It is illuminated enough for you to capture one day’s work. What are you going to do with your work today?”

She said:
Sit down at same time everyday.
If you don’t do it now, you’re not going to do it then
It has a wild spirit, with messes and mistakes, and you do it.

She has this way of making me want to embrace the slop. The messy room and the scattered heart. She makes the mundane sound holy: she calls her work a blessing, and that she wants to honor that. She makes me want to be  more comfortable with the untied bow, the story in process, or the tale that does not end with studio perfection.

She said that when you can breathe, during your work, then it is real.

What bit of faith or writing wisdom here resonates with you?


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5 thoughts on “The Rag Bag Man and Other Thoughts

  • Eugene Scott

    I love that she gets ideas from the rag bag man. I have not named my muse but it sounds like the same guy. I picture this muse not as the lovely Greek goddess dressed in flowing gowns, but the hobo my mom used to dress me up as for Halloween. Coffee grounds for whiskers, patched jeans, bandana bag on a stick over my shoulder. And the ideas do come loose in images, smiles, wisps, just like that. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get them in my bandana bag and remember them.

  • pamhogeweide

    thanks for this.I didn’t know you went to Story….! I need to look into if there are recordings available online somewhere….

    great notes on the great anne lamott. i read bird by bird early in my writing life.

    She said that, “the voices inside your head will be self loathing. They will be the narcissistic, raging, wounded cry of the ego,” which is often doubly true for the Christian writer (artist). Not only does our work suck in the hands of the inner voices, but so do our very souls.

    yep. she nails my ego to the wall right there.

    i hope she writes another writing book!

  • Michelle Woodman

    This: “. . . life, faith and writing are like going to an obstacle course to which we bring even more obstacles. We tend to make the easy things much more complicated than necessary.” I do that far too often still with too many things.