There's something delightful and dangerous about sliding a thin blade of cold steel across your face. And although it has the potential for instilling a truly rapturous experience for a man, today the act has been relegated to something merely mundane, sterile, and more of a nuisance. Yes, this simple act of shaving.
The act of shaving has been desecrated even in terms of names. The "Bic" razor?! Who wants to live a short, quick, and plastic life? A commodity just like a bic ball point pen, shaving has become mass market, quick and disconnected from the essence of manhood. "Mach III?!" Even worse. Go "Mach three," rush and hurry up, so you can get through the chore? To what end? To rush to work? And then? To rush home for the weekend? Why go Mach three when you can go slow, steady, and live fully. Welcome to the art of "Wet Shaving." Aka, Slow Shaving.
Shaving can be done literally while sending a text, in under 30 seconds, beginning to end.
Slow and steady. That's what I'm talking about. Just like Gandhi said, "... there's more to life than increasing its speed." But what man today thinks about going "slow and steady?" Not many when it comes to shaving. But it's changing. There's the slow food movement. The slow tea movement. The slow sex movement even. And now there's the slow shaving movement. Slow shaving?!
The demise has been gradual enough that boys and then men have taken what used to be a lengthly ritual to a more convenient one, to a faster one, to an even blazingly faster one. I saw the other day some guy in his car, driving down the freeway, his knee steering the wheel, one hand buzzing his face with an electric razor and the other hand on his Blackberry, checking it through a squinting eye. Speed demon. The old way was literally to boil water, strop the straight edge blade (weapon!), lather soap into a dish and then onto the face, and go through many steps in order to emerge a renewed man. Not today. Shaving can done literally while sending a text, in under 30 seconds, beginning to end.
And there lies the shame for man today. Everything goes so freaking fast. For what? Hurry up and die? So let's take a refreshing look at the value of slowing down to the things that matter. And I would like to point out that taking a blade to your jugular, to just below your eye, to next to your ear, and over your cheek -- that matters. In fact it's a ritual that can really really matter. And that can slow down time in just a mere 20 minutes -- to such a degree that it feels as if you just experienced a three-hour spa treatment. No joke.
Why? Because the act of shaving is profound. It's something that can happen every day. And that has importance. It's part of caring for the only vessel we've got -- our body. Just one face. Just one body. And the experience of shaving is an experience worth diving into. It can be profound if you let it. So why bother?
Again, why bother enjoying a good glass of wine in a nice wine glass? Why bother brewing tea in a beautiful teapot? Why bother eating a peach off a tree? It doesn't take a lot of money. It just takes the two most valuable assets we've got: energy and time. And it's worth it.
Having a good shave is really an act of renewal. There's a specific process that you can follow, or elaborate on these to hone your own. The act has a clear beginning, middle, and end. And it's an entire life cycle. And it's purely masculine. Think about it and give it a try.
1. Start with gratitude.
Stand there and assess yourself. Look yourself in the mirror. This is all you got. For better or for worse, this is it. Look and appreciate. Find something to be grateful about. If you can't find anything to be grateful about yourself, then witness your gear. Much of likely antique and hand crafted by a human not a machine -- the way things used to be. Really made by a person. Heavy and long-lasting, this old gear is still serving its user well. Doing its single task with perfection.
2. Witness the whiskers.
Your face is steaming, warm, pliable and soft from the recent hot shower. The bristly whiskers on your face, one indication you are in fact a man, is soft and ready and just waiting to be destroyed. Temporarily. To then return another day.
3. Ready the bristle (badger, boar or synthetic if you must).
In your hand is the brush, a piece of bone or wood with the bristles of a once living wild animal. A boar or badger once wore the coat that is now the bristle, blossoming from the brush. Dry, at ready to do its singular job -- lather you up.
4. Lather up.
In your other hand is a shaving bowl. Yes, just like your grandfather may have had. You add a bit of hot water and shaving soap or cream, and begin the lathering ritual.
Many opinions and methods exist on how to best generate the foam in the bowl. The most important thing is that you craft a lather that glides. After all you'll be scraping a live sharp blade over your face and you want a great glide. No snagging, or you'll get nicked and instant blood-flow. Not too many bubbles, and not too few. Just a lightly foamy, slippery lather. The bowl of lather appears magically and suddenly, from what was just a dab of soap and water, via a blurring bristling brush, is now an overflowing slurry of what looks like erupting whip cream.
Apply brush and lather to face in small, short circles, covering every square inch. Feel the warmth penetrate the bristle, the skin, the bones. You'll feel it in your toes. If it's your first time using a brush and lather -- you'll remember it. Don't stop til you've covered every inch from below the eye to the earlobe to the Adam's apple. Let the bristles awaken every whisker, readying them for the upcoming slice.
5. About the blade.
Ready the blade. Again, thousands of opinions and options here. The main thing is that you consider one of two directions: straight edge or safety razor.
If it's straight edge, give yourself an extra 60 minutes to get the job done, and expect the first three months of shaves to leave you a bit bloody. But definitely a man! (There are loads of great options out there on ways to deal with the blood and how to stop it quick, provided it's not a major artery you nick.).
Straight edge is truly hardcore, and old school. Basically, you're doing what the ancients did -- applying a sword to your face and removing the beard. It's no wonder so many people back then had beards. Who wants to apply a sword to your face? Also, be sure you're not going to be interrupted. Those blades are wicked sharp, and you don't want some kid or partner opening the bathroom door, wondering what's taking you so long, surprising you as your finishing up the last drag on your Adam's apple. On the other hand, you might not want to be home alone if you're shaving that way in case you need someone to call the ambulance.
Starting a bit less hardcore, I'd suggest going the route of the safety razor. You choose: single edge or double. Just dont start with anything you'd purchase from a local pharmacy. Nope -- that's cheating. You need a real stainless razor, and removable safety blades. Again, countless options to choose from -- just start easy and cheap. Incidentally, shaving this way is ridiculously cheap. Consider that you get 4 Mach razors for $20? You can buy a razor and 40 safety blades for the same. You get a better shave, an amazing experience, and you save a lot more money. It's a no brainer.
Shave off the first pass of whiskers with a downward stroke. Then lather up and shave off the second pass with a sideways stroke. And then lather up again and shave against the grain, with an upward stroke. Basically, it's "with the grain," "across the grain," and then "against the grain." You can do a light shave with just one pass. But, for the full monty and the super-soft experience, I go with all three. Sometimes it leaves your cheeks a bit raw, but again, there are great ways to deal with that too.
This actual shaving part is pretty intense. Think about it. Honed metal is literally scraping the hairs off of your face. It feels like layers of stuff and grunge go with every pass, every falling whisker is a problem falling away. Worries, issues, and thoughts evaporate with, across and agains the grain.
You get lighter. Cleaner. Renewed. Just thinking about it makes me want to go and shave right now. And when you remove both the layers of lather, and the dark whiskers, what is revealed? I's you. Fresh. Raw. Open to the world and it's challenges. Cool air flows over cheeks and jawline, sensitized. Look down to the sink and witness the mess of black whiskers and sprinkles of blood. The darkness and dirt go down the drain. You are renewed, soft, blemishless, and warm.
8. Clean up.
Traces of soap, whisker, and blood remain, so give it a cold water splash to close up the pores and take stock of your art. A good shave is a craft, and the art is you.
9. Pain and pleasure.
Now for some pain-pleasure. You can really seal the pores with an alum stick. Don't know what else these are used for, but they're amazing after a shave. Rinse the bar in a bit of cold water and then rub it all over your face. It's an astringent so it tightens all the pores and tightens up any nicks making any blood evaporate. It hurts and burns like hell, and then instantly dissipates. It's weird and you'll likely scream the first time you try it, wondering what the hell I was thinking advising it. But you will also find yourself reaching for it the next time around.
10. Finishing touches.
Finally another cold water rinse to get all the alum off. And then a splash of after shave, or moisturizing cream.
Welcome to the slow shaving movement. Go enjoy some Lord Earl Grey black tea.
Follow Jesse Jacobs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/realritual