Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Snowy Morning on the Deck

My parents didn't come back to Alberta for Christmas this year so I painted them a view from their deck at home. I thought they may get too warm in California and need a cooler view. I was wrong. It is actually much colder than usual down here. 

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Anniversary to my Mom & Dad. I'm glad I was able to come visit you in Cathedral City even if it is colder than I'd hoped.

And a Happy New Year to all!

Hand-Made Christmas Card Series 2014

This year I painted a series of small watercolors to slip into Christmas Cards for my family. Now that most of them have been delivered, I'll share them with everyone else. 

Assorted Cards with paintings from Shari Monner's 2014 Hand-Painted Christmas Card Series,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Magnolia for Mommy

My Mom loves flowers! So during my first spring in London, Ontario I sent her many pictures of the magnolias in bloom. She and Dad actually came out to see me later that spring and she made sure to catch the end of magnolia season. Each spring since, I've taken a walk to take pictures of magnolias to send to her. I painted this piece, Magnolia for Mommy, from one of those pictures.

Watercolor painting of a pink and purple magnolia by Shari Monner,

Wishing my Mom a Very Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Vary Niche Beginnings: Ideas About Evolution

As a philosopher of biology I can be quite particular about words and concepts with biological definitions and many of these words have their own (painfully different) common uses. Vary Niche is a project of passion for me because it hurts me to hear the term "niche" misused in personal and business dialog. The idea of finding or carving out our own niche is used with impunity but doesn't make any sense if you understand "niche" in the context of evolution as biologists currently understand it.
Niche is the interrelation between a species and any living or non-living factors affecting it. Text over photo of a marsh taken by Danny Booth at Point Pelee, Ontario.

To be fair, "niche" enjoyed 300 years of common use before biologists took it up and made it their own.  It was taken up by biologists as a term for an organism's habitat or place in its environment. This original biological version and the common uses of "niche" share the "hollow in a static background" notion. In one common use, a niche is a hole in a wall in which decorative items like statues can be placed. In the business world, a niche is a hollow in the market that can be filled with a business or product. Under this view, changing a niche is discussed in very permanent terms... as "carving" as if out of stone. All of these uses of niche make a niche seem very rigid, unchanging, or difficult to change. Additionally, these ideas make the niche seem importantly separate from its occupant.

More recent uses of "niche" in biology reflect the importance of change, feedback, and vitality in biological systems. The new biological notion of a "niche" is the interrelation of an organism or species with both living and non-living aspects of its surroundings. It is neither rigid nor separate. The regular activities of organisms change their niche and such accumulated modifications can feed back to affect the organisms. A niche is dynamic, easily changed, and interactive.

So in business and personal life, we do NOT carve out or find our niche, we endlessly construct and change it. Since our daily activities change our niche and feed back to affect us, whether we like it or not, getting the niche we want requires close attention to our actions and their consequences.

Vary Niche is about composing my own niche through awareness of how my daily actions change my environment. I hope following my journey will help others compose their own niche.

To my fellow philosophers and biologists: I apologize if my (over)extension of the notion of niche construction into the realm of business and self-help hurts your sensibilities. I will strive to be strictly accurate as much as possible while I share my understanding of the world with our less-biology-obsessed conspecifics.


Monday, December 8, 2014

What is it like to be a GAD?

In July of this year I was (finally) diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Since then I've been learning more about how much of my experience of the world around me would differ if my physiology responded "normally" to it. I've also been thinking more about the ever-so-human tendency to try to understand what someone is going through by relating it to personal experience. I have tried many times over the past months to explain what it is like to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder...and am starting to feel like I'm trying to explain what it is like to be a bat!
A comic strip of a skeleton talking to a bat. Skeleton: So, what is it like to be a bat?; Bat: Well, I really can't explain.; Skeleton: Is that because mental states can't be described objectively, because it is incoherent to speak of what subjective experiences are objectively like, since they can only be described as they appear from a particular point of view?; Bat: Nope. It's, you know, 'cuz I'm a bat. I mostly think about mosquitoes.

Please Note: While this post topic was born of frustration, it is not my intention to reprimand or blame any of my friends or family for their responses...I chose to be open from day one about my diagnosis so we're learning together and that is just fine! This is more an outlet for me to "talk" through what I have learned thus far.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

From Anxious to Better!

"Better! Every time someone asks, I get better and better!" Text over photo of Sunflower taken by Danny Booth in Amsterdam August 2009.My study of evolutionary process has taught me that every action of an organism--from breathing to the disposal of coffee cup lids--has an accumulated effect on that organism’s environment. With enough repetition these actions can feed-back to change the selection pressures acting on the organism (and other members of its species or ecosystem). Similarly, the daily actions of an individual like myself have accumulated effects that change the pressures of daily life.

This became particularly salient to me when I realized that my usual answer to “how are you doing?” was “anxious.” I was just being honest with myself and others…which freed me from the internal dialogue about the judgement they might make about me if they remained ignorant of my struggles. friends, family, and colleagues became increasingly less comfortable around me. Many of them started to worry that some of their own actions might contribute to my anxiety and since none of them are psychiatrists, they didn't know what to do. I noticed this discomfort and took action to save them from it...I stayed home or took special care to avoid people I knew on any rare outing. This only increased my anxiety, of course. The feedback loop I created with my “anxious” answer to a frequently used conversation starter made me more and more anxious.  Honesty aside...I needed to break this loop! So I composed a new one...

How am I today? “Better!” I am still being honest and still cope daily with generalized anxiety disorder, but now I’m better and better every time someone asks!