Katrina Denza

Melody Moezzi is a writer, speaker, activist, attorney, professor, and award-winning author. Her next book, THE RUMI PRESCRIPTION: HOW AN ANCIENT MYSTIC POET CHANGED MY MODERN MANIC LIFE, is now available for pre-order and will be published on March 3, 2020 by Penguin Random House/TarcherPerigee. Kirkus has called it “a heartening narrative of family, transformation, and courage” that “could shatter a variety of prejudices and stereotypes.”

Q: This book is such a beautiful, universal guide for life and choosing love over distractions and pitfalls. It’s also a testament to the strength of your relationship with your father (what an amazing, supportive, and loving dad). How did the idea for the book arise?

I envy the writers for whom ideas just arise. The idea for this book, like the ideas for all of my books, didn’t so much arise as it grabbed hold of my consciousness and wouldn’t let go until I agreed to write it. I have a couple hundred ideas for different books, but I’m exceptionally lazy. Ultimately, I just end up writing the books that knock hardest and longest on the door of my soul. This one kept pounding at the edge of every other idea I had, so I was forced to listen.

Q: Why do you think Rumi is so beloved around the world?

I don’t think it’s Rumi who is so beloved as much as it is his ability to channel divinity through his words. Personally, I don’t think people are connecting with Rumi when they fall in love with his poetry. Rather, they’re connecting with the Beloved within him and within every other living thing, including each one of us—which, of course, Rumi happens to capture beautifully in his verse. I don’t think Rumi would want us to see his poetry as “his” so much as he would want us to see it as his reflection of the Beloved.

Q: Which is your favorite Rumi insight?

You went out in search of gold far and wide / But all along you were gold on the inside.

Transliterated Persian: Zar talab gashti / Khod aval zar bodi. – Masnavi, 1:2305.

Q: How do you balance creative work with teaching?

Not well. I’m new to teaching. It’s just my second year, but I do love it. I’m trying to write at least two hours a day in the mornings, and sometimes I do, but mostly, I collect a debt of mornings where I haven’t written two hours and then spend a whole week catching up. I’m not the kind of writer who writes or has ever written every day. I find it much easier to write for 12 hours a day for six months than for two hours a day for a few years.

Q: You’ve lived in several states, including North Carolina.  What do you love most about North Carolina?

The people, the coast, the mountains, the wildlife, and the trees—not always in that order, but mostly. One of the things I most love (and not so coincidentally, also hate) about North Carolina is the focus on faith I see in so many communities here. I just wish it were a more inclusive and less restrictive notion of faith—though I see that changing too, and I’m grateful for it.

Q: How has your activism changed after writing this book?

My activism has changed dramatically as a result of researching and writing The Rumi Prescription—and by extension, so have I. For decades, my activism was driven primarily—and pretty much, exclusively—by anger. Today, anger is still a part of it, but I am trying hard to act more out of love for the oppressed than out of hatred for the oppressor. I finally recognize love as by far the most powerful weapon against injustice. So while my activism began through anger, it has survived and evolved through love.

Q: What challenges did you need to overcome to write this book?

Language. Culture. History. Trauma. You now, just small stuff ;). Seriously though, it wasn’t easy trying to translate this poetry that has always spoken so strongly to my father—and to do it justice. I speak kitchen Farsi and for a long time, I thought I wasn’t qualified to write this book—and sometimes I still do—but what helped me most to overcome this was my father’s ridiculous faith in me and the translations of Coleman Barks. Barks is the most famous (and in my judgment, the best) translator of Rumi’s poetry for English-speaking audiences. The thing is, though, he doesn’t actually speak Farsi. His translations (or more aptly, renderings) are based on older and highly literal English translations of Rumi’s verse (mostly by Reynold Nicholson, who did speak Persian) into more modern/less rigid English. Anyway, I love Barks’ renderings, and learning that he didn’t speak Farsi really liberated me. Because of that, I was able to say to myself: if this old white guy who doesn’t even speak Farsi can do it, then certainly, as an Iranian-American who actually speaks Persian, I at least have the right to try. I mean no disrespect to Barks in saying this, and I don’t agree with others who deem his renderings appropriative or even blasphemous. I see them as beautiful examples of Rumi’s claim that it is better to be of the same heart than of the same tongue.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from The Rumi Prescription?

I hope readers take away what they need to take away. For me, the biggest takeaway has been that every human problem boils down to ego (and fear as ego’s primary specialty) and every solution boils down to love. I don’t expect or want everyone to come away with the same thing. One thing I do hope is that this book inspires my readers to search within their own cultures and histories for similar figures, to recognize that there is strength and power in their own culture and history, no matter what that happens to be.

Q: As an Iranian-American in this country, what are some of things you do to take care of your emotional health, especially during these times of overt ignorance and racism?

I prioritize relationships and wellness. Twice a week, for instance, I take walks with my friends. On Tuesdays, we walk along the Cape Fear River, and on Thursdays, we walk by the ocean. I also take my sleep very seriously. Obviously, this is important for everyone, but for me, sleep is even more important because I have what is now known as bipolar disorder, what was once known as manic depression—and what hopefully in the future will be known as a neurological condition with an identifiable cause. In the meantime, I know from experience that if I miss a night or two of sleep, it could lead to mania and psychosis, and because I know this, I’m vigilant about getting at least seven hours of sleep every night. It doesn’t always happen, but it does average out. I also make it a point to take comfort within my own Iranian-American community and support that community in whatever way I can.

Q: What does Rumi say about desire?

He’s not a fan. At least not of the desire for anything save connection with our shared, beloved Source. Rumi notes—and I translate: “You already own all the sustenance you seek. If only you’d wake up and take a peek.” Masnavi, V:1076.

For more about Melody Moezzi, visit her here.

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