deb kline

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Adrift: A personal Journey of discovery on the meaning of and connection to place

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“You will learn it, but not from me. The river has taught me to listen, from it you will learn it as well. It knows everything, the river, everything can be learned from it. See, you’ve already learned this from the water too, that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek depth.”

– Herman Hesse

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I have a deep connection to the St. Lawrence River. Just as a river etches into the ground and shapes the landscape over time, the St. Lawrence River has had a significant influence on me and has helped to shape me over the past 45 years. The River is more than the body of water. It is the waterway, the towns and the intimate camp communities. It’s not just a compilation of physical elements; it’s an emotional place that never fails to bring peace to my soul. While I’ve been visiting the River every year for decades, it feels like more than a vacation spot. It feels like home.

But why? Why do I have such a strong connection to it?  And why does it matter?

This thesis project was initiated as a personal discovery to ask and answer these simple questions. The result of the journey, however, is an understanding that the “connection” to the River isn’t singularly about place. It involves many more elements including relationships, stories, histories and personal values. Just as the River makes me pause literally and figuratively when on vacation, the journey to find the answers to these questions has forced me to pause and to explore my connection.

My professional work as a designer and teacher has always been externally-focused and goal-oriented. I have helped others to solve their problems, using my knowledge and skills to influence, communicate and market — always with an end in mind that is distinctly connected to someone else.

In contrast, answering these questions about the impact of the River on my life required an uncharacteristic inward turn. I explored the use of art and design to dig into my emotional connection to the River. I tried to work and create, not to solve a problem or with an end product in mind, but for pure exploration and a deeper understanding of myself.  I let myself go adrift and see where it took me.

My greatest hope is that by cultivating deeper self-awareness and understanding of why the River matters to me, I will also find the keys to strengthen the connections people have with my work. Tapping into this knowledge – a deeper understanding of how and why people connect emotionally with places, people and things – can provide access for designing deeper connections between my work and audiences.

It is my desire that others might apply this learning if they, too, desire to understand, or perhaps even intentionally design, a personal connection to communities or places. What’s your river?