There's Beauty in the Breakdown – Raven Oak

There’s Beauty in the Breakdown

If you know me at all, you know that music is life for me. So is writing and art, but music makes up my personal triad in the pieces that make up me.

Sometimes there is beauty in the breakingOne of my favorite lyrics ever comes from musician Imogen Heap by way of her other group Frou Frou. It comes from the song “Let Go” and the line says that “there’s beauty in the breakdown.” One of my favorite people, The Bloggess aka Jenny Lawson, said something similar in her book Broken (in the Best Possible Way)–makes me wonder if she’s an Imogen fan–and the line was turned into an art piece for her calendar. It’s a beautiful piece by artist Katie Gamb, but the image reminds me of life. Of my life.

The fragility of everything. Our tiny speck of dust in the universe. How quickly time moves while it drags its heels through the sludge that wishes to wear us down.

A friend of mine is dying.

She’s not the first and as I age, she won’t be the last. But her mortality and thus my own, has be examining my life more critically while I endeavor to forgive and love myself more. It’s difficult to do in the face of everything going on in the world right now. I mean, a dozen or so states in my country want me and my partner dead so there’s that to face, in addition to COVID, gun shootings, and so much else. But there is a beauty in this life, in this world, and even in our own breakdowns.

I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to in these COVID years and for a while, I criticized myself for it. So what that I had major health issues going on, why wasn’t I writing more? Why wasn’t I doing more with the time I’ve been given? I mean, people are dying and I’m–yeah. It’s easy to fall into that muck and judge yourself for events not in your control. So when I sat at my computer this morning and thought about my career thus far, I made myself look. Really look.

I’ve Been a Professional Writer for over a Decade. 

Forgive yourselfIn that short yet lengthy time, I’ve accomplished more than I realized since it wasn’t something I’d really thought much about. In this decade, I’ve had published:

  • Three full length novels, with two more coming this year
  • Two full short story collections
  • Two novellas, with another on the way
  • One coloring book
  • Seventeen short stories
  • Sixteen essays

This doesn’t get into the countless panels I’ve moderated or been a panelist on, nor the 90+ art pieces I’ve created. It doesn’t count all the blog posts on this site or newsletters I’ve written for my mailing list because those words count too!

I’ve been published on the moon, something I would have never imagined would happen, and even released a CD of music. I’m an active member of SFWA, which has been a lifelong dream of mine, and while Michael Whelan has never created cover art for me, I’ve created some of my own cover art that I’ve fallen in love with. I’ve been  listed as a Seattle Times regional bestseller, won two international awards, was a finalist in three others, and have filled out so much of my “Writer Bingo” board that I’ve had to redraw it on larger paper multiple times over. 

Yet in this decade, I’ve been overly-critical and judgmental. I’ve not learned how to forgive myself for being disabled, not completely anyway, and I grow anxious when everything doesn’t go as planned. Some of that’s from being on the spectrum, but some of it is me.

Me Needs to Forgive Me

Dragon Springs & Other Things: A Short Story Collection Book I cover art featuring a face filled with a dragon, magic, and gearsCOVID and what it did to both my health and career scared me. Terrified me really. Beyond the obvious bit that I don’t want to die from COVID, I don’t want my career to die from the pandemic either. I’m having to rethink how and where I do what I do for my job as the usual paths to find my readers aren’t safe for me anymore. 

Part of my process in all of this is examining the past decade without pessimism. What have I actually accomplished and what it is that I want moving forward? What does success look like for me? Is it book sales? Is it awards? Or is it the happiness that comes with telling a thought-provoking story and knowing others have enjoyed it? Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with money or accolades, but is that all I want? What matters for me in the long run?

While my childhood was less than stellar, as was a good chunk of adulthood from being disabled, I am very aware of my privilege–the fact that my partner makes enough that I don’t need to count on what money my writing brings in to pay my bills is a blessing. It’s a seat that many wish for and looking back, it’s given me the opportunity to pick and choose what stories I wish to tell. I don’t have to sell my soul in a genre I hate in order to bank. I can enjoy what I create without worrying about pleasing others.

So Again, What Does Success Look Like?

Space Ships & Other Trips: A Short Story Collection Book II cover featuring a face in space filled with a female astronaut, an intelligent cat, and a space shipBeing able to say that I’d sold enough short stories for not one but two short story collections (plus new stories to give readers something they haven’t seen) is eye-opening. COVID took so much from me. Had it not risen up, I’d have another 4-5 novels out and probably a slew of short stories on top of it, but in spite of everything, my list of accomplishments is lengthy. Many writers never finish book one. 

So as I gear up for the release of Dragon Springs & Other Things and Spaceships & Other Trips, my definition of success shifts and morphs into something entirely different than I thought it would be, and the answer is YES.

What was the question? 

The question I am asking myself is these days is am I happy? Am I happy with my life thus far and all that I’ve accomplished? Can I make peace with what I haven’t accomplished yet? In a world with so much darkness, can I create my own light? Can I out-create the dark and remember the joy I find in what I do?

If I can answer yes to those questions, and I can, then I think am successful.

Because Success is Happiness.

I am writing. I am painting. I am accomplishing. And I am loved. That’s all that matters.

So when I feel broken–when I am broken–I need to remember that I can create the pieces to repair myself. Even in death, there is life. There is continuation. Long after my friend is gone, people will remember her. Long after I am gone, people will remember me too, for I have made a mark on this world. I have taught others, and I have created objects of beauty and stories that remind people that they are not alone.

Sometimes, there is beauty in the breakdown.


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