October 9, 2013

A New Writer Wants Your Feedback

Gary Chalk is a Canadian and a writer. Those two facts aren't at odds with each other, I just wanted to set the stage a bit. Not too long ago he wrote me to ask for some help.

He is 63 years old and recently retired from a communications career - broadcasting and public relations.  For the last 17 years Gary was the director of public affairs for a hospital system. this gave him the chance to write a weekly newspaper column. When he retired, he  wanted to continue to do some creative writing and began a column 'Living Retired' which is e-mailed to those interested in his somewhat satiric, always honest, take on the life of a retired man.

During the course of things Gary contacted me and asked for feedback on his writing and his idea to expand the appeal of his column. After reading several of his recent works, I suggested I run one of his columns here and ask you to give him some feedback. 


What you are about to read actually took place yesterday. The facts have not been embellished. This has never happened to me, ever. And to think it happened 'Living Retired.'
No, I did not call my cable television provider and listen to mundane music for what call centres figure is an appropriate period of time: overnight; before a polite and accommodating team member, one of those people who only ever seem to have a first name, satisfactorily helped me re-boot my whatever.

As an aside, if the kind call centre folks answered our calls sooner, they wouldn't have to bother reminding us every minute or so, that "our call may be monitored for quality purposes."  I figure they tape the conversation so that it can be used in a court of law because when they finally get to some calls customers explode and a litany of words only used by professional football players and soccer moms are directed to the kind cable call centre person.
What did occur took place yesterday here in Buffalo where Jan and I are in the midst of one of those long standing Canadian traditions: a cross-border shopping trip.
We had reached the conclusion of what Jan said was a good example of 'power shopping.' Translated, this means we maxed the limit we are allowed to 'legally' bring back across the border. Returning to the hotel we swung into a Wegmans grocery store if for nothing else but to salivate over American grocery store selection. We picked up some snacks to take back to the hotel- including some Bud Light.

Eventually after steering the grocery cart that had a mind of its own, which means the four wheels went in different directions all at the same time, we found ourselves at the checkouts. This is where this story gets interesting.
The cashier rang in the beer. (I think it was about three dollars because I only purchased a twelve pack! I'm kidding but American beer is cheap.) Then, she asked me, get ready for this, for my proof of age. You read correct: she required my proof of age so I could purchase beer!

Now I know why those checkout lanes are so narrow. Its not just so you have difficulty channelling the grocery cart through without banging from one candy display to the opposite side where magazines are stacked. With the two displays so close together, combined with the conveyer belt at waist height, there were numerous safety features strategically placed so that I could catch myself before falling all the way to the floor where I would have probably suffered a concussion when I hit my head!

" You want me to show you my proof of age?" I stammered as I tried to compose myself.
She was serious. "Yes sir. You have alcohol and I need to see your proof of age."

Suddenly, I was feeling rather confident, cocky. I thought to myself: she doesn't think I'm 21. I sucked in my stomach, acting cool. She probably thinks I'm only 19, okay maybe 20 years old.

But right then Jan spoiled it when she laughed out loud, "You don't think he's OLD enough!" By now Jan couldn't contain herself and was laughing so hard that I thought SHE was going to fall over and hit her head on the floor. Serves her right, I thought.

Suddenly the cashier's supervisor appeared and smiled at me as she acted like she had looked at the drivers license I had pulled from my wallet, "Sorry sir. It's store policy."

Driving to the hotel I just knew that Jan was still laughing inside. Me? I prefer to think that the cashier really didn't think I was old enough to buy beer.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Buffalo getaway weekend..

New pants and shirt with in-store discount: $54.35 Dinner at PF Changs: $65 including tip (tip would have been more if waiter carded me!) 'Living Retired' and being asked to show proof of age to buy beer: priceless!!

There you have it: time to tell Gary what you think of his approach and style. I am glad to give him this opportunity to receive your feedback.

Comment away!


  1. I'd love to read more!

  2. Always enjoy a new perspective on how early retirement is going, till me and Ken get there ourselves (counting the days now!) One thought: Blogs tend to lend themselves to shorter punchier sentences.Gary writes like we "talk" --some of the thoughts take a while to get through.I'd just suggest some editing. That's my old English teacher/creative writing persona coming through.

    It will be interesting to hear what retirement in Canada is like!

  3. Just remember, you did ask. First, I do not feel qualified to critique your friends writing skills, but as a reader, I know what I like. Mostly, I want at least one take-a-way tidbit that will inspire, motivate, entertain or provoke thought.

    The story gave me a mild chuckle, so it fit the "entertainment" qualification. But, most of us have been asked to show ID when buying liquor and unless we are truly delusional we know that it is not because the clerk thinks we look thirty/forty years younger than our actual age. I also thought the lead-in was an awkward set up for the message, but I get it.

    P.S. I have been carded at the movie theater on Senion Citizen day - equally faltering, and a bit more realistic.

    1. Bob, after reading my comment back, I realized that it was not encouraging, which was not my intent. I think that anyone who believes they have something to say should share, regardless of judgement. Readers who are interested will continue to read while others will drift away. Style and content are important, but the connection between writer and reader is what will keep people coming back.

  4. I agree with all of Madeline's comments. Needs lots of editing. Blog too long; you only have so much time to catch and keep a reader's attention. There was nothing unique about being carded. It has happened to everyone at some point. I would be more interested in hearing about - one of those long standing Canadian traditions: a cross-border shopping trip.

  5. I found the call center references distracting to the main story - something that had "never happened to me [before]..." It is humorous: being carded at retirement age, another policy that just doesn't make sense when I'm sure Gary looked older than 21 (no offence, Gary).

  6. Too long, disjointed, and ultimately not particularly funny. Sounds like Readers Digest circa 1970. Good luck in the future.

  7. I agree the call center story was distracting and unrelated. And being carded for beer at the grocery is just normal for us down here (although Canadian readers probably found that interesting). I also wanted to hear more about cross border shopping and why he salivated at our selections at the grocery store. Are their selections not as good? I would love to know more about the lifestyle of our Canadian neighbors. I suppose it all depends upon your target audience. It does need editing. Have not done any writing in awhile, but one trick for me was...immediately before you start to write, read something by a writer that you admire. You will probably fall into a similar rhythm and style. I know this is not finding your own voice but you can migrate toward that later. Good luck and keep writing.

  8. I would love to hear more about Canadian retirement. That said, as someone who often does not follow the rules of writing: Either the call center story more fleshed out or the grocery shopping and carding would have been great on their own. Together they did not necessarily flow, if if you know what I mean. I tend to wrote blog posts that are too long. Keeping it shorter at the beginning may help. I agree, when in doubt shorter sentences.

    If you want to put a few meandering unrelated comments on a specific post, you probably need more than three.

  9. I thought it was a cute story . . . yeah, it's happened before, but it was fun to read. However, I agree with others that it's a bit to long and sometimes disjointed. I'd delete the first two paras. and start with "Jan and I were in the midst of one of those long standing Canadian traditions . . . "

  10. I have always appreciated the Canadian sense of humor. My prior jobs at DEC and Sun gave me the chance to meet up with our northern brethren at social functions, and I always was the better for it. I know where you are going, Gary, with your stories, and feel they would appeal. Keep it up.

    BTW, the next time your travels take you to the Syracuse area for shopping (lots of Canadians visit the Carousel Mall there), go to the Wegmans in Dewitt, NY, a suburb. When that flagship store open 15 or so years ago, the NY Times said it was either the #1 or #2 supermarket in the world (the other contender being in Germany). It is a phenomenal store, and Wegmans is the best chain in the country, period. I really miss them since leaving the Syracuse area three years ago for TN, but other than that, the area had nothing over our current abode. Good luck

  11. I suggest your friend start a blog. You follow him. Others will see your follow and check out his blog. He can stand or fall on the interest and writing, as we all do.

  12. I find the Safeway in our small town in Western Canada almost identical to the Safeways in the western States in selection and layout. Our wine & liquor are in a different store next door but the selection is similar. I have been ID'd recently in LAX but not in Canada for 30 years so the story was quite humorous to me. Little long winded as others have mentioned. We have a villa in rural southern California and really enjoy the fresh organic produce that is hard to find back home. Otherwise Walmart, Target and Home Depot are the same. I would read Gary's blog. Tom.

  13. Keith Your " Living Retired " column looks good ! Retired in Sask.

  14. Boy, it is tough to open yourself to opinions about that which is near and dear to your heart. You obviously love to write and love to share your thoughts with others. I say go for it! Some commenters had specific suggestions/criticisms, and you can certainly take them or leave them, as you see fit.

    I suspect however, that the real reason we follow blogs is that after a while, we feel like we know the person, and it is like checking in with an old friend. I know that the blogs that I check daily (Bob, Tamara, Barb, Linda) give me a feeling of connection to the person. The more I read of these blogs, the more I feel like I know them. It makes me want to know what is going on in their life. And if there happens to be a blog post of something that isn't awe inspiring, it doesn't matter. I'm still coming back for more each day because of a that connection that I have.

    So I agree with Linda. Go for it! Hopefully it will be a satisfying, creative outlet for you. As your blog gains popularity, you will connect with your readers, begin to understand what is of interest to them, and then likely focus your posts more towards your target audience.

    Good luck! Enjoy the journey!

  15. Needs some editing. It's happened to all of us you know? The cashier cannot continue with her order until she checks id. I agree with Tom who says the story should start with "jan and I were…" Leave the cable co. story for another post. I like the blog format best and enjoy reading about retirement, as we are on the brink of that ourselves. JK

  16. I enjoyed the post. I would have made it shorter, but that's my style as a former newspaper reporter. I agree with the people who say you should start a blog. The great thing about blogs is you don't have to care what anyone else says about it.