christmas cactusfrustrate (v.) Look up frustrate at Dictionary.commid-15c., from Latin frustratus, past participle of frustrari “to deceive, disappoint, frustrate,” from frustra (adv.) “in vain, in error,” related to fraus “injury, harm” (see fraud). Related: Frustrated; frustrating.

Yesterday I told my husband I was frustrated. About what? He asked. Well, in part, him. I was frustrated because he wouldn’t let me vent about other frustrations. I found telling him this incredibly difficult, but I remembered a recent resolution (one of several rules posted on my refrigerator) to be honest. So I told him. I am pleased to say that he turned his full attention on me and we had a satisfying conversation, after which I was less frustrated.

My husband is the word man — our own personal dictionary — so it didn’t surprise me that he knew the etymology of frustrate. And no wonder feeling frustrated felt so wounding to me. No wonder that getting un-frustrated felt so healing.

This morning, reading around in the stack of books near my chair, I came across this poem and I was reminded that it (whatever I mean by it) doesn’t have to be so freaking hard.

It Felt Love

Did the rose
Ever open its heart

And give to this world
All its

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its

We all remain




Happy Holidays from A Writer’s Alchemy




Christmas Trees

  by Robert Frost

A Christmas Circular Letter

The city had withdrawn into itself  
And left at last the country to the country;  
When between whirls of snow not come to lie  
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove  
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,   
Yet did in country fashion in that there  
He sat and waited till he drew us out  
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.  
He proved to be the city come again  
To look for something it had left behind   
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.  
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;  
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place  
Where houses all are churches and have spires.  
I hadn't thought of them as Christmas Trees.    
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment  
To sell them off their feet to go in cars  
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,  
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.  
I'd hate to have them know it if I was.      
Yet more I'd hate to hold my trees except  
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,  
Beyond the time of profitable growth,  
The trial by market everything must come to.  
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.      
Then whether from mistaken courtesy  
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether  
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,  
I said, "There aren't enough to be worth while."

"I could soon tell how many they would cut,     
You let me look them over."  

                                    "You could look.  
But don't expect I'm going to let you have them."  
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close  
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few     
Quite solitary and having equal boughs  
All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to,  
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,  
With a buyer's moderation, "That would do."  
I thought so too, but wasn't there to say so.   
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,  
And came down on the north. 

                                    He said, "A thousand."  

"A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?"  

He felt some need of softening that to me:       
"A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars."  

Then I was certain I had never meant  
To let him have them. Never show surprise!  
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside  
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents    
(For that was all they figured out apiece),  
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends  
I should be writing to within the hour  
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,  
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools     
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.  
A thousand Christmas trees I didn't know I had!  
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,  
As may be shown by a simple calculation.  
Too bad I couldn't lay one in a letter.       
I can't help wishing I could send you one,  
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

– See more at:


Gift Ideas for Writers

I got this idea from Jennifer K’s blog, which I follow. She has five great ideas. I’ll add a couple more.

My top gift ideas for writers?

1. Housecleaning! Because how can I justify sitting here, writing, when my house is so dusty? When it badly needs vacuumed? The kitchen! The bathrooms!

2. Another book. Okay, you already know that I would spend my last dollar on a book. In part, it’s avoidance, one of my escape hatches from writing. But there are a number of books that every writer really should have in her arsenal. I won’t try to do justice to this, but for a personal recommendation–if your giftee is writing a novel–I recommend The Plot Whisperer by Martha AldersonI’ve read this book twice, but I’m not recommending it  in order to straighten out a plot, but for the thinking Alderson has done around how the energy in stories work, and how to drive that energy better.

3. And besides practical (though inspiring) books, there are purely inspiring books. Of course there’s The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. But I’d like to recommend a simpler book, The Circle by Laura Day. A similar book that I have read (and worked through) multiple times is Sonia Choquette’s Your Heart’s Desire. These books may sound flaky and new-age, but they helped me figure out what exactly it is that I want, and taught me how to start framing those desires not as “wants” but actively. Not I want to be a writer, but I AM A WRITER. In other words, as Choquette says, if you are telling yourself “I want, I want, I want,” what you get is more wanting. Books like Day’s and Choquette’s can help you untangle and aim your journal-writing practice, sparrowbooktoo.

4. Finally, there’s always Sparrow. (Smiley face here.) Available from Amazon. I believe there are copies at Edmonds Bookshop and Village Books in Bellingham, if you want to buy locally.

Your Favorite Books?

It’s a time of year for gift giving. If you were going to give someone your top ten books, what would those ten books be? My friend Janet writes:

I wish your readers would share “what they reread.” If you put it that way: all of Jane Austen every couple years. All of Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter and Harriet mysteries (in order!), Lord of the Rings, Jane Eyre, the Harry Potter books. I love myth and epic and romance. I go back to these over and over. 

I found it really hard to settle down and write my list. I wish it could sound brainier, more literary. In fact, I’ve read some fat, immensely literary books more than once (okay, okay), but my list will surprise my American Literature students. Although I’ve read The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn multiple times, the books I would buy my friends for Christmas are less well known. I love The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone, anything by Penelope Fitzgerald (I’ve reread The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels multiple times), The Dubliners by James Joyce. And Flannery O’Connor — especially her short stories. 

There were a few books I read this year that I’d like to reread, and I have been pushing all my friends to read: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (brainy, but worth it), Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, and The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. (The last three are not “brainy,” but no less willing to plumb the depths of human quirkiness.)

Now that Janet has reminded me, I wouldn’t mind rereading Dorothy Sayers. I’ll start with Gaudy Night. 

But–a life list of favorites? Every title makes me think of several more. I have deliberately avoided poetry here.

Okay, your turn. What would you reread? What books do you tell your friends to read?