On Service Settings and Headspace

My service research brought me to Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service in April 2019, and parts of the book have stuck with me ever since.  Basically the manifesto of customer service at Disney, it has many points that can be applied elsewhere, and that was what I was hoping for as a service slave going into reading it.

One such point was this: setting changes expectations.

The manifestation of this belief at Disney resorts is obvious.  Almost anyone who’s ever just realized they stepped over the border between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland could tell you that a different set of things now seems appropriate or out of place.  Disney’s underground tunnels to keep cast members in costume from going through the lands where they don’t belong—no Buzz Lightyear in Frontierland—are somewhat legendary.

It’s about more than theme, though.  It can also mean convenience, organization, flow, cleanliness, formality.  Things placed without thought can mean they are inconvenient to find.  Lights on and doors open in certain rooms and halls can guide guests to where they should be.  A cluttered and slovenly front entry makes a certain impression.  A well set table can give an air of formality.  Even virtual spaces aren’t immune to the need for a good setting.

I think about this frequently when I’m serving brunch.  Here, brunch is supposed to be light and simple.  The big question almost every day is, “Toast or bagel?” and it’s usually served with something on the side along the lines of strawberries, homemade applesauce, or bacon.  Really nothing complicated.  Something that could easily be eaten at one’s whim on the couch, at the kitchen island, at a desk in front of a computer.

But that’s not where we eat brunch—we have brunch at the long dining table, covered in a clean tablecloth, bathed in morning sunlight from the windows, with fresh flowers perched in the middle.  Everything is served on real dishes, table set properly, with napkins I crocheted myself.  Every morning, at 9:30, excepting conflicting circumstances, with conversation as the main entertainment.

This makes some toast and bagels feel a lot more significant.

Even time can be a part of setting—the consistency of meal times can add a bit of ritual.

Recently someone mentioned being charmed by the fact that we always had a bouquet on the table, citing that it was something she did only for special occasions, and it felt like adding a special touch to the everyday.

All of these are pieces of setting and atmosphere.

To keep a good environment for service, I try to keep things clean, organized, intuitive, and err on the formal side.

To keep things convenient, we have clearly labeled stations.  In the kitchen, one for coffee, tea, cocoa, and general hot drinks, and one for soda, with straws and napkins.  A guest manual in the living room, with local recommendations and a guide to household features.  A box of first aid supplies and toiletries in the guest bathroom.  

Maintaining this environment means it sets the expectations for me, for Mistress, for guests.  Our friends, kinky and otherwise, know what to expect when they get here.  Mistress knows what the brunch table is going to look like.  I know what my standards are to maintain.  And with the expectations of environment change the expectations of service—lackluster service in a sparkling environment wouldn’t be the expectation and would be even more out of place.  

In a well maintained environment, it is easier to feel that need to maintain other standards as well.  

There’s also something to be said for the headspace of the actual tasks of maintaining that setting.  Cleanup from brunch sometimes includes changing the tablecloth and pruning the bouquet, and those tasks themselves are a reminder of the setting.

It feels different to kneel at the end of an unmade bed than it does to kneel at the end of one carefully made with hospital corners and fluffed pillows, and it feels different to know that you made it that way yourself.  It makes keeping your posture just so a little more intuitive.

I think Be Our Guest was right—setting does change service expectations—and it might be an underestimated headspace game changer. 

What Protocol Really Says

A question that comes up about specific protocols (rules, guidelines, rituals, anything else in that umbrella) is:

Who cares?

Which means—

What’s the real difference between, “Yes, Mistress,” and, “Yeah?”

What does it matter if your hands are boxed behind your back or palms up on your thighs?

Why dinner at six and not maybe six-ten? 

Why have the house at 73*, not one up at 74*?

Why not make that second of eye contact during that trip into her office to grab the label maker?

Are the tweezers during shaving inspections really necessary? 

Well, the answer in a way is simple: the M-type cares.  Maybe a little.  Maybe a lot.  But they care.  That is why that rule got set and that is why they bothered to express that preference.  And when it’s laid out like that—the M-type who cares about that gives the s-type the gift of having something to obey.  A way for them to say back, in words or action or mannerism or timing or choice or meticulousness—I care.  About you, about our dynamic, about adhering to your preference, authority, power, will.  I care about showing you my love, respect, submission.  

It doesn’t have to be a strong feeling or opinion.  The slave’s purpose and personal desire, here at least, is to give the M-type as much of what they want as possible—so the more wants expressed, the more to give.  Nothing is too insignificant to bother with—that’s a slave’s job and joy.

Protocols are a how—how to express devotion to the dynamic, love for the person.   

And if those wants aren’t laid out—the messages can get a little messier to send and receive.  

Protocols (or rituals, rules, guidelines) enhance the bond of a dynamic.  They’re the language those in it speak to each other.  They set the tone of dominance and submission (and sometimes set a subtype of it, too)—and let you, and all involved, know your place in it.  

Dictating the little things allows focus—maybe the clarity of mind to focus on the big things, maybe the peaceful mindfulness for the little actions—depending on the situation.  

The thing is that caring about a small thing—a word choice, a posture, a time, a degree—isn’t so small when it’s a chance for communication.  

A chance to say: I care.  I’m yours. 

On the Linguistics of Being a Kinky Author, Regardless of What You’re Writing

“Would you like to share?” 

I… would not. 

I’m on the weekly video call with my teacher and classmates for an online class offered through a writing workshop.  We’ve just done a freewrite, and what came out on the page this time was the beginning of a new plotline for an in progress work of BDSM fiction. 

I have never finished a BDSM related writing piece longer than a few thousand words; I’ve written a small handful of shorter fiction pieces mostly by request, and write my blog posts, and compose love letters to Mistress that are seen only by her and the filing cabinet, but this longer work is something new.  I’ve written plenty of vanilla novels, but…  

Not today.  And this is not a kinky class. 

“I… kind of got inspired for something in the middle of a big project; it won’t make much sense out of context.  And I kind of misinterpreted the prompt,” I say, which is all true.  “I’ll pass.”  

Like with others who said, “I’ll pass,” though, the teacher is overly encouraging.  “That’s okay.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  It’s just a freewrite.  We don’t need to know what it means as long as you do.  And the prompts are open to interpretation!” 

In grid view, a few classmates nod sympathetically. 

No, you really, really don’t want to know what this means, I think. 

But it’s going to get even more suspicious the longer I try to pass.  And this class is in part about overcoming writer’s block and doubt and self consciousness, even if those aren’t the parts I’m here for.  I could pass, but it’s not worth it.  Next week maybe I’ll watch what I write.  

So I start reading. 

I censor.   

It was only a five minute exercise and so there isn’t anything terribly long or elaborate on the page.  

But in a small page and a half of handwriting, there’s a clear power imbalance, honorifics, the implication of permission required to leave someone’s presence, kneeling, and a final sentence about that new plotline that I just have to eliminate altogether. 

I take out words as I find them.  Cut honorifics off the ends of sentences.  Soften up some phrasing.  Put less correlation between one’s action and the other character leaving the room.  Change “went and knelt next to her” to “went and found her”.  I have to think fast; I’m used to much slower proofreading and revising, for myself or as a service. 

I’m still paranoid by the time the next person starts reading, thinking that something has slipped through my filter that I’m too immersed in my own dynamic (and writing) to notice, something that I think of as perfectly normal, something that would raise some eyebrows.  

No such looks from the people in my computer screen, though. 

Not that I am so afraid of being out in this group, but I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, either. 

Still, I ponder my choices on what to cut or modify. 

The vast majority of my writing over time has been vanilla fiction.  My interests and knowledge bases seep in, but aren’t overt. 

Recently, I was writing a scene amongst a vanilla fiction project in which a character is being whipped, among other things.  None of the characters involved are so much as really BDSM aware, and while it would take a long sidetrack to explain here, there was dystopian interrogation context.  No one was having fun.   

But, as a kinkster, I’ve experienced pieces of some elements happening in the scene I described, in a fun way.  I know a thing or two about being whipped and restrained. 

While the scene was appropriately vanilla, I knew that if I was reading this with a different author’s name on it, I would be going, “Well, that author’s kinky.”

Mostly, it was the word choice that gave it away.  I had to edit.  The scene was in third person, and not so limited that the words really had to be the choice of someone involved, but still.  

My experience added some realism, whether a vanilla reader would know it or not, and I had a lot of phrases in mind to describe elements of the scene that I hear used mostly in BDSM circles, but are perfectly acceptable words in the vanilla world.

But, knowledge shows up in little pieces.  Types of whips.  Which ones are more, or less, common.  Where on the body being hit hurts more or slightly less.  Basic impact techniques.  What draws blood.  The concept of sting versus thud.  Where to grasp for best control when pulling someone’s hair.  The parts of a single tail.  What you can do with a knife to threaten but not yet hurt.  How it all feels in detail.

While at least one character in the scene might have researched parts of those—with different reasons in mind than a kinkster—word choice counts.  They might have, in choosing and purchasing a whip, had to know exactly what kind it was.  But in this moment, would they make that distinction?  Probably not.

In the actually kinky scene I wrote during that writing class, it was much more the power dynamic elements of the scene that were overtly not vanilla, not any sadomasochism. Dialogue and actions were the giveaway, not descriptors.  And I may have even been overly cautious—honorifics can be perfectly vanilla, for starters.

As I set out on writing BDSM fiction, a place to let those dynamics and that knowledge run free overtly through characters and relationships, I’m interested to see what I write for the first time, and what I find surprisingly familiar.

For the curious, that fiction work can be found here.

Service Is an Ephemeral Art

Service is an ephemeral art.

I was thinking this recently as I realized exactly how much of my job is doing the same thing over and over again.  Not so much one special project so much as do the dishes, every day.  Do the laundry, every day.  Cook brunch and dinner, every day.  Make the bed, every day.  When there are more dishes or more laundry, do them again.  When it’s nine-thirty or six again, cook again.  When someone gets in the bed and out again, make it again.  So on.

The effects disappear quickly and that is why the service here is really doing it every day, not once.  I’ve talked about the real burden of little tasks being that they add up and that they recur—and it’s true.  In the end, they add up to quite a bit to be allowed to take off an M-type’s plate.

As an example, Mistress likes to cook.  She doesn’t like to cook to have dinner on the table at six every day, but she likes to cook.  So I have dinner on the table at six every day, because I am more comfortable with those routines.  And she gets to have the energy to cook when inspiration strikes.

The book Cooked by Michael Pollan talks about the idea that when something is mandatory, it’s work, and when something is an option, it’s leisure—that the distinction is not innate to the task itself.  So when you had to hunt your own food, cook your own food, so on—it was work.  In a world of pre-packaged meat and even frozen dinners, those become leisure activities. 

So for me, cooking (having dinner on the table at six) is work.  Required.  Not because I live in a dimension without frozen dinners, or because I don’t enjoy it (I usually do enjoy it), but because it’s a requirement that Mistress set.  For her, cooking is leisure—something she doesn’t have to do, but sometimes does.  And when I bake cookies from scratch in the middle of the afternoon without being ordered to, it’s leisure, and my job is to shift as many things as I can from being work for her to being potential leisure.

And in that example, it’s easy to tell when the leisure task is done.  A once off meal you were just inspired to make, once eaten, is done.  The work version of a meal being on the table at a certain time is also kind of done when eaten, but it’s only done until you need to start the next meal, which might vary based on what you’re making or how far ahead you’re prepping, and that feeling of being done is a lot more ephemeral, a lot more caveats of for today or for this meal

Meanwhile, I was reading Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, and it mentioned the Manifesto for Maintenance Art.  I looked it up, and noticed a quote:

“—after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”

It speaks to a very real thing: that to change the world, you need the basics taken care of.  That to keep that change made to the world while it keeps going even further, someone needs to maintain it. 

And this makes that maintenance a world changing thing in itself, because it enables that change.

It enables leisure activities instead of work, and world changing instead of world maintenance. Because world changing might happen at once—but world maintenance happens every day, or else that maintained state fades away—an ephemeral way of being.

I find it very satisfying to be that enabling support.

It does mean, however, that your work never really feels done, because it’s only done until a point where it is undone that could come at any moment, especially when it’s domestic and thus you live surrounded by potential tasks.

On the other hand, it can be nice to always be able to find something useful to do.  There isn’t room for terrible boredom or feeling unhelpful.  The reason the effects disappear quickly is because the service is engrained in a person’s life that is an aggregate of all of those quick little tidbits—and the privilege of making all of that flow smoothly is something to be valued.

Slave Positions: Some Quick Thoughts

The slave positions we use most evolved a lot more organically than some might expect.  Some were a part of other rituals, the same position coming naturally again and again and eventually codified that way.  Some sprang out of a repeated practical need.  Some simply got more and more specific as preferences were discovered over time.  Changes due to what was practical or what Mistress found most desirable.

It helps me know without needing instruction every time how I should be positioned for certain situations, rituals, and so on.

Our most used iterations are about as follows:

  • Leashing: assumed for AM/PM leashing to the bed/unleashing.  Sitting up cross legged on the bed, leash across both palms (on knees), hair/head out of the way, collar o-ring in front.
  • General Kneeling: assumed when in Mistress’ presence to “sit”.  Kneeling on the floor next to her, knees spread, hands behind back.
  • (Post-Shower) Inspection: assumed for shaving check after showers (asking permission to shower right before and asking for inspection right after).  Nude, standing in front of Mistress, legs spread, hands boxed behind back.
  • Presenting (Maintenance Wand): assumed when told (before our weekly maintenance discipline session).  Nude, kneeling on the bedroom floor by the foot of the bed facing the door, knees spread, maintenance wand (taken from the mantel) across both palms (on knees).

The leashing position is mostly a practicality of a twice daily ritual.  Sitting up, leash accessible, collar o-ring accessible, hair/head out of the way—were all things that had to happen anyway.

The general kneeling position simply got a little more specific with time, starting at “kneel next to me when you’re with me”.  Mistress’ preference for “hands behind back” and “knees apart” were discovered independently of each other.

The (post-shower) inspection position was another one that was part of a frequent ritual and that was mostly pieces that had to happen in some manner anyway.

The presenting (maintenance wand) position was the answer to the question of what I should be doing when I’m told to go wait for her to come in and do our maintenance discipline session.

For us, at least three of our four “most used iterations” are mostly practical instruction sets.  They eliminate friction points in the rituals they’re associated with, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing for Mistress.

They are not used in vanilla company (this is only really a “thing” with the general kneeling position), but we are not frequently in such company.

It adds a bit of deliberateness, too, to pay attention to the position your body is in—it makes you more attentive in general, and some of the pieces above (knees/legs spread, arms behind back) are based on the idea of vulnerability.  It’s an action of politesse and respect.  

Those mental effects are the reason the positions (and the rituals they are associated with) are some of my favorite bits of protocol.

Invisible Anticipatory Service, Setting Your Own Recurring Tasks, and Some Advice

Recently I proposed extending our meal plan, currently based around dinner, to include a light brunch.

Like dinner, on the dining table at the same time daily (9:30 AM instead of 6 PM).

I came up with this independently, though when Mistress approved, she said she’d been thinking of dictating something similar in the future anyway, once she thought of the way to do a brunch plan.

After a day or two, she mentioned my proposing of it as, “Anticipatory service on a new level,” being anticipatory setting of a new recurring task rather than taking a single action.

I thought about that distinction and said I might do more of that behind the scenes than she realizes, but that I got the idea.

“Do you like that most of your work goes unnoticed?” 

“Yes, Mistress,” I smiled.  

And I do—I hold that good service—in most of the types I provide—should be unnoticed.  Not that it’s always bad to be noticed, but that the point is to quietly handle and prevent problems and smooth out friction points, thus sparing the annoyance of noticing the problem.  To be noticed, much of the time, means that something went wrong or didn’t get done.  Of course, sometimes it just means a touch was appreciated or something was done especially well.

I found a quote recently while reading Butlers & Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals that says: “A butler exists essentially to smooth the lives of his or her employer and/or family by taking over many household and personal functions they would otherwise have to perform themselves, thus freeing them up for more worthwhile pursuits.” 

Slaves, too, I think.

Which means you don’t want your M-type still paying attention to those things in just a different way—managing you—but to take them off their plate altogether.

And the very reason a lot of those little tasks are nuisances to be delegated is frequently that they are recurring.  It’s not arduous to do some things once.  But those little things add up, day in and day out.  Restocking items, cooking, cleaning, making coffee, mending clothes.

So those problems can get solved sooner by a slave—but ideally, also solved for the long term.  

This requires the room in a dynamic to do these things, the right permissions—but assuming those are in place if this is desired, it also requires a few skills.

Mostly, routine observation.  To get ahead of a problem you have to notice it before it happens and before the M-type notices.  It might not even be a problem to you if you were acting only for yourself, so you have to look from their perspective as well (and maybe know them better than they know them).  An eye for detail, the memory to do something with that information, the system to keep it in long term.

Then, effective problem solving.  Something to keep in mind—it helps to have a willingness to implement an imperfect solution sooner rather than an obsession with the perfect solution that will come late or never.  

For example, the brunch idea I mentioned above.  I had the idea, and pretty much immediately came up with an approximate time, made a list of recipes, printed off new meal planning templates, etc.  Ready to go to pitch the idea, knowing there might need to be modifications in the future or unknown problems might be found early on, but it was worth a go (and it solved the problem long term—it wasn’t “making brunch that day”).

Mistress, as said, had noticed the same need for a brunch meal plan, but was waiting for the exactly right idea, which in the meantime, meant no order given to handle brunch.

Which worked out perfectly fine since this time I got ahead of it.  If both of us had been doing that, however—no brunch.  Problem/need still in place until Mistress came up with something, and thus no anticipatory service happening. 

One other thing to keep in mind—saying, “There is a problem,” is not problem solving.  That’s an observation, and possibly not a new one.  Offering to help doesn’t really add much to it since that’s your job and is just another form of observation.

So, a piece of advice: offer help specifically.

Avoid lines like, “What can I do?” or, “I’m here if you want anything.”  This still leaves problem noticing and problem solving and then communicating that on the other party, and if an M-type had an answer to something like that, they could and likely would say it regardless of your asking.

Instead, offer something specific they might not have thought of.  Come equipped with both the notice of a problem and a proposed plan to solve it (long term).  When someone’s just having a rough day, offer a specific drink or meal or helpful task rather than, “Whatever you want”. 

It leads to less looping conversations of bringing things back into being noticed, and to more potential action of getting things solved for the long run.

Which is, here at least, the overall goal.