I believe that what we do is too intense, too primal to have a name as we know the term; that we cannot really pin down the origins and foci that give the lifesyle its power. I see what we do as opening a channel to parts of our mind which predate consciousness, which survive still in the form of our most raw and devouring passions.
This may, in fact, be the case. If not, it’s a good metaphor. I doubt it’s possible to really pin down what drives us to this lifestyle, and many would say that, if we could do so, D/s would lose some of its power. That isn’t a worry of ours; we won’t have a time, in this brief piece, to delve that deep.
But it is one of our gifts, one of our curses, that we as humans name things. We are inquisitive and possessive; we wish to gain understanding of the world around us, give pieces of it names in our own tongues. It helps us; we can call a tree a “tree”, then try to capture a bit of its quintessence through science or poetry or woodlore. And it hurts us; we have a tendency to forget that, though we have named the “tree”, we do not necessarily understand its place in the environment, the universe, or our own perspective. We fail to see vital things, sometimes, simply because we have already catalogued and categorized their visible aspects, and think no more on the subject.
I would like for us to look around just enough that we can name some pieces of what we do; I want to give them definitions with which we can work, for a time.
But definitions change with our knowledge.
I forget that, myself, sometimes. So should I forget—I will expect you to remember it on your own, as you read or re-read this.
I am not perfect, you are not perfect.
But between the two of us, we’ll manage.
When I studied directing under Joseph Hart, he told us of a concept he called the “Clerman”, after theater critic Harry Clerman. A “clerman”, or “spine” as it’s sometimes called, is a bonestripped expression of driving force. He felt that, no matter how complex a character was, it could still be reduced to a single concept, a single, short, animalistic sentence.
That idea feels right to me somehow. I love to divide the world up; even in my speech I will extemporaneously begin listing the basis for my reasoning, categorizing (a), (b), (c), and the like. Perversely, I really identify with the idea that we can reduce multifaceted concepts to basic expressions of desire.
With that in mind,
what does “submission” mean to you?
I don’t want any attempt at a broad, all-encompassing definition, or a textbook one. I mean a vital, short, simple expression of your own, personal submission. “Because I enjoy it” or even “Because I need it” are inadequate. Why do you submit?
“To give myself to another.”
“To subjugate myself to power.”
“To lose control.”
Try to do it in less than a dozen words, half that if you can.
Find the word that closest approximates how you feel.
Take your time.
Try to get it right.
This is an exercise made intentionally complicated.
It’s a simple question, approached in a roundabout way. The reasoning behind it is that, if you already have an answer, I would like you to approach the question in a different manner. It is one of those questions which tend to improve with repetition, anyway.
If you do not have an answer, this is intended to provide a method for finding one.
Take the spine we created.
Find an opposite to it, a sentence with a more or less flipped meaning.
Now tell me why you don’t want that.
Even if your answer is obvious or perhaps a little silly, say it anyway. Tie it into your life, your wants. Try to imagine you were explaining to someone who did want those things precisely why they do not work for you. Is it something to do with your family, your work, your past, your fears?
Now use that data to answer the question,
“What makes you submit?”
“Who the hell are you?”
Who the hell are you, then?
Who comes to me, who exactly knocks at my door?
The same person the outside world knows?
The “real” you, who is hidden at all other times? The opposite, perhaps, a role you play only in this place?
If either of the above is true, or if any variant on the above is true, how do your two selves see each other?
Is it the same “you” all the time? How do you manage that? How do you reconcile our world with the outside?
Write down answers for the following:
Describe your outside self in adjectives—well, “description” may or may not be feasible. Use as many single words as you want, “strong”, “happy”, “analytical”, or what-have-you. Then narrow them down to the eight that you think are most important. I know you may not feel totally accurate in so doing. Just do your best.
If you feel the answers would be different for the self that you and I share, then do the same for that self. Compare your answers. Tell me, in writing, why they’re different.
If they are the same, or change very little—tell me, in writing, why you feel that is; as always, even if the answer is obvious or seems silly, put it into words for me anyway.
When do you feel the need to be here?
Is it triggered by something that goes on around you? Is it something that takes you by surprise? Is it constant? Does it have a pattern?
When do you feel the desire, but not necessarily the need, to be here?
When do you not feel some, or any, of the above?
Or are those inapplicable to you, in one way or another? Do you find this something you want, but can turn away from without too much difficulty? Do you seem to think you must always be here, or be unfulfilled?
How have these things changed over the course of your learning? How do you expect, or want, these things to evolve?
They say “no submissive always feels submissive”. Are they right? What makes this need come and go? Frustration? Satiation?
Answer this for me:
When does the hunger to be here enter your daily space?
When does it go?
What does this say about that hunger?
What does this say about you?
Have you a Lecter?
I have a certain fascination with the character Hannibal Lecter, of Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs”. Granted, the man was a murderous psychotic, which is not one of my personal ambitions; it’s with Lecter in mind that I discussed way our art is created by consent. But I will admit to a love for the idea of being a perfectly controlled, seemingly all-knowing being, holding all the cards, capable of what is, in essence, mind-reading. He knows his pleasures and dominates the world around him to get them. And I acknowledge a conceptual being, an insidious creation of my mind which I find myself attempting to emulate from time to time. I find myself wanting to create certain images, wanting to be certain things, as a dominant:
I want to be ever-creative, ever surprising; I want to be able to take control with a turn of my head, I want to have a flawless charm and grace which can become an animal brutality at the right moments…
In most of this, I recognize aspects of myself, idealized and made into fantasy. For example, I tend to be soft-spoken, and sometimes my desire to be courteous also makes me quite deferential. In scene gatherings, when I was just starting out and trying not to get in anyone’s way, I was often thought to be a submissive, because I “acted like one”. (Remember “Act like what you are”?) So my play took many by surprise.
It is from this that I began to build, and enjoy, the knowledge that I often shift from charm to brutality in scene, without any stutter of transition, and from there I began to develop fantasies of which I was, and am, still only half-conscious. Sometimes I recognize these fantasies and learn from them; my desire for perfection, for example, is ludicrous; I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. So, instead, I have become more conscious of the fact that I err, and I have tried to learn how to work with it in scene. Were I to stride confidently across a room, for example, then trip, to hear my partner laugh, I might reply,
“You’re right, pet. That is funny, isn’t it?
“Enjoy the laughter. Laughter is good for you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“We both know it doesn’t mean you respect me less.”
“No, sir, of course not.”
“Or that you aren’t just as afraid when I do this…”
Or I might simply take it as a cue to change the flavor of the scene, and walk over and give a hug. Or—anything, depending on the time and place. The basic truth is the same: I have to thank my fantasy making my conscious mind aware of that desire for perfection. Now, I don’t have to get frustrated by “failure” to live up to desires I don’t even know I have— a sure route to anger and loss of control, or at least a loss of headspace.
Have you a Lecter of your own? It could be a character from a book or a movie, it could be someone you know. What I’d like you to find are fantasies about what you are and what you want to be. What do you consciously want to emulate? What aspects of yourself frustrate you when you don’t do them the way you “should”? Why do you think you “should” do things that way? Is that aspect really something you want to make a part of you, or just something you “believe” you should have, perhaps without any real justification?
…like what you are
I’ll say it again, in a slightly different way. If you ask me, “As a submissive, should I be gentle, obedient, bratty, quick, deliberate, needful, calm, afraid?”
I only have one honest answer:
“You should improvise, based on a combination of what you know and what you feel, whatever submission you feel is appropriate to a given moment and situation.”
Yes, this is a repetition of my constant words, that submission is individual and personal, not necessarily formalized. But I’ve tried to put it into practical terms. What does it mean, to improvise? It makes you an artist, not a robot. You will not always know what to do; in that case, you must find your answer. What do you feel is right? How does that gibe with your understanding of your role and your situation?
If you are afraid of something, or confused, when should you speak up? Ordinarily, for example, those with whom I play are always allowed to question things. But there are times when speech may not be appropriate— during certain punishments, for example— and sometimes, contrarily, the need for clarification or communication should override an expected silence.
If you are given an open-ended task, how will you perform it? Some dominants don’t give open-ended tasks, some will clarify with specific instructions. I, for one, might well say, “Go dress like a slut,” and if you say, “How do you think a slut looks, sir?”, only reply, “Dress, as best you can, according to your own thoughts on looking like the slut you are, slut.” This can be paralyzing for many, since they fear doing wrong or displeasing. Which is natural, and right; but in my book, I wish to be trusted with the idea that, if I intentionally tell you something which can be interpreted many ways, I shan’t punish you for your own interpretation.
How do you express, with your body, your emotions and feelings? There is a certain amount of physical self-control expected here; it may or may not be appropriate to jump up and down and clap one’s hands when overjoyed, or throw things when frustrated, or to kiss my mouth in gratitude, and so on..
Even if you are given rituals and rules for your specific actions, it is still best that you know how to improvise, not just because the unexpected can—and does—happen….but also because the ability to improvise adds value to your submission. That is, you act in certain ways, not simply because you are told to do so, but because you understand the implications and potentialities of a situation, and have learned to express them in a manner pleasing to your dominant.
And, in terms of the fear of mistakes— yes. You are likely to have it, and to continue to have it.
But there is a difference between having that fear— and being paralyzed by it.