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Now that social media has become a fixture of everyday life, it provides the opportunity to get to know others whom you would have never met otherwise. Some become more than imaginary friends.
As we start the new year of 2015, I realize that I am in an unique position in my life. I’ve lived somewhere between 60% and 80% of my days on this planet. I have been very fortunate to have been born to parents who sacrificed for me so that I was never hungry, cold or homeless. I look at my situation as being a favored son in the lottery of life. I was not born in the places of the world where there is constant war, starvation and suffering. My life could all end today, tomorrow or 30-40 years from now, and my life would still be good. That’s one of the eternal mysteries and paradoxes of life, you don’t appreciate it most until it’s almost gone.
I was fortunate to have been a part of the second generation in the information technologies industry. When I first started, the Internet was no more than electronic mail and file sharing amongst the U.S. research laboratories. A decade later, it was still a big deal to send an e-mail to your coworkers. And if you were fortunate to buy an acoustic coupler and home computer, you could participate in a new phenomena: on-line bulletin boards and chat rooms, where you could communicate with those other fortunate computer geeks with reliable dial-up access on Compuserve or America OnLine. Those bulletin boards and chat rooms, as crude as they seem now, were the first attempts at computerized interpersonal communications, now known as social media.
Thirty years later, we have full featured higher speed Internet that can bring the people throughout the world together. Facebook and Twitter have become the means of social and, too often, unsocial, discourse. Through social media, I have been fortunate to reconnect with my cousins and found that I have more cousins with whom I was not aware previously. I’ve become reacquainted with many who I grew up and went to school with. I’ve made many new contacts with people as far away as the Sudan and Mali. I’ve developed a readership that spans the world to my surprise and delight. Thank you to you all for your interest and support.
It is my generation that represents the demographic of the most rapidly growing social media users, according to Pew Research.
But social media is unique because you can make real imaginary friends, people who you meet online and spend time getting to know. You relate life stories and experiences, share daily joys and sorrows, exchange pictures and information, and become part of each other’s lives, but never meet in person. I treasure my online friends as much as I do my “real life friends”. I have met a few of my online friends in my real life and hope to meet many more. But the reality is that will not happen, in nearly all cases.
Like in real life, emotions come into play. You get into disputes and controversies. You find out some whom you think you share similar values, have values repugnant to you, and you become “unfriends”. There are the mean-spirited and hateful whom you learn to stay away from or finally just ban them, like you would in the real world. And some become more than real imaginary friends, they become part of who you are. While there is much criticism of Facebook and other social media, they do fill a real need for people to connect and communicate.
I became friends via Facebook with briarthelsmom by chance. Her real name was Briar Storms. She had developed a following of 900+ Facebook and 2,700+ Twitter friends. Briar was loved for her sense of humor, compassion for all living creatures and willingness to share her life freely.
Briar was the sister I never had. We were the same age, so we had the same cultural references and found we liked the same music, comedians, and authors. We both loved animals, especially dogs, and shared the same political beliefs and passions.
We were two smart asses looking to make each other laugh. Others who saw this witty repartee and badinage encouraged us to do this more often. The result became The Facebook Briar and Smart Ass show.
Here is a sample of the inspired lunacy of the Briar and Smart Ass show.
October 8, 2013 at 8:24 PM
Michael Maynard – I would think that given the rapid growing popularity of Briar and Smart Ass Show, doubling its audience base in the recent Arbitron ratings, that such opportunities would be presented to us all the time?
Briar Theelsmom – I have no idea! You’d think with all the ageing boomers out there there would be a big demand for Geritol porn.
Michael Maynard – Of course! While others are sagging in popularity, we’re growing. I mean gorilla marketing is gorilla marketing.
Michael Maynard – All the recent surveys show that the 50 and up crowd have more disposable income and are easily amused.
Briar Theelsmom – You mean our audience has skyrocketed to three? Wow, that porno contract is practically in the mail!
Michael Maynard – No, four, including Boris from Outer Mongolia. He’s our biggest fan.
Michael Maynard – But we’d be perfect for this movie, because this audience has short attention spans and we aim to please.
Michael Maynard – We don’t succeed, but that doesn’t mean we don’t aim.
Briar Theelsmom – The fact that most are visually impaired doesn’t hurt either.
Michael Maynard – I was counting on that. Plus, Boris doesn’t speak English, so he’s a perfect demographic.
Briar Theelsmom – What’s your porn name by the way?
Michael Maynard – Well, I’ve had many. The most recent one was John Cougar Melonballs.
Michael Maynard – What one are you using now?
Briar Theelsmom – Did you check out that link for a porn name after the Carlos Danger revelations?
Briar Theelsmom – Pirate Pussycat, you like it?
Michael Maynard – No, I forgot, plus the shooing schedule demands meant rapid turn around time. So very little time for creative to get to work.
Michael Maynard – That was you? I saw that one recently. Did you see mine “Little Pink Houses”?
Michael Maynard – Do you think if this comes out, this might hurt our chances for the network talk show?
Briar Theelsmom – Oh wow, you were in that? Were you the priest or the werewolf?
Michael Maynard – Both. You know, the shoestring budgets. It was hard to do when both were in the same scene. I’m used to talking to myself, but having to jump from one side to the other in the shot was challenging.
Michael Maynard – Maintaining continuity was difficult, in more ways than one.
Briar Theelsmom – I thought it was just sloppy camera work.
Michael Maynard – My co-star was supposed to be Lindsay Lohen, but she found the dialogue too challenging.
Briar Theelsmom – Well, words, you know how that goes. who wound up playing her role?
Michael Maynard – Michele Bachmann. She insisted in wearing a mask. I also insisted on her wearing a mask, too.
Michael Maynard – Marcus wanted to be in the movie, but when he turned down playing the werewolf, then his role was cut.
Michael Maynard – Excuse me, it’s time for a word from our hostage, I mean, sponsor.
Michael Maynard – Are you tired? Do you find yourself drooping in the afternoon? We mean other than your normal drooping. If you are, it’s time you try Boomertrol, the hostage, I mean sponsor of the Briar and Smartass show. The new Boomertrol not only provides your daily needs of iron and niacin, but it’s new formula also provides your daily needs for nitrogen, hydrogen peroxide and cyanide. It now comes in new peppermint, bubble gum and garlic/beet flavors. Boomertrol, if you need it, then why worry about what your ingesting?
Michael Maynard – I just received word that Briar tried some of the sponsor’s product during the break, and is being rushed to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. Good night and good luck. You’ll need it.
October 3, 2013 at 9:20pm
Michael Maynard – Briar’s heart has started pumping again, and being the trooper that she is, the show, whether you like it or not, goes on. How are you feeling, Briar Theelsmom?
Briar Theelsmom – Ugh, bad stuff, don’t know how long I’ll be on here.
Michael Maynard – Well, we lost two of the audience who were taken to the hospital at the same time you were. And they were just watching, not trying the sponsor’s product.
Michael Maynard – But it is time for final words, so Briar, want to go first?
Briar Theelsmom – We need to kill the hostage, I mean sponsor and burn all those bottles. think kindly of me if I disappear again.
Michael Maynard – Briar, the EPA has banned any burning of the sponsor’s product due to toxicity to the environment. The last time we dumped it down the drain, the alligators grew by two feet . So we’re stuck with it for the time being.
Briar Theelsmom – See you in the recovery room!
Michael Maynard – And that’s our show for tonight. Keep the cards, letters, movie offers and threats coming in. We do read every one, because we have nothing better to do. If you want us to appear at your local Kiwanis Club meeting or other antisocial gathering, send a request to our agent, Boris, and he may get back to you when he’s out of the gulag.
Good night, Briar.
Michael Maynard – I apologize. I have to go clean up the mess now.
October 3, 2013 at 9:45pm
There was a telling point in the nonsensical exchange above, when Briar had to leave. A few days later, Briar told me that she had developed Stage 4 intestinal cancer. Almost one year later, on September 11, 2014, Briar Storms finally had to suffer no more and left this earth. She had become so heavily medicated and tired the last 3 months that she could only communicate a few minutes at a time. I had been talking to her by phone 2-3 times a week in the final month when she moved to the hospice facility in Washington state. Washington is one of only 4 states that currently have death with dignity laws. I spoke with Briar 2 hours before her death and, in typical Briar fashion, she was trying to cheer me up about her leaving.
Briar did have that kind of impact on others. Here are quotes from her other real-life and social media friends.
Lisa Todd Sutton – Briar was one smart savvy lady, politically spot on with a big heart. I liked her very much and will miss her. Rest in Peace.
Russ Carmichael – I really only know about her work with the dogs. Clearly dedicated.
Vinny Gormley – Few can touch your heart and soul as quickly and deeply. I feel her presence regularly.
Linda Vega – She was a warrior. Everyone in her family had cancer. She didn’t want to die like them. She tried to cheer me up, too. Didn’t work though. She told me she wasn’t in much pain. She just didn’t want to have to go there.
For many years, Briar worked with Eric L. Sakach in animal rescue. Eric said this to me about Briar:
All I would say is that I got her sense of humor. It was there even toward the end. The world is a better place for her having been here. It is a poorer place without her.
There was also an obituary about Briar on the Animals 24-7 website in which Eric is quoted:
Maybe you knew Briar as an unabashed liberal, as a Frank Zappa fan, as someone with a wicked sense of humor, or as someone who really cared about the environment and who was passionate about animals. Those things are all true, of course, but how many of you knew that Briar was also an accomplished photographer and undercover investigator who infiltrated the greyhound racing industry in order to document the cruel use of rabbits as live bait by trainers? That’s not all. I can now tell you that Briar was one of a handful of courageous undercover investigators who worked with HSUS beginning in the late 1970s and beyond to successfully infiltrate clandestine, organized dogfighting rings involving some of the biggest players in that illegal bloodsport. Months and months of difficult and often dangerous work in different parts of the country enabled us to amass needed intelligence and obtain photographs documenting the scope and brutality of a violent subculture that few knew existed. Those efforts helped to educate the public and pass needed legislation. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with Briar on a number of those operations.
The ANIMALS 24-7 archives indicate that Storms and Sakach were involved in undercover investigations beginning in 1977 which over the next 19 years brought the arrests of more than 500 dogfighting and cockfighting suspects.
Before she died, Briar gave her friends something of value to her. To Linda Vega, she gave the painting that is on the front cover of this article. The mountains, forest and wide open spaces was very much part of the southern born Briar Storms.
She gave me a book by one of both of our favorite authors, Miami Herald columnist, political satirist, friend of Warren Zevon and all around wise ass, Carl Hiassen. And this is why Hiassen is a favorite of so many:
I’ve never progressed very far from my days as a smart aleck in middle school.
Briar was also a huge music and comedy fan. One of her all-time favorites was Robin Williams. It is suitably ironic and tragic that Robin Williams died one month before Briar Storms.
In her last two months, I sent Briar music and comedy clips at least twice a day. She was a big fan of many performers, especially the smart ass hipsters, Steely Dan. This one is for you, my little Briarann Briarannadanna.
Briar’s final Facebook post was indicative of who she was and why so many treasured her..
Today I return to the Stardust from which I was made. I’ve had a blast and wish the same for you all.
I know. It’s really not that big a deal, it’s the inevitable conclusion to life and I’ve had one hell of a run. I plan to spend the rest of it staying stoned and hanging with my cousin till it’s time to pull the plug. We’ll stay in touch till then, just don’t let it get you down.
No, Briar, it was that big a deal to a lot of people, including your real imaginary smart ass partner, who misses you very much. But, you are at home at last and inside of all of us fortunate enough to have gotten to know you in the real world.
The final words are by Briar’s beloved Frank Zappa, who died of cancer at age 51.
“Dying is just a part of what we do anyways.”
Briar’s and my Facebook friend, Vinny Gormley, died on January 1, 2015 from liver cancer. He was 66 years old. I had spoken to Vinny a few days before and he was optimistic that a liver transplant could be found for him. Vinny, too, is home at last.
Rest In Peace, Vinny Gormley. You will be missed by all those fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to know you, too.
In Honor Of Briar And Vinny, please make a donation to a cancer research organization and/or an animal rescue organization, such as the Humane Society Of The United States, or your local animal rescue organization. Thank you.
Copyright 2015 Michael A. Maynard, Stow, Massachusetts.
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UPDATE – JANUARY 8, 2015: VINNY GORMLEY’s OBITUARY.
Vincent “Vinny” Gormley died January 2 at Doughtery Hospice after a short, hard fought, battle with bile duct cancer.
Vinny was born on October 14, 1948, in White Plains, New York, and grew up in Younkers, New York. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he studied fine arts and painting, and Stockton State College in Pomona, New Jersey, where he studied printmaking.
While living in New Jersey, Vinny’s art was featured in the NJ Statehouse, shown in several exhibitions, published in two magazines, discussed in the NY Times, and awarded two first prizes in the graphic arts category.
For several years Vinny was the caretaker for his mother. After her death he moved to Sioux Falls in 2003 where he became active in politics, tirelessly working to advance countless progressive causes and candidates. His compassion and his empathy knew no bounds.
In addition to his volunteer activities, he continued working on his art which is now displayed at Oppenheimer Endocrinology, 3926 S. Western Avenue, Sioux Falls, and at Avera McKennan Hospital.
Vinny loved baking, eating good chocolate bars, and pet sitting for Jack, Baxter, and Joji.
Visitation will be held at from 1:00 – 3:00 pm Sunday at Miller Funeral Home, Main Avenue location.
In Lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to Kerry Von Holtum, his administrator