Real Service


[This is the text of the book review from episode 37.]

This episode’s book is Real Service by Joshua Tenpenny and Raven Kaldera. Kaldera edited Paradigms of Power: Styles of Master/slave Relationships, which I reviewed in episode thirteen (and loved).

Like that book, this one is also geared towards people in power exchange relationships, though the focus of this one is specifically service. Both authors have a great deal of experience in giving service (Joshua) and receiving service (Raven) and it shows—the book covers philosophy and psychology behind service from both sides of the slash, as well as practical information. The practical info isn’t concerned with how to do certain things—there are far too many types of service for that—it’s more about all of the things a service sub could do and the various levels of proficiency that can be achieved in each one. That section, which is later in the book, was incredible! There were so many ways to make a D-type’s life easier.

And I really sucked at a lot of them. There were other things listed that I’m good at and enjoy but hadn’t considered as a type of service, as well as things I would like to improve on, so those can go on my submissive resume.

That part would be useful for both s-types—in order to see all the ways they can be of use and assess their proficiency—and D-types looking for things to assign to an eager s-type.

I highlighted so much in this book I thought I’d go over my limit, as Kindle only allows a certain number of highlights. So it was one of those situations.

I loved the digital version so much—and will definitely refer to it in future—that the physical version is going on my wishlist/personal list to remind myself of all of the books I want to read.

The book starts with a section called Basic Assumptions that lays out where the authors are coming from and who exactly they’re addressing. In that section they say this:

…our informal polling seems to have shown that more individuals on both sides of the slash are drawn to these lifestyles because of their attraction to control rather than service. Controlling others, or feeling the control of others, seems to be more popular as a motivation than service.

I enjoy both of those things, so that lead me to a chicken-or-egg conundrum. Which came first? After staring into space with a furrowed brow for several seconds I settled on, ‘I dunno but they both make me very happy.’ I think it’s useful to know where your motivations lie, but, ultimately, you like what you like so it doesn’t really matter.

The next section is ‘Figuring Out Service’ and includes general, level-headed advice like

A service relationship can be role-based, but it doesn’t have to be, and more often than not, it isn’t. It can just be two (or more) people who have an arrangement where one has dedicated a substantial portion of their time and energy to the service of the other. There doesn’t need to be any protocol, collars, or kinky sex. There doesn’t need to be anything formal about it.

Something that kept me from realising I was kinky for a long time was thinking an interest in BDSM had to be based in sexual desire so this was important. They also stress knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. Explore your fantasies as much as possible, but realise you live in the real world.

Then we’re onto Joshua’s Rules of Service.

I do enjoy rules.

I’m not going to enumerate all of them, but the first rule is:

If the master doesn’t want it, it isn’t service.

Y-yeah… I could see me serving the hell out of some woman and her saying, ‘I only wanted a coffee.’

There was also advice on how to deal with conflicts from the s-type’s point of view by letting go of the need to be right because obedience is more important. Find your joy in being obedient in those situations.

The next chapter is Motivations for Service and they say they’ve observed three types of motivations to serve, those being Transactional (getting something in return), Devotional (because you love the person) and Positional (because you were born to serve).

They go over the positives and pitfalls for each type and how to avoid the latter. I learned I’m chiefly a combination of Devotional and Positional. The authors say that motivations may change depending on the situation or person so a person isn’t likely to be only one of those.

To the Devotionally-motivated servants, since you’re inspired by love, they say:

A servant motivated primarily by devotion would do well to cultivate a little of the other two types of motivation to pull them through the “I hate you today” mornings.

I’m training myself to do important things even when I am entirely uninterested in doing so and in those situations I tell myself, ‘Do it anyway.’ It’s a similar concept.

Next up is styles of service, which includes Reactive Service and Proactive Service.

They’re pretty much what they sound like—one is service in response to being told to do something and the other is serving without being instructed to. Anticipatory service is included in the second type.

About the first type they say:

Reactive service, at its plainest, is quite literal, although one of the pitfalls of doing nothing but reactive service for a long time can be the development of over-literality – “Which three eggs should I scramble, Mistress?”

So, the book is funny at times.

Then we’re on to Styles of Dominance. They include all people who’d qualify as People in Charge, which I like as another way to say D-type. ‘Who’s the person in charge of you?’ ‘This is the person in charge of me.’

There are two types of these: Parental Dominance, which is a high-control style where the D-type may control many (or every) aspect of the s-type’s life. The other is Celebrity Dominance, which is where an s-type’s job is to make life as easy as possible with little hands-on control by the D-type.

Raven then has a chapter where he addresses People in Charge directly and it’s called The Annoyance Factor. The premise is to find the things in your life that are annoying and working out a way for your s-type to handle them. You don’t generally need a plethora of protocols and rituals if they don’t make you happy.

He offers this advice, as well:

The issue of priorities is one that generally comes up more fully in a slightly later stage of relationship development. This is because of the necessary order of give-and-take required by a deeply and consciously inegalitarian relationship. It’s necessary for the M-type to earn the s-type’s trust first, and that’s the way that it has to be, because they are so vulnerable. The M-type has to prove to the s-type that they really do want complete honesty (and possibly transparency, depending on their negotiated dynamic) and in order to do that, they have to meet every “unacceptable” honest thought the s-type hesitantly communicates to them with calm, non-defensive assurance, no matter what they are actually feeling. This process may take months or years.

There are a couple chapters concerning practicals like how to integrate a servant into a new routine and Joshua gives a detailed breakdown of the most conscientious way for servants to build and maintain an organisation system for their Masters.

There are also chapters on correcting problematic behavior, and remedial obedience. In the latter they say that if a master sets reasonable expectations there shouldn’t be a need for obedience training.

In this chapter they break down undesirable behavioural traits into two types: Misdemeanours and Felonies.

Under misdemeanours they include Creative Applied Incompetence, a phrase I love. It’s pretending to be bad at tasks you dislike with the goal of not being asked to do it in future.
Under felonies they include uncontrolled mental illness, which makes me: um. Even when a person is on medication they may still become depressed or anxious or have other difficulties depending on their illness—none of which is their fault. Felonies are behaviours that should set off red flags for a D-type so they should consider if the relationship is worth continuing.

I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they don’t mean someone going through a depression isn’t worth owning.

The next chapter addresses ways for a servant to question an order or disagree with their Person in Charge with respect.

After that is Qualities of a Good Master—it’s a useful list both for D-types to aspire to and for s-types to know what to look for.

The corresponding chapter is Qualities of a Good Servant and includes this:

It seems that there aren’t a lot of standards for what it means to be a good s-type; in fact, there is a distressing tendency for people to casually assume that “of course submissives can’t be expected to act like a reliable, committed, self-disciplined adult – they’re submissives, aren’t they?” This kind of infantilizing of all s-types is counterproductive, as it hardly encourages them to excellence, and indeed it does the opposite. It may stem from a general discomfort with the state of submission on both sides of the slash, where that discomfort is translated into pretending that servants are a lesser class of human.

There are a few places where the authors address the toxic philosophy that servants are inferior to masters, which is nice to be reminded of.

Then there are pages and pages of Skillsets. Each is broken down into Basic, Remedial and Advanced (their definition of each of those is provided). The lists begin with fundamental service, which includes showing up on time and being obedient—just the basics of being a good servant.

The second is housework, which includes an observation that, often, servants are more concerned with keeping a clean house than masters. They say this:

This is often the case with Raven, and when Joshua has talked to other servants in a similar position, all have struggled with feeling like a failure for not keeping the house “clean enough”. … Please refer to the First Rule of Service, and know that you have Joshua’s sympathy, at least.

After the priorities have been firmly established, the master might consider allowing the servant to clean the house in their “free time”. Raven generally considers cleaning to be a “hobby” of Joshua’s, not a service.

I am so a servant. That made me say: wut. Why, though? Why don’t you want a clean house? So confused.

In this section Joshua recommends a book called Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson and says about it:

It is a wonderful book for the detail-oriented servant whose master has provided ample time for housekeeping, but distressingly little detail about how the house should be kept. If a servant would really like diagrams to show the proper method for folding underpants, this is the book to get.

Well now I want to know how to fold underpants. Onto the Amazon list it goes!

Other lists include: home maintenance, yard work, laundry (or as they call it in the UK, washing), cooking, shopping and errands, automotive, travel, secretarial (yes, please), computer/electronic, financial, health care, child care, animal care, arts and crafts, companionship, personal grooming and body service, etiquette and protocol and, finally, sexual service.

In the etiquette and protocol section they recommend learning to kneel by putting both knees on the floor at the same time then standing up without using your hands or leaning forward. Apparently, masters find this delightful.

Of course I had to see if I could do this (it wasn’t pretty) and then Walter had to try it, too.

What I learned from this part of the book is that there are a million and one ways to serve. Yippee! And oh my god, I’m so inadequate.

Finally, there’s a resource guide of books, films and TV that have examples of good servants. In case service porn is your thing (and if so, welcome to the club). Unf. Now I want to re-watch Gosford Park.

This one is a must-read for service-subs, the people who lead them or any power exchange interested in adding service to the relationship. It’s an invaluable guide to how to be a better servant or master. It’s a 5/5, highly recommended..

If you can’t afford it, it’s available to read for free on the BookMate app, as are other books by the authors.

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