The badger-hair shaving brush I received for my last birthday (Thanks, G!) posed a challenge. I’d seen old-fashioned shaves in the movies, but, looking at the brush, I have to admit I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about the process.
Not to mention that I felt some apprehension over possibly leaving my face and neck looking like something out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
But intrigue far outweighed fear. Shaving with what are generally considered antiquated—even dangerous—implements would be undeniably cool (dare I say, manly?), shimmering with the same mystique as an absinthe fountain or manual typewriter.
I vowed to do it, nicks and cuts be damned!
An editor can’t edit without the proper tools, and these days that means a decent computer, a monitor (or two or three), a high-speed internet connection, software (Word, PerfectIt, etc.), dictionaries, and style manuals, for starters.
For my shave, I quickly realized I needed to further bolster my shaving arsenal. I was simply not going to use one of the modern five-blade razors with my cool new brush. Not being foolhardy—or perhaps manly—enough to wield a straight razor, I purchased a safety razor, and I assure you, turning the handle and butterflying the top open, then laying a bare blade within, felt plenty dangerous enough for me. Plus, the damn thing looks extremely cool hanging on the stand next to my brush.
Along with the razor I also bought shaving soap, a stainless steel bowl for working the soap into a lather, and some shaving oil and moisturizer.
I was ready to begin.
Editors don’t just sit down with a document and begin editing. An editor will resave the document with a new name, create a style sheet, perform basic cleanup on the document, and run macros and a variety of programs.
Much the same with shaving.
First, I place the brush in the stainless steel bowl and fill the bowl with warm water to soak the bristles for a few minutes. I then take this time to wash my face with my energizing face wash (Thanks again, G!).
At this stage I apply shaving oil and, pouring a tablespoon onto the shaving soap, dump all but a tablespoon or so of water from the bowl. Then I shake out the brush and swirl it over the soap.
Now for my favorite part!
With soap adhering to the bristles of the brush, I whisk the brush in the bowl to combine it with that little bit of water to create a nice lather. This takes time, and I find that the action of the brush and lather in the bowl centers my thoughts and relaxes me. It helps ready me for the day, and it reminds me a bit of making a roux for gumbo, where the oil and flour gradually assume that perfect peanut-butter color.
My mind clears, and when there are no more bubbles in the lather, I’m getting close.
After the lather is perfect, I apply it to my face, and I really go after it, working the bristles vigorously. The whole point is to raise my whiskers and ready them for the blade, but a pleasant side effect is that the bristles feel wonderful.
These days, editors have quite a few tools that make editing easier, but at editing’s heart there is always an editor working the text, poring diligently letter by letter over a document. This is where the real work is done, where an editor’s attention to detail and ability to concentrate for extended periods of time come into play.
This is the stage where the editor’s training and experience and knowledge really pay off.
If a mistake at this stage can leave glaring errors in a document, a mistake at the same point while shaving can result in the aforementioned nicks and cuts. But do it correctly and you’re left with smooth skin that you, or your loved one, can’t resist touching (or, for that matter, a clean, error-free document that invites reading).
But let’s make no mistake, shaving with a safety razor is not for the fainthearted.
Even secured in the casing, the blade is lethal, so you can’t shave quickly and recklessly, as you might with a more modern blade (no need to even reassert the editing metaphor here). With a safety razor, the weight of the handle itself is enough, so you let gravity do the work, bringing the blade down, always down, a half inch or so at a time, over and over.
I’ll admit that my first couple shaves with the safety razor could easily have put one in mind of The Wild Bunch, but I learned. Slow and extreme care can literally save your neck (or, when editing, your client’s).
Once a job is complete, an editor can wrap up the work, which of course entails returning the document to the client and, presumably, getting paid in the not-too-distant future. With shaving, this is the point where a hot towel (or cold, as some prefer) would really come in handy, but I haven’t incorporated that into the process. Maybe someday.
Until then, I’m going to enjoy the slow pleasures of a good shave—and I’m going to try to always bring the same level of extreme care to my work.