What’s In My Heart: A Playlist
I’m changing the way I use Vocal.
Initially, I said I’d enter every Vocal challenge for a year. Then I noticed something. I had to force myself to write for challenges—except poetry. Poetry is mindless fun for me because I’m not a poet.
Poetry challenges were reminiscent of performing an adorable rendition of Madonna’s “Material Girl” shitfaced on karaoke night at a biker bar in Kansas City. I know it was adorable because my friend recorded it on her phone. The crowd was feeling me. Friends not there that night later watched the video my Facebook was tagged in. They felt it it too. They felt the unadulterated bliss radiating from my inner child as she performed the 80’s tune once reserved for the plush animals on her bed. I wasn’t worried how my vocals sounded; I’m not a singer.
Those of you who are poets, holy shit, you’re Aretha Franklin to me. Some of you aren’t poets. We’re singing karaoke together. I’m grateful for you too.
I didn’t give a damn if my poems were good or not. Fiction and creative nonfiction were a different story. I want to be a published author and indie filmmaker. I have high aspirations. The highest. I have a vision and a future brand.
Vocal has a brand too. Challenge winners must fit their brand. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading the winners’ stories. The talent and hard work is evident. But stories I most want to tell, stories that’ll possess me until I exorcize them onto the page, are too dark for Vocal. And I refuse to start adding content warnings, or continue censoring myself.
To say I procrastinated challenges is an understatement. For the Under Purple Clouds, Tall Tail, and Broken Mirror challenges, I waited until an hour or two before the deadline to start writing. I’m not proud of myself for that. I was scared to water down my stories, and scared not to. I told myself it’s not about winning, it’s about creating a literary portfolio. But I don’t want to publish my best stories online, which would disqualify them from being published in print.
I’ve spent decades daydreaming myself into literary magazines. I’ve spent the past five years doing shadow work to create a center of emotional stability. Writing is only therapeutic for those strong enough to share their stories. My time has come. Many self-published stories should’ve never seen the light of day. The authors were too attached. I’m prepared to work in collaboration with professional editors from a place of detachment and peace.
My story for the Broken Mirror challenge, “Late Bloomer” was partially inspired by my childhood PTSD and eating disorder. It was a metaphor for the two sides of my personality—one hidden in shadows, dimmed by fear of attracting more abuse—and the merging of my dark with my light, feeling safe to shine. However, I need to tell my truth, not hide in fiction.
“Late Bloomer” was also inspired by Taylor Swift, who has dead eyes and behaves like a sociopath. A mean girl, mentally still in high school because she never healed. Many of her “Swifties” are young, so I can’t fault them. Their tastes may mature. Yes, I’ve heard Evermore and Folklore, which fans insist I listen to when I say she’s not a good songwriter. Her lyrics are juvenile. And while I’m no great vocalist, neither is she. The emperor has no clothes.
I wrote “Late Bloomer” with a supernatural explanation. There’s no logical explanation for Taylor Swift or people like her. I look at Kardashian success, and I don’t understand how this is reality. It must not be. It must be a carefully crafted delusion.
In my rewrite for a literary magazine that publishes the speculative and strange, I went deeper exploring mirror magic. Mirror magic is an ancient occult practice. I believe most celebrities use glamor spells, relying on physical makeovers and mirrors, but not self-reflection. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Perhaps the image they create is enough to trick themselves, and their fans by extension. I’m spooked. It’s an American horror story whenever I hear mainstream music, or catch glimpses of mainstream media via social media.
“Late Bloomer” is not about Taylor Swift, but the cultural phenomenon she’s both a victim and perpetrator of. Hollywood. A toxic American fame that becomes pandemic in reach. Infectious pop culture.
I wrote something for the Sky’s the Limit challenge that wasn’t fiction. I won’t submit it to the Vocal challenge, but a creative nonfiction competition held by a literary magazine. It could lead to publishing even if I don’t win, which looks great to literary agents. In fact, it’s a chapter in my memoir-in-essays I’ll someday query agents for.
When I saw the Epistolary and Passing Ships challenges, I knew I had more memoir chapters. I’m not a poet, but a poetic letter sprung from me. So I’m still doing every Vocal challenge, but not every story will find a home here.
I used to be a professional nude model. I’d pose for figure drawing classes, sculptors, photography students, photographers who did fine art nudes for galleries, photographers who shot fetish content for private collectors, highbrow erotica photographers with coffee table books. The art nude photographs in nature were my favorite. I loved posing in juxtaposition to a landscape.
Sometimes I worked for $100 an hour and a hot meal. Other times $10 an hour, or a place to stay while traveling, or pictures for my portfolio. Sometimes it was for the love of modeling and nothing else. I balanced paid assignments I wasn’t thrilled to take with wild adventures. Every evening spent bored out of my mind in classic poses on a seamless backdrop could be followed by morning guerilla shoots in forbidden locations. Modeling was my only source of income. It was also my passion, creative outlet, and purpose. I didn’t let it become a job.
My photographer friends taught private workshops and college courses on photography. They shot weddings, family portraits, real estate, or products for brands. To keep their love of photography alive, they also collaborated with models of their choice on concepts in their mind’s eye. I worked with a man who sketched every pose before I arrived, then photographed me with vintage cameras. It was euphoric to bring his visions to life. Neither of us made a dime from that shoot, but it kept my divine spark of inspiration aflame.
I’m not leaving Vocal. I had so much fun with “Creep Show” and “Cheeky.” I found them hilarious to write. Both made Top Story, my laughter shared. “Lovely Lady” was wonderful silliness. Where else can I publish limericks about anal sex and cannabis? I want to write for all the Vocal communities. Especially Filthy, Blush, and Potent.
I sometimes feel pissed off that Vocal has become like Facebook, a site I left eleven years ago for my mental health. Yet, a conversational tone is for social settings—coffee with a friend, or a social network, which is what Vocal now is. Stories like “Drinking and Thinking…” and “Why You Were Ghosted” belong here. So do I. All work and no play made Jack Torrence snap. I’m serious about my career, but I want a place to unwind when I start to take writing too seriously. I hope you like my karaoke. I hope my joy is contagious.
These are songs that recently wormed their way into my ears and heart. Songs I’m belting out these days.
“I Love You Golden Blue” by Sonic Youth
This song is on my “Blue” playlist, along with the song “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” by Florence + the Machine. I included the playlist in my short story “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” which I’m quite proud of, because I took my time writing it. It’s my only work of fiction to get Top Story on Vocal.
I am titling the story I’m writing for the Passing Ships challenge but not sharing here “I Love You Golden Blue.” The song kept playing in my head as I wrote the first draft. The story is about my time living in Detroit, recovering from extreme grief, getting black out drunk and sexually assaulted, but also meeting a boy I loved named Erik, who later died from heroin addiction. Erik had blonde hair and blue eyes, and a strawberry blonde beard that really did it for me. I’m so attracted to slightly ginger men. Not too ginger. Not Ed Sheeran. We shared brief moments of intimacy after he got off drugs and before he relapsed. I’ve never felt that close to anyone since.
Kim Gordon never disclosed her inspiration for the lyrics. After reading her memoir, I interpret it as a love letter to Kurt Cobain, her golden-haired, blue-eyed passing ship.
The rest are a baker’s dozen from my Aries playlist, which I never got around to sharing here during Aries season, but listened to daily. All my playlists have a vibe to them. This was “hippy dippy, new age soul.”
“Road to Self” by Aisha Badru
“Free Again” by Arima Ederra
“Impurities” by Arlo Parks
“Seabird” by Babeheaven
“Champagne Coast” by Blood Orange
“Incense” by Erykah Badu
“Mr. Sun (miss da sun)” by Greentea Peng
“Childqueen” by Kadhja Bonet
“Fall Back” by Moby, Akemi Fox & always centered at night
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
“Vibrate” by OutKast
“Bassically (Acoustic)” by Tei Shi
“Wait a Minute!” by WILLOW
Full Playlist (3 hours):
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Crazy times and living life. Vocal is addictive, i try to leave but...What can I say. You do you so well.
Hmmm... it seems you have the courage to be yourself. Kudos!
Yes, I so agree with you about Vocal having a brand. The challenge winning stories all have the same sort of feel to them. Two of my stories that were shortlisted but didn't win on Vocal have since been published in literary mags and one was rewritten and produced as a short play. (Apparently, if you publish in a paid member site which isn't open to the general public, it may not be considered previously published, at least, mine weren't. I asked Vocal to remove them, just to be certain.) At the end of the day, Vocal judges are people and they choose what they like and looks like quite a few of them came through MFA programs. Some high profile, best-selling authors are famous for washing out of MFA programs. While it's hard to be constantly overlooked on Vocal and then published multiple times elsewhere (especially as the money usually is never as good as a challenge win), it reminds me that writing and publishing is highly highly subjective. I use Vocal as a source for prompts and deadlines that stimulate some good work sometimes which then finds a home elsewhere. I figure it's a lot cheaper than an MFA!
Loved your insights and honesty, Naomi- Something that continually draws me to your writing. I'm really happy you are here, sharing your expertise and little pieces of your life, which I find so wonderfully fascinating! Excited to see what you do beyond Vocal. Keep us all posted! If you're writing, I'm clicking or buying! Can't wait to catch up on this playlist!
Love the piece, however I am going to have to disagree with the Taylor Swift comments. Like for example, "now you hang from my lips like the gardens of Babylon, your boots beneath my bed, forever is the sweetest con" is not juvenile song writing. I mean to each their own obviously, "good" is super subjective but juvenile I think isn't a great adjective for her skills. Keep up the great work!
"Feeling Good" by Nina Simone just might be the perfect song.
Another in-depth inside peek into the wonderful world of you. Congratulations on Top Story!
Knowing what Vocal gravitates towards, both their brand as well as the context of their competitions, can be advantageous. I intentionally wrote a “feel good” story for my 1st place win, because I knew the previous challenge was a horror challenge. I don’t think my story was the best of the finalists, or even the submissions, but it hit a different emotional note than the thriller-y stories and the horror-y stories the judges had been reading recently, so it stood apart from the pack. It may not be as worthwhile to play the field since they lowered their prize amounts, and as with anything it is still mostly luck of the draw… but reading between the lines of the prompts to write for Vocal “context” and “brand” is its own sort of mental challenge that can be quite gratifying. I do think they are trying to evolve their selection process for both wins and top stories to diversify voices, though, which I’m personally thrilled about. I will say that one thing I struggle with in my writing is honesty, and you have that in spades, which I sincerely admire. You have a memoirist voice down to an T, and if you ever publish one, I’d one-click it in a heartbeat.
Interesting list (been a Sonic Youth fan since "Daydream Nation", etc.) And whatever you need to do to get those words on the page, do it! Another great TS!
Nicely done. Congrats on the top story.
Some excellent songs in there, and a great article. Congratulations on your Top Story
Congratulations on Top Story!
You’re a good writer. Seems you already know that though. Nevertheless, who doesn’t like accolades. New to this platform and feeling the aforementioned hesitations. Social scoring is off putting and seems to be almost unavoidable nowadays. Facebook’s crap, Instagram not far behind. I just want to write. Somewhere.
Ah, Naomi, you know I love your free-wheeling karaoke & blithe spirit. Thanks for sharing this. I'm going to put on your playlist while I finish going through notifications & doing some writing of my own. Blessings!
I’m always happy to see when you’ve posted a new article/ story. I really appreciate and love your honesty. I think that’s what makes a great writer. Wishing you all the success. Smashing stuff.
Really interesting reading all your thoughts. I decided a while back I wanted to submit some of my works to literary publications as well, so I started doing that because that’s a goal too. If they don’t make it there, sometimes they come here. And some stuff is just destined to be here. Sounds like you expressed a lot of what I’ve thought but just in a much better string of words than I ever concocted in my head. But I think you’re right, different stories for different places. Not every story fits everywhere. But you definitely have A LOT that fits here. And this was so well written by the way! Very informative and casual and pleasant to read.
i love the "nothing is a big deal" feel and tone i get from your work!
Hi Naomi ~ I'm just a self-described "Goof-Writer" - But, I'm open to "Posing!" You are a terrific communicator; thank you for the smiles! - Vocal Authors Community - Jay Kantor, Chatsworth, California 'Senior' Vocal Author
Just catching this one at the lastminute today. I'll finish the playlist tomorrow, but as for the writing, you just keep proving why I tell people to read your work.
You nail conversational tone! Love your work...your introspection, and the shared snippets of your life. I feel like I'm having coffee catch-ups with a mate. Keen to check out the playlist too! Bet this is Top Story tomorrow. ❤️