How a letter from sea reconnected me to my current work

by Skye Morét

I received a curious letter in the mail just a few months into starting graduate school. I saw my own handwriting in the ‘return’ area and I had even written my own name in the ‘to’ section. My heart started pounding with anticipation as I remembered what it was: a letter I had written to myself eight months earlier from a boat in the middle of the Pacific.

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On a breezy March afternoon, everyone on board our oceanographic sailing ship had found their own private spot on deck and had taken an hour to write a letter to their future selves—a time capsule of sentiments. For me, having spent the last seven years teaching on the high seas, this was my last chance to capture my authentic sea-going self before I started an MFA program in design. I aspired to learn how I could employ media to help people more meaningfully engage with nature.

But design school was grueling. Immersed in a program that prided their student workload as “it’s like med school, without all the blood,” my under-eye circles became dark with screen time, prototyping, and reading about theory and speculative futures. My intrinsic need to be near water had been shelved. My connection with nature had been abstracted by air conditioning and urban landscapes.

Opening this letter was like a portal to my old life, to the passions and context motivating my current hard work.

My letter was systematic, almost scientific. As the boat swayed back and forth in swift trade winds, I had isolated each of my five senses and wrote about them in turn. I now read of the smell of the ocean, the squeak of blocks and lines adjusting the sails, the personal distinctions of laughter so easy to identify after six weeks at sea. My, how reading about those subtle sensations surfaced vibrant, clear memories!

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I remembered the feel of the “fresh, fresh!” air that had traveled across the ocean to reach me as I turned each side of my face into the wind. I recalled the taste of sunscreen, salt, and homemade pretzels; every sound a familiar one; the view of 35 people, wandering about; unique silhouettes who would never again share that same tight community.

Tears streamed down my face as I came to the end of the letter, the part that wished my future self success in design school and promised not to forget the essence of my time at sea and the importance of community. I would eventually come to realize that every nuance of those senses and their meaning to me are engrained—they now form the central facet of the information designer that I have become.

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Skye Morét is the Lead Design Strategist and Data Visualizer at Periscopic. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Collaborative Design + Design Systems MFA/MA program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.