On Potato Peeling and Shakespearean Sonnets (Or “Is It More Submissive to Enjoy Everything You’re Ordered to Do, or to Dislike Those Tasks but Do Them Anyway?”)

It’s amazing how much time I spend peeling potatoes, I message my mom, because her first message of the day, always around the time she settles in at home after work and the time I am beginning to prepare dinner, again has found me peeling potatoes, perhaps the third time in a bit over a week “peeling potatoes” has been my answer to “whatcha doing”.

I don’t mind the cooking of (and certainly not the eating of) the potatoes.  They’re easy enough to wash and peel and cut and then turn into garlic mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes infused with chicken stock, hearty sides.

I like cooking, and baking, and doing things like that in the kitchen.  It hits something in the service slave (or Jewish mother) in me that would rather peel potatoes than use a powdered mashed potato mix, rather cut in butter than buy biscuit dough in a tube, rather set a table than eat on the couch (if I were allowed to sit on the couch).

It takes up a lot of my time and energy: there’s the cooking itself, the increased cleanup after (compared to delivery or something frozen), the meal planning, list making, couponing, shopping, the organization to even get to the part where I’m peeling potatoes.

And much as it’s true that it can be time-consuming and energy-draining, and the “healthy homemade dinner on the table at six every night” rule (and associated rules) is beyond my control…

I do not consider it to be a particularly submissive act of service.

Technically, it is.

I consider it a service, yes.  And I believe that for some, it would be a submissive act of service.  But I don’t think it is for me.

I started with the fact that I enjoy cooking and baking and doing things in the kitchen.  If all of those rules went away tomorrow, I would still enjoy those things, and unless banned from doing so for some reason, would continue to do them to some extent.

Because of that, I don’t view it as particularly submissive.

I have often seen basically the question, “Is it more submissive to enjoy everything you’re ordered to do, or to dislike those tasks but do them anyway?”  I heavily believe in the latter.

The first sounds very nice in theory.  If you were so submissive, surely you’d just be thrilled to receive an order, and love acting on it.  On the one hand, well, yes.  If there is no part of you that finds satisfaction in doing something simply because your M-type wishes it, even if every other part of you hates that task deeply, I think many M/s dynamics might turn bad for you quickly.  On the other hand, in a 24/7 [Part 1] [Part 2] dynamic where you cannot say no, I think assuming every part of you will be thrilled at every order is likely unrealistic; there are going to be times you are exhausted or ill or in an emotional place.  

I don’t like to dismiss things as simply “unrealistic”, though, and I have seen many posts on M/s write off as “unrealistic” what for me are daily realities, so let me address it beyond the initial “perhaps unrealistic”.

My other issue with it is this: if you love to do something, is doing it an act of submission, or is it simply doing it?  Are you truly submitting to the order, or following it because you have no motive not to, and enjoy doing the task anyway?  If you’re told to do something you would do anyway, is it submission, or a convenient line-up of intentions? 

What about the things you don’t love to do?  Things you might even hate.  Or perhaps even like or simply don’t mind in general, but you’re tired or stressed or under the weather?

When ordered to do those things, what motivates you?  You no longer have the “well I was going to do that anyway” or the “well it’s no trouble” or the “well I enjoy doing it” as motives also present.

At that point, the only motive is submission, and thus, those are the things I view as truly submissive.  Exactly what those things are will change on a person to person basis.

Recently I was discussing the “love languages” (the ways we show love, and the ways we want it shown to us) and brought up the concept of “novelty”.

If you have a friend who is super touchy, always hugging hello and goodbye and generally cuddly, but who rarely says “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or compliments you, what means more when they do it?  If you have another friend who keeps two feet of distance at almost all times, but says “I love you” and compliments you on three things every time you see them, what means more when they do it?

The answers are likely different for each of those people.  It is the deviation from their personal norm that is noteworthy and meaningful, not the act itself.  A hug from a physically distant friend means a lot, and a hug from a friend who hugs you three times a day might not feel like that anymore unless it has been absent.

I apply the same concept to services and submission.  My cooking isn’t particularly submissive because I would do it anyhow.  Someone else’s cooking might be extremely submissive because they hate being in the kitchen.

I saw a joke about Shakespeare, something like, “If he writes her one sonnet, he loves her.  If he writes her three hundred sonnets, he loves sonnets.” 

You get the idea.

I do think the act of doing something you don’t want to do is only particularly submissive if done without protest or complaint or caviling.  Otherwise, it is probably just grudgingly tolerating being told what to do.

Such arguments can be a symptom of the “have to” (versus “get to”) mindset.

If you want to submit, the task presented is how you get to do it.  You might also have to do it, but if you treat it as a “have to”, you might not get to.  Sometimes listening to complaints is not worth delegating a task.  Consider how you would feel if you didn’t get to do the task.  From a submissive mindset, that will be worse than the feeling of having to do the task.  It can be a motivating thought experiment and change how you feel about it and how you present those feelings rather quickly.

If your motivation is that you get to follow an order, be pleasing, be useful, submit, do as you’re told—I think that is much more important as an indicator of submission than if you enjoy the task for the task itself.

Service Skill: Event Debriefs

Event Debriefs: What Are They?

Event debriefs are relatively what they sound like.  The type I’m talking about here is the private post-event reflection for the host (sharing with co-hosts and whatnot can come later).  

An “event” is what you make it out to be, and you should set your own standards for what constitutes an “event” that warrants a debrief.  Does one person coming over count?  What about four?  A dozen?  Does it depend which ones?  Is it more about the difference between an impromptu get-together and a thoroughly planned, themed occasion?

Personally I mostly debrief (and host) for small events for between five and twelve people, so my advice here is going to be influenced by that.

The idea of a structured reflection, though, I think scales up nicely.

The How-To 

Give yourself some breathing room after the event to process, but not so much details blur.  Say, for an evening event, perhaps do it the next morning.

Gather, for your reference in doing the debrief (and to keep with it for future reference), any feedback from attendees, any reference material or planning notes you used, anything else relevant you jotted down before, during, or after.

Start by recording the basics: who came, when it was (day, time), where it was, the occasion, purpose, or theme, what activities were done, what food and drink was served, and what decor or practical setup was used.

From there, you might want to start with a brain dump.  Write down all of the ideas, questions, thoughts that come to mind about the event.  If you’re really pulling a blank, you might want to go straight to a list of questions.

Which questions you use will be unique to you.  You might have a list of questions you answer like a worksheet, or a list for general inspiration.  

Some ideas include: 

What worked great?  How can you replicate it?  What didn’t work?  How can you fix it?  What problems did you run into—did they get solved?  How?  What lessons did you learn?  What would you change?  How can you incorporate the feedback you got?  Did you get any ideas for use in a future event?

Once you have this all down, you’ll want to find the actionable items, and incorporate that information into your systems of reference and planning, whether in notes for a specific future event, reference pages for event planning in general, peoples’ pages in your butler’s book, recipes that you used. 

Store the debrief in its entirety with your other event debriefs, for future reference on the bits like, “Didn’t I already serve that dish the last time so-and-so came over?”

Over time, you’ll refine your own system; mine, I know, is always a work in progress.

I’ve Always Been “Like This”

I have a currently 550-word-long-ish document that is dedicated solely to instructions around Mistress’ coffee.  The acceptable type of coffee, the backup type of coffee.  How long a bag of beans in the standard size we buy lasts (“at least a week”).  How to prepare a pot.  How to prepare a cup (iced and hot).  How long a pot is good for (“at most eight hours”).  How to clean the coffee maker.  How to clean the coffee grinder. What other products get used (cups, straws, filters, lids, machines…).  How to fetch coffee at the hotel we stay at regularly.

There’s nothing particularly kinky about any of it, but saying “I have a 550-word-long-ish document about making coffee” would definitely raise an eyebrow in vanilla company, especially considering the fact that I do not drink coffee.  I was not asked to make it look fancy (or make it at all) and so it looks like nothing special, a black and white bullet point list in Arial 12, not some ominous, beautiful quill-inked cursive on an elegant parchment scroll.  The currently 600-word-long-ish document solely for instructions around laundry (not including schedule) looks the same.

But… both would be presumed part of a dynamic in kinky company, and presumed very strange in vanilla.

Yet the truth is, I’ve always been like this.

I used to live with grandmother. She’d almost first thing in the morning take her medications with Minute Maid Pulp Free orange juice in a nine-ounce disposable plastic cup.  I took to decorating the cup each day with a doodle or a Good morning! or an I love you!.  Leaving the state for a while, I left her a supply of decorated cups while I was gone, and mailed her more in the meantime.  

After her meds and orange juice, she would seek out breakfast.  Breakfast often was had with a hot cup of Salada green tea (decaf) sweetened with two packets of Sweet n Low, or sometimes Folgers instant coffee (decaf), with the same amount of Sweet n Low and a splash of milk.  Either was made in The Mug of the time.  (I keep these beverage and sweetener options in stock at my own house now, just in case.  I stuck a few of the tea bags in her Christmas stocking.  Some others are also kept in stock.) 

Throughout the day she mostly drank cold water, in reused plastic bottles kept in a fabric sleeve and filled from water gallons kept on the larger, mostly unused dining table.  At dinner she had either chilled AW Rootbeer (usually in a bottle, though cans were acceptable, and if she got it in a glass at a restaurant, she would frequently order it with two straws because she had a tradition of sharing it with one of her friends) or chilled Kroger Seltzer, from the can.  With dessert, perhaps another coffee or tea.  On certain occasions, chilled Manischewitz Cream White Concord (hi, fellow Jewish readers), or a thick chocolate milkshake.

That’s an easy 250-plus words off the top of my head on the beverage habits of a vanilla person I used to live with that I noted at the time.  Most of the practicalities of that information lives in my butler’s book entry for her.  

So… I’ve always been “like this”, in and very much out of BDSM.

That’s just one example.

But in general, I knew, entering the local BDSM scene, what things I brought to the table, and what I wanted: a place to offer those things, and all of myself, completely, use them to please and be of service.  

And when I found everything I wanted at a munch on a fateful, freezing November night… well, eight weeks later we were in a 24/7 live-in power dynamic.

I don’t think I’ve “changed”.  I’ve grown, I’ve learned, I’ve had certain pieces of me brought out, I’ve learned better words to describe myself with, I’ve shifted in what identity aspects are important to me, I’ve changed how I express some of those traits.  But I don’t think my core traits truly changed.

I’ve always been “like this”.  Not as a slave, not as part of a vanilla identity.  Just “like this”.

On Refining Protocols

Our contract is almost due to be revisited, and I have a long list of notes on all the little things that have been changed verbally since the last revisit to edit in.  (The contract is meant to be a current understanding and communication tool upon revisits, not something unchangeable when Mistress wishes it.  Most of the benefit of the contract is I think honestly in the talking and drafting of those revisits; it’s not directly referenced often, action items incorporated into other systems.)  I noted how many of my notes weren’t new concepts entirely so much as refining of pre-existing ones.

For example, the set response protocol to permission grants and denials.  (Good in its simplicity for so many examples of protocol concepts—and yet, how much refining it needs…)  Thank you, Mistress.  Fine and good.  We’d already had a note in the contract about it not being necessary if the time needed to complete the action I’d asked permission for would be less than the time needed to say the phrase, smoothing out a potential longer interruption to conversation for a quick action (say, stretching my legs from my kneeling position while we’re chatting).  So not required, but allowed if it wouldn’t be disruptive.  Another note said to respond based on intention, not phrasing.  Mistress starts a decent number of orders every day with the phrase you may.  She’s not informing me I have permission to do the thing, she’s telling me to do it.  So I would use the set response to orders, not permissions.  Yes, Mistress.

We ran into two more mild conundrums around the same basic protocol.  

One: favors.  Something in asking a question along the lines of would you help me with this, please or may I borrow this, please invoked the same response to at least an affirmative answer, and sometimes a negative one.  It wasn’t really a permission.  Perhaps a privilege.  But intrinsically I felt like it fell under that protocol.  Nothing wrong with giving that answer even if it wasn’t, but knowing if it was required seemed like an important clarification, so I didn’t get lax on it as a nicety rather than a protocol.  

Two: restating permissions.  The general idea of: do I respond with this protocol to only the first permission grant, or every time it’s reiterated?  If it was a reminder of a standing permission or restricting rule, a confirmation one way or the other of a mildly questionable permission, a summary of multiple permissions recently given, does it count?  If it wasn’t news, was it truly a grant/denial, or was it a statement?  Again it intrinsically felt like it fell under this protocol, and again there was nothing wrong with answering it as such, but an important clarification on the requirement versus nicety issue.

So it was interesting to see how much more thought out each protocol becomes with time, even ones that sound so simple at their core.  I wrote a post on protocol once that I titled “The More Natural-Seeming the Dance, the More Thought-Out the Choreography”.  And I stand by that metaphor.  Strangely, the more elaborate our protocol is to explain, the smoother it looks (and feels to integrate) in practice.

“It’s interesting,” said a friend one afternoon, sitting in our living room at the time.  What we used as a living room then was an extension on the original house, and the kitchen had a wide doorway and an open window into the living room that used to be an actual window and exterior sliding door, leading to the rooms being highly connected.  Mistress was doing something in the kitchen.  I’d been in there with her and asked permission to go into the living room to sit down on the couch, which she’d granted, and I did.  Speaking from somewhat different rooms now, she said something poetic about me being free to wander around, at which point I said that I couldn’t really go that far, not beyond the living room or the kitchen.  

“Well, I guess not,” she agreed.  The explanation being that because after I’d asked permission to leave her presence in the kitchen, she’d engaged with me while I was in the living room, tying me back to being in her presence and therefore having the need for permission to leave, but now including the living room in that.  If she had been absorbed in what she was doing in the kitchen, not talking to me, the rooms would’ve been separate enough I would’ve been able to wander the house and sit on the furniture in the living room without permission.  But as she was engaged with me again, I would need permission to leave even if this was where I had initially asked permission to leave to.  Additionally, if I stood up, I’d need permission to sit back down again, unless she left further than the kitchen, or had been unengaged for some time.

“It’s interesting.” 

As a writer, I know that frequently (but not always) it is the more carefully planned scenes of interaction that have the best flow (or the type of flow you want at least, for a conversation between purposefully awkward characters), and that my impulsive 2 AM scribbles rarely progress as smoothly (or intended) as they did in my head, daydream montages skipping crucial transitions. Yes, there’s such a thing as over-planning, but I tend to think the author overexposed to their own work has a lower threshold for that than the actual reader.

In protocol, it might mean that writing out a protocol and the conditions and alternatives and whatnot might make it look like overkill even to me, but it feels natural and right in the moment, and writing it all out doesn’t leave me torn between a reasonable instinct and what’s in the contract. It is being the writer and the reader both, to be a part of clarifying conversations—if I don’t have the final say—and to live the results. It adds a deliberateness to the way we live our lives.

And in the end, I think carefully refining even a simple-sounding protocol is worthwhile. Rather than making it more complicated and mind-consuming in practice, it actually means you have to dedicate less thought to everyday protocols that are meant to be an augmentation of a dynamic, not a distraction from the moment. Rather than ponder if you’re making the right choice on something with it right then, you can rest assured that the decision was made in advance, and direct your attention to the human in front of you instead of semantics.

A lot of the refining happens when I run into such a question to ponder, and in the moment I err safely towards the letter of the contract (unless I feel like the spirit of it would really override it for Mistress in that situation). Frequently it passes without notice. Later, though, I usually find a time to ask about it and we clarify those conditions or conundrums. The first time I heard the phrase predicament protocol, at a class, I knew immediately what was meant. Sometimes when I do err towards the letter of the contract, Mistress notes it as odd, then notes it as a rule she technically set, and that’s how the conversation on conditions happens to make it smoother next time.

Our protocols are a corrigible list really, and the fulfillment of living those protocols gets to also include the fascination with making them as close to just right as we can.

On Finding Time for Yourself as a Slave

Firstly, the perhaps obvious: what finding time for yourself looks like (including the need to do it yourself) does depend on the people, the dynamic, if you got to negotiate, etc.

Some issues you might run into include a) just having the time at all for your own things, b) managing that time (and the temptation to rest and relax when you catch a break, not engage in a high-energy hobby of your own), c) finding unbroken chunks of time where you’re not passing by a reminder of something you should do and doing it, or having a timer go off for the laundry or starting dinner, or having, “Slave!” yelled across the house or whatnot.  (There’s a reason I’m required to notify her on the usually rare occasions when I take/make vanilla calls.)

There’s also, generally, that your time isn’t yours.  If your M-type wants to make you late somewhere, or wants to make you wait in position to be unleashed from the bed for half an hour (or forgets you’re there)—that’s their choice, and you (probably) don’t get to complain about it much.  You learn to work with it.

I maintain pretty much one good friend I see independently of Mistress, and there are plenty of times I have to see them in person at our house, so I can keep an eye on a slow-simmer dinner or talk while I do chores, and I might get called away to go do something like fetch coffee.  And one household of vanilla family.  You might find a lack of time for huge circles of independent friends, but many people are happy without that in general.  

When I had a family emergency last year, I was officially put on (and later taken off) “light slave duty” to allow time to see to that.  That might be a possibility in emergencies for many others.

Honestly, it’s mostly the routine service stuff that adds up more than projects.  My morning routine (which I’d need permission to really modify) can take up to two hours, including exercise, throwing on my uniform, making the bed, little stuff like that.  Not to mention evening routine.  Dinner usually takes my attention for about an hour and fifteen minutes for cooking (either fairly active or at least having to keep an eye on it), half hour for eating at the time it’s required to be on the table, more assorted time for cleanup after.  I’d count on the fact that if all a day entails is your daily list, it doesn’t mean it’s a super light work day.

And of course, that gets easily thrown off by getting sick or needing some extra sleep.  Even if you get/have permission to not do them that day, it still means (likely) that they’re not getting done, and then it becomes a problem for Tomorrow You.  This will end up on your mind when it’s at all questionable if you should ask for the rest, and you’ll have to know your own needs there.

I often say, “It comes out to very easily about/more than a full time job, and the fact you’re permanently on call, and no weekends/holidays/etc.”  That is, of course, for me and the way my dynamic works, with the note that it would look very different for, say, someone who’s working/pursuing education/etc.

In the end, you’ll learn to prioritize what’s important to you in the free time you have, and how to work that in, whether it’s friends who come to you, or giving up some more mindless R&R time activities to make sure you get in real hobby time.

Service Skill: Setting the Table

Who knew, really, how much can go into setting a table?  A little scatterbrained from handling other preparations for company, like the cooking and ensuring the right drinks were chilling in the fridge and right quantity of glasses were chilling in the freezer, I couldn’t seem to print the first few names right-side-up on both sides of their place-cards on the first go—though I got there eventually.  I ended up scrutinizing the table to make sure I hadn’t spaced anything—napkins well-laundered and white, knife blades facing plates, Mistress’ place set to her preference with the right and left sides switched, my grandma’s place set to her preference with a salad fork instead of a dinner fork.  Then I got reminded one guest was left-handed, and as the only leftie and with such a place available, I reassigned his place to where there was no one to his left.  Made sure I noted that for next time.

Proper table setting has caught my interest, mostly in the little details I never really noticed before, the differences between styles, the “whys” of some of it.  I have yet to find a good opportunity for a real formal dinner, but, as above, I try to work what I can into more casual events.  The place cards were more than usual, though the rest is everyday.

So I’m certainly not an expert, but here are some quick overarching table-setting tips and guidelines I’ve run across.

  1. Space things evenly and line them up (bottoms of the vertical flatware all along the same line, for instance).
  2. All knife blades face towards the plate.
  3. Be consistent in your style.  There are different types of settings (like North American versus European); stick to one.
  4. Use as few disposables as possible to increase class.  Cloth napkins, real dishes.  Have them match (in general; there might be times other options are appropriate), and make sure they’re spotless.
  5. Big centerpieces might look pretty in isolation; on the table, they mean you can’t see the person across from you.  Think smaller, or get creative on placement.
  6. Certain types of plates, bowls, and glassware can be chilled for serving things cold or heated for serving things warm.  Adds a touch of luxury.
  7. Check what’s in your butler’s book for any special considerations for those who will be dining.

There are many good visual references for place setting online.

Day in the Slave Life #4

Note: What it says on the tin—fourth in a series, a non-fiction piece about one day in my M/s dynamic, hoping to answer some questions I frequently see about the day-to-day life of a slave.

… 

I wake a few minutes before my alarm, shut it before it goes off and message Mistress for permission to get up, sleepily find my way into my unleashing position.  She comes in and lets me up.

I dress in my uniform, wash up, prepare the coffee machine to make another pot for Mistress when this one is empty, nudge a disgruntled cat off the bed so I can make it.  Mistress comes in and makes conversation with me around the time I’m tucking the folded-over edge of the flat sheet under the folded-over edge of the comforter.  Both cats appear the moment the bed looks made enough for me to let them lie on it in peace.

My walk is shifted today to be practical transportation as per my new idea for this day of the week, but I go through my other light morning exercises; they seem to wake me up enough to shake the soreness I woke with.  The jumping rope on the front porch reveals a nice day for walking later.  I make our smoothies, stick a tri tip in the sous vide for later, and sit with Mistress while we drink the smoothies since I’ve moved fast enough to have extra minutes to just sit like that.

I pack up my bag.  Sometimes I bring snacks for the other volunteers at the library, or bookmarks I crocheted to leave out for people to take.  Sometimes I bring paper towels, since handling older books can get dusty enough to turn your hands black, and the only hand-drying option in the bathroom is one of those awful air-blowing machines that makes your ears ring for ten minutes.  Today I travel light.

Mistress sees me out the door.  I walk the mile I would’ve gone on my walk, but up a different street to the bus stop.  Don’t wait long for the bus, and it’s just the one I need to get to the library, just a few minutes early for my volunteer shift.

We don’t have many customers in the used bookstore today, or a flood of donations coming in, but there are plenty of donations left in the back to scan and sort and shelve.  As I put books out, books also find their way into a pile for me to buy when I leave.  They’re mostly not for me—though there’s two I can’t resist—they’re for a teacher family member’s classroom library.  And a book for her by one of her favorite authors, which she’s read but might not own, and if she does, she’s told me to grab this author’s works anyway because she’ll gift them.  And an issue of a magazine her mom likes.

It’s fun work.  Even just being around all the books is nice.  And when we get a chance, I like talking with the other volunteers.  I’m the youngest one by literally fifty years.  They have great and quirky stories.

At the end of my shift, I buy the books and head out to the bus stop, not far away.  Take the same route but backwards back—the one bus, the mile walk.  I may have overdone it on the books; the reusable grocery bag they’re stored in has a strap break while I’m crossing the street, and I scramble to grab everything and get out of the road, regroup and make it the rest of the way home without further incident.

Mistress has been moving things around in the house, sorting through things in her current office and old office.  The old one is in unrecognizably better shape, if there are still some things to be moved to make the hallway easy to navigate.

I settle in, do a few small things, and then start making dinner for it to be ready at the usual time of six, finishing the tri tip, making a side of corn, setting the table.  We eat, talk.  I refill her drinks.  After, I clean up—take out the trash, do the dishes, whatnot. 

I run through my other evening rituals, like prepping another pot of coffee, this one for the morning.  I get leashed to the bed and write my slave journal entry, tired, but it was a good day.