Herb Benham column

Herb Benham

I was getting a funny look at home. Funny as in different. Funny as in in sideways.

It started when I began writing more at home. I’ve done a certain amount of that already because writing can be a solo enterprise (editors are important — that means you, Stef), but the act of creation is often a messy business and may not be brimming with entertainment value.

Ernest Hemingway said it best: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

I can do this quietly at home while imagining that my best days are ahead of me, even if current evidence indicates otherwise.

I can also roll out of bed, walk 20 steps to my second-story office in the trees dressed in black sweatpants, a blue cotton sweatshirt with a white paint stain near the bottom and, when it’s cold, a soft green ski hat that I inherited from my father.

This uniform, it turns out, may work for one world but not for another.

“I come in and you haven’t shaved and you're dressed in sweats, an old shirt and a woolen hat,” she said when I asked her for an explanation. “It’s kind of, sort of …”

It was hard for her to finish the sentence and so I did and the ending wasn’t a good ending.

How did you feel about Bradley Cooper in “A Star is Born"? He walked around in beat-up jeans and a three-day old beard. At least, I’m not drunk.

I thought that but didn’t say that. Bradley Cooper is Bradley Cooper. He’s talented, famous and would look good in a burlap sack.

I am a writer. A writer, I’ll have you know. We are a troubled people and sometimes our clothes reflect our confusion and uncertainty.

Pretend I’m a sea captain. Captain Herb. Standing tall on the bow of a ship with a broken compass never quite sure of where he is going, but going nonetheless.

I didn’t say that either because although it sounded romantic pinging around in my head, I didn’t think it would translate into spoken speech as anything more than a low level whine like that of a human mosquito.

I went where writers bereft of ideas go — the Internet —in order to buttress my argument, whatever my argument was.

“Often scruffiness is a way to pre-empt high expectations of what you are about to produce, to trick yourself into seeming unhopeful,” wrote Terry Newman in his book “Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore.”

“It can be good to feel a bit undone. Who really thinks they will write their best if they go to the page fully clothed?”

See? Looking bad is a way of writing good. If I wanted to write better, I’d write near naked.

I could have been a Proust, if I was talented enough to be Proust and written his seven-volume, 4,215-page masterpiece, but I’m not. I could have approached the writing table as the dandy “who was dressed in beautifully laundered white gloves and a cattleya orchid boutonniere, an extravagance purchased daily from the expensive Parisian florist Lachaume on Rue Royale” but I have chosen not to.

At least until recently. Until a woman, a sad woman, wondered how her life had come to the point where she was married to Captain Herb.

A couple of days ago, I ironed the blue-checked cotton shirt with the stiff collar, put on a pair of crisp khakis, charcoal gray dress socks and freshly polished black shoes and wrote this masterpiece.

Watch out, Proust. Only 4,214 pages to go.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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