Spike Gillespie tells it like it is. Whether she's writing about men, mothering or money, she cuts to the chase, unabashedly recounting the exhilaration and uncertainty she is forever encountering along the odd path that is her life. Gillespie approaches her subjects with a keen eye for curious details and a readiness to ask hard questions and give honest, even brutal, answers. Her willingness to "put it all down—the painful, the funny, the mundane, the embarrassing" has won legions of readers for her print and online columns.
Surrender (But Don't Give Yourself Away) collects forty-six essays, which initially appeared in such publications as the Washington Post, Austin Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Bust, Gargoyle, and thecommonspace.org. As Gillespie describes them, "There are odes to my good days and bad, to trips I've taken—both real and metaphorical, to holiness found in unexpected places, to men I have not slept with, to learning to live sober. Too, there are miscellaneous ruminations on my alter-ego, my inner-teen, the floor mat in my car, a dead squirrel in the road." Binding these pieces is the thread of hope: there are moments the thread slips out of view only to resurface in some unexpected location. Sometimes it takes awhile, but Gillespie always relocates hope, discovering even in her darkest times that life is full of an embarrassment of riches.
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I've been writing since I figured out how. That was over thirty years ago.
Through words I have learned to surrender without giving myself away. I put it all down—the painful, the funny, the mundane, the embarrassing. I share it through publication and am humbled and moved—to tears of pain, gratitude, disbelief, joy, and deep resonance—when, here it comes, whipping back at me. No matter how personal, unpleasant, or peculiar an experience I describe, I'm always greeted with empathy in return.
The letters come in: That happened to me, too, they say, going on to console and validate me, to shock and soothe me. The circuit completes. Reminding me how very unalone am I.
And so, here, a collection of some of those pieces that have given me release and brought me comfort (in the writing, in the responses). There are odes to my good days and bad, to trips I've taken—both real and metaphorical, to holiness found in unexpected places, to men I have not slept with, to learning to live sober. Too, there are miscellaneous ruminations on my alter-ego, my inner-teen, the floor mat in my car, a dead squirrel in the road.
I first met one of my best friends, Jonny Vee, when we were teen waiters at the Jersey Shore. Years later, Jonny once introduced me to another friend as having been, back in the day, about the angriest person he'd ever met. That assessment surprised me at the time, and I flinched.
Still many more years would have to pass before I could look back and see where that observation had come from. I was a so-called "over"-sensitive child in a home with a hard-ass dad in a small blue-collar town with little patience for creative and academic dreams—precisely the dreams that filled my head.
In that town, in the childhood, in that house, I found plenty of hope despite some pretty negative circumstances. But then there were moments when hope would be dashed, seemingly gone for good. Or so I thought, until, oddly, hope would again appear. It was a relentless cycle, a sort of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not exercise where, as in a surreal dream, the flower petals never run out.
I have hope. I have hope not. I have hope. I have hope not.
But of course, when you have hope—once you have learned it or been given it or recognize its existence within you (hope springs eternal, okay, sure, but from where?)—hope is the dominant force. The real petal plucking then, goes more like this:
I have hope. I have no patience, so it feels like no hope. Oh, but wait, I do have hope, here it comes creeping up on me again. No, hang on, there it goes again. Oh, wait, here it comes again.
Hope. What a bizarre, gorgeous oddity.
I have a grandmother who is past ninety. She has had far more moments of hope-dashed than I. She was orphaned at a very young age and sent to a violently abusive home. She was separated from her siblings. She married in her teens and had seven children with an angry man. One of them died. She raised the other six kids through the Depression. She waited on tables so many years, when other women didn't work—they stayed at home.
My grandmother, Murphy Mom-Mom, still has hope, still sparkles, doesn't look a day over seventy. Perhaps it is in having her in my life that I have not feared getting older. In fact, I love getting older. Now on the cusp of forty, my body is slower but my vision just keeps getting clearer. With age comes perspective. So I sound like a cliché? At least it's a happy one.
I look now, and I see clearly a ridiculous abundance in my life, an abundance the young and angry me was not so quick to recognize. Or, really, that the young and angry me simply could not recognize, not without going out into the world and inadvertently learning to diffuse anger in all sorts of ways, collecting, haphazardly, a stunning number of eye-opening experiences.
This collection reflects that stumbling abundance. It is a tribute to the hope and faith that have somehow stayed with me through some pretty damn dark times. It is a big fat thank you card to all the experiences that brought me to the realization that my life is exactly how I want it to be, and an even bigger thank you that I have been able to recognize the fullness, now, as it is occurring in every moment.
I can't thank you enough for taking the time to read my words.
"Spike Gillespie is beautiful, charming, and funny. She told me to write that. It's also true, especially the funny part. Some of us are just a lot more alive than others, and Spike is one of those people who lives at 90 m.p.h. while experiencing everything that happens to her with an intensity that is either painful or hilarious, but usually both. If you can imagine Anne Lamott as a working-class kid from Jersey with a penchant for losers, you have an idea of Spike. She's a woman grown now and signs of wisdom are setting in, not that many years but a lot of mileage on the woman. As a writer, what she brings to the mountains of baggage in her life is not only humor but incurable honesty. I think of her as a voice of the younger generation, even though she's approaching forty, because she has no protective layer on her nerve endings, no cynicism, no been there/done that, no ability to dismiss anything as too freaking strange to bother with. She experiences it all wide open and then reports back.
—Molly Ivins, nationally syndicated political columnist and author of Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?
"Spike Gillespie's voice is highly idiosyncratic, extremely charming, and deeply personal. . . . She is such a winning heroine that you root for her, for her son. You want to smooth the way for them a bit through the hardships they endure with such great good humor."
—Sarah Bird, author of The Yokota Officers Club, Virgin of the Rodeo, and The Mommy Club