I Gave Red

I was reminded of the first t-shirt I ever got for donating blood at Bonfils. It was just after I’d graduated high-school, but I think before I started college. My Dad had donated at a work-based blood drive in the past, and there was a need for his blood type in particular, so Bonfils gave him a call.

We went out to breakfast at Dot’s (where we’ve been having breakfast since I was 2), and then walked into the donation center in Boulder.

We gave our pints, and got the t-shirt as a thank you. On the front were two check-boxes: “I gave red” and “I gave green”. I love that t-shirt. I’ve worn it to near-death and threatened to modify it in a number of different ways. Yet, it remains unmodified because I don’t want to risk ruining it.

It’s been approximately 10 years since that first donation, and I’m currently working on my 9th gallon of O+ given. My Dad and I still have breakfast at Dot’s, then donate (and then I get comic books, at Time Warp right next door – most awesome Saturday morning routine ever).

I realized that I’ve never really looked into the situations I’m supplying. I know what I know via exposure rather than attention. Bonfils is great with informing their donor community, and the occasional news story will mention community blood supply. More often, a sense of the blood supply shows up in the phrase “[patient] received [x] units of blood during surgery”. In fiction, that blood is always miraculously available – the hospital had it and there was no question (much like money in fiction – you notice how it’s always available when the plot requires?). Often in the news, blood makes an equally miraculous appearance – as if of course it’s going to be available whenever a patient needs.

I am gaining an appreciation for all that needs to happen in order for that to be true – because it’s often a balancing act, with medical personnel deciding between both the danger to the patient (receiving blood is no small matter, immune system wise) and availability of acceptable blood. Blood has a non-negotiable expiration date. Spikes in donations during catastrophe can’t be smoothed out to help during the smaller emergencies that don’t engender such public outpouring. There’s no way to save up people’s generosity, no way to carry the surplus forward.

So I keep giving – catastrophe or no. And one day, I’ll get to make a joke about Vulcans while wearing that T-shirt.

When we could shout across the room

Opposing Views

Image by Jaimito Cartero via Flickr

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about management.  I take refuge in thinking about it theoretically, as an academic problem to be solved, and wouldn’t it be nice if all the people involved would just behave. I am fully aware that theoretically is not how this works, but I use the word “refuge” in good conscience.  I’m in a position of learning as I go, and trying things out until I find a style that works for both me and the people I manage. Yes, this method does drive everyone a little crazy – I’m not exactly set in my ways, in a practical sense.

Five years ago next week, I started working at my current company.  We all fit into one big room plus three descent offices, with all our inventory and break room amenities, and I’ve been feeling nostalgia for the days when I could hold everything that needed to be done in my realm of influence in my brain.

Today I attended a workshop designed (and designed well) to teach me how to manage people, with all the infrastructure that entails (feedback, planning ahead, clear expectations, consistency), and had an abrupt realization that that infrastructure is necessary because we’re not all living out of each others’ pockets anymore. I’d had the realization before, but something about having to write emails to myself in order to make sure I remembered what I’ve said to whom on a regular basis drove it home.  Because I will have to write those emails, or I’m going to end up pulling the ground out from under someone’s project without meaning to, simply because I don’t remember what priority it had relative to the rest of the department last week before that import issue cropped up – and I hate it when people do that to me.

I miss the small business environment, where I could be elbow deep in everything without pissing anyone off or breaking anything. Now I get to look at all the pretty spinning wheels of commerce, but I’m only allowed to touch and muck with the ones in my assigned section (and you’d better believe I muck with them). And I could do so much more damage by touching the wrong thing at the wrong time than I could before, simply because we move like a Destroyer now, rather than a speedboat.

A lot of this is just me whining.  What I really want is a data port, because if I haven’t figured out how to learn things fast enough to keep up by now, I never will.

Achievements and my psychology.

The husband and I play a lot of video games. A feature introduced to us with our XBox are achievements for meeting certain criteria within the games. My current obsession is Dragon Age: Origins, which comes on my gaming system with a set of achievements. Achievements are earned by fulfilling a set of conditions during game-play. They are pretty obviously designed to get someone to spend more hours playing the game than they already would have, by appealing to the collector-soul present in the populace. They also get completists to pay up for  extra content that they might not have gone for, if it weren’t for the empty slots that will show up on their list of achievements.

What’s all this leading up to? My status as a habitual blood-donar, actually.

Approximately every eight weeks, since the space of time between when I graduated high school and when I started college, my Dad and I meet for breakfast at Dot’s Diner and then go give up a pint each to Bonfils Blood Center. Bonfils gives out neat gold-colored pins for every gallon that you donate. Totally separate from the feeling of civic pride, of being useful to society, of knowing that the line between recovery and not may be my pint of O+, is the nice little adrenaline rush, the sense of collecting, when I get one of those pins.

According to calculations, I should be getting another one – 8 gallons – next time I give.

And knowing that, I realized that what I’m feeling is exactly the same as when I know that I’m about to complete the game-play conditions for another achievement – one of the ones I’ve had to work for. It’s a strange thing to realize that my brain is rewarding me for both experiences in the same way. That rush of having done something.

The psychology is self-feeding, at least for me.  Proving that I’m not the do-gooding, altruistic person that does things like give blood just for the betterment of her neighbors. No, I get that nice little adrenaline rush too, encouraging me to come back, to level up, just eight more pints and I get another pin.

And you know what? I’m not going to fight it – because the behavior does better my neighbors, even if that’s not the totality of the reason why I do it.