In the poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats famously declaims that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Truth may be beautiful, but it can be a sort of sad, fragile beauty. I have spoken at length about how special submission is. It is a beautiful, magical thing that should be approached with the utmost care. Because the sad truth is that submissives often come to us broken in some form, shape, or fashion. Their very nature seems to invite a range of unfortunate people to their lives, from predators to the simply ham-fisted. They learn that the world is a cruel place and so erect walls to protect themselves. Sometimes the Dom’s hardest task is getting through those walls — not smashing heedlessly through the barriers like a wrecking ball, but slipping cautiously over the ramparts like a ninja to join the person inside.
This post was inspired by a more modern poet: the late, great Tom Petty and his song “Walls.” I heard it on the The Best of Everything collection recently, and found myself struck by how well the images fit into a dynamic between a Dominant and submissive.
There’s a Barricade
All around your island
There’s a barricade
That keeps out the danger
That holds in the pain
The first half of the second verse comes across quite plainly. Four simple lines that, like most poetry, contain a world of truth and beauty. The fact is, people who have been hurt too often do wall themselves off. They seek to become islands with nothing but sea and sky around them, relying on thick barricades and distance from others to keep them safe. Submissives are not immune to this, of course. In fact, as a group, they may well exhibit this trait more than most. And it can be quite effective in its way. Emotional detachment, gruff exteriors, walls of silence — they can all keep people at bay. Alone, a person cannot be harmed by another. But neither can they be helped. Ironically, those walls often exacerbate the problems rather than fix them.
It is a paradox common to someone who has been hurt. In protecting the self from future harm, people leave themselves alone with the pain. Those walls that stand and rebuff others trap the submissive inside with the hurt, feeding it and making it grow rather than lessen and dissipate. As Rorschach says in The Watchmen (2009): “I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me!” A Dominant seeing this struggle may well want to come in like a wrecking ball and knock those walls flat, freeing the submissive in distress.
However well-intentioned, this approach is almost guaranteed to isolate and push the submissive further away. That painful echo chamber hurts, but it also provides the comfort of the familiar. The Dominant is a new presence, a person that — so far as the submissive can tell — is just like all the others who have come before and left them with nothing but more pain. Rampaging and battering down those carefully-constructed walls is a violation in its own right. As Doms, we cannot force a submissive to leave the enclosure; we must encourage them to reemerge into the light of day themselves.
Ocean and Sky
Sometimes you’re happy
Sometimes you cry
Half of me is ocean
Half of me is sky
To be honest, when I first heard the second half of this verse, I really thought it mere nonsense. The ocean/sky imagery is pretty, but it smacked of something thrown in simply to accomplish a rhyme. I let the simplicity of the poetry detract me from the real meaning. I lost sight of the whole point of the verse: that barricaded island. This is an easy trap to fall into. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our position as Dominant and the notion of being in control that we actually focus on that and lose sight of the submissive. What we do, we do for them. That needs to remain at the forefront of the dynamic, part of the D-type’s moral compass. I fell victim to this myself not too long ago in an argument with my former submissive. Rather than listening and being delicate, I turned into the bull in the china shop: bellowing and lashing out and causing damage that took a great deal more effort to repair. When I listened to the song again, I realized what I had done. Most nights when we said good-night, I would tell her that I was holding her. But in that moment when I took my eye off of her, I dropped her. Petty gently reminded me that I need to hold, not smash.
You see, that is what the ocean and sky images are about. In this picture, the submissive is an island out in the ocean all by itself, surrounded by nothing but sea and sky. The Dominant is not there to batter down the sub’s defenses. We hold the submissive. We provide the space in which they can be themselves. Ideally, we become the sea and sky holding that island. The hardest thing for a Dominant to do a lot of times is simply nothing. We want to move, to act, to solve the problems facing the dynamic and/or our submissives. But as “Walls” reminds us, nothing lasts forever. A bit of patience and waiting for the sub to come to us, and those walls will come down.
Walls Fall Down
You got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can’t hold out forever
Even walls fall down
For all the distance submissives may seek to put between themselves and others, the fact remains that most have the biggest hearts of any of us. I have met some selfish subs, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Sadly, they often have that capacity to give and love turned against them — which results in the walled islands dotting the ocean. It is natural for a Dominant to want to lay those walls flat or somehow draw the submissive out of their pain-filled enclosure, but this cannot be done forcibly. For one, a person has to want help for any effort to help to be effective. For another, trying to drag them out or knock down their walls before they are ready violates consent. It must be on the submissive’s time.
Too many subs have had their choices taken away from them. Sometimes letting a Dominant in is the first real choice a submissive has made in a long time. We must let them make the choice to take the next step, as well. Remember that patience is a virtue and a skill anyone who seeks to Dominate another must practice. Easier said than done, of course. As Tom Petty says in another song, “the waiting is the hardest part.” Holding out and holding the submissive where they are is not always easy, and it does run contrary to some of the basic instincts many Dominants have. The wait can seem interminable, but nothing lasts forever, not even a submissive’s fortress of pain and solitude. Given enough time, care, and patience, even walls fall down.
At the End of the Day…
With apologies to John Donne, no submissive is an island entire of itself; every sub is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. The same holds true for Dominants. Poet Marshall Jones speaks of an “unseen connectivity” that connects us all. But a person can lose sight of that inside the protective, isolating walls they erect around themselves. The answer lies not in destroying the walls, but in patiently holding the submissive until they are ready to begin demolition or leave the walls behind.
The sort of behavior and abuse that lead to the construction of such walls is unfortunately all too common in the community, and it will probably always be so to one degree or another. It behooves us to be aware of what it takes to help our fellow kinksters out. As Jones says, “one man, one woman can become a few women a few men, a few hearts infused into a few hands, to lift the rubble and the ruin.” We can help one another remove those walls and rebuild afterward.
As always, remember: This is your life; live it your way!