38 comments

Creative Nonfiction Funny Gay

Dear middle school me,

Let me spare you the suspense and come right out with it: fifteen years from now, you turn out to be pretty damn boring. Plain. Vanilla. Milquetoast. (But at least you know the definition of milquetoast now.) You're the type of guy to walk into the barbershop, not say a word the entire time, and leave with your usual crew cut. The kind of person whose pizza topping of choice is extra cheese. Hey, don't blame me. It's just the way things go. #sorrynotsorry (Oh, right. Hashtags are a thing now. Don't get too attached to Myspace.)

Here's what I know so far.

Your Elmer Fudd speech impediment never quite goes away, but you do get better at masking it. You embrace alternatives to saying the letter r. For example: "Rascally rabbit" becomes "bad bunny." And "road rage" becomes "Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe the Second Amendment isn't such a bad thing." That way, when you do slip up, instead of strangers thinking you emigrated from the unforgiving jungle of Boston, Massachusetts to the West Coast, they'll just think your parents pulled the wrong Jenga block and sent the weight of their secondhand accents toppling down on you.

Your college debt never quite disappears either. Spoiler alert: You double major in Communications and Creative Writing. Then you spend the next five years communicating to people why you can't creatively write a check that will exonerate you from your student loans. And anytime you vent about this to a coworker, they'll inevitably want to talk about their failing marriage or hapless kids in return. God, other people can be so self-important.

Hey, do you remember the one dream you've had since you were ten of publishing a book? Well, guess what!? It hasn't happened yet. That's right. Twenty-eight years and nothing to show for it except a handful of short stories (which would be great if anyone, anywhere went out and bought those) and a room full of rejection letters. You collect rejections like other people collect stamps and comic books and misdemeanors—consistently, sometimes even vainly, covetously.

Thing is: Life is tough, like opening a bottle of beer with your teeth, and then opening all your friends' bottles because now they know you can do that. That's why I'm telling you this. I want you to be prepared for all the things you cannot yet see.

But don't think your life will be all bad, because it won't.

You do move out of your parent's house eventually. And what a glorious month that is before you move right back in—a month filled with skunk-scented strangers who come and go from your apartment like tourists, and more Pabst Blue Ribbon in the fridge than food, and friends who commit the cardinal sin of signing the lease so you don't have to. #sorrynotsorry

You're not exactly the heartbreaker or dream maker or love taker that Pat Benatar sings about, but your first kiss does come, and no one can take that from you. Sure, it's a little later in life than you'd like. Sure, it happens in an elevator with no other witnesses to corroborate it. Sure, you had breakfast burrito breath and his lips were chapped and none of that mattered anyway, because both your tongues were further South than the Confederacy and—

Oh, right. And you can stop praying every night for God to fix you.

You're gay.

Yes, still.

No, it doesn't just magically go away like chickenpox, or Blockbuster, or the family Golden Retriever that your parents said ran off to the farm when you came home from fourth grade one winter. (Buddy going to a farm in winter, when you've lived in the city your whole life? Really? God, you were gullible.)

It's here to stay, and so are you. 

And it's true. By the time you're twenty-eight, you still won't have a book published. But you'll get into the habit of writing short stories every week and entering contests and ripping your hair out each time a deadline rolls around. And yet, you'll make friends. You'll have fun. And you might even find out that you're decent at it. (You still won't get anybody to buy them, though).

I hope you don't dread any of this. In fact, you should look forward to it all. Because you'll learn from it.

When you finally find your voice in the barbershop, sitting there in the chair with the black cape strangling you, and choose to get a mohawk instead of a crew cut, you'll learn just how misshapen your head is and never deviate again. #sorryquitesorry

When you gather the courage to order a pizza with anchovies and end up jamming seven of the eight slices down the garbage disposal while your microwave ramen is cooking, you'll learn that maybe extra cheese is a gouda-nuff topping for you. (You'll feel particularly clever for that pun, too.)

When you complain to a coworker about your problems and then they complain about theirs, you'll learn that you can't trust people not to make everything all about them.

Very soon, someone very close to you will claim that the meaning of life is a number between 41 and 43. Don't listen to them. That's not true.

Life is all about self-discovery. Even now, writing this, you'll discover something about yourself that you never knew. But I won't tell you what it is—I don't want to spoil the surprise.

Instead, how about we just agree to do this again in another fifteen years? My treat. I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about then.

Because your parents are sick and tired of having you home all the time, eating all their food, so maybe it's time you tried moving out again.

Because a first kiss is nice, but a boyfriend would be even better. (Or at least a first kiss from someone, somewhere that doesn't take place in a cramped three-by-four-foot elevator.)

Because you still have to finish your book. You're only halfway done; there are plenty of pages left to go. So keep writing.

This is not the end of your story.

May 21, 2022 03:52

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38 comments

J.C. Lovero
13:59 May 21, 2022

Dearest pen pal, When I saw this prompt last week, I was wondering if you would take a stab at it. So glad you did 😊 😇 🙂 I love letters to oneself, and you executed this one so well. It has the typical humor of Zack Powell, which is on-brand for you, plus the added vulnerability of reflecting on life. It's raw, and I'm here for it. First, the funny. You had so many lines that made me laugh. You've got such a gift for humor, even in a (serious) short story. Makes me jealous and admire you all the same. Loved your use of hashtags throughout...

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Zack Powell
01:09 May 23, 2022

Confession: I would've put money on you picking this same prompt. Like, a LOT of money. Then proceed to lose it all.😜 (Should've known better, though, since you already did this before it was a prompt.) Side confession: While writing this, I went back and shamelessly reread your letter-to-yourself story for inspiration (#sorrynotsorry), and upon realizing that I couldn't top it, decided to go the comedy route instead. Hence this #hotmessexpress The day I finish paying off my student loans is the day I take a trip to Bermuda. (With what mon...

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J.C. Lovero
22:28 May 23, 2022

Glad you found inspiration from my backlist of stories. Yes, if I hadn't already written it, I could have done the prompt. Oh well, I opted for comedy instead. Cheering for you to finish paying off those loans, and I'm glad you already know what you are doing. Gotta have something to look forward to! Looking forward to whatever masterpiece you whip up this week! xoxo

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Cado E.
12:24 May 21, 2022

Hello! I'm new to Reedsy and discovered your stories while I was exploring on here, and connected with your writing immediately. I read the Vegas one first, and then I read about Dawn. I loved both. You have a way of describing things in ways I never thought about before. I liked the Jenga blocks and the "toppling accents" metaphor. It was funny and surprising! It was visual, too. You're so creative! What I also like about this story is it sorta sends out tentacles of allusions and references in many different directions, and I probably di...

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Zack Powell
00:54 May 23, 2022

Thanks, Cado! Just got done reading your story, and you're a great writer too, so this comment is lovely. The Jenga metaphor was actually my favorite line in here, so thanks for noting it. You have no idea how happy I am to hear that it worked for you. And thanks too for the prose compliment. "Easy to read" is what I shoot for any time I write a story, so this is the best compliment. Welcome to Reedsy. Good luck with your future stories as well - you can count on me to read them!

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Riel Rosehill
08:00 May 21, 2022

Zack!!! (Prompt envy!! If I didn't have the dragon project, I would have done this!) How I wanted creative nonfic from you! The relatability scale's through the roof and I know the definition of milquetoast now #JustGoogledIt #ImMilquetoast (Sounds so damn cute, doesn't it?! My next Reedsy pet name, thank you very much) Firstly, thanks for sharing ❤️ 10 points to Griffindor!! Secondly, do you have Gouda on pizza?! (Loved that pun 😂) There were so many extremely relatable lines (maybe those personality tests aren't as much of a scam as ...

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Zack Powell
01:29 May 23, 2022

I'm VERY glad you did the dragon prompt instead of this one, because I'm still rooting for it/you this week. (Yes, it was that good. Yes, I'm jealous I didn't write it.) Happy that this prompt came along though - Creative Nonfiction was always gonna be a tough tag to write a story for, prompt-wise, so this was a saving grace to eliminate that genre from the list. I have had gouda on pizza before, once. #neveragain Thank God for regular barbers and hairdressers. I'm pretty much incapable of speaking up in there. 😬 Side note: The Second Amen...

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Riel Rosehill
05:31 May 23, 2022

Gotta wait another fifteen years? Oh don't you worry, I'll stick around for it ❤️ Can't wait to find out now what is your all time favourite prompt! I haven't even picked one yet, but I think I know which one it will be... I thought the Second Amendment was a Bible thing, one of the ten rules... Oopsie. Can you tell my parents didn't raise me with one? LOL. On the discord: J.C. & I dropped you an email with options and extra instructions and we were worried you wouldn't make it! But hop on there and we can ran't about living with family ...

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Aeris Walker
17:04 May 24, 2022

“skunk-scented strangers” *golfers clap* I like it..I like it.. Your narrater is just oozing with personality (icky metaphor maybe? Better than “dripping” I guess). And this paragraph was really great at connecting the two halves of your story: “Thing is: Life is tough, like opening a bottle of beer with your teeth, and then opening all your friends' bottles because now they know you can do that. That's why I'm telling you this. I want you to be prepared for all the things you cannot yet see.” Witty, visually evocative, but tethers the re...

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Aeris Walker
17:06 May 24, 2022

And** that little hitch hikers guide reference did not go unnoticed. Clever clever.

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Zack Powell
03:09 May 25, 2022

Thank you, Aeris, for catching the reference and for noting the connecting paragraph. Was hoping that the readers saw that as the pivotal piece of the story that glued it together.

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Aeris Walker
09:04 May 25, 2022

Yes, definitely! The format was very well structured while still maintaining a casual tone. Do you ever do outlines for your short stories?

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Zack Powell
19:57 May 25, 2022

I almost never outline my stories. Most of the time I'll come up with a plot for a prompt and have a general idea of how I want it to end, so I'll usually write the ending first and work backwards from there, bottom to top. I find it holds me accountable for connecting and gluing all the pieces together.

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Aeris Walker
00:29 May 26, 2022

Gosh, that’s so great. Endings are always hard for me, so maybe I should try that VS. the Steven King approach to just “uncovering the story…” cuz half the time, I just “uncover” a lot of dead ends lol.

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Suma Jayachandar
08:07 May 21, 2022

Zack, by now I'm used to your gut punches. But here, every gut punch is preceded by a mighty tickle. And that's savage! First of all kudos to you for being brave enough to choose this prompt. I briefly toyed with the idea of choosing it and realised I don't have the guts, yet. I like the optimism the POV character shows towards the end. Hey, like someone said, life is what it is- you can either get wounded or wise from what it throws at you. Practically every paragraph has a couple of lines I loved but the beer bottle, moving out of home and...

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Zack Powell
00:48 May 23, 2022

Thanks as always, Suma! I agree with you: the Creative Nonfiction tag is quite scary, so I tried to offset it with a few more tickles than usual. Very happy the pathos and the optimism shone through. Thank you, thank you!

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Bradon L
05:31 May 21, 2022

“Life is tough, like opening a bottle of beer with your teeth, and then opening all your friends' bottles because now they know you can do that.” I’ve never heard life described that way and it fits so so well. Love that line! Excellent story as usual but I have several things that I must mention though: 1. I will be looking up Milquetoast cause I have no idea what that is. 2. Decent is not the correct word to describe your (I’m assuming this is about you) writing. In fact decent is a drastic understatement. 3. I love the ending. Th...

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Zack Powell
00:46 May 23, 2022

Thanks as always, Bradon! The beer bottle line was one of my favorites. (Do NOT recommend doing it though.) Disclaimer: I'm trying to bring "milquetoast" back into everyday language, so I'm glad to know people are looking up the definition.🤣 And I'd say "decent" is probably the word I'd use for myself. Not the best, not the worst. And I'm at peace with that. I don't think I said it yet, but good luck in the contest! Makes me happy to see your story getting the love it deserves.

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Patrick Samuel
14:38 Jun 15, 2022

"Don't get too attached to Myspace" Still giggling over that one. Wish I had thought of it then. Hope that character of yours sells a story someday cause he certainly deserves it!

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Ace Quinnton
23:03 May 31, 2022

"Oh yeah, you can stop praying to God that he'll fix you. You're gay. Yes, still." STILL? I died of laughter reading this. "Oh no, mom, look, I'm in the Gay Phase. All of my friends are supposedly gay, so from INFLUENCE, I turned gay." WOW. This story is just hilarious. And if you got these short stories published, I'd buy them. But it honestly depends on which bookstore near me it appears in. Great story, and great cheese pun.

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Bruce Friedman
19:40 May 31, 2022

Biographical sketch, perhaps? Only error is you stuff too much great stuff into a short piece as in "gouda-nuff." Hold some back.

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22:47 May 25, 2022

I really enjoyed the honesty in this story. I like how you give such great detail about the character through the insights you offer.

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Zack Powell
01:48 May 26, 2022

Thanks, Ellison! I really enjoyed your story this week too.

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Awexis Wafflez
20:48 May 24, 2022

Good job, as usual!! :D

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Zack Powell
00:48 May 25, 2022

Thanks, Awexis, and a belated congratulations to you on your contest win!

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Awexis Wafflez
18:06 May 26, 2022

Thank you!! :D

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17:50 May 24, 2022

Wow. I knew this was going to be good. And it sure IS. First of all, I love the tone of the story. I was smiling the whole time reading your story, from the first sentence ;) Tongue in cheek yet endearing and serious in the same time. Nice combination of emotions stirred in the reader. It sounds autobiographical - that's how authentic the voice of the author sounds. Like a chapter of a memoir. I disagree with the older MC telling the middle school MC that fifteen years later he'd still be "pretty damn boring. Plan. Vanilla. Milquetoast....

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18:11 May 24, 2022

Just now saw the "non-fiction" tag. Now I understand why it sounds autobiographical. It makes sense now ;) I still feel very silly ;)

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Zack Powell
03:16 May 25, 2022

If I could have a million Gabrielas cheering me on while I'm writing these stories, I would! Seriously, you're so sweet. This is Non-Fiction, so I'm glad you caught onto that even before you saw the tag. That's awesome and means you're a great reader. I promised myself I'd do another one of these in fifteen years, so that's something to look forward to, personally. (Here's hoping I get the motivation to write a best seller by that point in my life.) Teaching creative writing is actually a dream of mine (hence my being on this site, to prac...

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Rebecca Miles
14:47 May 24, 2022

As a Brit (living in Germany!) I enjoyed pausing at all the Americanisms that I didn't recognise and inferring what the Brit English equivalent was. Despite the local colour (if you can call American English that! Perhaps only a Brit could ,-))what I liked the most was the gentle passing on of life's lessons to probably the most sympathetic of listeners: oneself! This story was infinitely relatable, as I'm sure it will be for all readers on this platform, as we are all churning out the stories, wondering what to do with that book and collec...

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Zack Powell
04:28 May 25, 2022

Thanks, Rebecca! It's funny - I had no clue this story read so American until reading some of these comments. Crazy how one's style of humor can be so ingrained in where they live. But hey, local colour is a great compliment - I'll take it! Glad it's still relatable.

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Kelsey H
10:13 May 23, 2022

I am a bit embarrassed to say this, but I googled Milquetoast assuming it was some American food thing I've never heard of, like toast cooked in milk or something. Anyway, I now know a new word. I love that you wrote in the non-fiction genre, sharing a bit about your life and thoughts while also entertaining with so many great lines as always - And "road rage" becomes "Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe the Second Amendment isn't such a bad thing." (someone with your sense of humour can't be milquetoast, surely!) Also loved the line ab...

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Zack Powell
03:20 May 25, 2022

I actually assumed (incorrectly) that milquetoast was used everywhere in the world, up until I Googled it to double check how to spell it properly. The more you know, I guess. Good to know that the pet thing IS universal, though! I think young me would just be happy I still have my sense of humor, which is where this piece came from. If nothing else, I got that going for me. And you keep writing too, because I'd likewise get a book if you wrote one - preorder, buy, and ask you to sign it!

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Kai Corvus
17:18 May 21, 2022

Firstly, gonna get this out of the way: props for the gouda pun. Only a true mastermind of puns could've not only come up with that one but also timed it so perfectly that you don't see it coming until it's too late. Oh, man. This was incredible, Zack. How you managed to touch on tough topics while also inserting good, well-timed comedy, I will never know. This prompt was pretty straightforward but you still managed to write something unexpected. Nice job on coming back to what you said in the beginning, too. Gives the readers a good sense...

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Zack Powell
00:41 May 23, 2022

Dad jokes are my absolute weakness, so thank you for the gouda pun validation! Thanks for noticing the callbacks. I think in a piece this short, it's important to really contain and reuse as many details as possible to give it that closure feel. (And if I do have some otherworldly powers guiding me, it'd be nice if they introduced themselves to make my life easier!) Thanks as always for your kindness, Kai. Hope to see another story from you soon!

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Michał Przywara
15:47 May 21, 2022

A lovely letter this week :) What I like about this is, it clearly covers some sensitive topics, some that weighed heavily on your mind, but it does it in a playful manner. A little self-deprecating humour, but I honestly believe the world would be a better place if more people were capable of that. And it offers hope too, a promise of "things are good, more or less, even if they don't turn out the way you expect." There's a feeling to this letter that I had trouble placing. I initially thought "forgiveness," but no, that's not quite right...

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Zack Powell
00:38 May 23, 2022

Thanks as always, Michał! Who better to laugh at than yourself, right? I think middle school me would get a chuckle out of this. Self-kindness is a great way of saying it -- I like that. (Though the Communications major in me definitely DOES think society does what it does so it can sell us products we think we need.)

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10:31 May 31, 2022

How I Got My Ex Husband Back.. Am so excited to share my testimony of a real spell caster who brought my husband back to me. My husband and I have been married for about 5 years now. We were happily married with three kids, two boys and a girl. Four months ago, I started to notice some strange behaviour from him and a few weeks later I found out that my husband is seeing someone else. He started coming home late from work, he hardly cares about me or the kids anymore, Sometimes he goes out and doesn’t even come back home for about 3-4 days. ...

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