I interviewed Melody Moezzi a few years ago after I finished her first and second books War on Error and Haldol and Hyacinths. Melody, who is Iranian-American, is an activist, lawyer, writer. She also happens to be diagnosed bipolar 1. As I read her newest book The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life, I couldn’t help but feel this book is timely both personally and collectively.
Melody explores Rumi guided by her father. She was trying to overcome writers block. The book is broken down into different diagnoses: wanting, isolation, haste, depression, distraction, anxiety, anger, fear, disappointment and pride. Through the use of narrative storytelling and Rumi’s poetry weaved throughout each chapter, Melody guides us on a tour de force journey into our collective ailments. The book is a roadmap to getting through dark times with spiritual grace. It is something readers will treasure and refer to again and again in these times we find ourselves in now.
She writes about her bipolar recovery, race, class and gender, the current political administration, teaching writing on a locked psych unit, getting her first teaching job, her families’ trip to Istambul. Melody likes her books to become obsolete after awhile—proving that society has learned the lessons they teach. It will take years for this timely book to do that. Hopefully, we can all learn a lot from Rumi’s wisdom.
Like Dani Shapiro’s Devotion and Kay Redfield Jamison’s span of volumes, Melody’s journey with Rumi goes beyond diagnosis to show us how to be human and to really live.
I emailed Melody a few questions about The Rumi Prescription. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.
This book is a sort of journey into who you are beyond your diagnosis of bipolar. You use Rumi’s poetry as a way to understand your life, as an answer. Tell me what is this answer you sought through exploring Rumi with your father?
MM: More than a specific answer, I sought a cure for all the more mundane forms of insanity that we don’t recognize as clinical mental illness. Each chapter is broken down into a different diagnosis and series of poetic prescriptions. While it’s a narrative memoir, it’s also an ode to self-care that includes new original translations of Rumi’s poetry presented as prescriptions for some of the most annoying forms of everyday madness. These include fear, distraction, anger, isolation, and more. The world often labels those of us living with mental health conditions “crazy,” but I’ve encountered a lot more insanity (and in some ways, a lot more intractable insanity) within the so-called “sane” world than outside of it. This book is my effort to address that kind of insanity for myself, for my readers, and for the crazy world we all happen to be living in right now.
My favorite poem of Rumi is the Guest House. I am sure it is most beautiful and poignant in the native tongue. What is your favorite lines/poem from RumiI? and Why?
MM: A few of my favorites: You went out in search of gold far and wide, but all along, you were gold on the inside. Also: You already own all the sustenance you seek. If only you’d wake up and take a peek. Also: Why seek pilgrimage at some distant shore when the Beloved is right next door. These poems serve as reminders that divinity rests within each of us and that we don’t need to hop a flight or catch a train to find it. We simply need to connect with the Beloved within ourselves and those around us.
Each one of your books is different yet carries some underlying themes to how Muslims are treated in society, in the mental health system. War on Error is a group of profiles of young Muslims written to change minds. Haldol and Hyacinths is a memoir of your experience with bipolar disorder. How has your writing grown from book to book?
MM: I’m an activist. I write to change hearts and minds, because I believe in the power of personal narratives to do that in ways that statistics and dry reporting just can’t. I wrote Haldol and Hyacinths to fight the stigma and discrimination around mental health conditions; I wrote War on Error to fight Islamophobia, and I wrote The Rumi Prescription to fight both. I also wrote The Rumi Prescription as a kind of call to recognize self-care as a revolutionary act. As an activist, I’ve experienced burnout, and I know I’m not alone. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be effective in our battles against injustice, and part of that is recognizing that love is a much stronger weapon in our arsenal against injustice than anger.
You teach at University. What advice would you give people about writing creative nonfiction?
MM: Quit wasting time seeking advice from other writers and just do the work.
If you could describe your new book in three words, what would they be?
MM: Love. Hope. Surrender.