Finding joy through creativity

Finding joy through writing

 David Menadue

It’s true that some of us have a bug for writing. We get a lot of enjoyment out of it whether its fiction or non-fiction, and even greater pleasure if someone wants to read it.

I’m writing this today, not so much to carry on about the personal pleasure I get sitting at my computer creating a new piece (although that is a part of it) but more to encourage readers of this magazine to think about putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard to develop their confidence in expressing their ideas and thoughts to others.

My major career was working on children’s magazines for the Education Department of Victoria, both as an editor and contributor, and I got to see up close how pieces I wrote or commissioned others to write, affected school children. It was, without a doubt, one of the most satisfying things I have ever done as I was able to stand in front of classes and get such affirmative feedback from the most appreciative of audiences.

When I retired due to ill-health, I still had the writing bug and decided to transfer that skill to adults, particularly the HIV community both in my home state of Victoria and nationally when the chance became available. I’m referring to the genesis of Positive Living magazine which started as a project of People Living with HIV/AIDS Victoria in the late 1980s and then was adopted by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) in the mid 1990s and then later, handed to the newly independent National Association of People With HIV Australia (NAPWHA), as the magazine quickly developed a national audience.

There was a real need for HIV-related information at that time, when the number of deaths and rates of illness were at the highest and HIV treatments were still in the trial stage. While everyone was waiting for the latest news of treatment breakthroughs from scientists around the world, people with HIV and their friends and families wanted to get peer support through hearing from people living with the virus and how they were coping with the challenges that life had thrown at them.

Fast forward to 2024 and we have a myriad of HIV information sources at everyone’s fingertips including excellent state HIV publications such as Talkabout (Positive Life NSW), Poslink (Living Positive Victoria), Positively Women (Positive Women Victoria) and QPP Alive! (Queensland Positive People). Plus we have national publications like HIV Australia (Health Equity Matters) and this publication: Positive Living (NAPWHA).

There is always room for people with HIV and their allies to write about their experiences, their concerns, and their triumphs in a constant battle to stay healthy and ahead of any inflammatory processes that HIV might have in store for us. I write as an older person living with HIV, in my early seventies, who is trying to get a handle on the various ageing co-morbidities which HIV introduces into the equation. Conditions like osteoarthritis, muscle wasting, glaucoma, and of course heightened cardiac risk.

There is also the emotional toll that many of us don’t often talk about. Anyone who has had HIV for many years, particularly those who lived through (and were lucky to survive) those stigmatising years of the 1980s and 1990s have carried much of the negativity of those early years. There were the wonderfully supportive friends and family, doctors, nurses and counsellors and others who helped us through the really bad times, but I’ve always found the greatest support for me has been my HIV-positive peers. People who have been through the same experience, including the lows, who understand the stigma and the madness of having your whole life turned around one day, usually because of a blood result after one episode of consensual enjoyable sex.

So, I’m just encouraging you to give writing a go. It doesn’t have to be about HIV or for an HIV publication, although contributions are always welcome. You won’t always pick up the right formula first time so stick to it, try a few drafts, discuss your writing with close trusted friends, and even consider joining a writing workshop if they are available. Once you get the bug, you might even have a book or a play in you.

Best of luck my fellow scribes to be.

 

Finding joy through art

Heather Ellis

As a creative writer and published author, I can attest to this feeling of joy after a good writing session such as David writes about.  It is therapy for my mental and physical health. And in many ways as addictive as a drug. You want to go back for more. You want to feel that high again and again. This is the euphoria that comes from creativity, whether it is writing, painting, sculpture, or any of the many forms of creative expression or art that takes your fancy.

But what if you don’t feel creative? How then do you find joy through creativity?

You are not alone. But it shouldn’t stop you from giving it a go and let the magic happen. Many find an inspiration they had no idea existed. Or it finds them. In ancient times, people believed this inspiration or magic was some kind of spirit that existed outside of the body. But it does not matter where the magic comes from or what it is. You just need to trust it is there, and this will help you overcome all those hurdles of doubt and that voice of doom hell bent on stopping you giving creativity a go.

The benefits of engaging in creativity, this ‘doing’, is why art therapy is well proven to support mental health. As people living with HIV, we are very fortunate that many of the HIV organisations around Australia offer art classes and the opportunity to participate in art therapy sessions. In Melbourne, the Positive Living Centre offers a regular weekly art class each term in partnership with the Council of Adult Education. The classes are an opportunity to develop art skills whether as a novice, expert or somewhere in between. The course is also a pathway for further study in accredited visual arts training. The Positive Living Centre has long supported people living with HIV in finding joy through creativity and has for many years offered art classes. Susan Paxton, HIV activist, trainer, researcher, woman living with HIV, and now an established artist, previously attended these classes.

Susan Paxton:

Working in the HIV sector has brought much sadness. I have lost over a hundred friends, colleagues, and lovers to HIV. In 2011, I felt I needed to pull back from my HIV work. I started attending an art class at the Positive Living Centre in Melbourne. I had never put paint onto canvas before and I immediately immersed myself. I allowed myself to ‘play’ for the first time in over 30 years.

“Painting provides me with a sense of immense calm. I found I wanted to paint water, and water against rock. I paint because it soothes me, stretches me, and takes me into a peaceful, mindless space. More recently I’ve used my art to express my frustration with the violence and destruction I see in the world.

And then I go back to painting rocks and water.”

Kilauea Volcano by Susan Paxton

Kilauea Volcano by Susan Paxton

 

Attending art classes and learning from an experienced artist has many benefits. Not having the opportunity to attend art classes is no barrier to finding the joy that comes from creativity. For some people living with HIV, like emerging artist Michelle Keating from Melbourne, the inspiration is more of an organic process born out of need in the isolation of COVID.

Michelle Keating:

“I was diagnosed with HIV back in 2014. In late 2020 during the Pandemic of Covid, when things were very tough and isolating for the whole country, I went on TikTok and saw someone on there doing a style of painting called Acrylic Pour Painting. I always wanted to take up painting and I absolutely loved this style. So, having a lot of spare time on my hands, I decided to start doing it myself. 

“Acrylic Pour Painting became my passion and ‘happy place’. I find it very relaxing, calming, and therapeutic, and I love to do paintings for family and friends. I’m still painting and enjoying it just as much as I did four years ago.

Vulva (an acrylic pour painting) by Michelle Keating

Vulva (an acrylic pour painting) by Michelle Keating

We can all find joy through creativity and live happier and healthier lives for it. But it all starts with taking that first step. That may be staring at a blank screen on a word doc on your computer or equipping yourself with paints and a blank canvas.

You just need to show up and do the ‘doing’. Don’t worry. What comes next is the magic. The inspiration is there waiting for you, but it can’t begin without you.

 

Author information

Heather Ellis has lived with HIV since 1995. She is an HIV advocate, published author, journalist and motorcycle adventurer. Heather’s two books are the best-selling travel memoirs: Ubuntu: One Woman’s Motorcycle Odyssey Across Africa (Black Inc., 2016) and Timeless On The Silk Road: An Odyssey From London to Hanoi (Phonte, 2019). Heather is the communications and engagement coordinator for Positive Women Victoria based in Melbourne, a member of the National Network of Women Living With HIV Australia; and is a member of the community advisory board for the Melbourne HIV Cure Consortium. Read more about Heather at: www.heather-ellis.com

David Menadue was diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and has experienced a number of AIDS defining illnesses. He has been involved with HIV activism and policy advocacy since the late 1980s being involved in governance roles with NAPWHA, AFAO and Living Positive Victoria for many years. He is the author of an autobiography “Positive” published by Allen and Unwinding in 2003 and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1995 for services to community health.

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