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.

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Confronting the Complexity

Hunting trophies in Úsov Château, the Czech Re...

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I am, by nature, given to the melodramatic and portentous proclamations. Not for the sense of importance (though that is a bonus), but for the idea that even the small things, if discussed in epic terms, grow to fit the language.

These days, I’ve found myself describing every project in the words of great diplomatic acts or in the language of warfare. Some of this is for sure influenced by the fact that my current reading is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Jack Weatherford reads as a bit of a fanboy, and I’m currently resisting the urge to go hunting through the bibliography, which would disrupt my actually reading the book. Even so, Weatherford’s book, along with The Checklist Manifesto, have influenced how I’m thinking about logistics vs. communication right now. Logistics is all about communication, which I think I had noticed before, but a targeted sort of communication: the kind that allows the people involved to know each other before they have to entirely depend on each others’ expertise. This is in addition to putting together a team that consists of expertise.

I’ve also been thinking in terms of putting time into my work with AAUW and my work at Work. I get to be creative as well as technical wit the website editor duties for the Branch (you all have gone to see the site right?), while I am getting deeper into analytical work, as I transition from my former position to my new one. The worries are that I am not creative enough to do publicity and a web-presence justice, or that I am not sufficiently laying the foundation for the new job, while shortchanging the transition period for both myself and my successor in the previous one. Between that, and the political calendar (AAUW has a public policy branch, which does a good job of getting the word out) there is no shortage of new things to learn, put together, and connect. I just have to sort signal from noise (a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately, in the context of my job), and to decide where I stand on the various moral continuums. No sweat, right?

Yet, at this time I feel the full weight of a beginning of the story, which is my favorite place to be. As I learned from one of my new team today: you have to earn what you ask for. And currently? I’m asking for a lot.

The Thousand Things

cross-posted with LiveJournal
1. I took a walk tonight, and even knowing that smoke had been pouring out of the mountains since mid-morning, the sky made me gawk in broken, painful amazement.

The smoke was a bruise, streaking across the west/north-west horizon, and as the sun set, I swear I could see bits of flame here and there on the mountain-side. I pray I was wrong, and the 3,000 acres burned as of this afternoon haven’t grown to more than that.

I’ve called my parents twice tonight, making sure they’re ok, even though they’re miles away from the directly effected area, and only ten miles closer to it than I am. I prayed for a quick resolution and end to the blaze, and I pray for those unable to go home tonight (or ever, if news speculation of burned houses is true).

There are three evacuation sites, one in a building I was a student at, nearly two decades ago now. The Red Cross is providing, as they usually do.

2. On Saturday, I crossed the 1,000 cumulative miles mark in the Eowyn Challenge. I’m on my way from Lothlorien to the Rauros Falls, at which point I will have to decide who I am on this particular adventure.

3. Deciding who I am is a bit more than a joke, at this particular point in time. I am changing my position and duties at work – not entirely by choice, though I know the choice is the right one. Part of that is helping to find someone to do what I can’t, and I’m finding it difficult to keep my blasted pride out of the equation. And I mean it, when I say “blasted” – my pride is as blasted lands: barren, cracked, and completely useless to anyone but sadists who leave prisoners out to starve.

4. I possibly need to read less dystopian literature until the changes at work are more settled. Though Hunger Games was quite the engrossing, heart-wrenching read. Follow it up with Imaro and the atmosphere of alienation, protagonist-against-the-world is nigh overwhelming.

5. I hadn’t really thought about it before this weekend, but Imaro might well be the first book in the Sword and Sorcery sub-genre of fantasy that I’ve actually read, though the Conan and Red Sonja movies were well known to me at a relatively early age. I could have done a great deal worse, though I’m not sure I could have found better. There was just enough there for me to get a foothold, and quite a bit that was completely different from other things that I’ve read. It makes me want the other three books.

6. In a fit of anxiety, I washed All The Dishes. Spouse is quite pleased, as xir’s usually the one who breaks first, and takes care of them.

Edited 9/7/2010: fixed spelling errors – oops.

Facing the Future

It’s not often that I get to see the same argument (against another party’s argument) being made by observers of both the Publishing Industry and the Stock Market (vast oversimplification). And yet, waiting for me to catch up with them in my reading lists were both of these:

Book Square’s Kassia Krozser responds to the backwards business logic of “protecting” the book by restricting formats.
And Infectious Greed’s Paul Kedrosky argues against an argument blaming new technology for the dearth of IPOs. Both address arguments that somehow the decline, stifling, or death of an industry is defined by the emergence of new technology and new ways of doing things – not those industries abilities to define themselves and their functions in terms of the new ways of doing things.

It’s the argument to “protect” that both Krozser and Kedrosky address in their responses. The idea that somehow, the old way of doing things needs to be preserved because it’s the old way of doing things.

For myself, I can’t see how it’s ever a good idea to mistake the form of something for its function. That way lies messiness, madness, and cliffs we should have seen coming.

The Story Teller by Margaret Coel

In a week, my branch of AAUW will be hosting it’s annual Membership Tea. Since my previous position of Interest Group Coordinator is no longer in existence, I find myself looking forward to the meeting. In previous years, the prospect of trying to answer questions about fun groups that I didn’t have time to belong to was kind of depressing. This year, I have the website, and a speaker after my own hear to look forward to.

This summer, I saw Ms. Coel speak at Chautauqua, and was impressed by the breadth of her passion for the world around her, the stories she tells, and particularly the people who inspire those stories. Father John and Vicki Holden may not actually exist, but the themes, traumas, and hopes of the stories in which they reside do.

Equality isn’t something that one fights for in only one aspect of the world. It’s something that comes from being unable to look at another than think that they are less. Ms. Coel’s work looks to aim for that in the relationships she portrays, the evils she has her characters face, and the themes peeking out from between the words on the page.

Because I’m all caught up in excitement for this meeting, I’m going to read Story Teller, and am toying with the idea of liveblogging it. I have no idea if I’m even constitutionally capable of putting a good mystery down long enough to blog it before finishing, but I think I’ll give it a go.