Quote-Pictures: Variations on Regret

I came up with some quotes and used the Phonto app to put them on photos I took. Here my three favorites.

The origins of this project are pretty convoluted. This week, I had several ideas in mind for a potential project. One path would have been to write a song, this time in the style of Bo Burnham. I wanted it to be about the way we shy away from disconfirming evidence. I was talking about taking a road trip to North Carolina and Virginia to scope out if either of those would be good places to live in the future. Then I had the thought that maybe my home state of Maine would be the best place to live after all, and there’d be no need to visit these other places. However, if Maine truly was the best place, then there’d also be no risk in visiting these other places, since my visits would only help confirm my original hypothesis. And if my hypothesis was disconfirmed, that would be useful information as well. I imagined a song with a lot of humorous examples of people trying their hardest to keep their original biases intact.

During this week, I also started learning ukulele. Thus, I figured that I would hold off on writing the song until I learned enough ukulele to provide a backing track. It’s getting kind of painful to post my voice without any distractions, even if that distraction is only beginner ukulele chords.

Next I thought about doing blackout poetry. I don’t have any text around that I’m willing to deface, however, so I looked up some apps that do blackout poetry. I found one that worked well enough, though it made you keep the entire word. So if you wanted the word “will,” you couldn’t get there through the word “willpower” and blocking out the “power.” I was okay with this being a new challenge; maybe something interesting would come out of it. I looked up what books are in the public domain, and I found that Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year was among the most read on Project Gutenberg. Then the phrase “That which I should’ve done before I cannot do” popped into my head, since I was previously thinking about all the things I wished I had done, such as traveling, that I can’t do during the pandemic. I thought if I could find those words in A Journal of the Plague Year, then it would make a great blackout poem since the attribution would make the context clear.

This is not a recommended way to do blackout poetry, since it doesn’t work. I searched for a long time for paragraphs that included all the words, and though there were a couple that came close, it didn’t come to be. So then I started actually reading A Journal of the Plague Year and trying to do the normal method of blackout poetry, where you find interesting words that stand out to you and make a phrase. It was tough reading. A lot of depressing counts about the numbers of people who had died. This made me shy away from using the text altogether, since it seemed disrespectful to mark it up. I’ve realized I don’t like making blackout poetry out of books by writers trying to say something meaningful. I can cut down the text to some of the more interesting phrases, but the writer already made those phrases, so I feel I wasn’t necessary to the process. I like blackout poetry that is subverting something, like if you cut up an advertisement and make it about something decidedly non-consumerist. Deciding against blackout poetry for this project, I wanted to figure out a different way to present the quote “That which I should’ve done before I cannot do.”

Using pictures was my next option. I’m not sure what this style is called, when you overlay photos with quotes. Quote pictures? Collage poetry? No idea. Anyway, I first searched for photos on Flickr that used the All Creative Commons license, allowing the photos to be used for many purposes. One photo I found using this method still asked that you attribute the photo to the photographer, and I wasn’t sure how that worked. Would it be enough to mention them in the blog post? Would you need to include it on the photo itself? I was confused. Then I realized, I can just take pictures myself! No attribution confusion when you’re modifying your own photos. So I went to a park near me and took a bunch of photos. As I was at the park, I started thinking of more phrases I could use. The thing about “That which I should’ve done before I cannot do” is that it’s not accurate in the vast majority of cases. It can feel that way when you’re grappling with regret. For instance, you can think that because you didn’t have the ideal high school experience, you are now forever at a deficit and cannot learn the social skills now that you didn’t previously develop. But that’s not true. You might need to put more work in than you think is fair, or you might need to approach the issue sidelong and do something that provides you with a new perspective like traveling, even though you’re not sure rationally how traveling would help. But it’s very rarely ever too late. So that made me think of the first inspirational quote:

“If you really want it, then you can make it happen. It may take five years. It may take fifty. But if you’re regretting not doing it sooner, then now’s a good time to start.”

I imagined potential objections to the quote. “Oh yeah? What if what I really want is to breathe in a vacuum? You can’t breathe in vacuum, so therefore this quote is bunk.” But underlying the quote is Paulo Coelho’s idea of your personal legend, where you have a desire inside you that the universe will help you fulfill. I don’t think the universe would give you a personal legend that is physically impossible.

The second picture of the fence was the one I imagined would be attached to the quote “That which I should’ve done before I cannot do.” You feel fenced in by past choices and regret. But when the quote was on the photo, it just didn’t work. The words were too pretentious and old-timey for the photo. So I made it simpler with “It is too late.”

The third photo is another variation on the idea of regret. The flowers in bloom are meant to represent how time is fleeting, since there is only a few-week time span in which flowers bloom. The quote is “He never realized when the time was right until the moment had already passed.” Originally, I’d written “I never realized when the time was right…,” but I thought I’d make it third person for the sake of variation. The examples I was thinking about when writing it were trivial, like when you are thinking about getting something from the fridge and then feel annoyed when someone else goes over to the fridge and you have to wait a few minutes before getting what you wanted.

I now have a couple of bonus quote-pictures that I don’t think are as good. The first one is the quote that started this all, “That which I should’ve done before I cannot do.” I used the “Faded” filter on my Phonto app to make it seem more nostalgic. But I don’t think it works that well overall. The second one is the quote “One hour with an expensive tutor can’t hold a candle to five hours teaching yourself.” I feel like the quote comes across as more judgey than it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be about how there is a hidden advantage to not being formally trained, because if you are, then you might feel that you can rest on that expensive training and don’t have to practice as much in your free time. If you aren’t formally trained, then you might feel like you’re constantly at a deficit and have to work really hard to make up for it. There’s also the idea that if you’re practicing long hours for the joy of it, then you’re absolutely going to get better than someone who is practicing shorter hours. So you might feel frustrated if you are rich and have all the private tutoring that money can buy but aren’t doing as well as someone who doesn’t have all those advantages. I was also thinking about how I paid for a ukulele lesson last year, and I would’ve been better off following YouTube tutorials, which I’m now doing. So much of success in any activity is just the time you spend practicing, and it helps if you don’t think you’re good at the thing in question or have had any particular advantages that you might subconsciously be resting on. During English classes, for instance, I felt that I never had any idea what was going on in a poem when I read it for the first time. So I would spend a long time reading it line by line and word by word trying to extract the literal meaning from it, before moving on to any analysis. This allowed me to write really thorough essays, whereas if I’d thought that I was already good at poetry, I might not have been as thorough. Along the same lines of spending a long time doing something, the last pages of the slideshow are my notes, which are extensive despite the only writing for this project being a few lines long.

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