Friday, October 12, 2012

Eulogy for Girlfriend Julie Cannon

by Karin Gillespie


think the key to making a story come alive is being willing to rip a page from your own life, to draw upon your deepest pain without flinching~Julie Cannon
Everyone who ever met Julie Cannon knew she was a true sweetheart, the type of person who diligently wrote thank you notes, never flipped a bird at anyone, and wouldn’t dream of sneaking fifteen items onto to the ten-item line at the Kroger. 

They also knew she was about as Southern as they come. Sometimes my Midwestern ears had trouble translating her heavy drawl.   I remember she said to me once, “I’ve got a craving for some machinites” and I said, “Say what?” And we went back and forth, and finally she showed me in the convenience store a box of Mike and Ikes.

Most folks were also aware she was somewhat of a homespun girl. She wrote her novels in longhand at the kitchen table; when she was in 4-H she nurtured a cow, and as a kid she loved spending her summers at her mee-maws’ farm in Armuchee, Georgia, saying:

“It felt like pure heaven as a bunch of us cousins rode horses bare-back down through the bottomland, plucking blackberries and hunting arrowheads along the Oostenaula River. In the evenings, I’d sit very still out on the porch, listening to my kinfolks indulging in that wonderful southern tradition of oral storytelling. Their stories were fabulous, truly stranger than fiction, and I was collecting them like lightning bugs.”    

She was also a devout Christian; she read devotionals every morning, and her last two novels were written for the Christian market, but lest you think I’m describing a scripture-spouting saint, “the gal” (that’s what her daddy called her) had a wicked sense of humor.

One of her characters in Pearly Gates was so afraid of becoming a church lady, she secretly entered an erotic bull-riding contest. Another character in Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes trolled the frozen food section, looking for lonely, single would-be suitors with Hungry Man dinners in their buggies. And one of the funniest essays I've ever read is Julie’s reaction when she found out about another Julie Cannon who wrote lesbian romance.

In addition to her quick wit, she also was a wonderful mom to Iris, Gus and Sam, and a loving wife to Tom, and a dutiful daughter to her parents, Robert and Gloria Lowery, both who had to say goodbye to their dear child far too soon.

All of these qualities about Julie are amazing and will certainly be acknowledged at her funeral and in the minds and hearts of those who loved her. But I will remember her most for one singular quality:

That seemingly sweet girl, the one with the soft brown eyes and shy smile, was fierce when it came to her art.

She had dreams of being a writer ever since she penned “Mrs. Duck’s Vacation” in elementary school, and like all passions should, it tested her, and twisted her and made her regularly leap out of her comfort zones, like a shaky-kneed swimmer taking a plunge from the high dive.  

When Julie’s first novel TrueLove and Homegrown Tomatoes was published, she was shocked to learn that she’d have to speak publically to promote it. She was terrified of public speaking, but her love for her art won out over her fear, and she made herself learn to be a winning speaker.

She, Jackie Miles, Patty Sprinkle and I traveled the Southeast as an author group called the Dixie Divas and during a five-year period we must have done at least hundred speaking engagements.

Audiences fell in love with Julie because her sincerity always shown through her talks, clear as a coin in a fountain.   

Later, when authors were expected to be adept at social media, Julie, who barely knew a mouse from a modem, suddenly was friending and tweeting like a pro.

I’ve known Julie since 2004, and her career, like many writers, had its bumps and potholes and rocky spots. There were novels that didn’t sell, and sometimes novels that didn’t sell enough.

 Sacrifices were also constantly being made. She’d joke about her neglected house, saying, “Cobwebs dangle, dust gathers, and roaches remain in the spot where they perished days ago.”

She’d also lament about the frozen burritos she often served up for supper and how her husband Tom was a “reluctant patron of the arts.”

But never once did I ever hear her say, “I give up.”

True, she sometimes had her doubts about her calling.

Once she wrote this:

“I love writing, but there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes with this career. The paychecks are erratic. Why in heaven’s name do I keep on allowing myself to write novels?

To stay in a business which regularly does a number on a person’s self-esteem?.. Do I honestly have to do it? Does attention follow desire? Or does desire simply follow attention? Because I know I give it my utmost attention and perhaps it is one of those self-propagating things like whirlwinds of leaves. I go round and round with this question, but still don’t have the answer. 

At some point, I think Julie came to terms with her doubts and grew to believe God had given her writing talent as a gift, and it was her obligation to use that gift, and that when she sat down at her kitchen table she was co-creating with Him.  Every day before she wrote, she would pray: Lord, give me a heart to tell stories about Your goodness and the language to speak it well.”

I don’t know everything Julie was doing the last day of her life, but I can promise you that at some point she was scribbling at her kitchen table, because she felt alive when she wrote, and she wrote every day of the week except for Sundays.

She did not sleepwalk through her too-brief life. She was keenly present, telling her deeply held truths with her pen, using her gifts nearly every day, and now through the power of her words, she will always be alive. 

At first it was impossible for me to understand why Julie was taken away too soon; I know she didn’t want to go. She was in the midst of promoting Twang, and was looking forward to the release of Scarlett Says in Oct 2013. In light of all that, her death made no sense to me.

But then, like a character in a Flannery O’Conner novel—Flannery being one of Julie’s favorite authors—I finally got my moment of grace.

My guess was that her co-creator, her dearly beloved Father, had her in mind for even greater art on another realm, and decided it time to bring her back home for a new calling.

In fact, I’m sure that’s what happened.

I knew Julie believed deeply that God never takes away anything from his children without giving them something even more amazing in return.  I think she deeply understood that every tragedy and setback contains a blessing, even if we cannot see it right away.

This is what those of us she left behind must always remember, difficult as that might be. We were damn lucky to have her as long as we did.

Julie studied eschatology, which, in part, has to do with what happens after you die and whether or not the dead can communicate with living. She even wrote about it in Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes.

On the day of her death, as I was weeping on my front steps, I noticed that, out of nowhere, a single perfect  daisy had sprung up in my lawn.

I think she is with us always, and that’s why I know that she can hear me when I say:

Good night, sweet diva.

I love you; you meant the world to me and taught me so much  about what it means to be a writer .

See you soon in the great book signing in the sky. I’ll follow the crowds to the longest line.

Our girlfriend Julie Cannon died in her sleep on Oct 9. She was fifty years old. http://www.juliecannon.info/

23 comments:

  1. Julie sounds like a wonderful person. Wish I'd had the chance to know her. What a loss to the literary world. My condolences to you, her friends, and her family.

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  2. I'm thinking of all of you,Julie's friends. She sounds like a wonderful woman and friend and more. She will be missed.

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  3. What a beautiful testimony. I didn't know Julie, nor had I read her work, but I will now because you have made her come alive through your memories of her. May each of us touch someone else with that degree of love.

    Thank you.

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  4. What a beautifully written remembrance and celebration of a lovely friend and human being, Karin. Thank you for sharing her story - you've moved me to read her work. I'm sorry to hear of the loss you share with her family and friends and the greater reading and writing community.

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  5. What an amazing eulogy, Karin. You Truly gave us the gift of her spirit through this post She Sounded like a wonderful woman and mom and I look forward to reading her books

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  6. So lovely. I was so sad to hear my fellow Southern writer had died so young. She was always full of enthusiasm and understanding. Blessings to her family.

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  7. How beautiful, Karin. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  8. Karin, what a wonderful tribute to a beautiful woman. Your love for her comes through, and I can really hear her voice through you. My hugs and prayers go out to her family, who will have to live life without her now. I believe, like you, that she is going to be present in the world for those willing to wait out the grief until they can find signs of her love in the world. You're blessed to have known her.

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  9. I wish I could have met her in person, Karin. Thanks for sharing this. We'll miss her.

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  10. This is a wonderful tribute. I'm going to print it out and reread it. So much here to inspire all of us. Thank you.

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  11. Thank you Karin. I unfortunately never got to meet this fellow girlfriend, bur you truly captured her in these words. This is a beautiful tribute.

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  12. So beautiful, Karin. Thank you for writing this. I can only imagine how painful it must have been to get through it. I hope it was cathartic.

    Rest in peace, Julie Cannon.

    xo

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  13. Wow Karen! This is a very beautiful Eulogy. Thank you for posting!

    I just learned of Julie’s passing yesterday. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen or spoken with her for a very long time. My heart is very broken of the news. I knew Julie and the Lowery family very well. Our families attended the same Church and School. And for brief season, I even dated Julie... long enough to realize the treasure and sophisticated nut she was:)

    If may share something dear and lighthearted about Julie. She celebrated and encouraged with me my adventures of being an artist. She even took it upon herself to provide some thoughtful criticism of my art. At the time, I had just launched a painted canvas series of abstract style portraits. She got in my head big time telling me that there were two major things missing in my art. One, my work needed a feminine touch.. I needed to add to my series, portraits of females. Second, she said I needed to add yellow paint to my art.. reminding me that yellow was a ‘happy’ color. (as a footnote: my series then was mostly composed of angry male, monster and animal portraits using bold color and angular lines)

    Today, with all thanks to Julie, my main artist logo that I see every day is predominately yellow on black symbolizing agape joy and pop. And, like how Julie would be excited launching her new book, I’m in the joyful process of launching my latest works, which just so happens to be a series of female portraits.

    I already singled out a drawing from my series that I will dedicate to Julie.
    I don’t know how this blog works, but I hope to share somehow with everyone the drawing of Julie I made… as well later, the color version for the painting.

    Rest in Peace Julie. Sweet condolences to all your family and friends.

    m o t

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  14. Karin,
    What a beautiful and moving tribute to your friend and to a wonderful writer. Though your words, I feel I've gotten to know Julie just a little more, and I wish I could have met her in person as you did. Sending my deepest condolences to her family and friends, and thinking of you all.

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  15. An eloquent and inspiring tribute, Karin. Lots of hugs and prayers to you, her friends and family.

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  16. I am so sorry for this loss. Thank you, Karin, for this post.

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  17. Thank you for this moving tribute, Karin. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, and to you. We will miss Julie.

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  18. Thank you for sharing Julie with us through your words. I'm sorry I never knew her--sorrier even more for those who did and now mourn her loss.

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  19. What a beautiful eulogy! My condolences on the passing of your friend.

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  20. Just beautiful Karin.....an amazingly insightful testimony that only knowing friend could write.

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  21. Thank you for this. I didn't know Julie, but she seems like a wonderful person and this post makes her even more beautiful.

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