When I first found out about the avatar projects, I dreaded it. I’ve always hated keeping journals, diaries, or writing blog posts, so I couldn’t even imagine doing that from the point of view of someone made up that I felt was impossible to make authentic. Perhaps out of retribution, my avatar was inspired by the character of Mario from Pablo Larraín’s film, Post Mortem. In the final scene, Mario goes to bring Nancy provisions in the shelter she has been hiding out in. Upon opening the door, he is greeted by her boyfriend, who calls Mario and comrade and thanks him for all of his help. Mario feels completely betrayed by Nancy, and proceeds to essentially bury them alive by blocking off the entrance into the shelter. The gross truth is that when I saw this scene, I viscerally was in awe of Mario’s revenge. Around that time, I was really hurt by the actions of someone who was close to me and I loved very much, and that immediate action felt satisfying. It goes without saying, that I would never, ever do something like that. But after some time to chill out and make amends with the friend that I was upset with, I realized that the reason I loved this scene is that it showed how people don’t always rise beyond pettiness for a greater good. This scene and sentiment stuck with me, and that’s why I wanted to explore a similar theme for this project.
Even though the main inspiration of my avatar, was a terrible, creepy character, I wanted to try my hardest to make her seem real and sympathetic. Save the first one, I’ve written by avatar posts as diary entries. That’s why some details, and everyday habits are gone from the pages. I had to write them this way, because I needed a way to understand why she would be writing down these things.
Since my avatar started out so young, I wanted to find ways to represent the passage of time as she grew up beyond just her words. I began hand writing my avatar posts since my avatar was 6 for the first post. I liked the idea of watching my avatar grow in age with the medium of her posts so I stuck with that theme. That’s why the first few were written on lined paper reminiscent of my elementary school classrooms. The physical process of writing made me feel connected to my avatar. My occasionally illegible handwriting, and misspelling became her quirks as well. It was fitting that by the time Belen would have had a computer, the 1990s, she had really entered a new stage of her life, and typing out the last few posts felt like a good way of letting her go.
I originally, and smugly thought I completely understood the avatar projects, and that there were about teaching empathy. But what I’ve really found from this project is, as Alejandra Zambra puts it in Ways of Going Home, we are always telling our own stories. I realized this when I thought about something that happened in November. It was the day before Thanksgiving break and the Michael Brown verdict had been announced the night before. The verdict was so upsetting, but I didn’t feel like I really had the tools to express what I felt. The next day, I ran into friends who said their classes had been let out early after professors turned tearful, or were going to the protest in Cleveland. That afternoon, I was flying home for Thanksgiving. I started to feel very trapped and anxious. It’s embarrassing to admit, but all I wanted to do was get out of Oberlin and go home. When I think of this story, and then read my avatar posts that I wasn’t even consciously writing from my point of view, it’s obvious how the story of Belen is mine as well.
What I’ve learned is that as history students, while of course accuracy and factualness is important, we are not here to bring authenticity. There is a quote by Kaja Silverman from the book Between Hope and Despair: Pedagody and Remembrance of Historical Trauma that I came across while writing my final paper that really resonated with me. Silver writes, “If to remember is to provide the disembodied ‘wound’ with a psychic residence, then to remember other people’s memories is to be wounded by their wounds. More precisely, to let the traces of other people’s struggles, passions, pasts, resonate within one’s own past and present, and destabilize them.” In all other history classes I’ve taken, I’ve been told to be completely objective. But really, how we use memories to construct history is a holistic process that we are active participants in.