Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What We Do at Different Times of Day

This was a lively topic! I started out by clarifying what I meant by it. We have a lot of daily practices, most of them everyday things, that we do at particular times of day (and not at other times of day). Since everyday cultural practices are some of the details that really make a fictional world pop (or even a version of the real world, actually), I wanted to spend some time talking about this.

Che immediately thought of the practice of avoiding drinking alcohol until after 5pm. Kat mentioned the Japanese practice of having a bath before going to bed and contrasted it with the American practice of getting up and jumping in the shower. The Japanese practice makes a lot of sense because buildings don't often have central heating (they generally heat room by room), and so it works really well to heat up your body and then tuck into bed. Kat said, "you are your own hot water bottle."

And then, of course, there's tea time! Americans tend to have tea with breakfast (if they drink tea) and sometimes lunch, but my Australian husband likes to have it midmorning and midafternoon. Kat said in her house teatime was morning, afternoon, and evening before bed. The movie Astérix chez les Bretons (in French) makes a joke about the early Breton soldiers not wanting to fight at teatime. Astérix likes to make jokes so that the cast of characters is responsible for all the historical things like the ruins of the Roman coliseum and the fact that the Sphynx has no nose. Another discussant pointed out that between Astérix and Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear, they've invented all the things!

Morgan mentioned siestas. They tend to happen during the hottest time of day, and be dependent on local climate, as Cliff observed. They have led sometimes to stereotypes about laziness from colonizers arriving from outside the climate zone. They also happen in Spain. In France, stores traditionally closed for two hours during lunchtime. Thinking through climate helps you to worldbuild in more than one way, because it provides setting and also traditional behaviors. Cliff called it "double worldbuilding."

What reasons do we have for scheduling things at particular times? This is a good thing to think through. Climate obviously enters in. So does the age of the person involved, as with naptimes for children. Culture teaches us assumptions about how brains work, but can also fail to take neurodiversity into account, as well as culture differences in a diverse society. Some people like a fixed schedule.

Meals also tend to be culturally influenced to take place at particular times of day - and not always at the same times of day. What are the meals called in your society? Which meal is the biggest? Is there a "second breakfast"?

Kat noted that clocks tend to be normalized. Bank workers still work at different times from shift workers, however. Technology level has a lot of influence on what time people do things, because an agrarian schedule is very different from a factory one. If you have no electricity, it limits the kinds of things you can do after dark. Cliff also noted that people have things they schedule at different times of year, especially when they are growing food.

Clocks regulate shifts. The sun regulates life, but it is also constantly changing. Cliff pointed out that when you are working on a ship, the schedule tends to be four hours on, four hours off. Kat noted that someone has to be on lookout all the time.

Time is a convention, and it is often run on the basis of some group's behavior, and disseminated mechanically. Local time in the middle ages was determined by the church bells of the town, rung by the clergy. The days would be divided differently as the days changed with the seasons. Days are also measured differently by different groups. For example, the day begins and ends at sunset for the Jewish and Islamic communities, whereas by the clock it begins right after midnight, and for some communities it begins at dawn.

Cliff spent some time telling us about sitar playing. Many of the musical pieces, called ragas, are to be played only at particular times of day. Some are for early, mid, or late morning. Some are seasonal. One can only be played during the eight minutes of sunset. Practice gives you a bit more flexibility, but it's ideal to practice the sunset raga in the evening. It's perceived to affect health like bad medicine if you play them at the wrong time. There is another raga called bhairavi, where once you've played it you can't play anything else. Sometimes sitar players have set up special concerts at unusual times so concertgoers could hear a different repertoire. Sometimes teachers will give music lessons on Sunday to teach morning ragas. The differences between these pieces have to do with the scale of notes used, the pattern for ascending and descending, and various motifs. Cliff says morning ragas tend to have more flats. In general, the ragas have different "vibe" to them, having something to do with the rhythm and aesthetic.

Kat remarked that there are also American songs that only get played at certain times of day, such as reveille and taps. Lullabies are for bedtime. There are wake-up songs and work songs.

We considered for a minute or so the difference between a song intended to evoke a particular time of day (musically) and one that is only to be played at a particular time of day.

These patterns definitely also exist in Western culture. People have very strong opinions about hearing Christmas music out of season. There are rituals associated with certain times of year, and not all are religious. When do you eat pumpkin pie?

When are prayers supposed to be? At sunrise? Bedtime? Five times a day? Before or after you eat? Do you change them depending on what you're eating? Are there special times of year when you pray differently?

Ask questions about the practices of the people in your fictional society.

The example of Second Breakfast in the Lord of the Rings movies was wonderful, because it was used for both worldbuilding and character development. Cliff remarked that in science fiction, highly regimented use of time is often associated with fascistic societies like those of A Wrinkle in Time, Metropolis, or "Repent, Harlequin, said the Ticktockman." The phrase "making the trains run on time" is directly associated with Nazi Germany.

Timekeeping is both personal and communal.

Discussions are ongoing in various contexts about whether Daylight Saving should remain a part of our yearly scheduling. People have circadian rhythms that get messed up with Daylight Saving switches. In addition, studies of teens have shown that they are more effective at studying if they have been allowed to wake up later in the morning. Is there any form of circadian variation in your world?

We do have flavors we prefer at particular times of year. Pumpkin spice is apparently followed by gingerbread and then by peppermint.

Kat remarked that in Japan there is a deep understanding of the culinary calendar. There is, for example, a particular day in the summer which is the right one for eating a bowl of eel on rice. She told us that for relatives of hers, Thanksgiving and July 4th made sense and were comforting because of the predictability of the food offered on those days.

There are seasonal beers in different countries, including the US and Japan (and others).

Japan also has seasonal rice, as when they serve rice from the newly harvested crop. There are also things to add to rice for different times of year.

Bûche de Noël is a cake exclusively for Christmas. In Japan, every festival has its own unique wagashi (candy).

Beer is not a good thing for breakfast, I imagine because it intoxicates you before you have to work. Is there a cutoff time for coffee? In the US some perceive there to be one, but in Europe it's very common to have espresso after dinner.

What time do you eat dinner? Kat said in her family, her father was a gardener, so he'd work until dusk and they would not eat dinner until 8pm. In the circus, though, one might have dinner between two evening shows.

 Cliff said that certain activities are reserved for "liminal time" in between other activites. In an initiation, it's common to find dramatic changes of schedule. A break from the comfort of the known has a strong effect on character comfort.

There is a lot more one could talk about here (jet lag, for instance), but I think we covered a lot in a short time. Thanks to everyone who participated.

This week, Dive into Worldbuilding meets on Wednesday, November 8 at 10am Pacific, and we'll be talking with guest author Spencer Ellsworth about his new book series, and about outdoor survival. I hope you can make it!