I just picked up a real old-style shaving setup. The straight razor is secondhand, but the rest is shiny and new... Figured I'd start with a cheap razor, $18 from EBay, and get something suitably shiny and menacing when I would damage neither it nor myself too badly.
Since the razor is old, I first got out the strop and paste and sharpened it. Since it's from the Era When Things Actually Worked (1920s? Something like that), it sharpened up wonderfully. Leather makes fine sandpaper, sharpening a dull edge or dulling a sharp one. Five minutes with the strop and my slightly-rusted 1920s secondhand razor was *quite* serviceable, thankyouverymuch.
I got out the soap and the shaving brush. I ran a sinkful of nice hot water and lathered up my face a bit. I then put a hot washcloth with soap and water on my face to soften up the beard a bit, and relaxed with it on. I'm not sure how well it worked on the beard, but it felt absolutely wonderful. It's just really, really good.
The shaving brush and soap were fun. You know it, I know it. Didn't work all that well, though. I can see why people now use shaving cream in a can. Not as much ritual to the canned kind, but it does seem to work better. We'll see if my soap experience improves after a couple of times. If not then I'm gonna just use shaving cream from a can, straight razor or no.
The razor was excellent. I don't think I did extraordinarily well with it - this was my first shave with a straight razor, ever. It was a little uneven, some parts I pretty much didn't get at all, and I gave myself a bunch of little cuts. I didn't have a styptic pencil to hand, so it's good that I'm a quick healer. But I now see why somebody would bother. It just feels good - controlled and present - to be shaving well. The razor moves well and feels good. And while you get cut if you lose focus... If you don't lose focus, you don't get cut. It's a wonderfully meditative feeling, and I'm sure it'll get better as I do.
I stopped earlier than I maybe should have - I didn't do wonderfully on the area under my chin, and I did a mixed job near my Adam's apple. You're supposed to make two passes everywhere, one in the direction the hair grows and one in the opposite direction, and I only did that on my cheeks. Though to be honest, I was happy with how I did. It felt good, and I felt I quit while I was still doing well.
I gave myself several little cuts, and the skin gets tiny, tiny cuts as you go - that's just the nature of shaving. Which brings me to another first - I'd never before used a real, alcohol-based aftershave. That moment in 'Home Alone', and so many like it? Yeah. Okay, I now really genuinely get that. Ow ow ow! On the plus side, I also smell like Bay Rum now (rum distilled over bay leaves, a fine traditional men's toiletry).
So - the other "I get it" moments. I realized as I was relaxing with the hot wash cloth on my face that it was wonderful, and why you see men in old movies with a towel on their face in the morning. They're getting ready to shave. That only just now clicked, though it makes perfect sense. I also realized that relaxing with a hot towel on your face is just wonderfully, luxuriously decadent. I'm amazed you don't see it more often these days.
Shaving used to be a ritual, taught by father to son. The ritual is still vaguely there, but it always felt pointless to me. Now that I know what they *used* to be teaching, I get it. Of course it was a ritual - it was teaching focus, and using focus to avoid physical harm. The idea of shaving as a ritual of masculinity makes sense, because with blades and personal injury and skill and focus... It's no longer just about whether you happen to grow a beard. It's all about how you *deal* with the beard. I get it.
The idea of shaving as intimate and dangerous and powerful... I get that, too. The straight razor is very sharp. Using it, whether on yourself or somebody else, is a powerful thing, a real exercise in trust and skill. Long ago I read a short story about a man shaving his father when his father was too sick to shave himself. And the idea, that power and trust, kind of came through, but mostly it didn't. Today, I get it.
So if you see me walking around looking a bit unevenly shaven and slightly cut-up, treat it as a sign that I'm gaining in skill every day :-)