A Close Shave. Perhaps Too Close.

So Gini got me a straight razor for Christmas.  I have now shaved twice with a straight razor.  How’s that working?
That looks bloody, and it is, but it’s actually not bad for a starter.  The trick, as Gary Braunbeck has noted, is not to hesitate.  Yes, you are sweeping a literally razor-sharp implement of vengeance over your skin.  Yes, you are angling it slightly, so that it could cut you.  Yes, this is a weapon that can, and has, killed many people by cutting the soft, soft flesh that you are pressing this razor to right now.
But do not slow down!  Be graceful, sweeping.  If you falter, then the blade digs in, and you wind up with a cut like mine.
This is why the shaving scene works so well in Skyfall.  Shaving is an exercise in confidence.  You tremble, you bleed.  Your hand must be steady.
I’m experiencing two major problems with the straight razor shave, and the first was poor instruction.  The “Learn to Shave” DVD we got as a part of this kit is abysmal, for it was made by a shaving collector.  And he loves the overshare.  Wanna learn how to strop?  Well, he’s gonna get out literally twelve strops and show you each of them, talking about the minute and completely irrelevant differences, and spent – I kid you not – twenty minutes going over them all.  Then eight minutes on stropping.
Plus, while there is great debate about what kinds of grip you should use in the straight-razor community, this guy has a technique I can’t get behind.  See, it’s a stretch to reach over with your right hand to shave your left cheek… so his fix is to use your left hand to shave your left cheek!  And what could be better than using your bad hand when you’re holding a knife?  I didn’t cut myself, but that’s because I barely touched myself, for my left hand was so incompetent I wouldn’t trust it to chop raisins, let alone my face.
The other problem is the shaving soap.  It’s a very thin lather, no matter how much I foam it up, and so I think I need some genuine shaving cream, a big thick layer to use to buffer this blade.  The big cut, again, came from when I was going over an area with the blade, and had shaved off most of the soap.  I need lubrication, badly, and I think I need more of it.
That said, it’s a tremendously focusing activity.  Many of the shaving aficionados liken it to meditation, and I could see that – you really shouldn’t be distracted while dragging a knife over your throat.  It’s a kind of luxurious process; wet the towel, hold the boiling water to your face, lather, hold the towel to your face, lather again, first pass.  Then lather, and shave against the grain.  It forces you to pay attention to the here and now, and that’s useful.
That said, is this a closer shave than I normally get?


No, this is a terrible shave, all patchy and stubbly and far worse than my Gillette Mach 3.  But that’s experience.  I know from my barber Rainier that it can be a wondrously close shave, baby-smooth, but for now it’s the kind of thing where I don’t know what I’m doing and my face is paying for it.  I need a better aftershave, since I have razorburn and petachia that would be fixed with a little Witch Hazel.  (Thank God, Rainier taught me that trick as well.)
Does it hurt?  Well, I’m not the guy to ask, seeing as my appendix exploded and I thought it was just stomach flu.  But it’s a little stingy.  The cuts don’t hurt right away, which is part of the problem – I think of all those movie scenes where the guy’s shaving, then winces, and then there’s blood.  No, this is a surgical cut, so clean you barely feel it, and it’s not until after a bit that you realize oh, hey, there’s a nick.  And then you have to use that damn styptic pencil, which is like Solarcaine on a sunburn.  (Not that I’ve had a cut that required the styptic pencil to stop bleeding, but I feel as though there should be some punitive measures involved.)
In the meantime, shaving’s given me one of my favorite pictures as of late – my hair, with just a teeny bit of blood on the edge.  It’s strangely artistic to me.

My 2013 Resolutions

I usually am not a New Year’s Resolution kinda guy, as I’m not terribly goal-oriented.  I’m results-oriented, in that I like to get things done, but I get no particular satisfaction from checking off boxes.
This is never clearer than watching my wife get fit.  She needs something to motivate her: a 150-mile bike ride, a triathlon, an upcoming race.  Without that finish line to cross, she barely sees the point.  Whereas for me, I’m like “God, I’m pudgy,” and that’s all the vague motivation I need to get downstairs on the fake-bicycle.   It’s kind of how I view my writing; I write every day, but there’s no firm goal of “Finish X stores by Y.” I just plod along with no particular end in sight.
But!  This New Year’s, I have some sturdy goals I want to get around, and so I’m going to list them as a form of public art.  If, perhaps, you’re reminding me of these goals, I’ll get ’em done.
GOAL #1: Read A Story A Day.  Review It. 
My reading has gotten lax ever since I got a phone, and realized I could text people on demand.  Suddenly, my attention has become fragmented, as I carry on chats with friends, and I don’t seem to have the time to sit down and just read a book for several hours the way I used to.
(I still read like 40+ books last year, but that’s way down for me.)
In addition, I’m eligible to nominate works for the Hugos and the Nebulas, and every year I have this horrible guilt about not having read enough to nominate properly.  I read selectively, because my friends publish stuff and I read that, but then I fear that I’m not actually nominating the best stories but rather the best stories my friends wrote.  That’s not fair.  I want to be more like Rachel Swirsky and Matthew Bennardo, who read widely and thoroughly.  (This constant reading may also have something to do with the fact that they’re also kick-ass writers.)
So what I’m going to do in 2013 is read one short story every day, then blog a review about it.  That review may not come on the same day as I read it, but I feel there’s all sorts of wonder out there, and I’m not seeing enough of it.  Feel free to bug me about the story reviews; I should be doing them.
GOAL #2: Write Letters To The Troops. 
My friend Kathrynrose clued me into Operation Write Home, which mails letters to our troops to buck them up for the holidays.  I meant to do this for Christmas, but missed the fact that there’s a 6-8 week lead time, and so blew it.

However, I think it’s a worthy goal, and one that Kathryn is very vocal about, so my goal will be to start writing Winter cards (and semi-personalized letters) by January 15th.  Because I really don’t do enough to support the folks in the military; I don’t always agree with the military’s goals, but I do respect the people who lay their lives on the line for our country.
I’m not arty.  But I’ll do what I can.
GOAL #3: Train Myself To Eat Healthier.
If you’ve been reading, you already know about my attempts to learn to like fruit, and fish.  I’ve been eating berries (guh) in an attempt to get used to the texture and taste of fruit.  Already, over a one-week Christmas vacation, I ate more fish and fruit than I did over the summer.
This will continue.  Already, it has some mild benefits.  I have come to actively enjoy clementine oranges, for one.  If I can get to the point where I’m eating fruit voluntarily and enjoying at least some kinds of fish, things will be better.  I had a really good halibut at a French restaurant, so I can hope.
(I also plan to exercise more, and this is already paying off with some mild weight loss – but not being goal-oriented, I’m not going to go, “LOSE 50 POUNDS.”  It’s more of a “Get in shapeish” kinda thing.  Also more of a “Let’s see if I can get women to find me cuter” kinda thing, if I’m honest.)
GOAL #4: Read Moby Dick
One of my favorite authors, Joe Hill, said that he was going to start reading it on January 1st.  So is Kat Howard.  And dammit, I’ve been hearing for years about how good it is, so I’m gonna start reading it too.  Hopefully I can finish.
GOAL #5: Fix My Secret Shame
I do have a large uncompleted project I need to finish before the summer, and I’ve been ridiculously lax about that.  So I promise, publicly, that I will unfuck this project by February 1st, 2013.  Absolutely and unconditionally, I’ll set it right.  Yell at me if I don’t.

The End Of The Pretty Pretty Princess Nails

This is it, folks.  My quest for pretty pretty princess nails is complete.  Over.  Kaput.  Fini.
The nails I am currently sporting are as pretty pretty princess as I can get, man.  I may have pretty nails in the future, but they cannot be more princessy.  The only way I could now possess prettier pretty pretty princess nails is if I spontaneously transformed into a My Little Pony.
The Pretty Pretty Princess Nail Battle Is COMPLETE!
That is a sponge-gradient OPI purple with not one, but two layers of glitter over it. I shit you not, the nail woman asked, “Do you want another layer?” and I replied, “I want ALL THE GLITTER.”  The picture does not quite capture the diamond-like sparkle of all of this; I keep getting distracted by the light flashing off of them.  Walking around in these is like there’s some crippled hiker trapped down a ravine, constantly trying to signal you with a mirror.
Gini’s nails are also extremely nifty, as hers were done with magnets:
My mother came with me on this trip to the manicurist’s while I was out in California (those red-and-green themed holiday nails were wearing out their welcome), and I discovered that I was an OPI snob.  Apparently, her manicurist is rather cheap and doesn’t use OPI for the gels, and I was all like, “WELL, FUCK HIM THEN.”
Also, California parlors make me feel like Ohio is some forgotten backwater of fingernail technology, like Tatooine in a hot pink.  These guys used sponges for fades, they used magnets, they’d been using aluminum wraps for years, and suddenly the Venetian feels all North Korea backwards.  Also, manicures are like 40% cheaper.  What kind of market inefficiency is this?
My mother, God bless her, doesn’t quite get it but she’ll go with my enthusiasm.  Gini loves it.  These nails are made for scratchin’.

Choose And Lose

I had a friend, once, who wanted to be a writer.  All she ever spoke about were the poems she’d written a few years ago that had almost won a prize in a competition, her short story ideas that she needed to revise.  She’d read books and talk about them in relation to her writing classes, the lessons she’d learned, all the time she’d spent writing.
Yet she never wrote.
There’s nothing wrong with not writing, of course; billions do it daily.  But she wore a strange hair shirt as a not-author.  It clearly pained her to not be a writer, for she’d lament the many ways she wasn’t producing fiction, and sigh at the end of the week and complain that she’d wasted yet another week not getting there… but it also pained her to be a writer, for sitting down in front of the keyboard was discomforting.  She had all these perfect ideas in her head.  Nudging them into the real world would chip them, make them sadly flawed in ways she didn’t know how to fix.  How much easier to just sit down in front of the X-Box, where all the achievements are easy and you get little pop-up windows to cheerfully inform you when you’ve levelled up.
Her life was spent oscillating between two discomforts, and she was never happy.
Likewise, I have a dear friend who likes company, but not really people.  He hates to be alone, but finding groups of friends drains his batteries.  So he makes these stabs at finding a social group, and almost gets to the point where he can get out every weekend with a bunch of buddies… but then he finds a girlfriend, and you can practically hear him go Oh thank God I don’t have to do that any more, and he abandons them all to spend all of his time with his new sweetie.  Who breaks up with him after a few months, and then all he complains about is his loneliness.
I think a lot of life is choosing between two discomforts, the easy one or the hard one.  My friend can have either the easy discomfort of loneliness, or the hard discomfort of maintaining a web of social connections.  My old maybe-writer-friend can choose the easy discomfort of I’m not really working up to my potential, or the hard discomfort of sitting down and discovering just how much work you have left to do.  Right now I can have the easy discomfort of being easily winded and prone to heart attacks, or the hard discomfort of exercise and these goddamned berries.
Or you can rest easy with the discomfort, to acknowledge that yes, maybe you’re lonely or not a writer or pudgy, but of the two alternatives you have, this is the one you actively chose.  And that’s good, too.  And I think both of my friends would be much happier if they accepted that really, they don’t want to work for what they claim they have and learned to be okay with the consequences of it, and be at peace with it.  To settle down.  To accept.
As it is, I see them endlessly chafing at the restrictions of their life, complaining and never choosing, and I feel sorry for them.  I know what it’s like.  I just wish they could be happy with what they’re not doing, or find the strength to do the long-term thing that would get them to where they claimed they wanted to be.

The Usual Christmas Post, Part 2: What Was Your Favorite Prezzie?

Because I always want to know: What’s the best gift you got for Christmas this year?
For me, I’m still waiting to get home to open presents from my Dad and my stepbrother’s family, but thus far the winner is the straight-razor shaving kit Gini got me:
Swing your razor high, Sweeney!
The reason I like this so much is because what I originally requested was a straight razor with a swappable razor, one you never needed to strop.  When I opened the kit, I said to Gini, “This is good, but it’s got the regular razor.  I’d suggested the switchable one.”
“Oh,” Gini said sheepishly.  “I didn’t want you to use some pansy-ass blade.”
Oh, my wife; she thinks as I do, even when I’m too scared to do the job proper.
My other gift this Christmas was also awesome – I got my fire poi!
Fire Poi
Between the straight razor and the flaming balls to set myself ablaze with, I’m not entirely sure Gini wants me around, but I’m happy she’s indulging my self-destructive qualities.  And I’m also glad that Gini was the first one to whack herself in the head with the poi, making her the official first recipient of Poi Blood.
Merry, merry Christmas! So enough about me.  What made you happiest under the tree this holidays?