In my real life, one of my biggest fears is that my ways of meaning-making in my life (or what I find meaningful today) will prove to be insufficient as I grow older. I find this incredibly depressing, and I was inspired to explore this fear of mine after I saw it manifest itself in the film “Boyhood” (the penultimate scene when Mason goes to college and his mom says “I just thought there would be more”…I used that line directly in one of my posts). I was interested in exploring this idea as I didn’t want my avatar to suffer in the ways that we might traditionally think of under a dictatorship (having to deal with immensely personal loss). I personally thought it would be more interesting to see where she would end up as a mostly unaffected person. Is she really better off than someone who’s brother was disappeared? (This all makes me sound terrible but I guess no more terrible than someone who made their avatar’s brother die.)
The biggest problem I’ve encountered during this project has been showing and not telling. I had a lot of difficulty with implicitly revealing Lorena’s suffering instead of going on a long diatribe each blog post about suffering. I am very happy with my result in the end as I think I finally got the hang of showing and not telling.
A logistical problem that I found in these blogs was thinking about readership. I think if my blogs are read from start to finish, it is clear what I am doing, and it’s easy to keep track of who’s who and what happens with them. I was worried that since they would be read amidst a million other blogs about a million other avatars, who’s who and what happens with them would be lost. A few blogs I found myself trying to explain things that I don’t think my avatar would have actually done if it were really just her journal. I don’t know how this problem could be addressed but it was definitely something that I got hung up on while writing the posts.
Another silly problem I had was aging Lorena. I had a lot of fun writing the blog when she was 18, because I thought I understood the tone pretty well. After that I had trouble thinking about if Lorena’s writing style would change as she got older. I thought about this a lot but I don’t think I actively dealt with it.
I would like to explain some of the themes that I was going for throughout my avatar’s trajectory. The biggest idea I was trying to explore was what I said before about not being affected in explicit ways by the dictatorship, but perhaps how even those who escape disappearance/murder/torture don’t really escape at all. Another theme I tried to bring in was the idea of kinship. I’ve taken a few courses that deal with the USSR during the Cold War, and how one positive thing that came out of it was strong kinship networks in the absence of civil society. I thought this could be applicable to Chile under Pinochet, especially considering the prominence of the Chilean family. This was hard to ‘show’, but I tried to do so by keeping Lorena with her sister throughout her life. I have no idea if this is realistic, for two unmarried sisters to live together for their lives, but that’s what I did. I also tried to reinforce this idea through quite a few phone calls. I think phone calls came up in almost all of my blogs, and I used them to show these strong kinship networks regardless of physical distance.
I found writing Lorena’s reflection on her own life incredibly interesting. I knew from very early on that I wanted her to look upon her life and feel sad (uf is this terrible?), but I was having trouble figuring out how to do this without being very explicit i.e. “I was fucked by the dictatorship even though everyone in my immediate family survived and I ended up being able to support myself even though I lost the opportunity to go to university”. That felt very boring to me. I’m happy with how I did it, and I hope what I was going for came across even (I can’t really tell because I think I’m too close to Lorena at this point).
Another reason Lorena’s reflection was interesting to write was because I was in Chile on the date that I decided for her reflection, which I hadn’t realized until I was about halfway through. As soon as I realized, I tried to figure out where I actually was on that day. Which I did—on April 12, 2014 I was in Valle del Elqui with my cushy study abroad program. I had the brief idea of writing myself into the blog as a gringa on the micro that gets yelled at to give up her seat to a pregnant woman (“flaqueta!!”) but decided against it and instead included the point about people maybe not noticing the beauty of the Cordillera in Las Condes (shoutout to study abroad friends!!!). Anyway, this brought a really different level of reality to this project as a whole, maybe on April 12, 2014 there really was an older Chilean woman contemplating her suffering and existence on her balcony in Lo Prado.
I tried to include components of my Chile into Lorena’s life in order to connect to her experience more. Sometimes this was weird or didn’t make sense, and sometimes I think this made my posts more sincere. Some thing that I did that in retrospect was really really weird was that I named all of my characters off of people I knew in Chile. Lorena is my host sister; Amalia is a gringa from my program with a great name; Jorge is my closest Chilean friend; Mata is a beautiful boy from one of my ramos at La Chile, etc. I now think this is pretty weird that I did that, almost perverse (it reminds me of the first time I ever played Sims when I was young, I created a family that was identical in name/appearance to my family and then their house caught on fire and they all died and it was incredibly traumatizing…so maybe this is a pattern I need to break). But I do think grounding parts of Lorena’s life in my experience in Chile worked in some ways: I cried the first time I saw the Cordillera once the esmog hit so I knew I wanted to use the contrast of Santiasco and the beautiful Andes at some point in my narrative. Another thing I tried to highlight from my own experiences in Chile was the centrality of the Chilean family, which I tried to do through the continuity of kinship through Lorena’s relationship with Amalia. Lastly, I couldn’t help but throw shade at Chile’s prideful relationship with its westernization/modernization. I know that it’s not my place at all to judge this part of Chilean culture as a privileged U.S. citizen and capitalist, but it was too easy to do it as Lorena.
For me, the easiest parts of these blogs to write was anything that had to do with loving Chile, because loving Chile is a part of my lived experience. O sea, gushing about Patagonia was very very easy—I do think Chile is the most beautiful place on Earth. It was a lot harder for me to deal with having less positive thoughts towards Chile through Lorena’s eyes, which forced me to think about my own love of Chile in the context of the dictatorship. I’m not done thinking about that.
The avatar project for me was incredibly frustrating, difficult, and ultimately very rewarding. I was forced to engage with a history that I had learned about academically prior to the beginning of the course, experienced in real life to some extent prior to the beginning of the course, and then learned way more about academically in the course. This project tapped into something that nothing else had previously. In a lot of ways, I don’t know Lorena at all, which I think is the point. And in a lot of ways, Lorena is just me and my experiences in Chile and my opinions about Chile, which I also think is the point.