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. 

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.

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 be waiting behind my chair in a specific position, the table settings have to be done a certain way, and the kitchen has to be cleaned right after for evening inspection.  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 disingenuous 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.

Potato Peeling and Sonnets: Is It More Submissive to Love a Task, or to Dislike It but Do It?

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.

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.

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, 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 kind of information now lives in my butler’s book, and informs what we keep in stock.

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, 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.

“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.

Service Skill: Setting the Table

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, and make sure they’re spotless.
  5. Napkins can go either to the left of the fork or on the charger (in less spacious settings). Under the fork is also an informal option.
  6. 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. Real or fake candles or flowers; consider string lights. Learn basic flower arranging.
  7. 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.
  8. Remember drinks and condiments; arrange attractively (try serving butter in balls, curls, or piped shapes).
  9. Remember lighting and music/atmosphere, but keep it conversation focused: soft, instrumental music (or background noise—rain sounds, so on), and practical, but intimate lighting.
  10. Place cards make seating and identification easy; they’re very handy if not everyone is eating quite the same thing. Learn some lettering and do them yourself for an extra nice touch.
  11. Be mindful of attractive plating practices. Remember the protein/entree should be closest to the diner. The Clock Plate: (Veggie 12-3, Protein 3-9, Carb 9-12)
  12. Check what’s in your butler’s book for any special considerations for those who will be dining.

Digital Productivity

This post is a conglomeration of productivity systems, tricks, and tools I use in my slavery, focusing on the digital side.

Part One: Using Technology to Be More Productive, Not Less

Let’s face it: for a lot of people, their devices are simply time sinks, or for leisure. Their phones are for Candy Crush and Instagram; tablets are for Netflix and cat videos; so on, so on. For a lot of people, too, their devices are crucial productivity tools—full of important resources, communications, planning—but definitely still able to become a time sink with the right Wikipedia rabbit hole. For this, technology can get a bad rap. So Part One is how to make your tech focused around being more productive, not less.

Eliminate those time sinks.

If possible, it can be best to eliminate them altogether. Delete social media accounts, games, whatnot. On the other hand, those are perfectly fine things to engage in during leisure time, so in that case it becomes limiting their use to those times. I very rarely use my phone except for a quick check on a ride or jotting down an idea while out and about, but I make sure there are no games on there or certain time-sink apps. No games period, actually. FetLife is my only social media. I don’t watch any videos, TV, movies, except the rare social occasion, and I don’t listen to the radio/podcasts.

If you can’t delete them, app and website blockers with timers can be your friend. Browser extensions are a good option. If you’re more of a general phone user, or use multiple browsers, etc., you may want something more robust to keep you on track during your key service hours.

Additionally, limit your notifications via settings.

Eliminate friction points in your tech use.

Have you ever meant to quickly check an email, and ended up looking at two other emails in your inbox, or running to find a charger for your dying device so you can finish reading that email, or getting linked to a site you forgot your password for, leaving you to get in via a reset email, or having to install an update before your device cooperates?

These are friction points.

I recommend eliminating those issues—and a few more—in these ways.

One, properly set up and use a password manager to save your passwords, so you don’t play the, “Forgot your password? Enter your username! Forgot your username? Enter your email!” game. I use LastPass. Some of these even come with a strong password generator, and it makes it easier to not dangerously repeat passwords. (Another tip, do regular cyber security checks!)

Two, charge your electronics every night. The devices you use basically every day—plug them in before you go to bed. It’s simple, takes just a second, but it makes a huge difference. Take it from someone whose phone and smart watch went from “always dead” to “always charged”. Also, make sure you carry chargers for whatever devices you’re carrying, and consider a charged power bank and appropriate cords for that. The backpack I carry even has USB charging via power bank abilities built in (so you can plug in the power bank on the inside of the bag, and the phone to a port on the outside). (Cool backpack provided by Christmas and TheSprinkles/Frequent_Flyer).

Three, unless you have reason not to (waiting for bugs to be worked out, new pricing, etc.): install updates promptly for your apps and devices. It’ll save you the headache of functionality issues ensuing. I check for them weekly during my weekly review.

Four, backup, backup, backup. Don’t lose your important files to dragging the wrong thing to the trash or a water glass dropped on a device. Set reminders—mine are also during that weekly review—to backup your files, preferably in more than one form—for example, I have things in places which have cloud syncing, and I also export to other places with cloud syncing. And, of course, scan physical files.

Five, embrace digital minimalism. Look into it, and try to reduce files, notifications, apps, services, accounts, devices, and such to the strictly necessary. Less stuff means less to sort through when you’re trying to find something.

Six, keep your electronics physically clean and protected. Use covers, clean them properly, use surge protectors, and keep them cool.

If you do these, you’ll never get ordered to do a quick task on one of your devices and have to go, “Er… one more minute!”

If your digital files are a mess to sort through, or you’re always forgetting something you’re supposed to do on your devices, you’re not going to feel—or be—any more productive. Here are some organization pointers.

A Table of Contents is your friend.

Wherever it can be, something table of contents-like (whatever you like to call it/however you like to organize it) can be a lifesaver, especially if the alternative is just a shambolic collection of files.

I have a general physical notebook with a table of contents with page number, “title”, date, and a color coded tag system that I update daily. Of course, there are digital options as well.

If you use anything where one would be useful: consider it. You’ll find things faster.

Set (and keep) techy routines.

Set a time, however frequently you need, to check the digital things you have that need to be checked. This means you won’t overlook things until they’re urgent (or worse), and it will keep you from compulsively checking things as you remember them.

This can be correspondence, your calendar and to-dos, etc.

I set my times for this as part of my AM and PM routines.

In my AM routine, I also have a note to message Mistress about any questions, plan confirmations, permission requests, whatnot, for the day. This means I hopefully have fewer, “Oh, I meant to ask—” times throughout the day. If a similar note would work for you—give it a try!

Use tags.

Wherever you think they might be useful: try tags. They’re a feature in a lot of productivity software, and you can use them on a lot of email platforms, too.

For example, I use tags on recipe notes—to sort by diet (like vegetarian, gluten-free), main ingredient or cuisine (like chicken, Italian, potato), and meal (like breakfast, dinner, dessert, drinks, sides, snacks). This way I can quickly find something to make for a guest on a special diet, or for a specific craving they’re having.

I also use a form of tagging in my email; I use Gmail’s filters to send emails straight through the inbox to specific labels/tags based on things like who sent them. This way I have an idea of what emails have come in just by seeing the notification number next to those labels, instead of an unsorted mess of emails. Pretty much nothing ends up in my general inbox. I also am very careful about handing out my email address and unsubscribing from things so that I only get a few emails a day, and they’re all ones I want to read.

Have things recur.

I have Daily, Weekly, Monthly lists, so on. There’s also project planning, miscellaneous tasks, lists of things I’m waiting on in some way, and some repeating checklists. I have a life saving Master Shopping List. As a slave, there are services I provide routinely or simply again and again, and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time.

Part Three: Specific Idea – Gifting Spreadsheet

The first sheet in my Google Sheets gifting spreadsheet has six columns: Item, Recipient, Occasion, Purchased (indicated via checkbox), Wrapped (indicated via checkbox), and Notes. I fill it in for every item. For ideas I have but haven’t committed to an occasion for yet, I put “Any”. Under notes, I mostly note items that are DIY projects in nature and thus need more time than the others. Each column is able to be filtered, so I can find all gifts assigned to any one or more recipients or occasions, or see just ones that are purchased but not wrapped (to see what I should go wrap), or purchased and wrapped, or neither (to see what I should go buy and then wrap).

A second sheet has a gifting list (who I gift to for what occasion, to make sure I don’t forget anyone and can plan), a very general ideas list, and an inventory of “Emergency Gifts” (fairly generic gifts bought and wrapped ahead of time with a blank gift tag and a sticky note label of what’s inside, intended for surprise recipients—like ones who give you a last-minute invite to their birthday party, or someone who gets you a gift for a holiday when you didn’t expect one, and you need a reciprocal one for them quickly).

A third sheet is a “have-gifted” reference, where gifts move to from the first sheet once given, to remember for future occasions what has already been given. This is simplified to Item/Recipient/Occasion with filters.

Lastly, there’s a “gifted to me” reference sheet as a reminder for thanks, updates, and so on.

Part Four: Specific Idea – Butler’s Book

I have many notes labeled with the names of people I know. I have a template saved that I use and modify as needed, with the template including places for name, birthday, contact information, health information/allergies, general schedule (for making plans), entertainment preferences, “what’s up in their life” (for conversation topics), food and drink preferences (where I frequently link straight to the recipe notes), a “pre-visit checklist” (put extras of their favorite soda in the fridge from the soda shelf, adjust the lighting to their preference, etc.) I include any notes on things to do the next time I see them—return something borrowed or whatnot. A quick glance at someone’s note before seeing them can make things go more smoothly, and part of my hosting checklist is to look at this.