Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How Osama Bin Laden Almost Killed the Army Ants



I thought that title would get your attention.

Starting in late 1999, I felt Army Ants burnout settling upon me. The comics and games had not garnered the reactions that I was hoping for (although in retrospect my failure to publicize them well is largely to blame), and I was feeling creatively tapped out. I also had changed directions in my life, enrolling in college and pursuing a career in teaching. I was student teaching by the spring of 2001, and landed my current teaching job in the summer of 2001, and had moved Army Ants as far back on the burner as I could while still being able to argue they were still on the stove.

Then September 11 happened. I remember spending a few weeks watching the nation’s response to this, and thinking about the stories that I’d written. I started to feel as though I had taken a flippant, detached approach to a topic – war – that was soon going to dominate the national conversation. The cumulative effect of the new life directions and creative burnout coupled with this new weight of responsibility for making sure I was telling a responsible story caused me to box up my Army Ants pages in storage crates and leave them there for a decade.

Sure, I revised my game system a few times over that period, but I didn’t bring that out of mothballs for 5 years (2006), and even then my heart wasn’t truly in it. I wanted to revise the game around the new superhero game system that I’d just developed, and I thought Army Ants would be a good fit for it (in retrospect, I think I was wrong – 2nd Edition, even with its quirks, oddities and inconsistencies, is superior to 3rd Edition in almost every way). 

Reading The Things They Carried started to change my mind. It’s been a slow process. I first read Tim O’Brien’s book three years ago when I taught a summer school class and was looking for a high interest read for my senior boys. We all ended up loving it, and I’ve taught it about five more times since, each time getting a better handle on my feelings on war, suffering, loss and all of these things. However, in that time I’ve also discovered that The Things They Carried is not about war – war is the context he uses to discuss love and death and hope and disappointment and honor and respect.

It dawned on me that Army Ants is not, and never really was, about war. It’s about friendship, and self-sacrifice, and hope, and humor and the people and things I love. These are the things I write about and think about and meditate on. The unending ant war simply gives me a context to discuss these things.

(FYI – I looked down at my word count at the end of what I had written, and it said 911 words. Oh, serendipity)