During the past month, with leatherprentice
's hearty thankfulness, I've put together a weekly schedule for him, in order to counteract the problem he's been having in getting any work done at all. On a typical day - as he gradually realized when I asked him to track his activities - he gets absolutely nothing accomplished except low-priority Internet activities, not even the artwork he loves.
This is a case of a first-grader teaching a kindergartener, because I started on a schedule-keeping project myself last year, and I'm still very poor at keeping to my schedule. But at least I could save my apprentice from the wasteful mistakes I made.
This was the first week that he officially started his new schedule. It wasn't a difficult one: some exercise right after he gets up (the timing of the exercise was his choice), an e-mail to me before bed each night (that was at his request), keeping to the social and family schedule that he has already been managing to keep to, and twelve hours weekly of flex-time devoted to art, writing, and housework. I couldn't give him a really heavy schedule, because he has periodic medical problems and because - like me - he sleeps twelve hours a night (a fact that he wasn't aware of till he began tracking his hours for me). Because his sleep pattern has been totally screwed up recently, to the point where he was too exhausted to get anything done when he was awake, I'd given him a regular bedtime: midnight.
Below are my daily entries on how things went.
--Thursday, October 25--
I feel like a parent watching the clock tick past curfew hour. My apprentice started on the new schedule I set for him this week . . . and also started on a new art project this week.
Me (calling him at 1:30 AM his time, after receiving an e-mail from him an hour after his supposed bedtime): "You've been awake for eighteen hours."
(Pause.) "I didn't realize that, Sir."
"You got four hours of sleep last night."
(Longer pause.) "Oh."
"Can this work you're doing be done in the morning instead?"
(Very long pause.) "Yes, Sir."
I think he went to bed after that. :) I've been through this phenomenon myself; my first novel was written in the space of six days.
"Did you eat and sleep?" a friend asked afterwards.
"Barely," I replied. I actually did forget to eat on one of those days.
--Friday, October 26--
Talked to my apprentice on the phone about what happened last night. Up till now, I had assumed that him getting lots of artwork done this week was a good sign, because that was one of our goals for him. Now I'm realizing that it's a case of too much of a good thing - that he has the same tendency to become manic about art that he does to become manic about his socializing.
I'm amused to discover (not for the first time) that he rewrites history to make me seem to act more dominant than I actually have. He thanked me for calling him up and telling him, "Go to bed, boy." Actually, I did nothing of the sort, and I angsted after hanging up last night as to whether I should have. Fortunately, a direct order wasn't needed; he went right to bed after he talked to me.
"How many days this week have you kept to your schedule?" I asked.
"Umm . . ."
I'm becoming familiar with that "umm"; it comes when he has to answer a question that he ought to immediately know the answer to, but doesn't.
"Kept completely to it, Sir? None, Sir." And then he started recounting the ways he'd departed from it, becoming more subdued the further he went in his recital.
I was hoping to allow him as much independence as possible to make his own decisions about time-keeping, because one of our goals is for him to eventually be able to keep to a regular schedule on his own, without me watching over him. Alas, it's now fully clear that his ability to practice self-discipline is as poor as-- Well, as poor as my own. So I told him that I was going to have take more control over the situation than I'd originally anticipated.
"You're going to keep to your schedule next week," I said. "No exceptions, other than for medical emergencies and family obligations."
"Yes, Sir," he said promptly.
We'll see. As both of us recognized, this episode was actually helpful. As he put it, "If I hadn't had a schedule this week that I was breaking, I wouldn't have identified where my problems lay." He said he realized from this that he needs to plan ahead on his art projects, giving himself intermediate goals rather than waiting till the last minute to complete a single, final goal.
I also talked to him about caffeine. He offhandedly mentioned by e-mail last night that he'd been using caffeine to keep himself awake this week. "That's like cutting the wire on a smoke alarm," I said. "When you drink caffeine to keep yourself awake, it prevents your body from telling you when you've gone too far."
One of the nice things about caring for my apprentice is that just about every mistake he's made, I've made before him. I lived on caffeine in college.
He said, "Actually, Sir, I knew that I was exhausted. That was why I drank the caffeine."
"That's even worse," I responded. "That's cutting the wire on a smoke alarm in the midst of a fire."
So no caffeine for the sake of staying awake. I told him it was fine for him to continue drinking tea when he wanted the tea for its own sake, just not as a no-sleep aid.
I'm making it sound as though I've had a clear vision all this week of what should be done, and my apprentice was the only one who was suffering from muddled thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. He went off his schedule on Monday in order to do additional artwork, and I assumed this wasn't a problem. I assumed the same thing on Tuesday and Wednesday. By Thursday, when I talked to him in the early evening, I was beginning to get worried, but I didn't actually step in at that point and tell him, "Enough."
I'm beginning to realize that it takes me getting ticked off at my apprentice to give me the courage to issue and enforce orders. Partly this is sheer fear that I'll mess things up if I intervene too quickly. So it's only when I see him making gigantic mistakes that I step in and take over the situation.
This isn't good, waiting for disaster to arrive before intervening. Somehow I need to find a balance between being a control freak and standing by silently while my apprentice drifts off course.
--Saturday, October 27--
My latest letter to my apprentice:* * *
I nearly burst into laughter when you asked whether I minded making the call the other night. I thought, "Doesn't he realize how much restraint I've been showing this week?"
Then I thought, "Well, no, he probably doesn't." Most of the time, I'm not even consciously aware of it. So I decided I should explain.
I feel a lot like [a character in one of my stories] when he was trying to keep the dark torturer within him under control - except that, frustratingly, what I have inside me isn't entirely dark; it's just that I can't find appropriate opportunities to release that part of me from its chains. I touched on this in an earlier letter to you, saying, "I'm perilously close to looking forward to the moments when you're weak or misbehaving, because those are the only moments in which I've been allowing myself to go deep into my mastery."
The problem is less now than it was when I wrote those words to you in September, thanks to me scheduling you, but it's still an issue I struggle with. During the time you were visiting me in August, I could see, practically every minute of the day, visual evidence that you were following my orders, because of the protocol and because you kept finding opportunities to serve me. And I had tons of opportunities during the day to correct you in small ways that did not, I think, cause you to become overly dependent on me.
But when it comes to ordering your schedule, I keep having your voice in the back of my head, saying, "I talked to my therapist about this idea, Sir. Her only concern was that I would become dependent on you in the long term, Sir." And this triggers a negative feedback cycle that goes something like this:
"I want to give him orders."
"No, you mustn't do that; the goal of all this is to help him learn to be independent."
"I want to give him orders."
"No, you mustn't make him dependent on you like he was dependent on [that other person in his past]."
"I want to give him orders. He needs my orders."
"Stop it. You're enjoying this too much. You shouldn't be enjoying the fact that he's misbehaving, thus offering you the opportunity to correct him. Just for that, I'm not going to let you give him orders.""I want to give him orders!"
And so on and so forth, till it reaches the point where I can't recognize - as I would otherwise have recognized this week - circumstances where, even in vanilla terms, orders are necessary.
So no, I didn't mind calling you the other night. That whole call was a struggle for me, but not in the way you assumed. I kept wanting to just say, "Go to bed, boy," but I couldn't bring myself to say the words, because of the fear that I would be going too far and giving too much recreation to the part of me that enjoys giving you orders. After I hung up, I realized you were in such a bad state that I should
have said those words; fortunately, you read my call that way.
I never expected this to be a problem in any DS relationship I entered into. Submissives are notorious for wanting to go further into submission than would otherwise occur to their dominants (you're no exception to that rule), and anyway, I'm on the low end of the scale of dominance (at least by the M/s community's standards), and so I assumed that any boy I cared for would find me, if anything, a poor sport when it came to giving orders. That I should find myself in circumstances where I was having to hold myself back from giving orders never occurred to me, so I haven't yet figured out the proper way to cope with this situation - to be able to see clearly what the right circumstances are for issuing orders and correcting misbehavior. I can't just depend on my instincts, because your situation with [the person in your past] takes matters into a special realm.
In fact, at the moment, I'm struggling with added guilt because my inner dominant is far, far too gleeful about the fact that you went so far off your schedule this week that I'll be forced to keep you strictly to that schedule next week, correcting every slight stray from the schedule. That part of me is rubbing its hands, grinning as it says, "Yes! Just like when you let me correct him whenever he walked half a pace ahead!"
*Sigh*. Though my own mental state remains even, I'm beginning to understand why [my story character] cracked under the pressure. Do you have any advice to give me, boy?* * *
--Sunday, October 28--
My apprentice and I discussed the above letter this afternoon. As is so often the case, our minds were moving in the same direction while we were apart. We both agreed that, at this beginning stage of his learning to keep to schedule, he needs clear instruction and correction. As he put it, "If I were learning German, and I made a mistake, it wouldn't help me if my teacher thought, 'No, I mustn't correct him; he has to be independent and learn on his own.'" My apprentice, like that language student, hasn't gotten to the stage yet where he can figure out his own mistakes; he needs me to tell him what to do and to alert him to when he goes astray.
This system of orders and correction worked very well for him (and me) when I was teaching him protocol this summer. There's no reason it shouldn't work for him as I train him to stick with his schedule.
He assured me that his therapist's concern wasn't over the type of scheduling we're doing, where I only issue orders after he has told me what he needs to get done and when he would prefer to get it done. Rather, his therapist was envisioning me putting together for him an arbitrary laundry list of times and activities, with him following it in a mindless fashion, without having any input into what was taking place.
He also said that the situation with me was different from the situation he had in the past, with the person on whom he was overly dependent. He explained the differences and thank heavens, he was right; our circumstances aren't the same.
My apprentice has a special talent for pointing out obvious facts I've overlooked. At one point in the conversation, he said, "Of course
you're supposed to enjoy giving me orders, Sir! That's the whole point of this!"
Well, half the point, anyway; the other half is for him to enjoy obeying orders. But sometimes, as in this case, the enjoyment will have to come in the form of long-term improvement to his life, while in the short term he deals with oh-god-must-I-go-to-bed-now
On my side, I told him that I'd decided that it wasn't healthy for either us for me to be continually trying to second-guess which activities of mine might make him overly dependent on me. Rather, I said, "It is not only your right but your responsibility to let me know when you feel uneasy about anything I've told you to do. That is the keystone of our relationship; without you giving me continual feedback, everything falls apart."
The master who trained me as a dominant would be pleased. One of his favorite pieces of M/s writings is the section of Guy Baldwin's SlaveCraft
in which the slave talks about how slaves need to practice transparency with their masters. I found that book to be imbalanced in a lot of ways, but I do agree that openness with one's thoughts and feelings are even more necessary in a DS relationship than they are in an egalitarian relationship. The fact that leatherprentice
and I find it so easy to talk openly with one another is one of the reasons our relationship has been succeeding so well.