Activist Melody Moezzi’s The Rumi Prescription a timely tour de force

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.

Social Media Entrepreneur and Advocate Hannah Blum Publishes New Book

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UPDATE: I interviewed Hannah Blum for this blog in 2018. I’m delighted to say her new book The Truth about Broken: the Unfixed Version of Self-Love is for sale on Amazon. A combination of memoir and the quotes and poetry that went viral on her Instagram account, Blum’s writing is raw and beautiful. She does not flinch when describing the pain and the beauty of life, of her experience with bipolar disorder 2. Her short essays are insightful and wise portraying a young woman who is light years ahead of her generation yet at the same time so in touch with them. Blum is a social media expert and is always engaging on new platforms to help spread the word about mental health and “slay stigma” as she calls it.

On the dark days she screamed.
On her bright days, she laughed.
There was no in between,
but every day she felt

This line is an example of her writing style. Blum is a Creative Director in Los Angeles, California. You can purchase her new book at http://halfway2hannah.com.

My Depression & My Mania, poems I wrote

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My Depression is a tsunami triggered by my mania sweeping away positive people, opportunities, hope, my self-worth, self-love, every shred of self-esteem. It is a cliche and an original, a tornado funnel cloud showering voices, hallucinations, self-doubt; anxiety is like a shaking earthquake.

My Depression thrives on hospitals, pills, electroshock. Suicide attempts feed its overwhelming desires. It feeds on nothing, triggered by moments of joy, stealing all feelings, robbing me of experiences of love, tears tell my story.
My Mania. Sex with strange men in phone booths, six-foot high grandiose dreams erupting into a skyscraper of desires; Ideas float in the air and come rapid-fire until there are too many to do in a day, a week, a year. Words spill from my tongue, words brilliant words, and ones I’m ashamed of now, ones that came so fast leaving me breathless and senseless. Scribbling becomes my true handwriting down every idea shooting from my brain. My Mania leaves me stymied; my behavior leaves my life in ruins. It’s seeing George Bush Sr.’s A Thousand Points of Light all connected; everything’s connected. Spending a lot of money on things I don’t need in thrift shops, Target, at the mall, or online. All things I need to accomplish lofty goals that I will forget about as I rise to the next one.

 

Happy Holidays! to you all however you choose to celebrate or not celebrate. May 2019 bring what you need it to bring you. I will be taking a short break this week and be back in January of 2019.

The Other Club

Suicide survivors are
one type of club and so are
those who survive a mass shooting,
then there are the cancer survivors, the
ones in deep grief over the loss
of a child, the ones who come home from a war,
the ones who lost a parent at an early age;

“About suffering they were never wrong,” wrote Auden
When being part of a “club”
must console a society
losing its identity
to grief and falling into acceptance
of the New Normal, perhaps
a truth we have known all along.

Then, there is the club we are likely to forget about,
those who have mental illness,
the stigmatized, the shameful, the embarassing

how we block out the unnecesary, the confusing, the absurd;
that which is inconvenient to our truths;

the truth that we are not alone
in our one truth, something
everyone shares in the one truth of being human.

You can help too. No amount is too small.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To celebrate I will be run/walking in a 5K to help NAMI-CT. NAMI-CT offers support groups for people with mental health conditions as well as monitors legislative activity at the state level on mental health policy. They also educate schools and parents on mental illness. I wrote their annual report a few years ago. This is a cool organization and I hope you’ll help me if you can. I’ve included a link to my fundraising page below. I sincerely understand if funds are tight for you, readers. But if anyone out there wants to forgo that morning coffee and support a great cause, no amount is too small. All your donations will go directly to NAMI-CT. I have been training for this 5K for over a year now with strength training and running on the treadmill and outside when weather permits. I will think of all my readers as I run/walk this event. And, as I said on Facebook, anyone who donates will receive a personalized poem from me on the topic of their choice. You can contact me through this blog’s contact page to give me their email so I can send it to you.

https://fundraise.namict.org/fundraise?fcid=924128

Nineteenth Year Crack Up

This is a poem I wrote during graduate school for Writing. It is a fictionalized account based on what I went through in college.

Twelve years have passed since my days in Boston

Days when I sat under archways thinking,

scribbling poetry, howling sins;
the moon listened

by fracturing the sky.

I read Shakespeare, Kafka, Plath, Poe, and Woolf.

Experiencing their peaks and valleys,

in unfinished homework, lost loves,

the pressures
 building insanity in my own mind,

caused by my genetics unraveling.

There were the weeks spent without a winks sleep,

the lost time (I still cannot remember).

I would pick fights randomly. Then, it begun.

My words raced spoke miles for every minute,

(I had conspiracy theories that the 
other girls

were plotting to give my name 
to the F.B.I.

There was the Camera who only I 
heard talking.

There was anonymous sex 
in a phone booth,

the 2 o’clock phone calls, 
the midnight rollarblade races

around 
campus by myself, shopping sprees

where I 
bought things—such as One Hundred dollars in 
journals from Borders

—all things I later 
gave away, and oh the angry emails.

There came the waking dreams, 
the crying for days on end in my dorm.

The words: I hate myself and want to die

written in a cheap scrawl in my journal.

And, at my worst, the caving walls began.

My friends feared. The tears came and came and came.

They would not stop the day I decided
to die,

to slowly Out, Out of my life.

There was the note, then the pills, then the booze.

Then, there was the trip to the big, big place 
on the hill

where writers have been before,
 a place of labels and electroshocks.

The doctors fed me Prozac and Zoloft

though I asked for a Long Island Iced Tea.

The pills made my wings take flight and objects

appear out of nowhere, in which the nurses

threatening me with leather restraints.

The doctors switched me to Lithium

calming me in days.
 And, I curled in a ball and slept,

dreaming
 about what I would tell the others at school.