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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ken Liu and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Last week were joined by the amazing Ken Liu, who spoke to us about his new short story collection. Ken has in fact published about 120 stories (!), and he says he has collections in other languages like French, Chinese, and Japanese, but that this is his first one to be published in English. He wanted to make sure that he had the right set of stories for an English language collection, and was urged to this by SAGA press.

He said it was important that the stories in the collection reflect what short fiction means to him, and acknowledged Joe Monti for helping him select the stories and choose the order.

Ken says, "I have a different profile in different languages." He says some of his stories don't work as well in particular languages because of the complex issues involved in translation and crossing cultures. Since his stories were all written in English for an English-speaking audience, he said it was harder to pick out which ones to put in the collection because more of them would have been appropriate.

I asked him about a technique he used in two of the stories, which I called "iteration," where he makes lists of alien species and does brief explorations of some of their features, as in "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species." He said that he has always liked experimenting with different forms in fiction, and likes to resist the idea that a story needs to be one particular type of thing with a beginning, middle, and end. He resists "universal" rules and patterns, and in this case was attempting to write a story that is not a story at all, but patterned after an academic scholarly report. Essentially, he says, the story is about how we view the Other, and our tendency to define cultures as superior or inferior. The different aliens read their books but also read one another. He sees aliens as aspects of us as humans, and reading as representing the construction of meaning. Also, he notes that changes in the technology of bookmaking (as when we moved from scroll to codex) influence the way that we create books and define them. We are now undergoing another such change with the advent of electronic formats.

In the second such story, the iterative pieces have to do with alien cognition, and serve as a companion/reflection on a separate, more narrative story. Ken said this one had to do in part with how our metaphor for thinking has changed, as it went from spiritual, to telegraph, to clockwork, to computation.

He views SF/F as an ideal genre for literalizing metaphors and playing with them.

In several of the stories, he chooses to reverse our expectations, as in the story Good Hunting, which begins as a ghost hunter story and then changes when it shifts our awareness to the viewpoint of the fox women themselves. Ken describes it as going from ghost hunter story to "the old ways are lost" story, but then it changes again and reminds us that magic will always be there in different forms. The fox woman finds a way to recover her shape-changing power through steampunk technology. He described it as a way to think about the metaphor of change. Nothing is constant.

We tend to think of cultural preservation as a lack of change, but it's not; living culture is constantly changing. We still make toast, but we don't make it at all the same way we used to. Cultural preservation is about change that occurs with internal agency, rather than with a gun to your head. You as a member of the culture get to decide that this is how you keep it alive and preserve things. We linked this thought back to the idea that culture is both replicated and changed every time it is enacted, and Ken also brought up one of the alien species from "Bookmaking habits," whose method of inscribing books means that they are changed each time they are read.

I also asked Ken about his use of Chinese characters in his stories. Ken said that in the West people have a view of idiograms as mysterious, an impulse to treat them as different or exotic. However, they don't have this aspect in thier native context. They are primarily phonetic to represent speech, with no particular magic quality, though they start with a semantic root in the left-hand radical to hint at meaning, and a phonetic component in the right-hand component. There is a playful and exuberant attitude toward the characters which is often lost; they are not merely recording speech. Ken says that in his stories he tries to convey the Chinese cultural practice of folk etymology for the characters. He compared it with the form of charades played in Jane Austen novels, where people create false etymologies for words like "season" to try to convey them without words.

In one of the stories, a clever lawyer modifies a character in a contract in an undetectable way to change its meaning, exemplifying this playful relationship. I also brought up the use of the character for "umbrella" in the Japanese-based story "Mono no aware." Ken said that there were some similarities between Japanese and Chinese characters, and that the use of the character here was part of the characterization of the narrator, who was a child when he left Japan and went into space, so he has self-constructed an idea of what it means to be Japanese. He is both defensive and protective of his cultural identity to keep it alive. He sees it as something precious that needs to be protected, and is trying to make it alive. He explains it to many people, and those explanations and his final act make it become part of the culture of the ship.

I asked Ken about some of the thematic questions he raises in these stories about the nature of reality, which he called a "huge philosophical question." One way to think about the difference between science fiction and fantasy, he said, was that science fiction holds the idea that the world is knowable, where it might be argued that fantasy does not. It's not so simple, he says, but there is tension between those ideas. He says does not know where he stands on the answer to this question for his own work, though, because The Grace of Kings holds to the idea that the world is knowable. In stories from the collection like "Simulacrum," he meditates on whether the world is knowable. For example, he says, in our world we tend to see "the definitive biography" of a person released, as though this is it, and the totality of a person's being is knowable. On the other hand, there are many different performances of the self, over time and as one presents oneself or interprets oneself differently with different people. We so often act on the basis of habit, and different patterns hold with particular people. In his story, the father and the daughter have locked each other into a limited view of who they are, and each one loves the mask more than they love the changing person behind it. Ken says that maturity of love is when sometimes the love has to change with the person.

We spoke briefly about code-switching, which essentially means altering the way you speak in order to fit different contexts. It's a form of performance and presentation of identity and group membership. Sometimes it is switching between dialects, and other times between recognized languages.

Mirrors also appear in many of Ken's stories. They reflect ourselves and others, and sometimes we even act as mirrors for other people. Ken doesn't view fiction as unrelated to real life. One of its roles is as a mirror, in that he says his work is reflective of real life, but also transforms it. "Worldbuilding" is a distorting mirror, or possibly a corrective one, that will allow us to change or correct biases in real life.

Thanks again for joining us, Ken! The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a fascinating collection, and I hope everyone will read and enjoy it.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rewards and Motivation

Naturally, the first thing I think of on the topic of Rewards and Motivation is the classic Old West poster: WANTED: (Criminal X) REWARD. In fact, that can easily become one of the main motivators in a story, but it's not the only one. What motivates characters in a story? Revenge is an all-too-commonly-used motivator. But beyond that, what do we get down to? Moral happiness? Personal connection? Virtue? How is virtue defined?

Kimberly mentioned how villains are necessarily an inversion of the motivations of a protagonist. She mentioned an instance where they use the motivations of a "good guy" but in the wrong way (cross-applied). She had a scenario where bad guys wanted to change the status quo because the status quo would lead to the end of the world. And yes, she said, the bad guys were self-centered and fighting each other, but also having to work together.

Often we talk about motivators in terms of the Carrot and the Stick. "The End of the World" is a pretty big stick, but isn't usually enough to keep a story fully engaging, because it can be very disconnected from what a character cares about.

You need Big Stakes, but in many ways Personal Stakes are more important. There's the (very clichéd and problematic) "get the girl," also, "save somebody" like a relative or a friend.

People are complicated. "People operate against type all the time simply because they're people."

If you want people to connect with your story, it's powerful to have the reader empathize with the character's goals, but it doesn't always need to be direct empathy where the reader says "I have wanted this exact same thing." The connection can be indirect.

Often, we can have highly gender-influenced ideas of what makes an appropriate motivator for someone (such as those listed above). But that isn't necessary. I spoke about my character Tagaret, whose primary motivator at the start of the story is "to escape by means of art." Because many of us are writers, we could relate to that! But I mentioned an instance of someone who had thought that motivation was too "feminine" (we disagreed strongly). There is also the motivation to do something to create change. It can also be expressed in more or less gendered term.

Different motivators and rewards can be used more typically in different genres.

We talked about the motivation of money, which is really a means to an end. For most characters, money isn't inherently motivating for itself, but for what it is used to do, like getting food or shelter. Food is a very basic animal motivator, but can be used to great effect in stories, such as Janice Hardy's The Shifter or Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.

A character can also be motivated to win a competition with someone else. Kim noted that this motivator was quite commonly used in YA stories she's read.

Sex can be used as a motivator. You have to think about it carefully, though, because you don't want it to seem false and "added in."

Romance and relationships can be used as powerful motivation, though we agreed that in the Romance genre, they weren't typically used as primary motivators, but as secondary ones (at least early in the stories). Very often Romance stories will set up a situation in which the drive to achieve a romance runs counter to a set of other goals held by the two protagonists.

Power rewards are very common. I mentioned how in my book, the main goal is the competition to become Heir to the Throne. This has been the core motivator for a great many stories besides mine! People will also strive to achieve wealth and influence.

In fact, the ostensible reward may just be symbolic of power held over others. I mentioned a case from my kids' school were a girl would bring in fruit roll-ups, which she would then offer to one person, and then "change her mind" and offer to other people, so that she could cause people to vie against one another for her favor. This led us to the insight that when gifts are being given, it's good to consider the motivation of the giver as well as the receiver.

Sometimes, just plain relief can be a huge motivator. Relief from pain might be one example of that. Relief from a form of psychological discomfort, such as that suffered in obsessive-compulsive disorder, might be another (and I've seen it used in more than one book!). Escape from a trap is another, as might be escape from torture. Darth Vader uses killing to "find new ways to motivate them."

Again we come back to threat versus reward, stick versus carrot.

We listed out: threat motivation, reward motivation, competitive motivation, pleasure motivation as being very basic motivations. Most of the time, though, you can build complex things on top of these, and those complex things are given value by the culture of the world you are working in. The motivator of creating a reputation, or being shamed, can be hugely important, but they take widely different forms.

You can tailor a form of motivation to the fictional world you're working in. In order to make sure that a reader grasps it well enough to empathize, though, it's important to set it in a context where it can make sense - to "construct what normal means." Clearly state the motivators you are working with. When an individual possesses idiosyncratic motivations, make sure to define and construct them explicitly in the context of that person's psychology.

A character's own self-concept, and its integrity, can be huge motivators. "Am I a good person?"

We talked about the phenomenon of fat-shaming, and how that behavior can be motivated by seemingly counter-intuitive means. When people become angry at a fat person who feels comfortable in her own skin, it often is because they themselves have been fat-shamed extensively and invested a lot of their time and suffering in struggling against being fat, and their self-concept feels at risk if they consider the idea that all that time and suffering might have been pointless or unnecessary.

When you are working with a story and considering people's goals and potential paths, keep in mind that there is not usually only one path forward - some paths lead to some bad things, others lead to other bad things, and the good that comes out of them can be ambiguous.

I mentioned the idea of positive and negative politeness, because it relates in some interesting ways to the idea of motivations. "Positive" politeness is behavior that relies on the idea that solidarity is valued, and behaviors that express solidarity are thus more accepted. "Negative" politeness relies on the underlying concept of autonomy, and the idea that politeness is honoring a person's space and not breaching their walls. Because they are based on opposite concepts of value, bad things can happen when they cross.

Context is really important. In any given interaction, figuring out what the other person values, and what motivates them, is important for success. Those underlying assumptions of value vary widely depending on who is interacting and in what context.

Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion!

This week's hangout will be tomorrow, 6/29/16 at 1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern on Google Hangouts. We'll be meeting with guest author Bo Bolander to talk about her multiply award-nominated story, "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead." I hope you can join us!

And if you would like to join in the Dive into Worldbuilding Workshop, join our Patreon here for brainstorming prompts, links, and more.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Introducing the Dive into Worldbuilding Workshop at Patreon!

Dive into Worldbuilding started in 2011 - five years ago - when Google+ introduced their hangouts feature and I decided it would be fun to hang out with fellow writers and talk about worldbuilding. Since then, it has grown and changed, from just a bunch of friends meeting online with no record except my written summaries, to a meeting that got recorded and sent to YouTube, to a show featuring a wide variety of guest authors as well as regular topic discussions. With each change, my goal has been to reach a wider variety of interesting people, listen to more interesting views on worldbuilding, and share insights with as many people as possible.

Today, I'm taking it a step further with the Dive into Worldbuilding Patreon - which is also the Dive into Worldbuilding Workshop.

This Patreon will do more than just support my research into panel topics. It will help me to pay my guest authors for their time and expertise - but it will also let me help more of you.

By pledging to the Patreon, you'll be effectively enrolling in a worldbuilding workshop. Choose the level of your choice and receive brainstorming prompts, research links, commentary on videos from the show archives, or a peek into my notes. At higher pledge levels you can also ask me questions, get me to take a Ridiculously Close look at your writing, or hang out with me monthly to consult about your work.

I've got a few guest posts up around the internet today talking about this project, and I hope you'll go and take a look! 

At Megan O'Keefe's blog, I've contributed to her series called Drinks with Characters.

At Janice Hardy's Fiction University, I've written a post about Going Beyond the Default in Your Worldbuilding.

At Ann Leckie's blog, I've taken a Ridiculously Close Look at the first six paragraphs of Ancillary Justice.

Deborah J. Ross talks about my Patreon at her blog, with a post featuring her own appearance on the show to talk about The Seven-Petaled Shield.

So enjoy the posts, but most of all, consider checking out the Dive into Worldbuilding Patreon and joining the workshop! I'll look forward to working with you.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bathing and Laundry - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

This topic was a natural one to follow on from last week's Bathrooms hangout! After all, sometimes laundry is done in the bathroom...

We started with close-to home context for bathing and laundry, talking laundry machines and where they might be located, typically in bathrooms or garages (at least in my neighborhood!). Of course, there are also contexts where such machines are not in the home at all, and people go to special laundry rooms or laundromats. We reminisced about collecting quarters to use in laundry machines! These days, apparently, some laundromats use cards instead (which sounds like a good idea).

The technology of a washing machine is also interesting. The latest development is to improve their efficiency in using water and electricity, but the machines themselves were groundbreaking, and life-changing, for many. Doing laundry used to take days, and suddenly it could be reduced to a couple of hours of simply setting it up and looking in on it.

Though Cliff couldn't attend this week, he suggested we speak about the Dhobi, who are a group of people in India whose vocation is doing laundry for others. Wikipedia refers to them as a caste. Traditionally they would pick up people's laundry and clean it by beating it on rocks in the river; the process would take 6 days. This job is a necessary one, but considered lowly because of having to deal with other people's dirt. It has also become more difficult for these people to retain their livelihood because of the introduction of washing machines in India.

Brian noted that the idea of dirty laundry is very powerful. You are not supposed to expose your dirty clothes. Morgan said that even in a laundromat you don't show your laundry to others, or leave it around. I spoke about my experience with a Japanese host family where my hostess informed me that I was supposed to wash my own underwear.

There is a whole range of products designed to clean clothes, and to get stains out of them.

In fiction, I mentioned Ancillary Sword, which includes the observation that someone's personal attendant is attempting to wash paint out of her gloves. I also mentioned that there's a scene in my own book where someone is using a steam press to press napkins. Generally, though, it seems that laundry is not extremely common in fiction.

Having dirt or stains on your clothes is stigmatized. We often make a run for the bathroom as soon as we drop something on our clothes so as to stop it from becoming a permanent stain.

I brought up the relationship between bathing and laundry as regards personal cleanliness. Recently I read an article that talked about how people in the Middle Ages might not have bathed, but that they would have used linen to scrub their bodies down regularly. The person writing the article had done a month-long experiment where they did not bathe, but laundered their linen underclothes regularly, and then reversed the process. Apparently, omitting the laundry was a lot worse! It suggested that people - at least people who were able to afford linen underwear and laundry - did not smell as bad as we might imagine.

I had a strange thought about what laundry would be like for the Imbati caste in my book, because so many of them wear black. You'd definitely have to watch out so you wouldn't accidentally dye things that weren't supposed to be black!

I mentioned the bath scene in the movie My Neighbor Totoro, which is one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies. In Japan, you soak yourself in the bath but you don't get clean there; you get clean in a shower area before you get into the tub. There is less embarrassment associated with being naked in the bath, and more with the actual process of getting undressed. Some people bring washcloths or towels to cover themselves while in the bath, but some do not. We talked about hot spring baths, or Onsen. I told a funny story about how I once took a bath in a tub that literally had a fire under it! (Moral: don't mix up the words for "hot water"= oyu and "cold water"= omizu.)

Che said she'd read that mucus bathing would be more effective than bathing with water. We all shuddered!

We also mentioned architecture and bathing. You have Roman baths, and our baths with showers, baths without showers, showers without baths... Generally there's something to contain the water. You also have the question of whether the water falls straight down or hits you at an angle.

Science fictionally, we have the idea of a "sonic shower" from Star Trek. Author Linda Nagata employed the idea of cleaning the body with nanites.

Controlling the water is one of the main goals of bath architecture. Really you want to have a fully controlled pipeline with a few well-contained openings in it. We mentioned how water pressure was generally created using gravity. You have to watch out to make sure the weight of a full bathtub won't break through the floor!

We briefly mentioned how bathing has increased longevity, and how washing improved health outcomes in hospitals. The question of getting clean if you can't move your body without help also came up, as did the hygiene hypothesis for the rise in allergies.

It was a pretty interesting discussion! Thanks to everyone who attended. This week's hangout will meet tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8th at 10am Pacific. We'll be discussing Rewards and Motivation. I hope you can join us!


Monday, June 6, 2016

Table of Contents

  1. Alien Senses
  2. Architecture
  3. Armies, with author Myke Cole
  4. Autonomy, Individuality, and Identity
  5. Back History of Declining Societies
  6. Bathing and Laundry
  7. Bathrooms 
  8. The Body as a Record of Personal Experience and Cultural Identity 
  9. Body Modification
  10. Book Titles 
  11. Building a world after starting your story
  12. Charity vs. Justice 
  13. Cities
  14. Cities: Making your city work
  15. Colonialism and Imperialism
  16. Colorism
  17. Colors
  18. Corruption 
  19. Costumes 
  20. Crime and Criminals
  21. Cultural Ideologies
  22. Cultural Interactions/Linking large-scale and small-scale phenomena
  23. The Culture of Death
  24. The Culture of Oppression
  25. Culture Shock
  26. Death and Funerals 
  27. Dentistry
  28. Dialects and Voice 
  29. Dining and Eating Practices
  30. Disability and Accommodation  
  31. Diversity
  32. Domesticated Animals #1
  33. Domesticated Animals #2  
  34. Economics 
  35. Economics of Resources and Magic
  36. Fairy Tales
  37. Families
  38. Fantasy Cartography with Christian Stiehl
  39. Fashion  
  40. First Sentences
  41. Food
  42. Food, Agriculture, and Diet
  43. Friendship
  44. Games 
  45. Gardens
  46. Gender
  47. Gender in Language
  48. Gender Roles
  49. Genre and Description
  50. Gestures  
  51. Hair
  52. Hats and Other Headgear
  53. Heroes 
  54. High Culture and Low Culture
  55. Hobbies and Crafts
  56. Holidays
  57. Hospitality
  58. How Realistic Does a Created World Have to Be?
  59. How to Keep Rich Worldbuilding from Bogging Down Your Story
  60. Humor and Pranks 
  61. Idioms and Proverbs
  62. Illness and Medicine 
  63. Illnesses, Ailments, and Medicine
  64. In-Group Marking (Nicknames, Secret Handshakes, etc.)
  65. Inheritance
  66. Insults, Privilege, and Power Language
  67. Invasive Species
  68. Jobs 
  69. David J. Peterson and Lawrence Schoen, Language Design
  70. Language Barriers
  71. Links between Physical and Social in Worldbuilding
  72. Literacy and Technology
  73. Magic Systems 
  74. Making Up Words
  75. Manners, Round 1
  76. Manners, Round 2
  77. Martial Arts, and how they are portrayed in film (video only)
  78. Matching Culture and Character Motives
  79. Mental Illness - social impacts
  80. Metaphors
  81. Misunderstandings  
  82. Modesty
  83. Morals and Values 
  84. Music and Worldbuilding
  85. Mythology
  86. Natural Disasters
  87. Names, Titles, and Their Social Significance 
  88. Naming Characters
  89. Neurotypical or Not? with Lillian Csernica
  90. Non-Auditory Languages 
  91. Oceans
  92. Parenting
  93. Personal Faith
  94. Personal Titles, Honorifics, etc.
  95. Pets 
  96. Physical Exercise
  97. Place Names and Geography
  98. Point of View Characters as Ambassadors to Your World (1) 
  99. Political Systems
  100. Pregnancy and Parenthood
  101. Privacy 
  102. Privilege and Intersectionality
  103. Pronouns
  104. Prosthetics 
  105. Psychology 
  106. Realism in Worldbuilding
  107. Religion 
  108. Religion 2 - daily practices and diversity
  109. Religious Privilege
  110. Research
  111. Roads and Infrastructure
  112. Roles in Government
  113. Rewards and Motivation 
  114. Schools and Education
  115. Seasons
  116. Setting up Alternate Social Parameters
  117. Social Media
  118. Social Stereotypes 
  119. Sports, with Tim Wade
  120. Strength and Weakness
  121. Subconscious Worldbuilding
  122. Suspension of Disbelief and the "Show, Don't Tell" of Worldbuilding
  123. Swearing 
  124. Threats vs. Acceptance
  125. Tools
  126. Travel
  127. Vermin
  128. Villains 
  129. Water
  130. Worldbuilding Process (summary only)
  131. Worldbuilding Under the Radar

SPECIAL GUESTS: (Alphabetical by last name)

  1. Brad Beaulieu, The Lays of Anuskaya
  2. Aliette de Bodard, Obsidian and Blood/ Xuya/ House of Shattered Wings 
  3. Bo Bolander and And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead
  4. Jenn Brissett, Elysium
  5. Maurice Broaddus, The Knights of Breton Court/ Pimp my Airship
  6. Maurice Broaddus, The Voices of Martyrs
  7. Joyce Chng/J. Damask, Wolf at the Door/ Rider Trilogy 
  8. Myke Cole, Breach Zone 
  9. Carrie Cuinn, Semiotics and Worldbuilding Without Visual Imagination
  10. Alyx Dellamonica, The Nature of a Pirate
  11. Malon Edwards, The Half-Dark Promise and other stories
  12. Eva Elasigue, Bones of Starlight
  13. Fábio Fernandes, Obliterati
  14. Laura Anne Gilman, Silver on the Road
  15. Laura Anne Gilman, The Cold Eye
  16. Randy Henderson, Finn Fancy Necromancy
  17. Nancy Hightower, The Acolyte 
  18. N. K. Jemisin, The Broken Earth Trilogy/The Fifth Season  
  19. Jeffe Kennedy and Pages of the Mind
  20. Fonda Lee and Exo 
  21. Stina Leicht and Cold Iron
  22. Stina Leicht - The Fey and the Fallen  
  23. Tonya Liburd, Through Dreams She Moves
  24. Henry Lien and Pearl - also, the world premiere of Radio SWFA!
  25. Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings
  26. Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
  27. Ken Liu, The Wall of Storms 
  28. Pat MacEwen, Coyote Song, and Forensics
  29. Usman T. Malik, The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn and other stories 
  30. Marshall Ryan Maresca, An Import of Intrigue
  31. Haralambi Markov, The Language of Knives
  32. Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal To Noise  
  33. Megan O'Keefe, Steal the Sky
  34. Cat Rambo, Beasts of Tabat
  35. Kelly Robson, Waters of Versailles
  36. Deborah J. Ross, The Seven-Petaled Shield
  37.  Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories
  38. Nisi Shawl, Everfair
  39. Andrea Stewart, The Changeling Wars
  40. Isabel Yap, Milagroso, The Oiran's song, and other stories 
  41. Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Traveler of Worlds

Friday, June 3, 2016

Bathrooms - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

I'm so glad we got to do this hangout, finally, because it was really fun. Bathrooms are very funny, after all! They don't seem to appear a lot in serious fiction, and when they do appear in movies or TV, they never seem to mean anything good. They typically either come with bathroom humor, like in The Iron Giant or something awful, like a dead body.

Sometimes a bathroom can appear when a character needs to change their appearance. We mentioned The Bourne Identity and The Terminator as movies where this had happened. I mentioned Kelly Robson's Waters of Versailles as an example of bathrooms in literature, but even there you don't see too many of the toilets in question. Deborah mentioned that she just loves working with bathtubs in her Darkover novels.

I mentioned that in Australia (and also in Europe, typically), the toilet is separate from the bathroom.

There are different styles of toilets. Someone mentioned three seashells from Demolition man, but we also talked about the squat toilets that Tom Selleck encountered in Mr. Baseball. Squat toilets are more common in Japan than in the US, and they require a degree of training and muscle strength!

We talked about separating bathrooms by gender. Is it even necessary? Should we separate by "number one" and "number two" instead? What about disabled stalls? What about changing tables, which really don't belong in the disabled stalls, but take up a lot of space. Are they only in the women's, or on both men's and women's bathrooms? In public bathrooms, often people are trying to fit in as much as possible, which leads to sub-optimal organization.

We talked about how it's annoying when little kids crawl under the stall walls. Secure stalls with private space would be good, but how much surveillance do you need for safety? Will people have sex in bathrooms, or do drugs? Deborah told us that her daughter once got locked in a stall and Deborah had to kick the door in.

If you are designing bathroom facilities, they need to fit the needs of the user. This includes aliens! But you can also see forms of bias in how facilities are designs.

We talked about hand dryers, and the noise pollution they create. We debated the Dyson airblade style of dryer, because of the recent article saying they spread germs. Of course, our perception of how bad the spread of germs is is relative. Our psychological tolerance of the idea of germs is pretty low, but the Dyson isn't spreading much, because 97% of germs come off your hands just with water, and soap only raises that to 99%.

A lot of features of bathrooms are actually deliberate to discourage germs. Germs can't survive on cold porcelain. Sometimes there are a combination of features that come together to discourage germ survival in the bathroom.

Kimberly said that if you go into an alien's bathroom you could catch something that could eat your face! Certainly, the expectations for what kinds of microbes should be discouraged would be different for aliens. What if they had a hot bathroom? What if you had a researcher who was specially charged with studying the bathrooms of an alien species, and figuring out how to arrange bathrooms for the ambassador on Earth?

In fantasy, or at least medieval fantasy, the topic of bathrooms is often avoided. People might use a trench, or just magic, to get rid of unwanted things.

Che mentioned outhouses. In the 1900s, even though there were modern toilets, the toilet was often in an outhouse behind the house. This was in fact the case with the bathroom in my own husband's mom's place in the 1990's!

We talked about Japan, and how they have the tradition of toilet slippers which are worn only in the toilet room (you'll be embarrassed if you wear them out into the house!). They also have techno-toilets with lots of buttons that can be very confusing (even shocking!).

We talked about "finding the dirtiest surface." Many people go to the bathroom to find it, but that's not accurate. Our psychological idea of the dirtiest surface does not match the reality. Professionally maintained bathrooms are usually very clean. We have cultural hangups about how dirty bathrooms are.

We also talked about what we keep in bathrooms. It's not a "cool dry place," but often medicines are kept there anyway. Moisture over time is definitely a possible problem. If you were wealthy, you might have a separate dressing room, dressing table, etc.

When flush toilets were first invented there was backlash against bringing them into the house. They took up what was formerly the dressing area. Our home bathrooms are shared by the people in the house. You may also be in a communal living situation where shared bathrooms are down the hall, while you would be expected to dress in your bedroom.

Cat boxes are sometimes kept in bathrooms. You can train a cat to use the toilet (yes, it's possible!).
Laundry machines are also often kept in bathrooms.

Deborah told us about a "composting privy" which was particularly for solid waste so it could be used for agriculture. They used waste for compost at George Washington's Mount Vernon farm, too.

Plumbing is actually very complex, and designed to confine the water as much as possible. This is why you get "wet walls" in buildings. Catching and reusing water can be important, especially when it is scarce. Flush toilets use a ton of water. We noted that you don't see many clogged toilets in fiction!

This was an interesting conversation, and at the end of it we decided to take up bathing and laundry next. I hope to have that summary written shortly. Thanks to everyone who attended!