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. 

Balancing Control and Decision-Making as a Service

I’ve touched on the spectrum between control-oriented and service-oriented dynamics before.  Dynamics based at their core in the active exertion of power, authority, and structure, enforcing rules, protocols, and routines, versus dynamics based on the idea of being useful, helpful, and completing tasks, chores, and assignments.   

There is no reason a dynamic can’t include all of those things—I know mine does—though it’s a useful distinction when talking about M/s philosophy and can have an influence on how some things get implemented.  And some dynamics do skew a lot more one way or the other.

However, there are some trade-offs to be made that fall under this spectrum, and here is a big one I see:

Decision-making.

A lot of s-types talk about wanting their M-type to decide everything for them.  Everything.  What they eat, when they eat it.  What they wear.  When they wake up, when they go to bed.

And a lot of s-types (including a lot of overlap) talk about wanting to be as useful as possible for their M-type.  Cooking, cleaning, managing a calendar, doing the shopping, making travel arrangements.

A lot of this is compatible, especially given just a little bit of compromise.  Say, I wear a uniform, and that doesn’t stop me from cooking dinner.  Now, if Mistress had wanted my uniform to be something too impractical to have me cook in, there would’ve had to be a trade-off.  But we went with something simple I can wear equally to volunteer at the library, go to my mom’s house, or attend a munch or play party.  That little line about keeping it neat means general permission to wear an apron when cooking, though.

But some parts of this are not necessarily going to be compatible.  It is unlikely you will give up all decision-making and remain equally useful, or that keeping the power to make too many decisions will give much of a feeling of being controlled.

The service of meal planning is not going to be compatible with very tight control over someone’s diet.  The secretarial task of making appointments is not going to happen easily with the s-type never being allowed to speak for their or the M-type’s time.  The s-type managing the shopping is not going to be any more convenient than the M-type doing it themselves with purchase-by-purchase financial control.

Now, there are still some things in between.

I do meal planning as a service, but there are loose limits on what I can do, like keeping dinner healthy, homemade, and protein-based most of the time.  I have to have it on the table at six o’clock and the table settings have to be done a certain way, and the kitchen has to be clean again by the time I go to bed.  But at the end of the day, I chose what we ate.  And for Mistress, not having to do the meal planning, shopping list-making, cooking, and associated tasks herself is well worth giving me the choice of what we eat.  Of course, she retains the power to tell me to change it if she wants to.

Besides the feeling of looser control, there can be other complications in handing some decision-making back to the s-type.  In a lot of the examples I gave, the M-type basically wants the decision made by the s-type to be the same decision they would have made themselves, or at least within certain guidelines (making that appointment at a time that works for them, for example), simply so they don’t have to make that phone call, that trip to the store, that meal plan, moreso than they want to hand off the decision itself.

This means the s-type has to learn what those preferences and guidelines are.  They might even be things the M-type doesn’t consciously know, themselves, to teach.  Things will be learned along the way by trial and error and observation and so on.

However, this learning process can lead to another trade-off:

The question of why.

There are a lot of mixed feelings out there about s-types asking why.  On the one hand, there’s the belief that the s-type should never ask why, that they just need to follow orders and the reasoning behind it is irrelevant because, “My M-type said so,” is a good enough reason to just do it.  And, if that’s the dynamic agreed to, so be it.  However, that may be best suited for the control-oriented.

Even in some very low protocol and loosely-structured service-oriented power dynamics, certain whys would be out of place.  The whys that aren’t a genuine question of trying to understand, but a way to argue, a way to say, “Convince me,” a way to stall, an opportunity to find a flaw in that reasoning, something that gives the implication that you won’t do the task without knowing why.

Those aren’t the whys I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the whys that become a practical matter to know when the M-type isn’t going to be constantly available in the future.  The whys that would let the s-type make smart substitutions or changes in a pinch, knowing the spirit of the law instead of looking at the suddenly unhelpful letter of it.  The way that a general knowledge of cooking will help you successfully swap an ingredient in a recipe when the last of something runs out, cut a step you correctly recognize as not necessary, or change a temperature and cook time to a different equivalent when dinner guests are stuck in traffic.  Rather than fail to realize that baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing, or that turning the oven that low will not get that meat up to temperature in the right amount of time, or anything else the recipe itself might not tell you how to modify in a conundrum.

Saying, “Always buy this specific brand of disinfectant spray,” is fine and good and if you want the s-type to unquestioningly buy that brand, then that can give you that control-oriented rush.

But… what about when you’re out of that spray, and you need more, and the store is out?

If your s-type has to call you to ask what to do now, that can continue that little control rush of thinking about your s-type running down the specific shopping list and be a nice call to get.

But it is probably an inconvenience if what you wanted was to be able to deeply focus on another task while your s-type was making the list and out taking care of the shopping to give you that free time as a service, with only that one item or a few others specifically dictated.

So in the case of the latter, knowing the why might be useful to avoid that phone call.

Do you buy that brand because it’s the cheapest?  Because it’s one whose ingredients don’t irritate an allergy you have?  Because it cleans the best?  Because it comes in the easiest spray bottle?  Because it’s the only one available in that bulk size? 

Each of those whys quite possibly leads to an entirely different substitution. 

The spirit there might be, “It’s not your place to just ask why, but it is your place to provide the best service possible.” 

A lack of that why shouldn’t impede quickly doing the task with a smile.  Sometimes the why is going to be just momentary, or far less urgent than the task itself, or evident later, or simply not shared or shared right then.  And a negative answer to, “May I know why?” is still to be accepted.  But to prevent the question at all rules out the sometimes practical nature of it.

Yet, allowing it regularly may feel like a lot of freedom for the control-oriented.  

That’s a trade-off.  

And of course there’s an in-between.  Carefully sharing that why only when it is practical, rather than getting into the habit of always answering.  Perhaps changing whether or not asking is allowed between time periods or protocol levels.  Allowing the question only once the task is complete.  So on.  This can get you that balance between the joy of control and the practicality of service, the balance between decisions as a form of power and decisions as a form of service.  

I know I’m allowed to ask why for practicality (not for any of the ingenuous reasons I mentioned above), and sometimes I hear a useful-for-the-future why to note, and sometimes I hear, “Because I said so”.

Sometimes whys get figured out almost accidentally over time, or with a little bit more discussion.  My main kneeling position has my hands placed behind my back.  I wouldn’t really feel the need for a why on that since it isn’t really something I might face a conundrum on, but a surface why of, “It looks more submissive to me,” became, “It implies physical [and emotional] openness and availability to me rather than defensiveness,” in a relatively short philosophical conversation.

In situations like that, finding them out can be fun for the psychology-minded in addition to practical, though that’s just a bonus.

In the end, what’s important for M-types is not sabotaging your own priorities in the name of avoiding any trade-offs at all.  If you’d miss that rush of control more than you mind getting that phone call, you can trade off that practical knowledge for that emotional benefit.  If you’d mind the interruption more than you’d mind handing off that decision, you can trade off that bit of in-the-moment power for the concrete benefit.  There might be compromises to be made, but they’re still yours to make.

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 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 rule about a healthy homemade dinner on the table at six every night (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 that.

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 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? How did you feel before, during, and after—mentally and physically? 

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.