Reading Moby Dick


Ah, the great white whale…finally slayed.

All my life I’ve been a wordsmith, writing songs, stories, poems, essays, teaching English Composition, and working as a grant writer. My B.A. was in English/Creative Writing; my M.Ed. in English/education.

But, I have a couple of confessions to make. First off, I don’t think words are end all be all. There is Music. Art. Silence. Touch. Deep expression that lies beyond words. Secondly, although I’m a fairly vociferous reader with an academic background that required the classics, until recently, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, had escaped my grasp.  I was just like Captain Ahab.

It was Bob Dylan who nudged me along.   I was reading his Nobel Prize Lecture and he spoke with such passion about Moby Dick,  and its influence on his work, that I had to take up the task – all 614 pages.    Predictably, it is not an easy novel because you often have to sludge through pages and pages of detailed description and sometimes dense prose, to get to the good stuff.  And Melville works in many layers throughout.   But, as I drove on, the payback increased, reminding me of the intrinsic value of challenging yourself.  Art that forces you to stay with it, engage, and commit, gives you a greater reward in the long haul. It requires presence. Just like relationships. Or anything.

When  I finished, I felt a sense of accomplishment and sectionsResized_20180629_135925 of the book began to rise from my subconscious and resonate – repeatedly. Such as:

Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar….”

Yeah man. Or, simply the line Dylan called attention to: “It is not down in any map; true places never are.”  

I imagine this is a book I will go back to, returning to passages like these, digging deeper, gaining dividends over time, dependent on where I’m at in life at that moment.   I can feel it.  Harkening back to Bob, his best work (of which I have many favorites – say Desire or Highway 61 Revisited) means a completely different thing to me now than when I was a kid – both equally valid and strong.  These things stand outside of time.

So, thanks Bob for the tip, and thanks Mr. Melville for taking 18 months out of your life into writing one for the ages. Melville’s masterpiece was out of print when he died in 1891, but just like the depth of its content, it continues to take on new life. And when you pick it up and bend a sail, you will fill the broadside with new meaning.

Doug Hoekstra, 2018

Posted in 2018, Art, challenge, time, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fair Grounds

Wrote this piece for some Nashville-based project that ultimately, didn’t take it.  So, here it is on the home page.  Hope you enjoy it.  Best, Doug.


“Are you a musician?” the vendor asked as I leaned over his display case to eye an antique broach, and better absorb its shimmering charm and delicate workmanship. Uh, yeah,” I replied, after a moment’s pause. I was always a musician, and I’m always a musician, even when I’m not playing music. It’s how I think, really. It’s the reason why I was at the flea market in the first place, at that moment, a carpetbagger from the north cast down I-65 on the long bus to escape the cold for the sake of the song, spending a free Saturday strolling through the old fairgrounds where families once tilted and whirled together, cotton candy stuck to shirts, and couples roller coastered through young love.

Some families, I should say, because people of color had to find their own kind of fun elsewhere back in the day. Swimming pools were paved over in Centennial Park and the demarcation drawn, lines that held fast in some neighborhoods, but lost resiliency in others, pushed and shaped into something more fluid, loopy and hopeful. It’s still a work in progress, however, and the arc of justicat the faire remains long. Soon, the wooden stalls of the market, now filled with See Rock City bird feeders, Campbell soup mugs, used Merle Haggard records, and broken watch faces would be replaced by a testament to the economic impact of the modern sports stadium, muscular men of all colors and creeds running across a field of green while kicking a round black and white soccer ball back and forth, scoring goals in the endless quest for the entertainment dollar.

After I answered, the man behind the counter told me he’d been a guitar player once, moved up from the Gulf to do some session work, but eventually sold all his equipment, because the antique business took up too much of his time. The pawn shops in Nashville hold many such changes, so I was not at all surprised. His eyes were gentle and calm, but he lit up at meeting a brother in the struggle, so he beckoned me to enter the private space beyond his table and check out his new acquisition, a framed copy of a Bach score he’d found at an estate sale. There was a signature he had not authenticated yet, so he wasn’t sure how much it was worth, but it seemed to me like there was value in the mere act of sharing it.

Linda sidled up to me at this point, with her red beret, sunglasses, and point counterpoint demeanor, wearing all three very well. Typically not materialistic at all,  there was something in the broach that resonated with her, the portrait of the woman with the Mona Lisa smile and the tiny flowers, all encapsulated in an art piece that could’ve been crafted in the early 20th century. She was from the mountains originally, fragile and tenacious as the wildflowers that grow on every bald, and I wondered if that broach was her mirror image. Or maybe it was the mirror image of the place in which we stood, and the city that had chosen us. For whatever reason, it had become a talisman and I knew I had to listen to its call.

Mindful of my role, I talked my new friend down a few bucks and bought a pair of cufflinks for myself, to sweeten the deal. They were little art deco circles that reminded me of my dad, who passed two years before. When going through his things, I ran across a box of his cufflinks, some monogrammed, each with a story untold, all beautiful in their own way. For the first time in my life, I bought some French cuff shirts. When I wore those shirts and the accompanying jewelry, I thought of my dad, getting ready to go to work, heading out on the town, or maybe, meeting my mother on a date somewhere down on State Street.

After the transaction was settled, Linda took my arm, and we ambled off down the midway, looking for a box to house her new keepsake, finding more treasures, and bumping into at least one old friend. The broach was an artifact, like those displayed around us, a discard transformed by a completely new context. But, so were we all, carrying our pasts as long as we could, until the burden became too heavy and we scattered the ashes of memory to become something else altogether. Soon the bright autumn sunshine of the fairgrounds would set and cast different colors on the city to be, crafted by another pair of hands yet unborn. But, for the moment, it didn’t matter. For the moment, this was all there was. For the moment, it was our place and time.


Posted in 2018, Life, Nashville, place, short stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Performance Art

Happy to debut a new short story, “Performance Art,” published this month at Trampset (“a literary journal for the tramps”).  Managed to work in Tony Hillerman, Modest Mouse, and Marlon Brando.  But, the idea was to write something in second-person, ala the brilliant Lorrie Moore.  My ex-students may remember that exercise….enjoy!

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The Unsung Five – Rolling Stones Haikus

The fine folks at Treehouse (re; the last post) asked me to put together something for the Five Things Feature.  So, here we have five haikus for the Unsung Rolling Stones – Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Andrew Loog Oldham, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor.  Inspired by a visit to Exhibitionism in Nashville, and delivered in verse.   Enjoy.

The Unsung 5: Rolling Stones Haiku

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Posted in 2018, Haiku, Music, Poetry, Uncategorized, Underdogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


For your pleasure, a new flash fiction of mine titled “Silently,” published at Treehouse (the home of “good, short writing”).   Thanks as always, for the read.   Best, Doug.

Brief Encounter: Silently



Posted in 2018, class, flash fiction, observation, silence, Uncategorized, zen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gumshoe Bumble

Happy to have a new flash fiction entitled “Gumshoe Bumble,” published up at 101 Stories, “a comprehensive ecosystem and community that can support writers, editors, and readers.”  Their words. My words are the following, this compressed noir update.

Posted in 2018, film noir, flash fiction, love, memory, microfiction, Nashville, Relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red-Tailed Hawk

Here is a new flash fiction, “Red-Tailed Hawk” for your enjoyment, up at the estimable Friday Flash Fiction

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