Black Friday; everything you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.

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I’m not much of a shopper, unless I’m in a saddle shop surrounded by the scent of new leather and a life-sized horse mannikin.

I’ve never gone wonky over a sale on big screen televisions and I don’t get the vapors over shoe sales. Sad to say, all the media hype around Black Friday does nothing to quicken my heartbeat like it seems to for other folks. I feel left out. I’m missing something, I know, to be so ho-hum about saving a boatload of money on stuff I don’t need.

What is wrong with me?

Black Friday is a major shopping event, a shop-a-holic’s dream come true, a shopping phenomenon, if you will.

And that does quicken my heartbeat, so, in the interest of scientific research, I unearthed a few fun facts-and some not so fun facts- about Black Friday.

  1.  The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the kick-off to the holiday shopping season, but it never had a name, until recently.
  2. The term, Black Friday, is thought to have originated in Philadelphia, when pedestrians and vehicle traffic clogged main shopping roads and generally made ordinary life difficult. It’s also the day when retailers’ accounting books switch from being ‘in the red’ to being ‘in the black.’
  3.  People get crazy for a deal. To date, there have been 16 reported deaths due to Black Friday shopping mania.
  4. In 2018, American shoppers spent a whopping 717.5 billion dollars on Black Friday alone.
  5. 50% of the 717.5 billion dollars was spent on electronics and technology.
  6. Environmentalists criticize Black Friday as yet another consumeristic bomb as shoppers purchase items they don’t need simply because they’re on sale.
  7. On Black Friday,  in a line outside a California Walmart, a woman used pepper spray on fellow shoppers to prevent them from cutting the line. She was waiting for an Xbox 360.

The psychology behind Black Friday is even more interesting.

  • Black Friday hype awakens a psychological urgency. First, retailers encourage you to believe you want IT, whatever IT is; then they drop the bomb. “You have just one day to get IT.”
  •  When we shop or engage in exciting or impulsive behavior, we feel a little thrill. That’s the brain’s physiological response to impulse behavior. Your brain sends a shot of dopamine to your neurotransmitters, which- lo and behold-reinforces that impulse behavior.
  • Advertising sells happiness, not products. Your life will be amazing if only you buy this sweater, television, computer, I-pad. No, really…your life will be amazing!
  •  Consumer Psychology is an entire field of research. No lie. It’s research devoted to finding out what motivates shoppers to make purchases. Some of the motivators include boosting self-esteem, an ‘I deserve this’ mentality, a happiness reach, cultural conditioning, and the desire for immediate gratification. Finding out why you buy, is a full time job for someone.

But hey, don’t let any of the above stop you. I don’t want to be a killjoy.

Happy Black Friday shopping everyone!

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The Booklist; great books to read over the holidays.

Many of you will be getting together with your quirky relatives over the holidays. Why not bring along a book with interesting characters? You know, for the downtime when Aunt Martha is sleeping off her third glass of port.

Alias Grace is a favorite of mine. After reading the book, indulge in the miniseries. It was fantastic. Set in 19th century Canada, the story unravels the truth (or does it?) of a woman imprisoned for a brutal murder.

The End of the Affair is set in London just after World War II. The story is more than a fascinating love triangle. This book was also adapted for television and is excellent.

Another Graham Greene novel; The Ministry Of Fear is short, but oh so good. A man’s ordinary day spins out of control as he gets caught up in a Nazi murder plot in war torn London.

After the Fall

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I’m so honored that the Elizabeth Ayers Center for Creative Writing chose my essay as the winner of their October photo prompt contest. You can visit the Center at www.creativewritingcenter.com for online classes, retreats, and compassionate writerly advice. I highly recommend their newsletter and blog. 

After the Fall by Karen Elizabeth Baril

This year, it’s less about raking leaves than it is about love.

Dad, post heart attack, stands on the porch looking lost in a pair of baggy sweats, which are too big for his shrunken frame. He’d been lucky, the doctor told us. Really lucky.
Mom passes me a rake. “Do you want to borrow my gloves?”

I smile and shake my head. I want to feel the wooden rake handle, solid and cool, made of maple in my hand. Mom, a little unsteady on her feet, sweeps the leaves into mountains.

We labor for hours, a sweet smell of decay in the air, that reminds me of an old cider cellar. The neighbors have a wood fire going and I know I’ll go home smelling of damp smoke and leaves.

I visited a house in Connecticut one summer, a house with wainscoting painted by the impressionists. Golds, reds, yellows, blues, against the white paneling. This day takes on the light and quality of one of those impressionist paintings. On this day, every color has taken to the stage; not just the golds and yellows and reds, but the rich browns and the weatherworn grays of the trees.

Dad pitches a volley of corny jokes from the railing. Mom laughs or shouts, “Oh Don, really!” but neither one of us asks him to stop. This year, dad’s jokes fuel the labor. They’re as necessary as the rakes in our hands.

Dad tells us an old story of the tandem bicycle they’d had in England. He’d huff and puff up the hills, straining to make the bicycle move forward. When he glanced over his shoulder to see what the trouble might be, he caught mom with her feet on the handlebars. A good joke if ever there was one.

“Well,” he said, “I was young, then. I could do it.”

We rake throughout the afternoon. When we have five mounds of leaves, Mom turns to me satisfied. “We did it!” Then she drops her rake, spins around, arms towards the sky, and plummets backward onto her pile of leaves. A cloud of leaf and color rises up around her.

She lies flat on her back, moving her arms and legs in and out in wide arcs.
“Look!,” she says, “I’m making a snow angel!”

“You can’t make a snow angel in leaves,” I tell her, feeling stingy.

“Oh, I yes I can! I am!”

Dad stands up to watch. “Just look at her,” he said, “I wish I had a camera.”

I offer my hand to help mom up, but she’s not ready. She’s a child again, an impulsive girl, exuberant, making of herself an angel.

I catch a falling leaf in my hand. It’s more yellow than orange or red. I trace the veins of the leaf with the tip of my finger, out to its points and down to its stem, still soft and supple. There’s life here, I think. Life, even after the fall.