Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nozer Alert

Not to sound self-important, but I've discovered one of the most important components of the human psyche.

It's an element that is responsible for 90% of unrealized ambitions, 95% of unfinished novels, 82.3% of abandoned dreams, and 100% of people continuing to live in crappy apartments when they could find something better at a lower or equal price.

It's called the Nozer.  The Nozer is the internal neocon that rejects all change. It has one and only one function, and that's to say NO to anything that might change (read: improve) our lives.

It's the Nozer that tells you that you can't write that book, finish that chapter, paint that picture, stay on that diet, leave that wretched job, break out of that pitiful relationship, move to some place where the sun shines once in a while. I realized this morning that if I were tied to a stake and the wood was catching fire beneath me and someone came along with a knife to cut the ropes and said, "Let's get you out of here," the reaction of my Nozer would be, "Wait, wait, you know what it's like here. Who knows what it'll be like wherever he's taking you?"

The Nozer is based entirely in fear. He or she (depending, obviously) clings to the status quo with tiny claws, screaming whenever the possibility of change looms. In some ways, the Nozer is more threatened when the change might be for the better, because it's easier to imagine worse. We can all imagine worse: it's just like now, but less so. Better, on the other hand, is truly alien territory. Who knows what it might be like if things got better? Maybe the whole concept of better is an elaborate cosmic trap to take us to a much worse version of worse.

It's painful for me to realize that I harbor a mechanism that would be more comfortable with a bad chest x-ray than a three-book deal, but I do. And (here's the intuitive leap) so do you. And I contend that learning how to deal with the Nozer is one of the most important things we can do in life, and that the process begins with realizing that it's there.

Of course, for a Nozer, getting assigned to a creative person is like a life sentence in Disney World.  Creative people take their lives, or at least their self-esteem, in their hands a hundred times a day.  I spent most of today (Saturday) writing a short story about a man in his late seventies, someone who moved to Thailand during the Vietnam war and now has early-onset Alzheimer's, wandering alone through dark streets in search of a Bangkok that hasn't existed in decades.  And finding something very bad indeed.   I did about 1600 words, and every one of them had to be pushed through an offensive scrimmage of Nozers reminding me, "You haven't written a short story since eighth grade."  "You've never had Alzheimer's."  "Who wants to read this?"  "Where's the punch line?"  "At 4,000 words, this is 3,000 words too long."

So I'm embarking on a Nozer Management Program, and I'll send you bulletins from time to time. Anyone who has a good idea about how to build a little cage around the Nozer and/or hold its tiny head under water whenever necessary is invited to send their me their thoughts, and I'll recipocate with mine.

I'll think of a campaign slogan later, but for the moment I'm imagining that I'm wearing a bright yellow button that says BULLDOZER THE NOZER.

Tim - Sundays


  1. Early onset? At 70? Wish I had his optimism!

    My problem isn't self-doubt, it's laziness. Maybe we could send them off on a holiday together. They'd make a nice couple.

  2. anna from ConnecticutJuly 11, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    Good morning Tim,

    GREAT ARTICLE! IN a fistfull of words, you made a huge change in my life. Thank you!! I am one of those persons you can depend on, ask me to babysit and I do it for free, ask for anything in my kitchen, a ride, a book, to work your weekend for you. I broke my ankle last week, am semi handicapped, and no one has rushed over with a meal, an offer to go to the store, etc. I told my daughter I will not do any more favors, (feeling sorry for myself). But after reading THE NOZER, I will still help out anyone. Thank you again. So much feeling in your words. PLEASE let me know when and where I can read your short story.
    I realize that I am not a true NOZER, but I almost became one.

  3. 1. Deadlines.

    2. Mortgage/rent/wife's birthday.


  4. What happens if the interior Nozer has been created by outside voices? What if, all someone has ever heard are formative voices saying, "no one wants to hear what you have to say", and "you're ridiculous", and "your opinion is worthless"?

    The it is hard enough for people to stymie their interior neocon, but if there is always someone msking sure you know your place (and it isn't at the head of the table) how do you get past that? As you so perfectly point out, the Nozer limits people by attacking their sense of self-worth. What suggestions are on offer about dealing how to deal with the impact of other people on a life?

    Circumstances play into choices, too. Moving to that sunnier place isn't so easy if the lives of children are going to be disrupted; sometimes going to a new school isn't the best thing for a child's education. And, in this economy, a job you hate is better than no job at all.

    Life is confusing and there are so many things that keep fulfillment at bay.

  5. Igor -- The older one gets, the younger 70 seems. And I think a Nozer and a Snoozer would be great traveling partners. One would be afraid to leave the hotel room and the other would be asleep. Think of the money they could save on taxis. Almost enough for them to go someplace else.

    Anna -- Well, bless you for saying so. And what a generous take you have on the notion. I'm all for doing things for other people, but in moderation. (That's a joke.) I think that if being of assistance to others fulfills you and the Nozers try to prevent you from doing it, then you just put them in their place -- as you're already doing.

    Lenny -- I would add to that:

    -- The next sentence.

    -- The one after that.

    Beth: Obligations and circumstances are the handles Nozers often use to get hold of the best and most generous of us. (See Anna, above.) You really raise three points -- obligations, circumstances, and the action of others. With a necessary reminder that I have no real expertise at all and that my own life isn't exactly perfect, let me address these.

    Other people -- Everyone has come into the orbit of someone who undervalues them. Chuck Jones, who created the Road Runner, once told me that his second-grade teacher told him he couldn't draw and that he never drew again until college. My point is that sooner or later, we're all in charge of blowing off those people, screwing up our courage, kicking the Nozers in the fundament, and doing it anyway. AND not expecting it to be easy. Otherwise, how will we ever know? And imagine the world without the Road Runner and the Coyote.

    Obligations -- We've all got them, and they can become a Gordian knot for some people. I suggest three possibly unpleasant questions. First, at what point does it become completely unreasonable for others to expect us to put their priorities ahead of our own? Second, looked at cold-eyed, just how ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL are we to the lives of others? (Obviously, with children, all bets are off.) Third, are you a better and more valuable person unhappily meeting all these obligations than you would be if you simply did what you wanted, assuming that others would scale back their demands if forced to do so?

    Circumstances -- There's a very fine line between circumstances and excuses, and the Nozers are especially skilled at blurring it. I moved from coast to coast six times while growing up, and it didn't scar me for life. And I liked the sunnier places better anyway. Don't make suicidal choices unless you're prepared to deal with the circumstances. Jobs are the exception to almost all the rules of happiness because they are, by definition, something we wouldn't do if they didn't pay us to show up. But even so, a soul-killing job is worse than no job. As bad as the economy is, it's not Somalia. There are still plenty of opportunities to change who we are.

  6. Tim, that's a brilliant assessment of one aspect of the human condition. Funny (strange) that it takes a gifted novelist--as opposed to, say, a gifted psychologist--to point out these essential truths. But, then, I suppose all gifted novelists share some of the basic traits of gifted psychologists, even though those traits often go unrecognized.

    Over the course of the past two weeks, I've come across a saying, numerous times and from numerous sources, that seems particularly germane to the jobs issue: People who do what they love never work a day in their life.

    Let me know where/when I can read your short story; I'm definitely interested.

  7. Thanks, Phil -- from a free spirit like you, the kind words are especially meaningful.

    I work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, and I can't imagine what I would do with my life if I stopped. It's what I love best, even if there are long strings of days when I come up empty or only come up with words that are almost eager for deletion.

    And, as I should have told Anna, the story will be published (if I can finish it) in a volume of Bangkok Noir to come out next year from Heaven's Lake Press. There will be stories by Chris Moore, Colin Cotterill, John Burdett, Eric Stone, and a bunch of others, all of whom have, presumably, more experience than I writing short stories.

  8. Tim, I don't know you but I know one significant thing about you - you have never been the oldest female child in a family. I also am fairly certain that you are not the product of a Catholic education, especially an Irish Catholic education, during which it is drilled that family responsibilities come first.

    If I were to undo the choices I made based on my view of the world and my place in it, I wouldn't be where I am now. And I wouldn't have the three children that I have; pull out one piece of the past and the present comes tumbling down.

  9. anna from connecticutJuly 11, 2010 at 9:20 PM

    Hi Tim,

    Your book sounds great. Also you should mention that working is not so bad especially living in Thailand. I lived in Okinawa 1977 to 1980 and travelled all over. Everyday was an adventure surrounded by all that beauty. And intrigue. Plenty of mystery and crime too. You have your piece of heaven.
    for your take on obligations, circumstances, and other people. I'm printing it out and reading it for those times when I start questioning time and life, and what I really should do or maybe what I really want do. I'll be reading this everyday!
    Matter of fact I am going to have two copies. One by the phone and one by the back door.

  10. Beth, the point of being aware of the Nozers (to the extent that there is a point) is to help you figure out why you're not happy or satisfied with your life. If you're not dissatisfied or your dreams and needs aren't going unrealized, then you probably don't have a Nozer issue. Although I think that, had I been born a Catholic girl, even an eldest Catholic girl, and the choice had eventually come down to their way or my way, I would have taken my way because I've seen too many people who surrendered their volition to others out of generosity and then wound up being unfulfilled and (worse) resentful, which of course wound up undoing all that wonderful generosity of spirit.

    Anna, living in Thailand, which I get to do about six months a year, is certainly no hardship. Glad you liked the blog, although I confess a certain amount of amazement at the reaction, since I wrote it in about eleven minutes out of anger that my own Nozers were making the short story so difficult to write. Just goes to show you, if you really know what you want to say, it probably needn't take hours and hours.

    If you'd like to read one of my books, and if you have either a Kindle or Kindle for PC, which lets you read books on your computer, the first of the Poke Rafferty Bangkok books, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, is available FREE from Amazon's Kindle store as part of a promotion to build interest in the new one. NAIL is probably the most difficult of the books in terms of content, but it does lay the foundation for the stories to come.

  11. Tim--When churning out sentences as elegant as yours, getting to the next one is indeed a compelling motive.


  12. The Nozer is no Dozer. Wonderful post. I'm always fighting the Nozer. It's a constant uphill battle. Maybe that's why I've still got good legs at 63.