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 farther 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.

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