Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!

My boyfriend, Mr. Shiny, is not a gifty person. He accepts gifts, but isn't particularly touched by the gesture. This makes shopping for him a little tricky, but it also means I can show him a link at Amazon and say "Hey, do you want this thing?" and it won't detract from the gift. He wants the thing or he doesn't, and seeing it first doesn't matter very much.

I am not like that. I'm not massively gifty, but I like opening presents and I like it when people give me things. Even if it's a lame present, I appreciate the gesture.

For Christmas this year, I wanted a tree. I always had trees growing up and my apartment is big enough, darnit, I should have a tree. My best friend, Mrs. Bean, also wanted a tree, and we both wanted to give her daughter, Sprout, the whole tree experience. So we went out with my parents and Mr. Shiny to stalk the wily christmas tree in its native environs. After spotting our prey, we pounced and cut it down in the beginning of its life. Then we mercilessly dragged the body out past the shocked expressions of its surviving family. I propped the corpse up in my living room and festooned it with shiny baubles and blinky lights, and I call it "festive".

Mr. Shiny was a bit bemused by all of this, but he was game. He hung lights and bah-humbug'd with the best of us.

A few weeks later I located an ornament he found acceptable and he hung it on the tree; it's a gesture I'm finding surprisingly meaningful.

Now, the other thing is that I don't get very many christmas presents. This year, most of them came at different times or were unwrapped or were something like "vacation", so I didn't have anything to put under the tree. I really appreciate all those gifts, but I was still pretty sad about the naked tree-base. I collected a bunch of items from around the house, mostly things I had just bought at the store, and had Mrs. Bean wrap them for me. Then I had presents! Awesome! She also gave me another wrapped thing to add to the pile.

I told Mr. Shiny that I would like a something from him for Christmas, even if it was just a dumb little thing. I didn't say anything more about it, but I was hoping for some kind of a thing. I think I also half-expected him to come in and tell me to turn around, he had to wrap it -- but that is a gifty expectation, and he's not a gifty fellow, remember?

He came over on Christmas Eve, and we had a nice dinner but nothing special, and chilled out for a while. He asked me a bit about what the holiday meant to me and what my family had done over the years.

Then he hypnotized me.

In the trance, he brought out all these wonderful memories of Christmas and presents and family. Things I haven't thought of in years! Like the melty mints Mom put in my stocking every year for at least five years. Or when I asked for a car and got Hot Wheels. Or the beautiful jewelry or toys or sweaters... and how Mom and Dad had the routine of stepping away from the group for a few minutes and catching up with us later, when we liked something and they wanted to get it for us. He reminded me of all the excitement and the sneaking around to find the presents ahead of time and the embarassing pictures Dad would take.

Then all these wonderful Christmas memories, he melted into a puddle of wonderful goo, and I was melting with it, all red and green and sparkly.

Then he told me I'd feel that way the next morning, on Christmas.

Now, this might well be the first Christmas morning in my life that had a blowjob before the cinnamon rolls... but all day, I felt happy. Very playful. A little distracted by shiny and craving sugar. I annoyed the cats, I annoyed Mr. Shiny, I played a video game, I ate way too many cinnamon rolls. I opened presents and was pleased -- I like apple butter! and I really needed those rechargable batteries! I threw wrapping paper at the cats and missed; I put wrapping paper on their heads and they looked at me and went back to sleep.

Mr. Shiny went home a while ago and I had a brief moment of "oh well" disappointment that I didn't get to unwrap anything from him today.* Then I remembered what he'd done for me yesterday. I realised that no, he did not give me a random trinket; instead, he skipped back through my life and fetched out some of the most lovely moments. He wrapped them up with his words and gave them back to me.

Those moments are mine, and they always were; but now they're his, too, and ours, anchored to this day, this Christmas, with the man I love so very, very much.

And my snoring cats.

* Besides him. That doesn't count. Come on, people, we're talking
Christmas here. Be wholesome.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On Hypnosis: Part Two

Hypnosis is defined in lots of ways; people who do it and study it all disagree on what exactly it is, how it works, what it can do, and so on. Most people agree that it involves the subject being extra-bonus suggestible. What it theoretically can do is "anything that the mind can do." This isn't a terribly useful answer, though, because most people have absolutely no idea what the mind can do, and most people's minds can only do a subset of what the human mind in general is capable of.

Assume all the caveats about the subject consenting and the hypnotist crafting the appropriate suggestion and the two of them having a good rapport and all that jazz.

Hypnotic suggestions work very well for things that the person can do, on purpose, on their own. If you are capable of deciding to sashay across the room meowing like an Irish cat and then doing a somersault pratfall while singing a Russian drinking song about vodka, then a hypnotist can cause you to do that. If you don't know how an Irish cat meows or a Russian drinking song, you are likely to approximate it to the best of your ability... which can sometimes be pretty hilarious.

Hypnosis can, less reliably, affect things that a person's brain can do but that the person does not know how to do on their own. You know that your brain does lots of things automatically that you don't think about, like keep your heart beating. Things that happen in your brain affect your heart rate, and many people have a bit of skill at calming themselves down, but almost nobody can deliberately and arbitrarily alter their heart rate. I think of it as hidden buttons and levers in the mind.

Because the hypnotist is talking to your subconscious, and because your subconscious knows more about these hidden buttons and levers, a hypnotist can craft suggestions to do things that the subject's conscious mind cannot do. For example, my brain knows how to have an orgasm, but I can't decide "Ok, I will have an orgasm now!"* But Mr. Shiny can tell me to have an orgasm, and I do. His suggestion can flip that lever in my brain.

An ex of mine could change his resting metabolic rate, so that he produced more or less body heat. It wasn't just his subjective experience of heat or cold, a lot of people can do that. ("I'm cold!" "Think warm thoughts." It kind of works.) He actually changed how much heat his body produced. It was incredibly useful on cold winter nights. Hypnosis can do that, too.

Some people can have lucid dreaming, where they control their dreams. A hypnotist can change what you dream about.

There's a mind-body health connection, too. Conditions involving the immune system and conditions related to stress response can be affected by what the patient is thinking and feeling. Pain, in particular, is highly subjective and dependent upon the patient's mental condition. Hypnosis can affect all of these conditions.

All those wacky human tricks that someone in the world has figured out how to do using meditation or religion? Hypnosis can do that, too. But not for every subject, and certainly not for every hypnotist. Some people are more suggestible than others. People also have internal safeguards that prevent someone from mucking around, although there's techniques for getting around a lot of that.

Perhaps most importantly, what a hypnotist can do with a subject depends on what the subject believes, deep down at the bottom of their heart, that the hypnotist can do to them.

WARNING! Do not let an undertrained hypnotist attempt to modify your physical health or your pain response! If you are a hypnotist, do not do this without training. Mr. Shiny can make my asthma better... which means that if he screwed up one day, he could also make it worse.

* Well, I almost can. I'm learning a lot about coming by observing what happens when he triggers me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Possibly The Coolest Shit Ever

Recently, Mr. Shiny tried a new imagery with me. Imagery often doesn't do a whole lot for me in trance, and most of the imagery-stuff he's done with me hasn't gone anywhere. I'm okay at visualizing myself ("see the blood flowing through your head"), mediocre at visualizing my environment ("you're in a dark corridor"), and downright terrible at visualizing other objects ("you're holding a beautiful gem").

He does imagery with me sometimes anyway, because he thinks I'll like it or for his own reasons. The recent imagery is about laying in a vat of wonderful liquid. I automatically think of a comfortable liquid to lie in as being warm; he calls it cool; so it's both, which is neat. I can breathe it, which is good because before long I find myself slowly sinking into it until eventually I'm completely submerged. Also, the deeper I sink, the deeper the trance goes, and I sink deeper with every breath. It's a warm comfortable happy thing, and I went very deep.

That's plenty good right there, you know? I love being that deep for him, and anything he uses to get me there is automatically excellent. But that's not the coolest shit ever.

I noticed after I came out that I could breathe cleanly and openly. I have asthma, have had it all my life. It's been bad this fall. I take medication every day, and have to monitor and manage my asthma all the time. Even at my best, my lungs are a little bit inflamed and tight.

So this... it wasn't like taking a hit of the albuterol; it was better. It was like my lungs had never needed the inhaler. I lay there breathing and exulting and breathing.

A few years back, they discontinued the inhaler I had used my entire life, because of the propellant, and switched everyone over to a different formulation. It took me a while to adapt because the flavor changed. The inhaler I grew up with literally saved my life countless times, and that's what it tasted like.


So when I say this is better than any inhaler, I'm saying a lot.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Consent and Hypnosis

lxr asks in a comment to my last post:

Do you have any thoughts on issues of consent with regards to hypnoplay?

After a certain point in trance, I can't imagine how one could even think to safeword.

Before a trance has commenced, consent in hypnosis is just like in other kinds of activities that involve mind-altering states, such as subspace, inebriation, or an adrenalin rush. You negotiate (or not) and agree (or not) to the things you're about to do together. The chances of your hypnotist nefariously taking advantage of you is about the same as your rope rigger nefariously taking advantage of you; you should check your partners out, negotiate clearly, set expectations, etc.

Consent during trance is a different thing, though. Different theorists have different takes on what's actually happening during hypnosis, but I like to think of us as having a conscious and subconscious mind. The conscious mind is your personal narrative mind; it's the thing you're thinking with when you think thoughts that you're aware of. The subconscious mind is everything else, and is most of what's going on in your brain at any given moment.

Normally when we're talking about giving consent, we're talking about an activity of the conscious mind. When you negotiate in advance, you're talking and thinking and agreeing. If you're tied to a table and safeword, it's usually a choice; it's not automatic. You have to decide to say the word.*

The subconscious mind is capable of consent as well. And it doesn't always agree with what the conscious mind thinks about things. For instance, a person's subconscious mind might really want to have sex with that hottie over there, while the conscious mind remembers "oh wait, I'm married." Or the conscious mind might think "a person like me should want anal sex" but the subconscious mind thinks "no way." In day-to-day life, this can look like a person who regrets doing something or who seems confused about what they want.

During a hypnotic trance, the hypnotist is speaking to their subject's subconscious mind. Suggestions can do impressive and amazing things because the subconscious mind encompasses so much of our selves and our personalities, but ultimately, they're just words someone says to you. The subject is the one who has to implement the suggestions. Nothing will happen, hypnotically, that the subconscious mind does not allow.

So at a certain level, hypnotic trance and hypnotic suggestions cannot happen without the subject's consent, making questions of safewords entirely irrelevant.

No problem, right?

Well... no. My subconscious might allow some things that the conscious me wouldn't.**

Fortunately, most subjects during trance have a conscious awareness of what's happening, that I call the observer. It's like the conscious mind has stepped to the side but is still watching everything going on. I have rarely entirely lost my observer, although occasionally my observer has been distracted. Usually, though, my observer is engaged in the trance, noticing stuff, sometimes helping out.

The observer knows what the conscious mind would consent to, and can interrupt. The observer can safeword, or break the trance. To me, this is approximately as difficult as safewording during any other BDSM scene. Other subjects' mileage may vary, depending to a large extent on what they believe about hypnosis.

The hypnotist can make it much easier for their subject by asking them to communicate during the trance, by checking in, by inviting them to safeword. If you use the color system and include green, you can reduce some of the common anxieties around safewording.

The best solution I've seen is for the hypnotist to just give a safeword suggestion to their subject. If a hypnotist instructs their subject to safeword easily, naturally, automatically whenever it's appropriate, even in trance, and refreshes the suggestion periodically, then you're all set. The subject can safeword when they consciously need to, and they will automatically safeword when they subconsciously need to.

I have four automatic safewords: red, yellow, green, and ow. The ow is for when something is causing me physical discomfort that I believe my partner did not intend, but I'm in a state when I could not otherwise communicate it. I have used them in trance without any difficulty.

Negotiation and communication are better tools for establishing and maintaining consent than safewords and always will be. But you can certainly safeword during hypnotic trance, if you believe you can.

* This is part of why safewords are problematic; a lot of players, when they're having things done to them, don't have very much of their conscious mind on-line at the moment. Remembering and forming the intent and saying the word is sometimes not possible. This doesn't mean safewords are useless, as some will contend, but it does mean you can't rely on them in all cases.

** Annoyingly, my subconscious won't allow some things I really want it to. I want my partner to be able to give me hallucinations! Except apparently, deep down, I don't.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Hypnosis: Part One

A reader asks:

What experience have you had with hypnosis?

This question is much bigger and more complicated than it seems!

I have nine months experience with hypnosis. Before February 2010, I didn't really believe it would work. I figured there was maybe something there but it seemed... new-agey and bogus. Out of curiosity and a certain sense of recklessness, I found some people who do erotic hypnosis and hung out with them at a con. I was boggled!

Hypnosis works.

Not for everyone, of course. If you don't want it to work, for whatever reason, then it won't.

The first time, I was skeptical about whether it was actually doing anything; I felt like I was making decisions to play along. However, having decided to play along with the game, it stopped being a game. I did fall into trance! The rest of that evening at the party, I went in and out of trance, and it felt really, really good.

It was a life-changing experience.

In the past nine months, I have been tranced lots of times, mostly by my boyfriend, Mr. Shiny. I have not hypnotized anyone else; I generally prefer to be on the submissive or bottom side of powerful activities, although I've seen others get hypnotized. Most of my trances have been in person, but I've had one from watching a video of an induction, and I've had trances induced by light-sound machines.*

I have a set of posthypnotic suggestions that can control my behavior if Mr. Shiny wants them to. He can drop me into a trance, freeze me, make me passive, make me eager to please, make me compliant; he can alter my mental and emotional states directly. He can indirectly alter my physical state: he's used suggestions to help manage pain.

Anything I can voluntarily do, I can be compelled to do in a trance or by a suggestion or trigger after. Actions that are nominally voluntary but that I wouldn't have the willpower to follow through on are also easy to control. Some things I can't voluntarily do can also be controlled; I can have an orgasm instantly on command, and Mr. Shiny can control the parameters of it:

"Have a slow, silent orgasm," he can say, and I do. That didn't work right away, though; it's taken a while for me to learn how to have lots of different kinds of orgasms.

I'm not as good at some other hypnotic phenomena. I can barely do a positive hallucination, where I sense something that isn't there. At best, it's tactile, and more like mis-attributing a sensation. To my knowledge, I've had no amnesia. I haven't had a negative hallucination, where I don't see something that is there. However, I can continuously disregard something, simply not notice a thing, which is subjectively very like a negative hallucination.

I love how hypnosis allows Mr. Shiny to control me. He can constrain, or restrain, me with two words! How awesome is that?

Other hypnopervs do different things with it. Some enjoy vibrant hallucinations of travel or metamorphoses; some do it to enhance their primary kinks; some do straight erotic feelings with no power exchange at all; some do it because the trance itself is so exciting to them that anything they actually do with it is an afterthought.

Of course, all of this is very different from clinical hypnosis. You can use hypnosis as part of therapy or as part of chronic pain management or during surgery or to quit smoking or lose weight. Hypnosis is different in those contexts.

I've stayed away because I want to keep the lovely erotic charge I get from dropping into a deep trance.

*Hereafter referred to as Blinky Helmets.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Knitting for Not-Quite-Beginners!

A reader asks:

What would you suggest for someone who is just a bit too experienced to be called a beginner?

When you're learning to knit, I think a few skills are good to pick up early:
  • Knit.
  • Purl.
  • Cast on an edge that isn't too firm.
  • Cast off an edge that isn't too firm.
  • Knit in the round.

The first is kind of obvious.

Purl is the reverse of the knit stitch, the backside of the sweater you're wearing.

If you knit flat, every other row you're working on from the back side of the fabric, so you need purl to do the pretty flat stitch that makes the sweater you're wearing.

These are the only two real stitches in knitting; they can combine with a few fancy tricks to make bobbles and lace and all kinds of funky stuff, but that's later. Once you can stockinette, the interesting thing you can do is make ribbing.

Casting off and casting on an edge that is the right stretchiness for your product is the skill that makes the most difference between "Wow, neat sweater" and "Oh. You made me a sweater. I would wear it if I could fit my head through the hole." The usual cast ons and cast offs are very tight, and it's hard for beginning knitters to do them loosely. Especially if they're working ribbing, which is even stretchier than flat stockinette.

But nobody wants to sit around practicing cast ons and cast offs. The beginner trick is to do the same stitch you usually do, but use a bigger needle. You might have to practice once or twice to find out if you need a needle twice the size of your working needles, or just a little bigger, but that's a lot easier to figure out than maintaining the right amount of tension.

Finally, working in the round is the thing where you have to manage four double-pointed needles. It's hard to keep the stitches from falling off and it's hard to manage the transitions between needles and you feel like you need ten hands. But you're likely to find that halfway through your first hat, suddenly it all works. I usually keep those little rubber needle caps on all the ends of my needles that aren't currently handling yarn, so the stitches don't fall off and I always know where I am.

That's all background to what I think you were really asking, which was:

What should I make if I'm not ready to make a sweater but I already know how to make a scarf?

I think you should make something you would actually wear. That's the first thing. Use yarn you like to touch. The goal here is to get you to actually knit the thing, to get your speed up so you can see real progress being made, because you finished something! Yay!

I spent a season making winter hats for everyone. Other people make socks and more socks, but I find them a little fussy and get annoyed by having to make another one all over again once I finish the first. I also developed a quick and easy pattern for cat toys, which I could complete from cast on to cute eyes over the length of a Red Sox game.

You can experiment with different patterns and make more scarves, if you happen to enjoy scarves. They're slower than hats but easier to have something you can just take with you.

The other great not-quite-beginner project is to make a big warm afghan using bulky yarn on big needles. You'll still see rapid progress, but you'll be making something big and substantial.

You're probably not very consistent with tension yet, and the skills you need to fit something to a body are more advanced, so I recommend staying away from actual garments for a little while.

Except for baby clothes. Because if the baby sweater is the wrong size, the kid'll grow into it, or it'll go to the next kid, no problem. If it's some crazy mutant sweater, well, it's not like the baby will care, right? If it comes out really bad just knit on another three arms and claim you did it on purpose.  

Finally, if you're the kind of person who likes to hang out on websites with other people doing your hobby, join Ravelry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Inaugural Ball

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do with my life and with my time online. One thing stands out to me: I like to give advice. I like think about problems, I like helping people, I like considering ways what I say could be useful to other people.

Really, I wish people would ask me questions all the time. Then I wouldn't have to seek them out! I would have all my ideas in one place, where I could develop themes and deploy theories.

Thus, I invite you to send me questions. I will answer them. I will answer all of them, unless I get so popular that I'm totally inundated with questions and wouldn't ever get any sleep and my hands would fall off if I tried to answer them all.

I expect to talk about sex, BDSM, feminism, hypnosis, cats, gender, kink, relationships, and polyamory, with possibly some knitting and cooking thrown in for good measure.

Send me mail at!