Margaret, Da Vinci, and Me

by melissakiefer

photo credit:
During a particularly dreary winter, my creative nonfiction professor at UE (award-winning author Margaret McMullan) handed us copies of Leonardo Da Vinci’s health tips. We’re not exactly sure why. Maybe she’d read them recently and it moved her. I get that. I often lingered over a quote or anecdote at the beginning of class because it was about life and held more weight than the dumb story I was supposed to teach that day from the state-mandated high school literature books.

Or maybe she looked at us through her chic red-rimmed writer glasses and thought we all looked a little rough and run-down. In fact, the class before the Da Vinci handout, a guy passed out. Fell right from his chair. Another student and I sprinted (I was wearing heels for my internship after class) to the health and wellness center and frantically tried to explain no, the student who passed out is not that other boy on campus who has the seizures all the time and this was a serious emergency. An ambulance came and put him on a stretcher. The guy was fine. The class was traumatized.

Until Margaret (you must call her by her first name) glamorously glided (she did work for Glamour magazine, you know) to the front of the classroom a few days later holding a vegetable platter and croissants. She read Da Vinci’s health tips aloud: eat simple foods, exercise moderately, go to the toilet regularly, be covered well at night, rest your head and keep your mind cheerful, beware of anger and grievous moods, and try not to drink too much wine (we laughed at that one). She forced us to eat carrots and broccoli and bread, and then probably told us to leave, take a nap, cheer up, and live well.

I adore Margaret. Always wanted to be just like her. Many professors and administrators–Mrs. Nayden, Dean Clayton, Dr. Ciscell, Tiffany (another one of those first-namers)—fed my dreams, but only one professor literally fed me.

I recollect her act of nurture and advice today because…this northern winter is a bitch. The wind chill is 15 below. I find myself losing southern hospitality because all my energy goes into keeping myself warm. Please don’t stop and talk to me while my hood is up and scarf is wrapped around my chin. I am trying to find shelter.

I am not the incredible Da Vinci or the incredible Margaret. But I do have my own tips for getting through the funk. The winter blues. The dumps.

Listen to music. Try K-Love or a good Pandora station. Music is powerful.

Get a plant. You need something alive and growing to remind yourself that you are living and growing, too.

Read. Or Write.

Sip hot tea or coffee or cocoa. It’s just soothing—a simple way to be kind and good to yourself. Also, drink water.

Put warm food in your belly. Or make a fresh salad that looks like summer. Or bite into fruit that tastes like summer. Buy a pineapple. Pineapples are happy. You are worth nutritious food.

When the wind-chill advisories are over, go for a walk.

Get a dog. Seriously. Best tip on this whole list. Let the dog wallow you in love. A dog is always happy to see you.

Look forward to something. A fishing trip. Spring. A new movie coming out. The weekend. Sunshine in the forecast for Thursday. Whatever. Just hold on.

Take your meds. Take them when you’re supposed to.

Give yourself some time to linger in the mornings. Over coffee. Or words. Or prayer.

Fall asleep in your actual bed. Take some Zzzquil if you need to. Wash your sheets. Don’t fall asleep with the television.

Get in touch with someone even though you don’t want to talk to anyone. Understand someone else (probably everyone else) feels in a funk too. Do a little reach out gesture. You probably won’t be sorry.

Get a haircut. Buy some good-smelling shampoo.

Create something. Don’t. Stop. Creating.

Rub lotion on your feet.


Light a candle.