Five Questions with Jon Mozes
Jon Mozes is loving the (creative) nightmare.
Name: Jon Mozes
Position: Business services coordinator, Department of Nutrition
Years at Gillings: Nine
What I do at Gillings (and why I love it): I have what’s basically a “His Girl Friday” role in the Department of Nutrition. My duties run from hands-on facilities work, like organizing office moves and facilitating lab-equipment repairs, to tasks including events management and maintaining our Environmental, Health and Safety compliance. I also do some copy editing for faculty members working on grants and papers, plus a host of other daily tasks that keep the department running smoothly.
I really enjoy the people I work with in my department. Our core administrative staff is relatively small, and most us have been with the university for a long time. We’re extremely supportive of each other, both in and out of the office, a dynamic for which I’m very grateful. Also, the research conducted by our department, like that of all the departments in the Gillings School, isn’t only fascinating but also immediately consequential to our understanding of what it takes — literally — to remain healthily alive.
To start a conversation with me, ask about: I’m pretty ecumenical in my willingness to engage with most folks on any subject. When I’m not working at UNC, I’m a writer, working mostly on literary fiction. So I particularly like talking and hearing about writing. I also occasionally work as an actor, so I like discussing plays and films. And, as I suppose befits someone who works in nutrition and enjoys cooking and eating well, I like talking and hearing about food and restaurants, both locally and globally.
The first job I ever had was: working as a scooper at a Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop. This was a summer job, in Chicago, where I grew up. I was 14 but, in order to get the job, I told the shop manager that I was 16 — though actually I looked closer to 11. Somehow the manager didn’t care or bought my story, or some combination thereof. That was the first summer I hadn’t gone away to camp, because I was intent on participating in a well-known local intensive summer theater institute for teens. Drama was my big new passion, and I was very serious about doing everything I could to steep myself in it. My parents were concerned, rightfully, about the amount of free time that the theater program left me with — however intensive it was — so I set myself up working weekends to ease their minds. Of course, my parents were well aware of how old I really was. On work nights, despite my heartfelt protests, they insisted on picking me up. Picture my father, then, collecting me outside the ice cream shop at 1:30 a.m. while my much cooler scooping “peers” sauntered by, laughing and heading to one post-shift party or another. Drama, indeed.
As an artist: I’ve held several jobs to help support my creative endeavors. My early passion for theater led to working as a professional actor, and occasionally as a director and playwright, in Chicago. With several of my college chums, I co-founded a theater company that produced contemporary plays and adaptations for several years, garnering both local and national critical acclaim. None of this paid a living wage, of course, so I also worked throughout that time as a waiter and supplemented my income with occasional commercial and industrial film work.
Throughout that period, I was getting more and more interested in writing, and decided that if I was going to be serious about it, I needed to focus on it as exclusively as I could. I enrolled in a graduate program for creative writing, and the rest is a kind of a circular his/story. I finished grad school, moved to New York and worked several jobs in order to keep writing. This included significant stints in the publishing world. In New York, I also met in my husband, Dr. Noel Brewer, whose own career progress would eventually lead to my joining him in North Carolina after he was offered a faculty appointment in the Gillings School’s health behavior department. In the time since that move, I’ve started working again, here and there, as a performer. This includes a couple of productions at Triad Stage in Greensboro of The Santaland Diaries, a one-person-show adaptation of humorist David Sedaris’ essay about working as an elf at Macy’s flagship store during Christmas season. I’ve also told some stories at The Monti, N.C.’s premier live storytelling organization, from which I won a Hippo Award for Best Overall Story. But my primary focus is still writing, a practice for which the stability and support of my job at UNC Gillings is ideally suited.
One thing I dream of doing is: somehow managing, in this lifetime, to write the most exquisite and as-fully-realized-as-possible versions of the million-and-one notes and sketches for stories, poems, essays, novels and plays I’ve got bopping around in my head or in my drafting notebooks. To write well — really well — takes a long time. There’s only so much time that anyone on this planet is allotted to do what they’re meant to do, whether they dream of a fully completed million-and-one pieces or not! So my particular dream is an impossible one, precisely because I’m nevertheless working as hard as I can to make it come true. In this sense, the dream might be closer to a nightmare. Or perhaps I should call it a fabulous curse, especially since there’s still really nothing else I’d rather do, at my core, with my time.