EDWARDS — Justin Hocking’s literary passion for “Moby-Dick” explains his kinetic and varied past. In his youth, he confronted nature in search of justification for his angsts and obsessions. His Ahab-esque behavior led him to seek open space and emotional freedom every place he turned, and Herman Melville’s classic man-versus-nature novel inspired him to write his own book, “The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld,” which he’ll discuss at the Bookworm on Monday evening.
Hocking’s passion for motion primarily took the shape of a skateboard while growing up in Colorado and California. Born in Glenwood Springs, he bounced between California for high school, Boulder for college and Fort Collins for a graduate degree in creative writing. Although he now lives in Portland, Oregon, “Colorado still feels like home in many ways,” he said.
Still, it was his move to New York City which left him feeling “overwhelmed and constrained by the serious lack of open space,” he remembered. Trying to cope with the drastic change between the American west and New York, he fled to the one place in the city where he could confront nature: the beach.
“The one place I felt like I could breathe was at the coast, at places like Rockaway Beach, in Queens, and Montauk, on Long Island. The longer I stayed in the city,” he said, “the more I gravitated to the sea.”
He was surprised to find a thriving surfing community in New York, a vibrant, diverse and unexpected surf culture.
“It’s not uncommon to be out in the lineup next to Wall Street executives, kids from the local housing projects, and women and men from all over the world,” he said.
Continuing in Captain Ahab’s footsteps, he reached for the sea during his disheartening time in the city.
Sea of freedom
“I read the narrative of Moby-Dick as a kind of archetypal ‘night-sea journey’ that has something to teach us about surviving dark period of our lives,” he said. He goes on to describe his book as spawning from that very theme.
“I clung to Moby-Dick as a kind of postmodern survival guide,” Hocking said. “The entire experience was subtly transformative, and this is what inspired me to write the book.”
But it is not only classical literature that allowed him the freedom to confront his demons. His parents — Harrel Lawrence and Jerry McMahon of Avon –—have always supported his unorthodox career path.
“They also really showed up for me in some profound and enduring ways,” he said. “Especially when I was in a very dark place emotionally.”
Hocking has since channeled these emotions into his work writing and publishing. Now the executive director of the Independent Publishing Resources Center in Portland, the author still finds time to hit the beaches.
“Surfing in Oregon is much more rugged and cold than on the east coast,” he said. “But on the right day, in the right conditions, it’s gorgeous.”
He does admit to missing the warm Colorado sun and his family and friends, and said he is pleased to join the Bookworm of Edwards for a book reading and enthusiastic conversation about his memoir. Its style is experimental — incorporating multiple, intertwining narratives and digressions. He wants people to glean more than a basic knowledge of his life from reading his story.
“I want to reach people at the heart level,” he said, and how many people who read “Wonderworld” end up seeing “Moby-Dick” in a new light.
However, he is not aiming to teach people new life-lessons; he did not set out to write a self-help book on escaping dark periods in life. His memoir is a lesson about how one man used nature and literature to find peace.
Leigh Horton is the journalism intern at the Bookworm of Edwards and a senior at the Colorado School of Mines.