This was a really valuable project. The reading and material I understood the most was the material I used to research and write my blog posts every week, and I almost wish I had had an avatar in both countries so I would have been forced to give the same level of attention to both sides. Over the semester I think this project has really helped me engage more fully with the class because I was able to apply what I was learning through readings and class in a creative way by carving out Santiago’s place in a time and place I was learning about.I approached this project as a creative writing assignment in many ways, but as a piece of historical fiction rather than just a piece of fiction. The avatar project, as creative historical narrative, required all of the research and intimacy with the past that we gained through our learning of Argentina’s Dirty War. I think this project forced me to understand the historical moments, places, and events much more deeply in order to write in a way that wasn’t untrue or harmful to Argentinian peoples’ history. Without learning the context for Santiago’s personhood and his experiences, this project would have largely been an awkward, dishonest, harmful, and un-enjoyable read.
At the beginning of the semester I felt a great distance from Santiago. He was born into high society and in all likelihood, would have his life made. I think a large part of this project was, like we talked about in class, me trying to make him more relatable to myself. So he starts at the bottom of the ladder at his workplace, he’s gay. Whether that was the best or most honest choice to make, I’m not sure, but I think the path that Santiago takes in life is still a realistic one. I wanted to be sure Santiago didn’t turn into a one-dimensional villain. He had sides that were not as good–his hesitance to take a stand, his fear to speak out and be politically active, his continuing to work for and run a large company under the dictatorship and to neither gain nor lose much from that experience. But he also loved his family dearly, cared about his workers’ rights, loved and fought for his partner Joaquin who was disappeared for decades. I think he was no way a perfect man, and in many ways was very selfish–though I think at times he needed to put his happiness and needs first, in order to survive.
There was definitely a point in the semester where I felt like my project flat-lined a bit, and that Santiago’s life was at something of a standstill. But reflecting on it now I realize that it wasn’t necessarily something I was doing wrong, and that downward trend or slow, depressed feeling in Santiago’s life was a natural part of his story. Those were moments where he should have felt aimless and beaten; those were moments where the whole country kind of felt that way. It’s amazing how sometimes by learning so much about a history, these kinds of themes can get reflected.back through application of it. I wonder how much this is truly reflected in my Avatar Project and others’.
Something I thought about through the semester was a worry that this project sort of forces us as writers to put these imaginary–yet somehow so lifelike–people into traumatic, awful situations. It’s not as if it would have been impossible for our characters to be disappeared or related to disappeared since so many were in Argentina, but they could have been like Zambra’s family. But I realized as I was thinking about it, that ignorance is not an uninvolved stance. Our avatars couldn’t have not been involved in the dirty war in some way. Having them experience trauma through torture or losing family was just one way of conveying their involvement, but, for instance, if Santiago had been purposefully ignorant during the Dirty War, he would still have been taking a side in the situation. So I think the Avatar Project was important for me, for making me realize that I wasn’t being forced to subject a person to cruelty but that pain was just a reality that I needed to depict and convey in an honest way. I think I’m still trying to reconcile this and understand how it works. Because it feels weird to write, even though I know that my relatives would say the same thing about their experience of the Armenian Genocide–it was a time simply categorized by pain, and no one was truly exempt from it.